educating my ignorant but well-intentioned collaborator is exhausting me

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a long-term mentor-esque figure who I used to work for and have benefited from in terms of professional connections. Earlier this year, he approached me about collaborating on a project that was right up my alley. I had some hesitation because of our differences: me, a queer woman in her late twenties; him, a straight man in his forties, which I worried would make for a weird power dynamic, not to mention a potential disparity in fluency on topics like gender, sexuality, etc., which were tangentially related to the project.

But I have always had positive experiences with him and he hasn’t been my boss for years. He also encouraged me to challenge him if I had concerns — my comfort with these topics was part of why he asked me to collaborate, since he wanted to make his project more inclusive and knew he wasn’t the best person to do so. As a bonus, because he’s seasoned in his field, there was a high chance it would actually come to fruition and be profitable. So I said yes.

Well, it’s since become clear that his familiarity with engaging topics around women, queer people, and trans people is a lot more elementary than I anticipated. As a result, I’m spending a lot time engaging with and editing the parts of his work that are inadvertently sexist, queerphobic, and transphobic. He acknowledges my notes and I can fix them as I please, but they’re not really sinking in in any permanent way and I don’t think I have the bandwidth to continue playing the role of educator on top of my half of the project longterm.

How do I back out of the project respectfully? We have a positive history and his intentions are good — kind of like when your grandpa never learned that you shouldn’t use “transexual” anymore or thinks non-straight sexualities are exotic and defining personality traits. It doesn’t make it okay, but it’s a matter of ignorance versus outright maliciousness. But I’m not really eager to say, “You aren’t educated enough on basic feminist vocabulary or LGBTQ people, and I didn’t sign up for so much emotional labor. But don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you because it’s clearly a generational thing!” So, I’m at a loss.

Is there a way to step down in a way that doesn’t burn this bridge or put me in the position of having to explain in detail the ways I think he’s insensitive and uneducated?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 450 comments… read them below }

  1. JokeyJules*

    You might want to sit him down and just explain the wasted time of you having to repeatedly make the same edits in regards to transphobic, queerphobic, and other similar remarks. I personally would avoid going deeper into how things are different now and we should be more respectful of others. I don’t think that’s what you would want to focus on here. Just sit and explain to him that all of these redundant edits are wasting both of your time, and give him examples of the correct language moving forward.

    Of course, if you want to have “the talk” about respecting others and changing the language we use to reflect that – go for it! but I wouldn’t make the the focal point here.

    1. MuseumChick*

      I think this is the approach I would take. Something like “Fergus, I’m continuing to see X and Y and having to edit them to A and B. This takes a lot of time and as a result this project is a lot more time consuming and labor intensive than I thought it would be. It would be a huge help if we just used A and B so we don’t continue to take up more time on edits than needed.”

      You are basically framing this as asking for a favor and pointed out the very real time impact on you.

      1. JokeyJules*

        exactly! it doesn’t need to be your responsibility to change the way he thinks. Keep it 100% focused on the task at hand and the work-issue which is that you have to repeatedly fix the same errors.
        I like the way you phrased it, MuseumChick!

    2. AnonEMoose*

      It’s a further effort on your part, but I do like the idea of, if you’re up for it, providing him with “instead of this, say this.” I mean, it might help somewhat. And his response to that might be an indicator of how open he is to actually learning and not just relying on you to carry him.

      I’m a woman, but straight and cis, so my relevant experience is limited. My most relevant experience is my work with the science fiction/fantasy fandom community. One of the most exhausting tropes there is the “But he’s (it’s usually he) doesn’t MEAN to be creepy. He’s just socially awkward and you (usually she) should teach him how to be better.”

      Just a “few” problems with that one…because a chunk of these guys are using “socially awkward” as an excuse to creep on women. And no number of women trying to “teach them better” is going to be helpful. Because they’re already getting what they want – to creep on women without real consequences.

      Some of them, while not as malicious, seem to think that being socially awkward means they don’t have to expend any effort to improve their social skills and everyone else should just be understanding. I’m not saying no understanding should be extended, but I don’t think it should be “You be understanding, and I do nothing” if that makes sense.

      Your mentor sounds a bit like the latter. I’m sure he’s great in many ways, but he is putting the onus on you to correct him, not on himself to actually learn. It’s up to you if it’s worth the additional effort to talk with him about this being a lot for you, and you need him to apply what you’re telling him independently. That what he’s doing right now is giving you the message that he wants to take a cosmetic approach, and that’s not really enough to actually be inclusive. Maybe it’s a start, but it’s not all that needs doing.

