Lately, I’ve been having a hard time with my internal perception and the external perception of my gender.
When I look in the mirror, I see what everyone else sees: A young woman. Try as I might with hair styles, wardrobe choices, and pronouns, I am always read as a woman due to my small stature and delicate facial features. Though I don’t have a high voice, I definitely sound feminine. Even the people who support trans people and are able to use gender neutral pronouns for others (or are even trans themselves) rarely use they/them for me.
On the inside when I question my gender, I keep coming to the same conclusion: I don’t feel like I have one. I just feel like I’m me. That’s why I feel discomfort (dysphoria?) when people attach gendered labels to me (lady/girl/woman, she/her).
It’s a cognitive dissonance that I’m not sure how to resolve. My end goal is to be at peace with having a private identity and a public identity, but I’m not sure how to get there. It does make me sad that the people who are important to me might never see me the way I see myself, but it seems like the most realistic solution. Has anyone been through something similar and have advice?
Hey Raffles -- up top I want to acknowledge that you were asking advice from folks who have been through something similar. I haven't, so I'm not going to try to give advice per se. I do want to share some thoughts with you though, if that's ok. It's totally fine with me if you don't want to engage these thoughts if they don't resonate, feel relevant, or ask about things you don't want to talk about.
Something I've noticed a lot in your posts is your discomfort with and disappointment in other people not fully grasping your gender. If I'm recalling correctly, this has lead you to not using pronouns that feel right and separating your identity into an internal one and an external one. Whenever you've described this to us, it has sounded very difficult and heartbreaking. My question to you, and I might have posed it before, is... is being at peace with having different private and public identities actually what you want here, or something you feel like you need to do because other people don't understand you? What I often hear in your posts is a tendency to understand/define/validate/invalidate yourself based on how others are reacting or interacting with you. Does that feel accurate? I don't feel comfortable saying that how people treat us doesn't matter and we shouldn't care and we should do whatever we want. Because I know I care about it, and a lot of people do... we all ultimately want to feel loved, accepted, and appreciated as we are. But I'm often noticing you wanting to compromise on your own identity because other's aren't validating it.
A while back, I shared a story with you about a friend of mine. They're gender queer and use they/them pronouns. They did not feel comfortable sharing their pronouns or correcting people about their gender, especially at work but also with some friends. At first it felt like alternative to feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable with conversations about it... but also, every time someone used she/her it felt like someone flicking them with their thumb and pointer finger over and over. They ultimately decided their discomfort with other people not getting them was temporary compared to repeated use of the wrong pronouns and the continued emotional toll it had on them. I bring this up again because I'm wondering the same thing about your experiences. Does separating your identity feel like the most realistic solution because you can avoid harder conversations or asserting yourself? I want to emphasize that it is 1000% ok if this is the route you want to take. But, I often wonder... is the thing you need to work on making peace with no one ever getting you, or is it learning and working to being confident enough to have conversations with others so they can?
Like I said, if this feels like too much, you don't need to respond to it. I want to acknowledge again that this is not exactly what you were asking to talk about. I just notice that this is such large pain point in your life, and it doesn't ever seem to feel better... so I'm wondering if changing perspective on this goal would be perhaps more helpful for you. At the end of the day, we all want you to be happy with yourself and comfortable in the world and we want to do whatever is going to help with that, if it's reorienting or working with the place you are in this journey right now.
Hey there! It's totally okay that you responded. This is a bit of a jumble because I had a good response typed out but then I accidentally closed the tab and it all got deleted, so this is my quick retyping before I have to go.
I remember that story, and I am sorry that your friend had to go through that. For me, it's more like someone adds a rock to my backpack. Over time, there are so many rocks that the backpack is so heavy that it's hard to move.
To answer your first set of questions, it's a bit of a combination. I think that separating my identity is the best solution because it feels like the only possible one.
In my professional life, I have a big fear of backlash. My coworkers are all my seniors, and I worry that a superior would side with my coworkers because of that seniority. Additionally, my superiors are most of the people I have written about on previous posts. They are the people who are in charge of my contract. Though I don't plan on returning next year, I do need them to serve as references and possibly write a letter of recommendation. This is my first adult job, so I don't have a lot of luxury or wiggle room here. I am also not in the most queer friendly state, so I am concerned about my long-term employ-ability in my profession if I am out.
