How Can I Support a Transgender Co-worker?
Transgender is the term used for someone whose internal self-identity does not conform with the physical gender they were born with. Transgender people may opt to undergo medical treatment for gender reassignment, and/or to dress and modify their external gender expression in keeping with their self-identity. The decision to undergo gender reassignment or to modify gender expression is often difficult but necessary for a person who lives with a sense that their birth gender does not match their sense of self.
Having supportive and respectful family, friends and co-workers is important to a transgender person’s ability to transition successfully. Here are some tips on how you can support a transgender or transitioning co-worker:
- Treat your co-worker with respect and dignity. Remember that each and every person is a unique individual with intrinsic value as a human being, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, personality, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, socio-economic level, education, job, cultural heritage, etc.
- Make an effort to get to know your co-worker. Everyone has a story, and most of the time we have no idea of the challenges they have faced or are facing now. Depending on the relationship you have had with your co-worker prior to transition, spend time listening, communicating, and asking questions (that respect your co-worker’s privacy) to better understand your co-worker and prevent a breakdown in work relationship.
- Remember that transitioning and changing gender expression are intensely personal decisions. Respect your co-worker’s right to privacy. Respect your co-worker’s preferences in how much information to share, and with whom. Asking personal questions, such as about gender reassignment surgery, medical care, etc. are inappropriate.
- Educate yourself about transgender issues. There are many resources online and in support communities. A few are listed at the end of this document.
- Use the correct name and pronouns when addressing or referring to your transgender co-worker. If in doubt, ask. Communicating your interest in using the correct name and pronouns is respectful.
- Don’t ask a transgender person’s “real name”. The name they go by is their real name. If you know the name a transgender person was given at birth, don’t share it without your co-worker’s explicit permission. Likewise, don’t share photos of a transgender person prior to their transition without their permission.
- If you accidentally use their birth name or a pronoun inconsistent with their gender expression, apologize quickly and sincerely and then move on. Above all, do not use inconsistent pronouns or name purposefully or as a joke.
- Seek support for your own reactions to your co-worker’s transition or gender expression. It may take some time to adjust working with someone you know well who is transitioning. The EAP is a confidential, free service available to help you sort through your feelings and personal challenges.
- If you are uncomfortable using the gender-assigned restrooms, seek out a “unisex” gender neutral, or single occupancy restroom. Your transgender co-worker has the right to use the restroom which coincides with their gender expression.
- Don’t gossip. If you wouldn’t say something to your co-worker, don’t say it at all, to anyone.
- Avoid back-handed compliments. Statements such as “I’d never know you were a man”, “You just look SO feminine”, “I’d never have guessed…” are hurtful and disrespectful. A true compliment is one you might give just as easily to a gender-conforming co-worker (“Nice sweater, Jane!” “Love that haircut, it’s so you!”)
- If you see or hear someone else being disrespectful toward your transgender co-worker, speak up. Be the person you would want speaking up for you if you were being bullied, harassed, discriminated against or treated disrespectfully.