      1. AKchic*

        ommfgs, no. Socially awkward =/= creepy. There is a great opinion piece I post repeatedly on the subject just in time for our local renaissance fair and cosplay conventions. Even after that, I still get people trying to play the “but *he* is socially awkward!” Nope. Not buying it. Y’buddy didn’t try to play Unlace The Wench and make a clumsy drunken pass at me in front of children because they were “socially awkward”.

        Sorry. I’ll step off my wash basin. This subject really lights my underskirts afire.

        1. AnonEMoose*

          One of the best things I’ve read about it is that someone who is socially awkward is, generally speaking, socially awkward with everyone. Their friends of all genders. Their bosses. Not just women or others who are perceived to have less social power than they do.

          I mean, maybe they’re more awkward with people they’re attracted to (many people are awkward with people they’re attracted to), but the awkwardness doesn’t just disappear with everyone else and reappear in that circumstance.

          1. Oranges*

            Yes. That’s my Litmus test also. Like with Louie CK, did he do this with all females? No? Just the ones that had less power? Okay then. “Go straight to “will not buy”, do not pass go, do not collect any money.”

          2. RUKiddingMe*

            Yeah those “socially awkward” guys sure seem to know who *not* to be socially awkward with. Funny that…

          3. jb*

            As a socially awkward guy, I appreciate this. I can think of about 10 friends with whom I’m not awkward. Everyone else, regardless of power, it’s one or another coping mechanism.

          4. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Thank you — I’ve been trying to put that into words for a very long time now. It will be helpful.

      2. Lindsay gee*

        I really like your last two paragraphs especially, and captured my thoughts exactly. While not malicious, if he’s not putting any effort into changing himself, then the extra burden is being placed on you.

      3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        “I’m sure he’s great in many ways, but he is putting the onus on you to correct him, not on himself to actually learn.”
        I just had to take a long walk around the building after dealing with this today.
        I think, since you a collaborating on this, it’s a great point to bring up.
        “Fergus, as I continue to edit your work, I am seeing the same language, the same tone, essentially the same problems. I came into this to help you because I thought you were interesting in learning, but you’re not. You want (and let’s face it) need me to correct this work, but I’m not going to do that unless you start taking in and utilizing what I’m telling you.”

      4. Vanellope*

        If by showing him if he acts like that, then he runs the possibility that someone won’t want to be around him…I would argue that in itself is some **helpful teaching** for this awkward guy!

      5. Decima Dewey*

        “Socially awkward” is not a get out of jail free card. I’m socially awkward, but if I learn that something I’ve been doing is creeping people out, I make an effort to stop doing it.

        Collaborator says he wants your help because he knows he isn’t the best person to make the project inclusive. Rather than suggest someone else better suited, he took on the project, putting the onus on making the inclusivity OP’s responsibility. Unless he’s prepared to show signs of understanding why he shouldn’t be using certain phrasing and applying that to further work on the project, OP needs to pull back.

    3. CoveredInBees*

      I think this is the right approach. Approach it as if he were making other repeated mistakes. He needs to keep an eye on x, y, and z in his work because he’s doubling your workload in correcting them and he’s been in the professional world long enough to not repeat mistakes that he’s been corrected on. Yes, there is an added element because it is language around marginalized groups and the use of slurs which I can imagine makes it far more frustrating. The heart of the matter is that he’s not correcting his own mistakes. He might or might not be open to the conversation, at which point, I’d back out.

      I don’t know the scope of your work or his mistakes, so this might be more work than it is worth or you have time for but give him a list of things that he keeps messing up. For issues only of terminology, you can include a link on how to use the search and replace function.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        “…give him a list of things that he keeps messing up. For issues only of terminology, you can include a link on how to use the search and replace function.”

        This is where my thinking just landed.

        If OP is up for it, and if the project matters to her enough, she can just give him a list of terms to use/not use. Column A “term you use,” Column B “use this term instead.”

        I’m not sure I’d go to the trouble of providing links though. Maybe one link that leads to other links in case he actually has interest in changing his way of thinking (TBH I doubt it…most of those males don’t), but finding a bunch, or even a few links that will help educate him seems like just that much more emotional labor that OP should not need to do. Especially as she is already “emotional labored for yet another male” out.

