Agender in the professional world

Questions and discussions about gender, gender roles and identity.
Raffles
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Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

Hello everyone!

First of all, I know that I use this service a lot, and I want to make sure that I am not monopolizing anyone's time/this resource. Please let me know if I'm using the message boards too much or too frequently, and I can definitely remove this post.

Before I really go into this next question, I'm going to do a quick recap of relevant information.

I've mentioned before in a previous post that a friend of mine asked me which pronouns I prefer, and I told her honestly. She has since started using they/them for me in public and (I think?) correcting some of our mutual friends. It's my fault for not being specific, but I feel like I was sort of outed. I sort of flinch now when I hear her using they/them for me because I know it's just another person that now knows. It's led to weird situations, like where a mutual friend asked me what I prefer (I didn't lie to him either, but he's since kept using she/her for me anyway because that's the kind of person he is).

I've also mentioned that I tried to get my co-op at my most recent field placement to use they/them which she did for a few weeks until I wore a dress and then I became she/her. She allowed me to go by my first name, though (this is important).

Here's the new part: I met with my professor the other day. He told me that I have to figure out what I want students to call me, especially if it's not "ms. lastname." This took me by surprise because he uses only she/her for me in class, and I've personally never told him otherwise. While we had this conversation, he outed another student to me. This means that a) someone told him that I'm not cis or told him I'm not comfortable with going by ms., b) I'm not just out to my classmates, but apparently this professor and maybe others, and c) he could and would out me to anyone at anytime.

I get that this is a situation mostly out of my control. There's nothing I can do about being outed. I know the friend who started it has only good intentions, and I'd hate to make her feel bad, especially this long after she asked me what pronouns I prefer (little over a year). I'm upset about the situation with my professor, but I've been outed to peers before so I can get over it. I also know that I'm student teaching full-time next semester, so I will only interact with fellow students and professors about once a week for an hour. That is completely manageable.

What I'd really like advice on is what I should do going forward.

In the near future, I need to figure out what I want students to call me next semester. I will not be allowed to go by my first name, nor do I really want to. I know for sure that I don't want to go by Mr. and likely won't be called that except by accident. I know I'll probably end up with Ms./Miss., and I can live with both of those but they don't feel "right" either. I've heard of Mx., but it's sort of an "instant out" like introducing myself with they/them pronouns. I also just don't love the way it sounds with my name (I know that makes me picky and difficult and I'm trying to learn to like it but it's not been sounding better in my head).

So I guess I'm looking for a way to avoid prefixes. I'm not sure how my supervisor and co-op will feel about me saying "Hi kids my name is lastname. No need to add a mr or a ms, thanks." I had cis teachers at my high school who went by their last name alone, and I'd like that. In some places it's seen as disrespectful or trying to come off as too friendly, but it never felt like that to me. I know students will probably unconsciously add a prefix, and that's fine, but if the majority of students don't, I think that would be the best case scenario.

In the more distant future, is there anyway I can prevent being outed other than just never coming out ever? It seems silly to say "I want you to think of me in they/them pronouns but not use them in front of other people I'm not out to." I know that 9/10 times I come out, they'll forget that I even came out in the first place and just continue to use she/her and think of me as a woman. 1/10 time I come out, they'll understand I'm agender and then proceed to out me. Are there any other ways this can go? Is there an 11th option?

I understand that this comes from a place of great privilege. I know that some people never get to be out in capacity. I'm so lucky that I haven't had to worry about any physical violence or being kicked out of a social group or living space. It seems incredibly shallow of me to spend so much time worrying and thinking about this. I guess I just hope there's a future where I can be out on my terms (or my brain lets me go back to being cis).

Again, I apologize for posting so frequently, but I don't necessarily feel like I can talk to anyone who knows me in real life for the reasons mentioned above. Let me know if anyone has any thoughts or suggestions.
Sam W
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

No need to apologize, we're here to help folks as often as they need to!

I think you're right that going by your last name only would be the smoothest way to avoid misgendering or outing yourself. I definitely had teachers who did that and no one really batted an eye (some kids still added a prefix, mostly out of habit or cultural norms), So I'd start there and see what kind of reception you get.

With the outing, the way you're proposing actually doesn't sound silly at all. I've had multiple friends do something similar, especially when they were in early stages of coming out; they'd explain how they identified and if their were pronouns we should use for them when it was just us talking one on one versus when they were around others. Some people still mess that up, but most understood the concept of "I want you to think of me as I am but please don't just out to me everyone without my permission."
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

Yeah, I think part of what I've learned is that actually asking someone's pronouns can be super personal. The friend who started definitely had/has intentions of just being a good ally and using the pronouns I gave her, but that was not the end result. I just have to be more careful in the future. I never really came out to her, it was more I just answered her "what pronouns do you want" question.
Sam W
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Sam W »

Yep, there can definitely be a thing where people who are trying to be a good ally miss the part where being out is complex and fraught for a lot of people. As much as that whole situation was/is stressful, a possible benefit is that you're working out how you want to navigate similar situations or conversations in the future, which will hopefully come in handy.
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

This is just an update, I suppose. Some wins and some losses.

