how to be an ally

I came out as non-binary at work! Part 3: In-person interactions

Did you miss the start of this story?
Part 1: How did I do it?
Part 2: Email reactions

In all honesty, this is the point at which I must admit that at some point in the last couple of years I may have slipped into a bizarro alternate wonderland universe of warm fuzzies, because I have no other explanation for just how easy this whole coming out thing has been for me.

Though this is partially because I front-loaded a bunch of affirmations and assurances into my coming out message itself, the thing that I am most amazed by is that since coming out I have not been asked to do a single iota of emotional labour around it.

I mean, when I decided I really did feel comfortable coming out at my work, it was because I figured that the level of potential push-back/invasive questions/insecurities about messing up that I’d have to deal with would be totally manageable. But I never imagined there would be none at all!

So, what did happen then?

The moment I walked into work on the Monday, now three days after coming out, the first person who saw me said: “Kasey! Thanks so much for the cookies! They were so great! I was going to bring in rainbow bagels [apparently this is a thing? But also, relevant context is that the cookies I brought in were rainbow-y] today, but I didn’t have time.”

Which, to me, this is just the sweetest way of making it clear that I belong and am loved? Just adorable, basically. I don’t even care that I didn’t get to experience rainbow bagels.

On top of this, when I eventually got around to checking my work mailbox, I also found a little hand-written note from the same (non-email-having) co-worker, which for the most part echoed many of the sentiments I had gotten in emails – she said she was glad that I felt comfortable enoguh to be open with them, let me know that she had previous knowledge/awareness of non-binary people via her daughter (who also works in our library system), and let me know she would do her best to watch her language, basically. It was a very nice thing to find!

Other than that, most people have just been business-as-usual with me (which is exactly what I would have asked for, to be honest.) One colleague who had offered a hug (that I accepted) in her email response literally jumped up the moment she saw me to deliver on it. Another person who hadn’t sent an email response thanked me in person for the email, basically said that she appreciated the reminder to continue working on the ways in which she uses gendered language, asked me if it had been hard for me to do, and said she’d appreciate recommendations to read more about non-binary people.

Because I have a pretty good sense of her literary tastes, I recommended she read Ivan Coyote’s most recent two books (Gender Failure (written with Rae Spoon) and Tomboy Survival Guide). She actually recognized the name, and we determined she’d seen Coyote perform in a storytelling festival at some point.

But I really want to get back to the italicized bit above! So, not only has no one asked anything of me (beyond accepting my explicit offer to provide resources), this one co-worker made herself available for me to emotionally process with her if necessary (which wasn’t needed, because holy wow this whole process has been so easy I can’t even, but was very much appreciated!) Another example of real allyship.

So, that’s my coming-out-at-work story! Somehow ‘changing’ my gender at work was less work than changing my name (both times I have done this in a workplace it was exhausting). I mean, different work contexts is a big part of that, but also who would have ever guessed it could work that way?

And this will be the end of the story for now! I may revisit to let you all know how pronouns go moving forward – most people do seem pretty interested in putting the effort to use ‘they’, even though I gave them an out. We’ll see how it goes!

I came out as non-binary at work! Part 2: Email reactions

Did you miss part 1 of this story (how I did it)? Get it here.

So, I sent off an email and ensured that a card would be available for those without email on March 31st, a day I wasn’t actually working. I was also off work for April 1st and 2nd. But, I can access my work inbox from home, and you can bet your biffy I was checking it from the moment I woke up on the 31st (I actually sent the email around 10:30, before I went to bed the night before.)

When I woke up, I already had an email from my manager, sent about an hour after my email!). She handled it with what I can only describe as professional-loveliness. She thanked me, acknowledged that she’d definitely been one of the folks ‘lady’ing me in the past, apologized, admitted she didn’t know a whole lot about non-binary people (though it wasn’t entirely a new concept for her) and took me up on my offer to provide resources. That was that!