        Google is our friend. I’m sure OP’s mentor is capable of entering words in a search box and doing his own grunt work to learn stuff if he’s interested. I mean really how did we (women, queer folks, people of color, etc.) learn stuff? We sought out the information. Let this guy (and all the others that expect us to keep explaining stuff to them) eat cake…

    4. ProductMeganger*

      If the edits are more broad spread than just switching term A to term B (or even if they’re that direct, but there is a high volume of corrections that need to be made) – you could also suggest that for the project to move forward, you’re going to need to create a glossary and style guide. That document would be time consuming up-front, but likely not more time consuming than doing the work along the way has been for you, and would give him something to reference if what he’s struggling with is that he doesn’t know exactly how to express the ideas that need expressing without leaning back into outdated, limiting language or framing. If the project grows or you ever need to incorporate the work of freelancers, you’d likely need this kind of guiding document anyway, so stating that this is the kind of resource you need to create now (and that you need to adjust the project’s timelines and expectations to allow the time to build it), might feel like a less loaded conversation for you.

    5. animaniactoo*

      I agree with all of this talk and would suggest further pointing him towards a couple of resources that talk about the differences between what he’s doing and what he should be doing. Don’t do the emotional labor from that standpoint – show him where the material is so he can research it and get the benefit of other people who have already done the emotional labor. Let him put in that time and energy without you.

      At that point, if there are a few things he’s confused about or is questioning why they’re so important, that would be more in the vein of coming to agreement about points on the project from a general outlook perspective vs a lot of ongoing cringeworthy corrections. And if he’s got more of those that he wants to discuss or debate than you have the time and energy for – it’s easier to say “Hmmm… it sounds like you’re further away from my viewpoint about these things than I thought. I think I would prefer not to get into this too deeply, and maybe I’m not the right person to help you on this project?” and give both of you a way of backing out gracefully.

    6. pleaset*

      I have to say, as a straight guy in his 50s, the guy the OP is talking about is lame.

      I’m certainly a little sexist and probably a bit transphobic, but I’m working on all that. I don’t want to be that way.

      And most importantly for professional life, if a way I do it is pointed out to me I try hard to NOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE AGAIN. Certainly not in professional writing. W T F.

      Come on – we can all do better. We’re not perfect, but 40s is not that old to not be able to change and improve. He’s not 90.

      He’s either super-lazy or deeply sexist, homophobic and transphobic. Deeply. Or both. None of those are good things.

      1. Aveline*

        I’d also second this.

        My husband is older than you are. He has really worked on himself and is much more woke know than even a year ago.

        When I call him on his b.s., he listens, learns, and adjusts. He doesn’t put it on me to police him.

        Also, though he little to no free time to spend on learning this, has started to go out of his way to read about social justice topics. For him, it takes effort to carve out the time. But he does it.

        If he can do it, so can a dude 20 years his junior with (probably) more free time.

        At this point, unless you live under a rock or literally have zero internet access and/or zero free time, you do not get a pass for failing to self-educate.

        Do not take on the work of making sure this dude doesn’t look like an ass.

        He’s not wanting to do the hard work to teach himself. It seems he also doesn’t want to learn and adjust based on what OP tells him.

        Seems to me he is using her to do the heavy lifting and to provide cover if something slips through.

        Don’t do his work for him. Don’t be his “but I have a black/queer/trans/woman friend” cover.

      2. A Tax NERD*

        I totally agree.

        I decided awhile ago that you really only get one shot at saying something ignorant/offensive and using your ignorance as an excuse. Once someone says “X is not the correct term, it’s A,” the next time you use X it’s deliberate and it’s not ignorance. You’ve made the choice to not learn to use A and maybe (if I’m in a good mood) you get one more time to correct it, but after that, you are not well-meaning.

        OP I think you should broach this subject the same way as any other work mistake that doesn’t have special meaning to you (for now) – tell him the correct term and that it’s taking too much of your time to correct it for him so you either need him to get it now or you’re out.

        1. JSPA*

          This…may depend on how many times the terms have shifted in your lifetime, and how your brain categorizes language. Once you’ve retrained yourself by ingraining “this is the polite word,” it’s harder to ditch it. Or to double back to a reclaimed word, that used to be an insult, but is now a proud label.

          By the time you’re at the “special-super-ultra-polite word, you start to run out of mental tags and cubbyholes. If you’re the sort of person who handles language that way.

          In the same way that you’ve heard your parents run though kids’ and siblings’ and even pets’ names before landing on the right name for a family member: it’s not about the caring, it’s not about the love, it’s about being able to retrieve the right word.

