I cut my own hair – and yes, I have given myself quite a few bad haircuts. I tell myself that no one can tell because my hair is curly and pretty thick, but I’ve missed entire patches on the back of my head. I know someone has noticed.
As I packed up my life and ventured into van life, I committed to the idea that I would just go to a Great Clips or barber and get my hair cut when I needed it. I donated my clippers. Decision made.
But when the time came for my first haircut, I just couldn’t do it. See, when I walk into a salon, it’s not just “hi there, let me get you started.” It’s questioning. Misgendering. Then, mispricing because it’s gender-based. So even if I’m getting the same quick buzz that the man before me had, I’ll be charged double.
It’s not so much about the money. It’s that feeling I can’t shake as I leave. That funky cowlick I missed 3 times is way better than feeling fucked up by someone’s stares.
It’s the littlest things that remind me I’m trans in a binary world.
It’s walking into a bathroom at a gas station in rural America and getting the casual “wrong room buddy.” The cringe feeling when the person closing my utility account says, “yes ma’am.” It’s when the server asks to see my ID and no one else’s at the table even though I look the oldest. “You don’t have wrinkles like this at 20,” I say with a smile knowing they just want to know “what I am.”
Alternatively, it’s the joy when someone asks my pronouns. When a kid understands that there’s more than a he and she because I taught them to ask. When I know that things are changing in small ways in rooms I once walked into with fear.
That’s why a message from my college roommate meant so much last week. She works as a dispatcher in emergency services. After listening to my podcast during her commute, she realized that her training is all based on sir and ma’am. She said, “I got to thinking. I can’t see these people on the other end, so by saying that, I’m just making an assumption on someone’s gender. What would be the most professional and respectful way to address folks, do you think?”
The answer, by the way, is this: Ask “How should I refer to you – by your name? Mr.? Mrs.? Mx.?”
I stopped to imagine what it would feel like to not be misgendered during an emergency.
I felt like I could cry. I feel it all over again sharing this story with you. You have to understand, this friend and I have disagreed in the past about political and trans issues. This is a far different conversation than we would have had a few years ago.
In a world where I’m reminded by the littlest things that I’m trans while seeing headlines every day about big things being taken away from trans kids – access to gender-affirming healthcare, restrooms where they feel safe, asking teachers to use the correct pronouns – it felt really beautiful to witness that shift in someone.
To know that rooms I once sat in – rooms that told me in some casual and other very pointed ways that I could not be trans and equal – could change is everything. I say this as someone who has lost many friends and family members because of who I am and have been gifted by the universe a ton of people who love me exactly for who I am in return.
People like you.
I imagine a lot of you reading this letter are just like my friend. You had one idea and you’re learning something different. I’m thankful that you are open to it. That you’re willing to let me be a guide. Thank you for the energy you bring to my life and inspiration for these letters.
It makes me believe that someday we won’t have to have conversations about trans kids playing sports or taking medication. As someone who lived in secret for a long time, I feel strongly that this legislation doesn’t just stop people from walking their truth; they shame them into silence. It creates unnecessary barriers to care and public opinions that don’t consider the children living behind them. I hope you’ll learn more about the bills in your state and speak up on behalf of those kids. Start the conversations in your own homes.
Because the little things? They are not little at all. To these kids who crave a life of truth? It’s life-altering. Life saving.
In the meantime, we can work on the rooms we sit in.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.