Guidelines for Supportive Coworkers
(this section contributed by the late Penni Ashe Matz)
Before the co-worker comes out
Probably more so for transsexuals and gender benders than for crossdressers,
there will likely be signs of gender variance. The safest approach here is
to avoid a direct query, as the individual may not be ready for such a direct
approach. Many transgender people are sensitized to gender phobia; sometimes,
this sensitization can enable transpeople to see gender phobia where none
Try to create a safe space for the individual to begin the coming out process
with you. Possible approaches include:
Listen for clues in the individual's conversational language and respond
to these cues by creating opportunities for more expansive conversation.
Create conversational opportunities to broach the subject. Discussion
of movies or television shows involving transgender is one way to do this,
as in, "Did you see Nash Bridges last night? I thought those two cops
who went undercover looked great in that beauty pageant!" (In the episode
mentioned, two cops went undercover as transgender women in a beauty pageant,
under the direction of RuPaul.)
When the co-worker comes out
Feel free to ask questions. Understand that the transgender individual
is an expert on the subject, while you likely are just learning about it.
Be sensitive to the individual's preferences such as name, pronoun,
etc. At the same time, be aware that the transgender individual is
likely to be sensitized to indicators of gender phobia, or discomfort in
the individual's coworkers.
Many transgenders appreciate helpful tips on presentation -- make-up for
transwomen, grooming and fashion advice for both transmen and transwomen.
A few key tips
There are a few miscellaneous tips for helping the transperson feel comfortable:
Get and display a Safe Space magnet (available from your EBP or
EQUAL! @ Lucent Technologies,)
an "I'm straight but not narrow" button (available from PFLAG.)
Ask the transperson to please recommend a good book on the subject.
Chances are the individual has read it already.
Locate a PFLAG TSON chapter in your area, and attend a couple meetings.
If this is not practical, or if you prefer a different approach, ask the
transgender individual if the support group one belongs to has programs for
or is accepting of friends, family and allies. The chances are that
the transgender individual belongs to a support group
Be alert for gender phobic language coming from co-workers or superiors,
and speak out against that. Better still, be alert for all hurtful
language, and speak out against that. Remind them that such talk
is hurtful and damaging not only to the transgender individual against whom
it is directed, but also to everyone, because it creates an atmosphere of
Rent or borrow a good movie, like Just Like A Woman (involving
crossdressing) or Ma Vie En Rose (My Life in Pink, and involving
What's been provided here are merely first steps, and some may not be appropriate
for you. Subsequent steps of course will depend on your initial
experiences and your own individual comfort levels.