          That’s for speaking, of course. If you’re copy writing? Then do your damned job.

      3. Not So Little My*

        This. My Mr. is a cishet white guy in his 50s (and he’ll refer to himself as such), and I’m a 50-something white queer cis woman, but we’ve both upgraded our awareness and language a lot, both from reading diverse writers and participating in a nonprofit that’s both gender-diverse and heavily involved in social and racial justice work. Being on this planet a few decades is no excuse for non-inclusive language and attitudes, in fact, it should make you more aware that the world is complex and changing and that people deserve respect.

      4. C Baker*

        Since you’re working on improving, could you maybe say “pathetic” or “a loser” or “a real tool” instead of “lame”?

  2. EditorExtra*

    It’s not a generational thing. People who turned fifty in 2018 were born in 1968. They grew up amongst gay people, they came of age during the AIDS pandemic, they’re members of generation X. They can choose to be fluent in appropriate terminology and not be sexist. This person has. It’s not your job to educate them. (Signed, A millennial married to a Gen Xer.)

    1. Agree*

      I’m inclined to agree with this stance, particularly because of this line in LW’s letter:

      “my comfort with these topics was part of why he asked me to collaborate, since he wanted to make his project more inclusive and knew he wasn’t the best person to do so.”

      He brought this person on because he didn’t want to do the work to make it more inclusive; he wanted someone else to do the heavy lifting so that he could reap the benefits of having the reputation of being inclusive.

      1. Guy Incognito*

        Reread the line. He recognized a problem, and moved to fix it. no need to be unnecessarily harsh or assume the worst.

        1. Agree*

          If he is continually unwilling to change or learn, he’s using her expertise without progressing himself. I understand her resentment. His intent doesn’t have to be malicious for his actions to be careless and callous.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I agree with this. Whether or not he intends it, not making an effort to learn himself does send a message along the lines of “I’ll do this as long as someone else does the heavy lifting, but I don’t want to have to actually think about this myself beyond that.”

          2. Chinookwind*

            While I understand her resentment, it is also possible that he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. As a result, saying something like Museum Chick recommended (“Fergus, I’m continuing to see X and Y and having to edit them to A and B. It would be a huge help if we just used A and B so we don’t continue to take up more time on edits than needed.”) would be the best way to deal with it.

            Some of the stuff you are dealing with is obvious and he probably should know, but by bringing you on to the project, it is also possible that he recognizes that there are subtleties he knows he will miss that probably seem obvious to the OP. In this case, it is like he has colourblindess and the OP is getting mad because she keeps having to switch the red and green tiles. Yes, it is learned behaviour, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists.

            1. Washi*

              Eh, I would say it’s more like he brought the OP into a project that involves color sorting because she’s a little better at it, but insists on wearing tinted glasses so he’s no use at all in distinguishing any colors.

              1. aeldest*

                To beat this metaphor into oblivion, I’d say it’s more like he brought the OP into a project that involves sorting tiles by color because he’s colorblind–but the tiles also have patterns you could distinguish them by, and he doesn’t want to put in the work to identify the differences in the patterns.

              2. Genetics is relevant to everything*

                I have a concrete parallel from my work:
                Genetics is a pretty dynamic field. I am a practicing medical geneticist, and am in my 40s. Many (possibly the majority) of my same-age and older colleagues in other specialties (not specifically trained in genetics) are exceptionally poor at genetics.

                When I say poor, I mean that they don’t understand genetic concepts that are currently routinely taught in grade school and/or middle school — i.e. a current middle-schooler would CREAM them.

                I’m asked for help all the time (totally fine, I’d rather help them than have it be done wrong!) but it bugs me that they often keep making the same mistakes.

                I agree that there is likely a piece of “let the female-presenting person do all the emotional labor” here, but the generational thing and lack of adaptation is REAL in my field even though it’s not loaded/based on prejudice

            2. Delphine*

              There are a number of ways he could learn that don’t involve placing a direct burden on someone who is part of the minority groups he holds such views about. Since he’s recruited the OP specifically for her experiences, he should be going above and beyond to fix his issues and he shouldn’t need to be told twice, frankly. He’s asking a lot of the OP.

