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Flipper-Flopper, No Way to Stop Her

He, she, he, she… ugh! The other day I was called downstairs and introduced to a foreign customer team I had not yet met. As the program manager described my function and that of my group, I could not help but notice a startling lack of pronoun consistency. Within one run on sentence I was she, then he, then she again. Always pleasant. I’m very certain it was not intentional, but I could tell the visitors were somewhat confused, or at least more so then they were when I first walked in the room and got the hairy eyeball. Is there a right way to deal with this professionally?

I’ve said it before, but just want to make it clear that my work has been wonderful in dealing with my transition. Not just HR and management, but the overall employee base in general. I got some weird stares and a bit of avoidance at first, but if it’s still going on at all, it’s not so that I even notice. In short, I am not trying to claim any sort of unfair treatment or discrimination; quite the opposite in fact. I’m now even more heavily investing in ensuring success here because I’m really not interested in having to go elsewhere.  Well, this might be a onetime occurrence I figured.

It wasn’t. Last week I attended an all day meeting with the same PM, but different customer. Over the course of 8 hours I was an even mix of Mike and Michelle; he and she, often in the same sentence. Most of the time they silently stared at me from across the table and only engaged in a minimum of chit-chat during lunch. Ugh. I could not have been more uncomfortable and retreated back to the safety of silence whenever possible. Plus I wore the wrong shoes and my feet and ass were killing me just sitting there.

I already know there are some of you out there who are simply aching to get furious. “That’s bullshit Michelle! Next time you stop her dead in her tracks, grab her by the short hairs (I’ve never been sure what that means, although I’ve always guessed it means ‘the short and curlies’ which is inappropriate and pretty gross) and lay it on the line. ‘You will call me ‘she’, bitch.” Yeah, that’s not how I do things at all. I’ve never been super good at beating people into submission. In fact, my team still talks about the one meeting in my 11 years here where I actually raised my voice and got a little upset. When people yell at me, I tend to tune them out in favor of drafting an internal plan on how to get even in the near future and have to assume that anyone else is going to do the same thing.

The calm and reasonable approach is to talk to her on the side, say I noticed what was happening and how our mutual customer was receiving it, and just wanted to let her know. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and I believe it is how most people would professionally approach such a delicate subject. What is bothering me about this then? Why does this seem like the right answer on paper, but not exactly right with a bullet in the forehead? If such a right even exists that is. It’s not conflict avoidance, because the approach isn’t confrontational and falls right within my comfort zone. I don’t even expect the information to make her feel upset or embarrassed. It was an honest mistake and something she is still continuing to process in her own mind. What then?

I think I nailed down my concern. True, if I bring it up, it won’t get anyone in a tizzy. We’ll both write it off to an honest mistake and all part of the transition process. She is human though, and I think it’s a fair bet to say she’ll feel self conscious the next time we are in that situation; that much you can bet on. I would. Do I want that? The human reaction to feeling self-conscious is to avoid those situation when we see no harm in doing so (actual harm is of course in no way related to perceived harm). Next time would she invite me down to meet a new customer or attend an excruciatingly long meeting? She certainly doesn’t want to look like a horses ass in front of them, so wouldn’t it be easier to just handle things herself? What’s the harm? Other than marginalizing my position of course.

In reality, the root of the faux pas is that while she has accepted my change and been very respectful of it, she hasn’t quite made the full switch in her own mind yet. She knew me as a guy for 11 years, and I’ve probably interacted with her about 4 times since my work transition. Couldn’t one argue that ongoing periodic exposure will help her make the mental leap and set a new neural pathway that has ‘she’ and ‘her’ naturally rolling off her tongue without a second thought? The devil in me is saying this is the cowardly way of handling it and I am simply looking for an excuse to do nothing and have everything turn out just ducky. Unfortunately, I think it’s the only option.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

8 responses »

  1. A tough situation to be sure!

    Transparentguy makes a good point about the knowledge you have and the fact that others are seeing it as “new”. I go out of my way to make sure I am respectful of others gender and I wish many were as civil about mine in return. But it does sound like you’re co-worker IS trying and just flubbing up honestly.

    Perhaps take her aside and remind her, in a gentle and understanding way that you prefer to be “she” now and remind her when meeting new people they don’t know you as anyone other that Michelle. Perhaps mentioning that “Mike” or “he” was the person who had formerly done the job and you had taken over his role and that your co-worker is confusing you with him because she wasn’t clear who had done what parts of XYZ (whatever applies to what you do). That may clear the foggy eyes of a new contact and get them to understand the confusion.

    Maybe having that ace up your sleeve will help – until such time, hopefully soon, the confusion ends and complete acceptance begins.


  2. Yeah I found this with my own transition at work as well. While most were quite supportive, they often still had an image in their head of the ‘guy’ they worked with for 4 years prior.

    Things have been much better since I switched jobs. 😉

  3. I have been mulling over the same thing with one of my management team; for now, I’m letting it slide because I see he is trying. I do feel impatient with the time it is taking for people to adjust to the name and pronouns, but I keep reminding myself that while I have had this knowledge inside my entire life, it is fairly new to most of them and for many, something that that they know nothing about.

    Good luck in figuring out a solution.

    • Hi Guy, I think you very succinctly nailed it, “good luck figuring out a solution”, because the answer is really in your statement. They really do know nothing about it, and it’s going to take a lot of time, patience, and personal embarrassment to work though it, but taking that time and the hits that come with it are the only way.

      Love, Michelle

  4. I don’t get bent out of shape or even a little upset, its going to happen with people that have known you or been around you. The hard part that I’m facing is the kids, my looks say female my voice says male and the name.
    Working for a school system with and around kids and parents is tricky and at times uncomfortable for some when kids ask, “Are you a Boy” I was asked this in front of some people and I said yes, I don’t want to try to explain being a transsexual.
    The young man then said, pointing at my breast, “Than why do you have those”. His father pulled him away, I didn’t bother looking up and went about my business.
    Maybe what is going on where you work is something that will have to develop over time for you, at least you don’t work with kids under 18, though I’m sure some of them act like it.
    I’m not sure how my situation will work out seeing how the world is the way it is. Maybe I should have changed my name and worked on my voice in the beginning, I didn’t want to through to much at my employer as I transitioned, its to late to go back and rearrange the way I transitioned now, I’m just going to let it ride. I don’t let them see it but I do get scared at times.

    • Hi Erin! Oh, you are so right – kids are a whole different thing all together and then some. Thank you for bringing this up, because it gave me an idea for another post. I pick up my son from after school care and get plenty of strange looks, especially when he proudly declares, “this is my dad!”.

      I think your situation though is far more difficult. It’s much easier to be a “customer” than someone who actually works at a school. I totally understand you feeling scared, but the situation can be worked. Write you this weekend, OK?

      Love, Michelle

  5. Hiya Sis,

    Discretion is the better part of valor. One of the biggest myths we fall trap to is that every situation has to be “handled”, and that doing nothing is cowardice. Doing nothing is is also a choice. In this case it is the best choice.

    Remember that one of our biggest assets and also one of our biggest hurdles is time. She will come around. She is trying. Give her time. It is awkward now, but a year from now you two will be able to joke about it.

    Trust your instincts. You know you actually are a pretty sharp girl. 🙂

    • Thank Sis! You are a pretty fine needle yourself miss. 🙂 Totally with you – got some wide variations of advice on PE, but I’m comfortable that long haul patience is the right choice here. Be careful, people are going to start thinking we think alike or something!
      Love, Michelle


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