Over the course of the day I got a handful of emails from various co-workers, all very positive, and generally very short. The strongest theme was that the cookies I had left for them all (birthday cake flavour Oreos) were completely unbelievably delicious(!), and beyond that people mostly thanked me for feeling comfortable enough to be open with them.

My co-worker with a non-binary sibling-in-law (I wrote about her here) though? Came right out of the gate with some A+ allyship. She replied-all in the thread to say that “as somebody with a non-binary family member” she wanted to let everyone know that while changing pronouns might seem hard or awkward, it really only does take practice, and “mistakes get made, but surprise – nobody bites your head off when it happens!” She also made a point of mentioning that the process had made her more aware of just how often we really all use the singular they on a daily basis.

Basically she just went ahead and warded off some potential pushbacks on my behalf, and implicitly identified herself as someone that folks could consult/process with on the whole thing if necessary (thus potentialyl reducing te amount of emotional labour I might have to do around the whole thing.

There were a few more emails that came in over the weekend, just variations on the same theme. In general, though, it all added up to me feeling calm and collected when I finally went into work on Monday.  You can read all about that here!

Gender Perspectives vol. 12. Special Edition: Perspectives on trans allyship

download[In the Gender Perspectives series, I aim to highlight diverse kinds of personal narratives and reflections on gender, gender presentation, and identity, to broaden the gender conversation and boost a variety of voices. Check out the rest of the series.]

For this special edition of the Gender Perspectives series, I’ve pulled together a bunch of posts that highlight what it means to be an ally to trans folx, and especially how to be a good one. I’ve deliberately included both the voices and perspectives of trans folx, and some examples of good allyship from cisgender people.

I’ve written very basically about the first steps toward becoming an ally, including how allies can be important, because they can use their privilege to accomplish things that those facing oppression cannot:
What to do now that you’re aware of your privilege(s) | Valprehension

Commonly, the refrain from someone who has their privilege pointed out to them is “So, what, then? Should I feel guilty about being [white/thin/straight/etc.]?” The answer to this question is, of course, no. Feeling sorry for your advantages in life does no one any good. But being aware of your privilege is important for a whole host of reasons. And there are things you can do with your awareness of your privilege.

 

Raye takes a very personal approach to describing ally behaviours that have had a positive impact in their life:
Five Ways Cis People Have Supported Me As A Genderqueer Person | Gender: Awesome

Some of the most meaningful forms of support I’ve encountered are moments where a cis person takes it upon themselves to do the work of educating other cis folks. Again, it’s important to first ask, then act. In one case, I was experiencing repeated misgendering from someone in one of my communities. It was hard for me to correct this person because I knew they weren’t doing it on purpose and I didn’t want to make them feel bad. But it was frustrating! When I vented to a friend, he volunteered to talk to that person if I wanted him to. I said yes, so he did. It was a perfect example of allyship and a huge relief to me.

 

Vincent discusses the problem of false allyship, and the problem of people who claim to be allies but then offer no support to those with whom they claim to be allied:
Allies: How to Tell False From True | Becoming Vincent

This shit is literally a matter of life or death for a lot of trans people. We often face much harsher words and attitudes just while trying to go about our day-to-day lives. There are, it seems, a great many people who want to jump on board the ally bandwagon without being fully aware of exactly what that entails. And so, mostly for the benefit of my fellow trans people but also for any cis person who is interested, I present my personal ‘true ally vs fake ally’ lists.

 

The author of genderrolling examines her own cis female privilege in a way that exemplifies the kjind of awareness that is vital for good allyship:
Females, and cisness, and privilege- oh my! | genderrolling

Explaining trans identity to cis people as a cis person, rather than as a trans person is like the difference between a man explaining feminism to a man compared to a woman explaining it. The man automatically has more respect because of how we privilege a man’s experience and opinion in society. Likewise, my cisgenderness is a privilege that transwomen simply do not have.

 

Finally, the Cisgender Privilege Pledge is a good starting point for anyone who wants to start actively thinking about being a cis ally to trans people. Please consider doing your own, and let me know in the comments!
Example 1
Example 2