That said, I have thought about saying something after I have signed a contract for a new job, but I'm not sure what the best approach is. Also, what sort of protections do I have, if any?
In my personal life, I have chosen not to come out to very many people because I don't want my family to get involved. In college, a well-meaning friend outed me to our professors, and that wasn't fun and I don't want it to happen with my family. Because of this, I'm only out to about 4 people in my personal life, and 3 of the 4 live out of state. One of those three is good about pronouns, and the other isn't. We spoke about it once and she apologized, but she has yet to change her vocabulary. All of 4 of them are people I enjoy having in my life, and they are relationships that I value deeply. I don't want to lose them over identity.
You're right that this has been a big source of distress for me. Between the two, my professional life bothers me more because of how constant it is. But I feel like I have to weigh the future of my career against some discomfort. I'm not sure I'm willing to risk my livelihood for this.
As for the second set of questions, it is true that I'm not doing a good job of standing up for myself. However, I am not convinced that changing my goals from dealing with it to speaking up will change anyone's mind or behaviors. It feels like I'd be, once again, putting myself out there for absolutely no pay off. I guess I just don't believe that things can get better, and I'm better off letting it go and finding peace with things the way that they are if that makes sense.
Unfortunately, I haven't experienced a similar situation, but as Carly said, I do know some people who have been in your shoes. One of my best friends is a trans girl and she's still pretty early in her transition. She's not out at work, mainly for her safety and survival. She knows she needs this job to support herself throughout university and she does have to sacrifice her mental health for it. It's a really horrible situation. I wish it wasn't this way but it's her reality. I think that she's just considering going stealth when she pursues other jobs in the future, which may also jeopardize her safety.
After doing some research, I found that the U.S. does have protections against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. This is from an official government website, so I'm assuming it's reliable. I can drop the link here: https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/prot ... -or-gender
As for your friendships, you mentioned something that really stood out to me: "I don't want to lose them over identity." Do you think that correcting and educating your friends about your gender identity will cause them to leave? If these are friends that value you as much as you value them, wouldn't they care about your comfort and well-being as much as you care for theirs? Of course, I don't know all that much about your friendships and their dynamics, but these are just some questions that popped up while I was reading your response.
Ultimately, everything is entirely up to you. I just think it's important to consider how this will impact you and your mental well-being in the long term. Everyone wants to live authentically and as Carly said, it's easier said than done to just be like "I don't care!"
I wish your friend the best. It's a tough spot to be in.
I guess I'm just worried about implicit biases. I sort of went through this in the job search process. People saw me as a young woman and immediately sorted me into working with young kids even though I specifically stated that I prefer working with older kids. I feel like they might use my identity to come up with reasons that I'm not well suited to a job (like being unsuited to the community, not being a good fit with the kids, not ready for the public aspect of the position). If it does happen, I'm not sure what to do. I'm not sure whom I can trust because, as far as I know, there are no other trans professionals in the district.
I am considering talking to someone about the issues I've had with my coworkers and supervisors, but I'm not sure what to say or what it would accomplish. I tried earlier, but they mostly made it sound like my fault for not standing up enough (which is true, but I feel like they really invalidated my concerns about resume/references/letter of recommendation).
As for my friends, I feel like there are things my friends do that I don't like or have traits that I'm not crazy about, but I am still friends with them. I'm having a hard time seeing why it's different if they don't like this thing about me. I'm also not sure when it's time to just let it go. How many times am I expected to tell them until they do it themselves? I also don't want to come across as nagging in our limited time that we get to see each other.
Authenticity is difficult, especially when it seems like people don't really accept your authenticity. I think what I learned is that it is (slightly) less painful to live an inauthentic life with acceptance over an inauthentic life with little support and fake to non-existent acceptance. It is hard on my mental health, but I have sort of given up on having stable mental health for a variety of reasons. I will admit that I am envious of those who get to experience both authenticity and acceptance.
Have you considered looking into and reaching out to any trans individuals in your field? They don't necessarily have to be local. I know some people utilize websites like LinkedIn to find representation in their field. They might be okay with letting you pick their brain a bit. In your original post, you wanted to speak to someone with a similar experience to yours, so maybe this can be an option.