My main teacher person has been really supportive and allowing me to use they/them, and I'm now "Mx. lastname."

Everyone else is a mixed bag. The kids, especially the high schoolers, are pretty aware and use the pronouns and prefix. The few kids who are trans and/or nonbinary have sort of flocked to me as an adult who is like them. It's the adults that are the problem. One of the other people I work with is using she/her and "Miss. lastname" for me because it's with really little kids and we were concerned about confusion. With masks on it would probably end up as "Miss" anyway so it doesn't matter too much I guess.

On Friday, one of the assistants (who is a generally woke millennial) misgendered me in front of the class. She apologized and corrected it immediately, but it disproved my theory that the reason other people have a hard time is that I asked them to switch pronouns. This person never knew me as she/her, so it came out on instinct. Today a different assistant (who is a generally not-woke boomer) called me "girl" and a kid definitely used "she/her" for me so that was fun. The fact that I am female will always play a part in how people gender me no matter how I see myself.

Part of what is frustrating is that I have been consciously dressing more masculine than I want to because of what happened last semester. I dress this way specifically to mitigate misgendering even though it's not a gender expression that I'm totally comfortable with. I haven't worn any dresses, and I've selected button ups and slacks that hide my curves. Even still, it seems like that's not good enough to prevent the problem.

It's getting to be close to time for me to ask for letters of recommendation, and there are only one or two people that I can trust to use they/them. I'm absolutely sure that everyone else will use she/her. I plan on asking my supervising professors for letters, and I am not out to them (I'll probably be outed when they come to see me teach which isn't something I can really control, but they're both old enough that it will probably go right over their heads). I am considering asking everyone to use she/her so I can just be in the closet for the interview process. That way, all of the letters will match and I won't have to answer that question for my interviews. Or maybe forever in my professional life (my parents will likely be interested in visiting my workplace for events, and I don't have plans to be out to them ever, so I guess that question is answered).

I guess this is all to say that things are weird, and I'm learning that they might never stop being weird. I don't really want to go back in the closet, but being out sucks too. It's turning into a scylla and charybdis situation. Any advice would be great. Has anyone even been able to get a job working with kids with they/them pronouns in their letters of recommendation? Or any job in a red state with they/them pronouns, for that matter?
Sam W
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Sam W »

Hi Raffles,

Oof, that really is a mixed bag. I am glad that at least some people are making the effort to gender you correctly (and that the trans and nonbinary kids are flocking to you; having a visibly nonbinary or trans adult can make a huge difference to some kids).

With the letters of recommendation, what if you went with the option that feels like it will make the process less stressful? There's stress to both being out and being closeted while interviewing, but one of those might be less stressful than the other depending on which kind of issues you feel more prepared to navigate while also dealing with the interview process.
Heather
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Heather »

Hey there, Raffles.

So, while this (Scarleteen, where I'm the boss, as it were) and writing books are my main jobs, I also get speaking and consulting gigs, and, of course, we have to get funding. In other words, I think that it's fair to say that I have gotten work working with or for young people as a very visible nonbinary person where I am recommended with they/them pronouns, and where they are in all my correspondence. Sometimes even when I have had to correct the people doing the hiring or giving the funding in the process.

I THREE HUNDRED PERCENT hear what you are saying about feeling like being out sucks but being back in would suck, too. I waited a long time to say anything to the whole big wide world about how I identify, especially as someone so visible where so many people had gendered me a certain way for so long. It's been about 12 years now since I did, and to be totally honest, it's rare a day passes where I don't at least once feel like I wish I hadn't, because that sting of doing all the work it takes -- the practical work, the emotional work, the social work, all the endless reminding and educating and AAARRRGGGHHHHHHHHHH of it all -- to have to still be doing it, to still be correcting people so much, to still have the kinds of things happen you're describing is really exhausting, disheartening, and demoralizing.

You go back and forth: would it be better not to identify this way outwardly and have to do any of that work, and thus not have any of this exhaustion and all the bad feelings for the sometimes good stuff? Or not? Who knows, right?

I don't. I mean, I know the ship has sailed, but I do of course always have the option of being like, "You know what, call me whatever the eff you want, I'm done." And I may well be there someday, I can see it, honestly.

I will say that when I was teaching back in my 20s in the 1990s there is no way you or I could have done even this. I couldn't even ask for any names I wanted to be called that were not on my state identification, no way. I literally would have been laughed out of jobs for asking for things we can ask for today, even if everyone doesn't always deliver them. It's crap how glacially slow all this progress is, but looking in the rearview, I do suspect if you keep on, even in a decade you'll be having a much easier time of it with this. (Me, I should be old enough by then that hopefully my Italian genes will have kicked in and will give me the beard and terrifying demeanor to solve this once and for all.)

Per what you want to do for interviews, I want to say that you should do whatever you want. This is for you, identity is fluid anyway, and if she/her makes it easier for you, well, you can always get hired and let them know that you use they/them "now" when you start working. It's really no one's business when you started, and it's not like anyone is required to commit to using given pronouns monogamously, anyway.

