It’s been an interesting week.
On Tuesday, as I was waiting outside my office for the bus, one of my coworkers called a goodbye to me as she crossed the street: “See you later, Alexis!”*
There was a pause, then: “Alyx! Alyx.”
Thankfully, at that point traffic picked up, and I didn’t feel like I needed to respond with more than a casual wave. But as her words slowly sunk in, I found myself more and more upset. This was not the first time I’d been misgendered by this coworker. She routinely refers to me as “she,” and while she usually corrects herself, it’s still immensely frustrating. Had I seen another trans person in the same situation, I would have spoken up a long time ago. But self-advocacy is hard, and I have, historically, been extraordinarily bad at it.
Being called the wrong name, though, crossed a line. Something in my head snapped, and I realized that I had to do something. My inner drive to avoid drama was finally overtaken by my desire to be treated with respect.
So I emailed my manager and direct supervisor, and told them what had happened, and asked them what they thought I should do. They were both extremely supportive and handled the whole situation better than I could have hoped for: they encouraged me to contact the individual in question directly about the problem behavior, offered their support in any way, and pointed out that HR needed to be alerted to the issue, even if I was able to resolve it with direct communication.
I asked if they thought it would be okay to address the issue in an email to this coworker, since I express myself best in writing. My manager responded that he thought she would be least intimidated by a face-to-face conversation, slightly more by an email, and more still by a moderated conversation, but that my comfort was the primary concern. Her comfort was secondary, and he thought I should proceed in whatever way made the most sense to me.
So before I left work yesterday, I sent an email to my coworker, gently but firmly explaining that her behavior was hurtful and inappropriate and requesting that she henceforth put a concerted effort into using the correct name and pronouns.
And then I went and had coffee and debriefed with a former coworker, and chose to ignore my phone every time it buzzed to tell me I had a new text or email.
When I got home, I found a response waiting for me.
It wasn’t a great apology – it contained a lot of excuses. But it was still an apology, and I am going to try to take it in good faith as sincere. It’s a start, at least, and now I have a written record I can bring back to HR if the behavior continues.
Self-advocacy is hard. But my supervisor pointed out a very important aspect of it that I tend to forget: if I am being mistreated, it’s entirely possible someone else is being mistreated as well. I tend to have this twisted perspective that advocating for myself is a sign of selfishness on my part (though I wouldn’t say that about anyone else’s self-advocacy). But it’s not. By speaking up, I’m not just speaking up for myself; I’m speaking up for anyone else who might find themselves in the same situation in at present or in the future but who might not have a voice. I have an incredible support network and a host of resources at my disposal. If someone has to be the sacrificial lamb for the sake of transgender sensitivity education at my workplace, it might as well be me.
I don’t know what, if anything will come of all of this. I hope that my coworker will truly make an effort to change her behavior. I hope that HR will be open to the possibility of providing some sort of transgender sensitivity training (we’re a big Jewish organization, and while the vast majority of people have taken having a more-or-less-openly trans person on staff, I think it wouldn’t hurt). I hope that if my coworker’s behavior doesn’t change, HR will have my back as firmly as my manager and supervisor do. If I am placing myself in a position where I will find myself needing to educate people along the way, then I hope I can serve as a catalyst for positive change. I hope that, whatever happens, things are easier for the next trans person that comes along in the agency after me.
I may not feel brave, but I am choosing to be bold.
* This was problematic for multiple reasons: chiefly that I have only gone by Alyx at this job, and any names I may or may not have had prior to this job are irrelevant to my relationships with my coworkers, but also because I have never, at any time in my life, been an “Alexis.” This was a major assumption on her part, that she could deduce from my current name what name I may have gone by prior to transition.