Also, I'm really sorry to hear about your experience when you tried to reach out to your co-workers and supervisors. Do you think you can share more about what happened? Maybe we can brainstorm what you can say to them so they can understand the urgency of the situation.
It seems like your friends' behaviors are frustrating you and honestly, I would be frustrated too. Have you ever approached them about the contradictions in their behaviors? I wouldn't think of correcting them as nagging, but rather that you care about this friendship and want to improve it on both sides.
I think it can be pretty rare to find a person who lives completely authentically with total acceptance from those around them. There will always be someone who finds something unacceptable about them, whether it be their parents, work, or friends. Yet, they seem to find some kind of community that makes them feel appreciated and validated. What do you think about that?
I just signed up for a listserv of others in my field, so we'll see how that pans out.
I'd rather table the conversation about my friends for now because work is the main problem and it's what's most emotionally taxing.
I've been having issues with most of my coworkers using she/her with me, and I've been afraid to say anything about it. Most of my students also use she/her with me. I had a few issues earlier in the year with parents being upset that their kid was in contact with me, and a few kids asking me if I'm a boy or girl in invasive ways (including staring at my chest to see if I have breasts). Most of my coworkers who are uncomfortable with the situation use Miss. lastname for me, but I have one that just refers to me by first name in front of the kids because he "isn't sure" what to do. One of my superiors calls me Miss. lastname and uses she/her for me with her kid which is one of my students, so that's awkward. I haven't told anyone about how bad the mental health toll is, but I'm worried about being seen as a dramatic gen z snowflake.
I talked to HR about this back in December. She did seem to listen, but her advice was mostly to stand up and advocate for myself. I explained my concerns about backlash, but she didn't really reassure me, just that policy prevents that. I don't really trust policy, because it's also policy that people not be misgendered, and that's hasn't really happened. We were supposed to follow up, but I had to reschedule and I never heard back.
I suppose authenticity just seems a lot easier for other people. Or, at least that their vulnerability is accepted enough to continue that authenticity. I'm just so hurt by the way things have gone for me that my motivation to open up and find community is essentially nonexistent.
Hey Raffles -- I appreciate how vulnerable you've been here talking about what's been going on at work. When you talked to HR, had the stuff with the parents being upset happened yet? Or the kids being really invasive? If yes, what did she say to that? I do think it would be a really good idea to follow up with that HR rep again to talk more about what you've been experiencing to see how the department can support you. I think something you can talk about is how you're not seeing the anti-discrimination/misgendering policies play out the way they're supposed to. I know you didn't hear from them after you needed to reschedule, but I don't think that had anything to do with you. Things fall off the radar sometimes, even if it's something people want to help with.
Something I do want to make a point on is that even if there are policies in place that are - in theory- there to protect you when you advocate for yourself, people will need to learn what they need to call you and refer to you as. Or be reminded when they slip up (which happens to the best of us). HR isn't going to always be present in those situations, so there might be some work on your end getting comfortable with asserting yourself when those moments arise. Something that will help your co-workers (and maybe you too) would be some consistency, not just correcting them sometimes and letting things slide. It might also be a good idea to think about some alternatives to being called Miss Lastname - perhaps HR can give you some insight?
I have a feeling like this is going to feel like asking for a lot, and it might make you worry about what your coworkers could be thinking or saying about you. But I want to remind you that you're simply asking to respected, which is not a lot to ask for. <3
I told HR about everything that I wrote above. To be fair, one parent situation and one kid situation had been "handled" by my supervisor, even if not done in an ideal way. I shared the anecdote about the kid staring at my chest to show some of the difficulties I faced being out, but the HR person was more concerned about whether or not the kid had been properly punished (which I didn't want) over how it made me feel.
My district does have a policy and support plan for trans and gnc students. She said that it extends to staff members (but I'm not sure I really believe that). Basically, the extent of it was that, in theory, people shouldn't be misgendered. She didn't offer support so much as ask me what I'd done to stand up for myself.
We had a follow up phone call scheduled in December. I had to cancel last-minute due to a thing that came up, and then I was unable to make our rescheduled meeting the next day. I reached out again, but then we went on winter break and I felt very guilty about canceling and rescheduling. The other part of it is I'm not sure calling would be helpful if they're just going to tell me what to do instead of how to do it.
