This week I did what felt like a really big thing for me – I asked my supervisor about wearing feminine clothing at work. And while I had built it up in my head as this huge conversation, it was actually very chill and amazing. She was fully supportive of me wearing a diversity of professional clothing that felt comfortable to me and didn’t have gendered expectations of what that looked like. I felt so valued and respected that I walked out of there and immediately gushed on Facebook about how wonderful it was.
This wasn’t the first conversation we had about it but this felt like the biggest deal to me. I started this job 7 weeks ago after leaving a job I had been at for 3 years where I came out slowly while working there. No one at my previous company treated me badly because of my gender and I had several wonderful allies there, but most people didn’t really seem to get it and didn’t ask questions to understand. When I tried wearing more gender affirming clothing I got less compliments and people seemed a little awkward around me. So I eventually gave up trying until my last week when I stopped giving a fuck and came into work in dresses and skirts.
I’m not the greatest about asserting my gender and pronouns and I feel incredibly awkward having the “coming out” conversations at work. My role is very service oriented and the mindset of making everyone else’s job easier is hard to break. I chose when I was interviewing not to come out and I dressed in fairly masculine attire (with purple in my shirt of course) based on the advice of a couple trans women I spoke to who said that getting the job is ultimately more important than being yourself all the time. But when I was starting to be introduced to new colleagues with he/him pronouns it felt really weird. I didn’t want to correct my teammates while they were talking and embarrass them so I didn’t know how to come out tactfully. When I finally had a moment to breathe and sit down at my new desk I decided that I wanted to just get it off my chest and tell all three of my main teammates at the same time.
I sent this email to them on my first day:
I keep forgetting to mention this when we’re talking and I’m a bit shy about correcting people but I thought I should tell you while we’re still doing introductions and meeting new people that I prefer they/them pronouns for myself. I’m genderqueer which is a nonbinary trans identity. Happy to talk about it more but I wanted to let you all know while I’m thinking about it.
Example: This is [Genderbeard]. They are the new support staff for Dr [X].
I was happily surprised to quickly get supportive responses from them AND to have them immediately start using my pronouns in emails and introductions. They stumbled a bit of course in the first few weeks but so do I, even referring to myself in third person sometimes. I’m happy to say that my boss has not only consistently used them for the past few weeks but she corrects others in the office when I’m not there. She said the example sentence was particularly helpful which is something I should keep in mind.
The first few weeks on the job I continued to dress in what most people would perceive as gay male fashion (bright collared shirts, fashionable shoes, colorful pants) partly because I was testing the water of the office culture and mostly because I didn’t have professional level femme clothing yet. But the last couple weeks I have started to incorporate more androgynous blends of colorful “men’s section” pants with blouses. On the quiet summer day I talked with my boss, this is what I was wearing. ->
In our conversation she not only affirmed that the only expectation was a professional level of clothing appropriate to the day’s activities and guests but emphasized the non-gendered nature of our dress code. She told me she already had conversations with HR about how she and them could best support me only to sadly find out that they had no clue and no resources. When they jumped to wanting to use me as a spokesperson for all genderqueer people at the company, she defended me and emphasized her view about treating me with respect and not tokenizing me. Needless to say, I was overjoyed with her response and I feel incredibly lucky to have found this job and this team.
To make an already long story short, the take home message here is that sometimes your own fear is the biggest barrier (and the financial resources to buy new clothes maybe). If you take a risk and put yourself out there you may be pleasantly surprised by the response. I agonized for weeks over how to have these conversations and when I did I was met with only support and respect. I’m so glad I took the risks I have and I’m excited to continue building up a professional wardrobe and sharing it here.