I have no idea if any of that helps, but I thought I'd offer it up in case.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

Hi!

Much to think about. In the end, I think I'll just have people do what they're going to do. 2/5 will use they, and the other 3 will use she. That's something I can live with, even in broader terms (like 2/5 of the people who know me use they and the rest use she). It might also be a good way to gauge the climate of a place I'm interviewing at to see how they handle it. I'm honestly shocked at how easily the kids have accepted it, and it gives me hope on that front. Even if all the kids use they and my co-workers don't, that seems like a reasonable compromise too because for the most part I'm interacting with the students and not the other adults.
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Heather »

I think they sounds like a perfectly good call. (I also hear you that sometimes, you have to just kind of look to who *does* accept us and identify us as we ask and really focus on those folks.)
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

I'm back with another question.

One of the people I work with (the assistant I mentioned before) misgendered me in front of the kids again today. I didn't catch the whole interaction, but I'm pretty sure the kids had to remind her. Either way, it was awkward for a second, but she corrected it and then apologized to me after class.

I'm not that hurt by it, but I think I should talk to her, especially because there are at least three kids in the class who are trans. It must be hard for them to watch an adult (in their eyes) get publicly misgendered and know that it could happen to them.

I've decided that if it happens for a third time within the next week, I'll talk to her. However, I'm not really sure what to say. I don't feel a lot of pressure to be nice, and that's not really a good thing because she is my superior and I don't want to come off as insubordinate. A part of me wants to say something like, "While it's polite of you to apologize, it's clear that it hasn't really been changing the behavior. I'd like to remind you that this occurred in front of the students. You are setting a poor example and showing our trans students that there is a good chance that you might misgender them. In the future, I'd prefer that you either change your behavior or just continue to use she/her and not apologize because my forgiveness is starting to feel like giving you permission to do it again."

On the other hand, I know that this likely won't go over well/I won't have the confidence to say anything. Any thoughts on how to handle it?
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Siân »

Hi Raffles,

This sounds so frustrating! I can see why you'd want to speak to her about it. In terms of how to handle it, perhaps if you can give me an idea of what you want to get out of this conversation that will help us think it through?

Do you feel like this person is making a real effort and slipping up sometimes because she's having to overwrite decades of programming? Or like she's not trying at all?

This sentence of yours was interesting:
either change your behavior or just continue to use she/her and not apologize because my forgiveness is starting to feel like giving you permission to do it again.
It sounds like there is a bit of a dynamic where the apologies make you feel like you have to manage her feelings and forgive her. Is that right? When she apologises, would it be easier for you to acknowledge the apology without forgiving her or tiptoeing around her feelings?

You talk about the impact on students. I wonder it would be like for them seeing someone let off the hook for continually misgendering you because the apologies are (understandably!) exhausting? Would something like "rather than going out of your way to make elaborate apologies to me, could you focus on practicing my pronouns and acknowledging your mistakes in the moment" be a good fit?
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

To give her the benefit of the doubt, I'd say that she's trying, but on a surface level way. I think part of the reason she's messing up is that she's seeing me as a woman that uses they/them instead of a on-binary person who uses they/them, if that makes sense. I think she also doesn't see her own transphobia because she was wearing the school's GSA shirt that day. That was another thing that made me annoyed, that she was walking around with that shirt on like she's a good person for queer people to go to but she really isn't.

I don't feel like I have to manage her feelings, I just feel awkward bringing it up again. Here's what that looked like.
Her: Sorry I screamed she really loudly.
Me: It's fine
Her: No it's not
And I get she said that to show me that she thinks it's important, but I kind of don't like when people do that because I feel like I'm over but I have to wait until the other person is over it too, or the other person thinks they have to say it because I'm fragile.

How would I acknowledge the apology without accepting it?
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Emily N »

Hi Raffles,

This all sounds like a super frustrating situation! It’s so irritating when someone presents as an ally with GSA shirts and apologies, but isn’t putting in the actual work to be an ally - it feels like they already believe they are doing all the right things, so don’t have to keep learning anymore.

This year, I’ve been working on acknowledging apologies without accepting them, with moderate success! In the situation you outlined, when she says “sorry I screamed “she” really loudly”, you could try - “Yeah, to be honest, it’s difficult to be misgendered, especially in public in front of the kids.” My go-to when I’m not feeling confrontational at all, but don’t want to imply that it’s okay is to use - “Thank you for your apology” or “Thank you for your apology, but I appreciate/feel good when you use my correct pronouns”. Just to clarify - did you already talk to her about misgendering you and how the apologies make you feel / are you still planning to?
Raffles
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Raffles »

I haven't spoken to her yet (we only work together Monday Wednesday Friday, and that happened on Wednesday), but I plan to when it happens again. Those both sound doable! I think I would have more success with the first one because it's easier for me to do things when it's for someone else (like the kids).
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Re: Agender in the professional world

Unread post by Elise »

Hi Raffles, glad to hear that Emily's advice has helped you be able to form a plan of when and how you will speak with your colleague about this. If it helps to think about, we are all rooting for you and hope it goes really well. Do let us know how you go!
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