A few weeks ago in an airport bathroom in a big liberal city, someone in the women’s restroom got so close to my face that I felt scared. Not because she would beat me up, but because my space was invaded. Her knowing that I was not a man in a women’s restroom was more important to her than allowing me to feel safe in this space.
There’s that old saying that curiosity killed the cat, and I’m telling you – it is most definitely killing this Kat. Killing me not to speak up. Not to yell, scream, or react poorly. But I know what happens next if I lose my mind.
I’m just another story about some mad trans person infuriated by their hormones or something. I mean, that’s how they showcase it in the media (or at least how they did it in the 90’s on 90210). Take testosterone = get mad.
Allies Should Start Doing Something
Instead of going into rage, I hold it all in. I feel that all over sensation of fight or flight and this urgency to move faster. Get out of there. Run. Which is pretty embarrassing considering I teach people what to do in those midgendering moments every single day.
But in all fairness, I don’t teach people like me what to do. I think we all go through that trauma in our own ways. Instead, I try to teach allies what to do. Why? Well, first of all – there are a lot more of you.
Second of all, I know the discomfort is too great for people like me who have had to handle this confrontation all the time. What I really want to see change in the world isn’t a trans person’s persistence to fight back. I mean, we fight. That’s why we have Pride.
I want to see allies actually do something. I want to see them stand up to defend us when it matters – at work and out in the world when no one is watching and there are no work related consequences. I’d especially love to see managers correcting pronouns.
Managers Correcting Pronouns
As managers, that means we have to do something – even when our colleagues aren’t in the room. However, there’s a fine line to walk. If someone is misgendering me in the bathroom, don’t ask my opinion. Correct them now. Tell the person, “we trust children to pick their own bathrooms. I trust this person, too.” Or, calmly address the person being misgendered in this space. “Are you ok?” can go a long way.
However, in the world of work, there’s nuance and we have to remember that some people aren’t out to everyone or aren’t out to everyone in their life yet. As a manager, while you may want to correct others every time in every situation to be an ally, we have to respect a human’s need for privacy and safety.
Here’s what I want you to do instead and how you as a manager can stand up for your team members getting misgendered in real time.
- After the misgendering happens for the first time with this contact/type of contact, follow up with your team member afterward. Ask: “How do you want me to handle that next time? Do you want me to correct when we talk to CATEGORY? Is there a scenario where I should not out you?” Category = a category of people (customers, potential clients, vendors, colleagues, your family, etc.). Make sure you understand this specific scenario, not just what happens broadly.
- If they say no, let it go. If they say, “yes, please correct on my behalf,” you can do that correction in real time or via email.
- In real time, say this: “It’s (correct pronoun). Their pronouns are ___.” Then, correct them if someone uses the wrong pronouns each time. If you’re following up via email, let the person know they used the incorrect pronouns for someone by name. Tell them the correct pronouns and tell them how you practice. [Hint: I practice by saying the pronoun three times and giving a compliment using the correct pronoun. Steal that one.]
Sometimes, standing up for yourself can be scary. It can be exhausting. But when others stand up for you, it can go a long way. In the workplace, managers correcting pronouns is a start – but make sure you go about it in a way that is supportive by following my suggestions above.
More Like This:
- How Your Company Can Create Better Allies (And Communities)
- How To Be An Ally In The Workplace
- Trans-Affirming Workplaces: What Does It Take?
Do you like this content? Subscribe to get this in your inbox!
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.