It's contract season for HR, so I'm sure things are super busy there. I'm thinking about waiting until after I've signed a contract to reach out again so I don't get lost in the shuffle.
I have introduced myself as Mx. lastname, but it's a real toss up if people actually do it. I'd say maybe 20% do Mx. and the rest use Miss. If I'm able to get a job next year, I'm hoping to just go by my last name to avoid the issue.
As for advocating for myself, I'm not really sure what I am supposed to say. And I agree with consistency, but in order to do it consistently, I'd have to do it all the time. I'm not sure I have that energy or courage. Since I'm leaving the job soon-ish, I'm not sure it's worth it.
Let me know if you need more information. I wrote this just before bed, so it might not be very clear.
This might sound overwhelming, but if I were in your position, I would take any option to the fullest extent. You deserve respect in the workplace, period.
From what I'm hearing, your district sounds like the best place to contact. I understand your feelings of guilt about canceling and rescheduling, but this was a while ago. I think reaching out to them about this again right now would be ideal. With that, it may help to bring up your concern about how standing up for yourself is simply not enough since you are not being taken seriously. I recommend telling them that this is incredibly harmful to trans and gnc employees, so they should figure this out now before it only gets worse in the future. I don't prefer using these types of fear tactics, but they need to understand the severity and urgency of this because it can extend beyond your situation. They may not care about the individual worker, so maybe they'll care if it has to do with many workers and the future of their organization. I'm not sure how confrontational you are, so maybe you could even throw something together in an email format. This is all just an idea so please let me know what you think.
I think your idea with HR sounds good since you'll have their attention. I feel like you've answered this before but I might need a refresher, how much longer do you have this job?
Before leaving you with all of this, as it can be a lot, I want to check in. Have you been giving yourself some time for self-care? This whole situation seems like it can be an endless cycle of talking to people and it going nowhere. I've been there, even if it was not necessarily about the same thing. Communication can be stressful when the other end isn't cooperating. I want to remind you that your emotions are valid. You have every right to feel the way you do. I hope my response resonates with you in any way.
I have the job for 11 more weeks. I've decided to reach out to my district's union, and they seem to be interested in helping me. I managed to get a hold of the vice-president, and she is reaching out to the president and the state-level union. It sounds like they'll be able to help me talk to HR, or at least give me a good idea of what my rights and protections are. We'll see what happens.
I’m sorry my last response was so cute. I wanted to wait until there was more information.
The union rep got back to me, and she’s willing to help me out. We are looking to create some sort of non-discrimination protections for employees. A lot of times, people will hide behind equal opportunity employment and pretend that marginalization doesn’t happen after you’ve been hired. If we can make a policy and get it enacted, it could be a good start for a lot of people who are in a similar position and feel they can’t speak out.
I’m still not sure if I’m returning to the district (but leaning towards no). I’m not even sure if I’m returning to the profession. I’m considering taking a gap year to reevaluate my life and (maybe) have some fun. I feel like going from college in quarantine to the workforce just meant that I started already burnt out. The good news is that I’m in the home stretch (10 weeks left after this week), and then I’ll have the summer to rejuvenate. I also haven’t taken a day off yet, so I could potentially take a personal day/mental health day at some point.
I appreciate you sharing this information. I just wanted to jump in and say that I'm really glad that the union rep is willing to help out and it sounds like there might be the beginnings of a plan to create change going forward.
In terms of what you're going to do next, definitely take the time you need to figure out what's next. It's totally okay to take a break and rejuvenate. And I'm totally supportive of taking personal days before you're done as well.
Apologies for my last post. I meant to say "curt" in the first sentence, not "cute." I'm pretty embarrassed; that was a very awkward typo.
Some stuff has happened in between then and now that I'm not really sure how to feel about it.
At first, the union rep seemed really supportive. She reached out to the president of the union and the state level organization and came back to me with options.
But then, she told me that I could go to a conference. I was flattered until I realized it's probably tokenism. I'm just one of a few people who were out that they could choose to send, and it would look good for them to send me to the conference. They didn't pick me because I've done anything to support the organization or because they've done anything to support me. They just picked me because I'm here. Not sure if this qualifies as tokenism, but it sort of feels like it.
