Pansy at Work

Being out at work can be intimidating but for me it is important. Like most people, I spend a large part of my waking hours at work so if I can’t be pansy at work I can’t be pansy very much at all. I want to be able to express my nonconformist gender identity on the job.

But being transgender, gender-queer, or gender-nonconforming can be risky in the workplace. A survey (PDF) by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 2009 found:

  • Double the rate of unemployment: Survey respondents experience unemployment at twice the rate of the population as a whole.
  • Near universal harassment on the job: Ninety-seven percent (97%) of those surveyed reported experiencing harassment or mistreatment on the job.
  • Significant losses of jobs and careers: Forty-seven percent (47%) had experienced an adverse job outcome, such as being fired, not hired or denied a promotion.
  • High rates of poverty: Fifteen percent (15%) of transgender people in our sample lived on $10,000 per year or less–double the rate of the general population.
  • Significant housing instability: Nineteen percent (19%) of our sample have been or are homeless, 11% have faced eviction and 26% were forced to seek temporary space.

To quote a line from a play about a trans-woman, “Of everything they cut, I miss my paycheck the most.” Worse, these statistics don’t even address gender-queer people.

Things are changing. In a decision that could dramatically alter the legal landscape for transgender workers across the nation, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that an employer who discriminates against an employee or applicant on the basis of the person’s gender identity is violating the prohibition on sex discrimination contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Howard County Maryland, where I work, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the areas of employment, housing, public accommodations, financing, and health and social services.

DSC_0003Being on firm legal ground is helpful but avoiding a legal battle with my employer is better so I checked our employee handbook to see what policies would apply to me being pansy at work. I express my gender identity by the way I dress. Our company dress code is business casual and our employee handbook clarifies that mean no beach wear or sports jerseys. The handbook goes on to say that a department manager can set  the standards for their department. So I needed to come out to my department manager before dressing overtly pansy at work.

I sat down with my manager and told him that I have “gender identity issues”. His response was, “That’s a little T.M.I. but OK.” I explained that I would be dressing differently so I thought I should let him know what was going on. He was very supportive and even told me that he once worked with a trans woman during her transition. With the hurdle cleared I felt a little more confident about being pansy at work.

I am incredibly privileged to work in tech at a job where I don’t deal directly with customers. A code monkey’s style usually consists of ironic t-shirts and jeans. So I just pushed things a bit to the colorful and fem. I wear my favorite cute “girly” t-shirts, pastel jeans, and woman’s shoes. I know some people are just avoiding me now that I’m out and some of my team members are a little uncomfortable with my appearance. But my coworkers will get use to the new me as I become comfortable being openly pansy.

But tech can also be a heavily testosterone-charged atmosphere. Everyone wants to be the one with the right answer and the smartest in the room. So being pansy means more than wearing cute clothes. It means choosing not to play that game. Sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in the competition but I am finding that I’m less stressed now that I avoid it.

I hope that by being out at there in the world as a pansy, at work, at the store, where-ever, I can help normalize the appearance of gender-nonconforming people. In some tiny way I want to make the world a happier more loving place. That’s part of being pansy.