I realised on Friday (with some relief) that there are just 40 days left of 2020. And whilst I’ve fared better than many, it’s still a year I’ll be glad to see the back of.
But Friday was also Transgender Day of Remembrance- something that I’ve been reflecting on and wanting to acknowledge.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day to honour the memory of those who have lost their lives due to gender diversity prejudice, harassment and violence.
These are individuals who have died because the intrinsic immutable facts of who they are as a human, were not met with acceptance, empathy and impartiality from others.
Every year, the 20th November prompts us to question the systems and beliefs that imply that the trans community have less intrinsic value as human beings, than those who are cisgender.
The systems and beliefs that degrade a trans person’s sense of belonging and reinforce negative attitudes towards gender nonconformity.
Such as ‘Spousal Veto’- a law in the UK that requires an individual’s spouse give their consent (or dissent) for them to be granted a Gender Recognition Certificate.
That’s the piece of paper required to change the sex stated on their Birth Certificate..
.. which itself has just two options (male or female), is decided by someone’s visual judgement alone (usually the relevant healthcare professional) and is based solely on which sex a baby’s genitalia most closely represents at birth.
.. despite there being plethora of ambiguous or non- textbook ways for a perfectly healthy baby to ‘look’.
All feels a bit medieval to me.
Or the dehumanising process of being categorised as ‘pink’ or ‘blue’ (pink or blue.. really?!) whilst passing through TSA body scanners in US airports.
And if that outcome doesn’t align with the ‘M’ or ‘F’ that’s assigned to you by a Security Officer’s subjective interpretation of how you present your gender identity? Well, you’ll likely be denied boarding and treated to an invasive body search.
My mind boggles when I think of the overwhelming fear, frustration and humiliation that these experiences must cause.
Surely (surely!) we can find better alternatives to these realities- if only we prioritised it?
And Friday 20th November also marked the end of Transgender Awareness week- a week that widely flies under the radar but whose drum we should really be beating 52 weeks of the year.
Trans Awareness Week is not a week for people of the trans community to put their hands up and shout ‘Here I am! Ask me anything!’.
It is not a week for peering more closely at our colleagues, blithely subjecting those we know as trans to a deeply personal and offensive quizzing, or expecting the trans community to educate the cisgender population on their lived experience.
So in the context of our professional arena, what can we be doing during Trans Awareness Week to ensure that we’re shaping our place of work as trans inclusive, and providing equality and parity for the sex and gender diverse (SGD)?
To start, it’s worth unpicking the language grey area that surrounds this discussion.
Most of us are hardwired to squirm uncomfortably in our seats when asked to talk about the anatomy of others (let alone- God forbid- their feelings or psyche), so I think it’s important to say that there’s no shame in not being familiar with the lexicon, or adept at using it- yet.
The first opportunity for wrong footing is not realising or acknowledging that a person’s ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ are not inextricably linked; and nor is the ‘norm’ a congruence between the two.
When we refer to someone’s ‘sex’, it’s really chromosomes that we’re talking about. And ultimately how those chromosomes manipulate certain cells into forming a specific organ or producing a specific hormone.
Whilst sex is technically defined by biology and fully formed at birth, it’s not binary- meaning M or F aren’t the only two options. In fact, close to 2% of the population are considered to be Intersex- the lucky owners of chromosomes, hormones or bodies that aren’t classically male OR female (but may be both).
So how does our gender differ from our sex?
If you find yourself asking this question, then you’re probably what is referred to as ‘cisgender’, meaning the gender that you ‘feel’ aligns with the gender that you naturally ‘look’.
For example, you were categorised as male at birth, and you have no doubt that your internal identity is also male, man, he.
But gender is not an absolute, static thing that is dictated by tangible physical attributes.
It belongs to the brain rather than the body, and reflects how we wish to be viewed and treated at a societal level. And as gender is in itself a social construct, how one chooses to express one’s gender may not conform to those conventional expectations.
Gender is technically limitless and cannot be assigned to you by anyone other than yourself.
An incongruence between sex and gender is the most crude way to define what it is to be trans.
A trans person may choose to live publicly in their gender, or may not. They have taken steps to ‘transition’, or not. They may ‘pass’ as their preferred gender, or not.
There’s absolutely no question that sex and gender diversity is a complex and highly sensitive topic to navigate as an Employer. But imagine how much more difficult it is, to thrive and belong in your place of work when you inhabit a physical body that does not reflect your knowledge of your ‘authentic self’.
To fulfil your potential as a human being and have a rewarding career, whilst also managing the ignorance, prejudice and attitudes of others who don’t even have the words to speak about your experience as a human being.
So yes, our first move in advocating for the trans community is to learn the right language.
Here at the Hunted group, we’ve ensured that everyone has easy access to a relevant glossary of terms. And importantly- a safe, confidential and non-judgemental forum in which to ask questions, voice worries and learn from others.
Secondly, as those in Leadership roles responsible for setting the culture of a business, we must strive to move away from any mentality that treats cisgender as the norm from which others stray.
Taking a deep dive into adopting trans inclusive practices and policies is a significant project in itself, but we can begin by taking simple steps to affirm our trans employees’ value to the business and improve their sense of worth as members of our organisation.
1. Encourage all employees to proactively express their preferred pronouns, regardless of their identity
2. Where possible offer non-gendered bathrooms, or at the least voice unequivocal support for your trans employees to use the bathroom of their choice
3. Publicly champion a non-gendered dress code to contribute towards de-stigmatising variant gender expression
4. Adequately equip cisgender employees to be informed informal champions for their trans colleagues
5. Ensure that trans employees have access to the relevant gender specific healthcare benefits, and be aware that these may change
6. Give your transitioning trans employees the opportunity to decide how their transition is communicated to the business and handled with peers
And make no mistake, it is the responsibility of Managers and Leaders to set the tone that ensures respect and dignity for SGD employees- whether transitioning or not.
If we’re paying lip service to these topics, but simply going through the motions to be legally compliant, rather than driving change with genuine conviction and compassion, the actual impact in the business will be slim to none.
Just a straight cisgender male should not expect to encounter stigma or hostility for being his authentic self at work, neither should your transgender workforce fear being ostracised.
Or feel that they must ‘manage’ how they express their identity in social or professional settings to influence the response of others.
And just in case it needs to said, here’s why that is:
1. This isn’t a tick box exercise- these are issues directly impact the wellbeing and mental health of people to whom we have a duty of care
2. An apathetic approach to trans rights has been shown to reduce employee engagement by up to 30%, having a huge impact on productivity and absenteeism
3. Failing to have an active agenda to create a trans friendly workplace will have a negative impact on your employer brand and undermine your business’ ability to attract talent
4. Sex and gender diverse employees are legally safeguarded by relevant Equality Acts in the UK, US and ANZ (amongst others)
5. Higher churn within any identity group due to a lack of inclusion and low sense of belonging, will impact the bottom line through a dozen additional costs
It pains me to write points 3,4 & 5, but there we have it.
This is by no means an exhaustive look at trans rights in the workplace, or even a sufficient enough explanation of the complexities of sex and gender diversity.
But hopefully for those who needed it, it’s a point of reference from which we can build caring and confidence.