It also breached our terms of confidentiality. She mentioned that they put my name down on a list of people who would go to the conference to represent the LBGTQ+ caucus. This list was shared with whomever is in charge of the grant writing and distributing professional development funds, and that's outside of the people she told me she would share my information with. I know she probably didn't mean it to make me uncomfortable, but I do feel exposed in a way I don't want to feel, especially because I communicated with her that I want to remain on the down low.
I'm not really sure what to do now that the rep only reaches out to me in relation to the conference (which I have declined due to privacy issues). I'm not sure that she's ever going to actually help me talk to HR. I'm sort of back to square one, but this time I don't really have any other ideas.
I actually think I knew you meant curt so it's all good!
Breaches in confidentiality are not okay and I'm so sorry that happened to you. I could understand why you declined the conference. Do you feel comfortable expressing to them that this was not okay (if you haven't)? Also, you said the union rep came back to you with options after talking to the president of the union. Were there other options they came back with besides the conference?
I haven't said anything to her, and it feels pretty awkward to say anything. I'm hesitant to say "hey I'm grateful for the invite, but it feels like tokenism, also you've broken my trust by putting my name down on this document and sharing it" to the one person who might be able to help me.
The other option she gave was direct confrontation with my location supervisors, which I don't want to do seeing as there's already enough tension between them and my department as a whole, plus I only have 8 more weeks left on the job. That's why I told her that I'd rather go to HR to create a policy to help other people instead of just my immediate situation.
It's possible that she plans to eventually help me with HR, but I'm not sure, especially because she knows that I am planning on leaving. It wouldn't be worth it to her/the union to help me out when I'm leaving so soon. It's also difficult to prove that what I've said is true (misgendering being a persistent issue). From a cost/benefit standpoint, it makes sense that I'm not worth the effort.
Hey Raffles -- up top I want to point out is that there is a lot of negative self-talk in your post. While I trust your perspective and agree that HR could be handling things differently/better, I wondering if this is the right way to position some of this. By assuming that they're viewing helping you as a waste of time, you're telling yourself that you're a waste of time. You're also assuming that HR doesn't take you at your word, which I think could belittle your own experience. Also, even if you declined the conference (and confidentially breech aside), maybe they wanted to send you because they thought you might like it or they thought you could represent the org well. I don't think either of us is right or wrong and I don't think it's about that; assumptions just aren't the same thing as knowing the facts, and there's a lot of room for what we think about ourselves to clog up one's perspective. Does that make sense? Does it feel easier to assume others' negative thoughts sometimes?
As for the confidentiality issue, would you consider talking with this HR person about this issue a little bit closer to your exit? For what it's worth, I think this would be extremely helpful for them to hear because it sounds like they have been really fumbling the ball on LBGTQ+ issues.
I hear what you're saying about the negative self talk. I tend to be pretty touchy about gender stuff, so I often assume the worst because it's happened enough times. For example, the majority of the times people asked me about my pronouns, it was just to misgender me later.
I meant in my prior post was that I might be too big of a risk for the union to support publicly given how the politics are here, so I understand why they might be backing out.
It's possible that she liked me from the two phone calls we've had, but I'm still suspicious because I haven't participated in any way (like literally haven't even zoomed into a single meeting or responded to any emails).
It seems like she isn't going to help me anymore because she hasn't reached out in a few weeks, so I am thinking it's best I just let it go. A part of me really does want to talk to her about it, though. Something like "I know the conference has passed, but I am still a bit concerned about the confidentiality aspect. You mentioned that my name was put forward. Have I been outed to someone else in the district?" But that sounds too accusatory.
I believe that every employee who leaves has an exit interview with HR, and I do plan on telling them pretty much everything. I do have a lot of concerns about not being taken seriously if I do discuss gender issues, possibly because I also don't trust my own experience. I am considering reaching back out to the union rep to see if she wouldn't mind helping me prep for it if/when the time comes.
It seems like even though you want to let it go, there's a part of you that does want to bring it up - especially that confidentiality aspect. It's work to speak up about things but sometimes it brings about more relief than not saying anything. I know Carly mentioned something about maybe bringing this up closer to your departure date - is that something you might want to consider? Or bringing it up when asking out for help with the exit interview? I think it would actually be a great idea to reach out to the union rep to help prep for that (I know from personal experience leaving a really bad job situation and having support with figuring out my exit interview really helped me).
