Artwork by Amit Kaikini
You have been thinking about it. You did a little (or a lot of!) research. You spent countless hours on Google and even though you still can’t remember what all the damn terms mean, you genuinely want to begin hiring trans persons to your workplace. Where do you begin, though? Will it cost you anything? How much?
First – this is great! We need more workplaces to commit themselves to creating an inclusive, welcoming space for trans persons. It’s 2017 already! As for your questions, here is a quick 5-point checklist to help you get started, all in lingo that you understand!
First things first: Why are you doing this? To be an aware, responsible organization? To keep up with the times? Is there that one prized resource you have been trying to poach off your competitor? Are you trying to bring on a new client who won’t give you their business unless you are inclusive?
The list can go on and on, but you get the point! It’s important to understand why, because even though you won’t have to spend extra money, this is not the same as saying that there won’t be effort involved. Unless you know how important this is for you, you probably won’t take it seriously enough to follow through, and any trans person you hired will be stuck in a bad place. We don’t want that, do we?
Still here? Awesome! Now let’s begin by breaking the ONE worst habit we have as a society that makes a trans person’s life most difficult. Don’t assume someone’s gender! Simple as that. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. When you meet someone new, you ask their name right? Just add one more question there and ask what pronouns do they prefer. If it’s a cis-gendered person, they will probably just answer and forget, but if it’s a trans person, you just made someone sleep better tonight!
Of course, it’s more complex than just the pronouns, but that is a good start. We will cover some of the rest in the next section.
So let’s say you just saw someone new in your office and you just can’t figure out whether they are male or female. Or this new colleague just entered the men’s washroom and you could have sworn you saw bumps on their chest. What do you do? OMG! What do you do?
Guess what? Nothing! Understand that bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and gender, even sex, is a construct, which is just a fancy way to say that we see someone’s gender the way WE have been conditioned to see it. It’s not absolute and not written in stone! It may or may not match with the gender a person is assigned at birth AND it’s fluid. What this means is a person who identifies as one gender today can identify with another tomorrow and perhaps no gender day after.
So if gender is so fluid, why should your perceptions about it be rigid? Just keep an open mind and know that unless you are this person’s doctor or an intimate partner, their body is none of your business. And any questions, comments, or rumours about it are definitely not okay!
Made it this far, eh? Wonderful! Now let’s talk beyond the interpersonal, and focus a little on the organizational. Often, trans persons will have names that are different from those on their documents. Some of us do, in fact, change our legal names but considering how cumbersome that process is, that is not always the case. Some companies I have worked with in the past tackled this by introducing me in my chosen name, while keeping my birth name only in their official records (for payroll, etc.). That was a one-off gesture though, but you might want to formalize the process. Maybe have an additional column on the joining form? Use only initials? There is more than one way to go about this, of course.
The other thing is attire. Do you have an official dress code in your office? Is that based on one’s gender? If so, that will need to be relaxed.
What about your discrimination and harassment policy? Does that have trans-specific clauses? Generally, most of these are already covered under gender-based discrimination or harassment rules, but that, of course, depends on how broad the definitions used are.
Don’t panic! You won’t need to get construction crew to make special trans-only rooms! Just be mindful of some basic things. For example, washrooms. Do you have unisex washroom(s)? If not, can you convert one of your existing washrooms? Even if it’s something as simple as changing the sign at the entrance — oh, and sensitizing your existing workforce, of course!
To pass successfully, a lot of trans persons (pre-op trans men, in particular) either bind or wear a lot of layers under their shirts. If they are medically transitioning, the changing hormones in their body sometimes cause them to have higher or lower body temperatures. So, before assigning workstations, you should talk to them. The solution could be as simple as assigning them a desk directly under the AC vent, but the thoughtfulness is what counts here.
While trans persons don’t usually have specific dietary requirements (not on account of their gender, anyway!) the binding can sometimes make it difficult to swallow. If you serve meals in your cafeteria, you might want to check if some lighter food options (like soups or mashed stuff) can be arranged, if required. Not all trans persons will need this, but some might.
Lastly, know that the only way to know what we need is to ask us. So, ask as many questions as you can. Not personal, uncomfortable questions, of course, but questions about our experiences and lives and needs. It will probably seem like a lot of work at first, but you will soon realize that all of it should anyway be a part of any 21st century organization with a diverse workforce, irrespective of whether there are visibly trans persons in it. Gender non-conformance is much more common than you think!