Workplace Guidelines for Transgendered Employees

Guidelines for Gender Benders

(this section contributed by the late Penni Ashe Matz)

Gender Bending may be seen as representing a hybrid of crossdressing and transsexual transitioning. Generally speaking, it involves some mode of gender ambiguous presentation: that is, the sending of "mixed signals."

Examples of gender bending include:

Gender bending almost always involves more personal risk than either crossdressing or transitioning. This is because both crossdressers and transgenders who transition from one gender presentation to another are still conforming to some prescribed gender norms. Gender benders are violating those prescribed gender norms -- sometimes obviously so. A gender bender naturally or intentionally presents as somewhere in between "man" and "woman."

An example of gender bending is an individual not on hormones, born male, grooming a feminine hair-do, sporting nail polish (sheer or colored), jewelry with a definite feminine flair to it, and wearing one or more outer articles of women's clothing.

To pass or not to pass

For crossdressers and transitioning/transitioned transgenders, "passing" is a major component of the objective. The idea is to avoid being perceived as "a man in a dress," or a "tomboy." But for gender benders, the objective is closer to expressing a need just to be oneself.

We interrupt this discussion for a definition

Gender bending is best seen as a continuum.   There are many gradations of gender bending, ranging from presenting unquestionably in concert with one's birth sex, to presenting almost completely incongruously with one's birth sex.

On one end of the gender bending continuum is what may be called "pushing the envelope."   This may involve a woman sporting a masculine-looking tatoo on her arm, or a man wearing a dress or a skirt.

In the middle of the continuum, one has modified one's presentation to the point where it may be difficult to determine if the individual is presenting as a man or as a woman.   Often, this is subject to personal interpretation, but an example of this might be a woman in a man's business suit with a "man's" hairstyling.

Finally, at the far end of the continuum, we have the individual who is presenting mostly as a gender incongruous with one's genitals.   An example of this would be a transgender woman who has not begun hormone treatments or undergone any surgical procedures, but dresses and acts primarily as a woman.

Gender benders are usually described as "sending mixed signals" regarding one's gender.   It is also possible for a post-operative transsexual to gender-bend.   An example of this would be a post-operative transgender man opting to present as a woman.


For transsexuals and most traditional transgenders, transitioning is a relatively abrupt change. Generally, one announces that one will be "switching" genders. While an abrupt shift to gender ambiguous presentation can be done, it is not recommended in this culture at this time.

Instead, the safest process, particularly in organizations without explicit protections for gender expression, is one more of evolution than revolution. Evolution is also recommended where gender expression is protected explicitly, as a means of managing existing relationships with co-workers. In this evolution, one is advised to change only one element of one's presentation at a time, and give people a chance to get adjusted to it. The idea, here, is to make changes that will "fly under the radar" of one's co-workers. This evolutionary approach allows one to gauge the reactions of one's co-workers as one makes these minor changes, further enabling one's abilities to manage relationships. Evolutionary change helps people to understand that you're still the same person; revolutionary change helps people to think that you're somehow a "different person," that you've changed somehow.

Coming out

It may be appropriate, at some point in one's transitioning process, to "come out" to one's co-workers. This enables people to begin to understand that with which one is wrestling, and provides opportunities for people to ask questions. Generally speaking, the specifics of the coming out process depend both on the individual coming out and the context in which the individual works. What works for one person in one organization might not work for another person in another organization. Also, generally speaking, a low-key approach tends to work best: let people know, through your approach and behavior, that you respect their individual sensitivities.

This coming out involves letting people know, more or less informally, that one is transgender. Probably the best approach is to steer a conversation towards a point where an allusion to transgender -- or even the mentioning of it -- seems natural and appropriate. Sometimes it works best to manage the conversation so that one's co-worker is drawn to ask questions, which may be answered more or less directly. Gradually, over time, in a process not unlike one's evolutionary change in presentation, one's transgender status evolves from being a closely-guarded secret to a fact of common knowledge.

Pronoun usage and addressing by name

The name used to address the gender-bending individual should be according to the individual's articulated preferences. Such a gender-bender might introduce oneself by saying, "Hi, I'm John Doe, but please call me Jane." This moves one's preferred name into the category of a nickname, and can be treated as such. This individual might sign email with one's nickname, or write an article for the glbt employee resource group's newsletter over the byline of "John 'Jane' Doe," the standard treatment of a nickname.   Over time, this individual could identify oneself simply as "Jane Doe," as is done by many people using nicknames.

Pronoun usage should be by the individual's preference. In all cases with transgender individuals, the safest approach is to ask the individual to identify one's preference, although if this is impractical or impossible, safe practice is to follow the gender-bender's preferred name. Following this example, the individual introduced in the previous paragraph would prefer the feminine pronoun over the masculine.

Restroom usage

In an ideal world, restroom usage would follow pronoun preference. Which would mean that a gender bending individual who presents as a woman, wears men's clothing and prefers to be addressed with the masculine pronoun should be expected to use the men's restroom, in situations were the restrooms are gendered. This is not such an ideal world, though we can hope for -- and work to foster -- growth.

Therefore, at this time and until the greater culture becomes more understanding and accepting of transgender, restroom usage for gender bending individuals should be negotiated with one's management and co-workers. In the absence of that, restroom usage should follow presentation, to the extent feasible.

Caution: If you are presenting as your birth sex (albeit with some differences) use the restroom matching your birth sex. This means that men in kilts use the men's room and women in pants use the women's room. If not, you may need assistance. Ask Mary Ann for help.

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Copyright (c) 1999, 2001 by Mary Ann Horton. All rights reserved.