I'm reading through the resignation process, and it looks like the exit interview is just for the hourly staff. I'm salaried, so it looks like I have to write all my thoughts on the form. I'll still reach out to the union rep later next month, but at this point I'm just so exhausted I want it to be over with.
It's looking like I'll be spending next year minimally/under/un employed, and I've got a lot of feelings about it. I'm disappointed at myself for not being able to tough it out more, and I'm worried about how this gap year will look on my resume. In more practical terms, I'm worried about how losing insurance will affect me, especially because now is when I need therapy the most. I'll most likely be earning enough that I won't qualify for medicaid, but marketplace insurance will deplete my savings. If I go back on my parents' insurance, that's a huge step back in terms of independence and privacy.
Hey Raffles -- for what it's worth, I think you are really good at describing your feelings. Even if you had to do it on a form, I think you could do it well.
Those are all very valid concerns. I'm sorry if we touched on this topic in this or another thread, but can you remind me the details of the decision to do a gap year? Is it specifically due to leaving this job? When you say you'll be likely earning enough that you likely won't be able to qualify for Medicaid, how will you be earning that money?
No worries! It's really a combination of two things.
First is that all the current job openings are exactly what I'm doing now just in a different location. I'm really not looking for a lateral move, and there aren't any other options open. I'm leaving the job for a lot of reasons, but a part of it is the issues I've had being out at work. I do have an interview coming up for a part-time job in my field, but I don't have high hopes for it (it's a well-known position, and they're likely looking for someone with more experience and degrees). Secondly is my mental health. I really haven't been doing well, and I think I need time to take some time to start recovering. I don't think I could do that in my current situation as the current job is part of the problem.
As for what I'll be doing next year, I'll be working at my gym and doing some coaching. While I'm looking forward to it (aside from the glaring resume gap it will leave), it is part-time without health insurance. My earnings from that combined with the left over I've made from my job this year means I won't qualify for Medicaid. The good news is that it's looking like I'll make enough to cover out-of-network therapy costs, but I won't necessarily be make savings either.
Let me know if that answers the questions or if I can clarify.
That helped, thank you! I just wanted to make sure I understood the situation you're in correctly. You've talked a lot about mental health concerns with us, and I'm glad you'll have an opportunity to have some time to concentrate on yourself.
You mentioned that you'd feel like it was a step backward if you got back on your parents' insurance. Why does that feel like that for you? It sounds important to you that you maintain the level of independence you have, but you're also bracing up for what might be a challenging year financially. I'd love to hear more about how all of that is fitting together in your mind.
One of my big goals this year was independence. I wanted to graduate college, move out, and set out on my own with only occasional assistance with rent. Now, I'm back to living under their roof, and I hardly even pay for groceries. The one thing I was proud of was having my own health insurance and the privacy that comes with it, but it's looking like I'm going to lose that. I have been very careful to keep my mental health away from my family for a variety of reasons, and I would like to keep it that way. Going back on their insurance means my ability to keep things private is limited. My current solution is to go to someone that doesn't accept insurance, but that makes things much more costly. Everything is a balancing act, I suppose. I can lose my privacy but save money, or I can keep my privacy and lose financially. I could also keep working and risk my health getting even worse, or I can take a break for my health and create career issues for myself.
I totally understand where you're coming from with all this, I've had very similar experiences. Pretty recently too actually. One of the biggest takeaways I've gotten from how hard it was is that there is no perfect, linear trajectory...with anything, really. Even if there seems to be dominate narrative for how it's supposed to unfold. I don't like to say things like "you're only 23" because I don't want to sound dismissive of the pressure it sounds like you're feeling but... you really do have a lot of time to meet these goals. You could even meet them, need to take a few steps back, and meet them all over again. Maybe even a few times over. I know I can't speak to your career specifically, but I also think you're probably in better shape than you think you are. I've had unemployment gaps and have rarely had them challenged. I think non-linear career tracks have gotten much more common in the last few years and there's less of a stigma around needing time off.
What element of your privacy are you the most concerned about if you went back on your parents insurance? Are you not wanting your parents to know you'll be in therapy? How is mental health approached in your family?
PS. happy to give my two cents on the situation if you want it - let me know.