            3. Bostonian*

              It’s hard to tell the extent of his “stubbornness” because all we really get from OP is this:
              “they’re not really sinking in in any permanent way ”

              So that could mean 1 of 2 things:
              1) She suggests doing A and B instead of C and D, but he keeps doing C or D in subsequent examples
              2) She suggests doing A and B instead of C and D and is finding that he doesn’t apply the same principles to X and Y

              OP, if you’re truly done with the project, then you’re done. You’re certainly allowed to back out of an exhausting project. However, if there is part of you that wants to complete this project, can you just do the edits, without the extra educating? It sounds like he’s accepting your comments and not making you defend them?

              1. Emily K*

                Yes, and if it’s #2…I have worked with plenty of people who had this problem with feedback in general. They did not seem to be capable of extrapolating general principles out of specific corrections and applying them to future similar-but-different situations. In most cases it just means they never get promoted very far up the chain because they lack the critical thinking skills required for higher-level positions, but they can follow instructions well enough to do a low-level job.

                Problem here might be that this guy has been promoted beyond his capacity for critical thinking.

                1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

                  Or in an area where he’s not great at critical thinking. If his expertise is in a subject area he may know exactly what rules and principles govern that and be able to apply them, but still be lost in this area because he’s got no clue what principles to apply. It can be tough in a new field to figure out principles if you’re mostly being given details or vice versa. And that’s sometimes a hard problem to recognize.
                  … Or he could just not care, I suppose.

                  OP if the problem is that he’s not extrapolating and you want to try one last time, you might try presenting the problem as suggested above (I keep correcting this, it’s not taking, it’s exhausting) and then ask him where he thinks the hang-up is. Does he not remember the terms to use? Is he uncertain how to determine which you use where? Then tailor the resources you suggest to that.

          3. Observer*

            You don’t know if he is unwilling or being dense. That’s why the OP needs to have that conversation.

            At that point, he either changes or he’s not willing to do the work. (Or inexcusably dense, but I think that’s less likely – and doesn’t really matter.)

            1. Aveline*

              But being dense at this point in history is a choice.

              I’ve seen so many men, particularly white men, say this wrt to MeToo and gender/sexuality issues. But very few of them have even tried.

              We have to also take into account the fact that we have lived in a culture that has allowed them to be lazy wrt to self-education on this.

              Being willfully ignorant of social justice issues in 2018 is a choice.

              I have a husband who has 20 years on this dude and he self-educates. I have 80 year old rural white male clients who get on the internet and read and then ask me for other things to read.

              If he’s not putting in effort to learn on his own – and it doesn’t sound like he is – that’s a choice.

              1. Observer*

                It’s hard to tell from here, based on what the OP says in her letter (and I admit that I haven’t read all of the other comments.)

                Now, to be clear, I don’t think that the OP has any obligation to push on if she’s at a point of NO MORE. But if she could continue if the guy changed the way he operates, it would be worth a conversation.

                Not everyone is equally good at self-education. And a lot of people are uneven in how well they do.

              2. Avasarala*

                It’s less of a choice and more…coasting.
                That’s the thing with privilege, is it makes life easy for you and you can go through without suffering or annoyances. It’s only when problems are raised to your attention that you notice them.

                I just watched a comedy special in which a former refugee talked about traveling with a special refugee document that is not a passport. I didn’t know that refugees didn’t get passports, or that it was so hard to get through security and immigration with travel documents that aren’t passports. This is because I have the privilege of being a citizen of a country doing well enough to grant passports, and having money to travel. Yes I could have researched “how do refugees travel” but the question never occurred to me.

                So I think it’s important to separate the different steps and levels of ignorance here. Benign ignorance of issues you have never encountered is different from wondering and then jumping to conclusions. Also not everyone knows how to do research online or evaluate trustworthy sources. Some people in some instances should know better, but we are all blind to issues we haven’t experienced.

        2. Alex*

          But also, the internet is free and available to any who want to use it. Did he really “move to fix it” if he keeps making the same mistakes?

          LW – I would suggest what others have with a twist (if you have the time to provide the emotional labor required): tell him that having to re-correct the same issues is more than you signed on for, and while you appreciate that he brought you on in part to help him make this project more inclusive, you haven’t seen a desire from him to learn from your expertise. Then (again, if you have the capacity to do so without burning yourself out), I would point him to some introductory sites, including GLAAD, Everyday Feminism, GLSEN, and Trevor Project (also if there’s a particularly good local organization that has resources in your city, like a LGBTQIA community center, that might also be good for him) and ask that he do some research of his own before you commit to doing further work with him.

          1. Sarah P*

            I think we can agree that doing some internet research does not make one an expert in a topic. I would not trust an internet search to make sure I did the best possible job on *any* aspect of a project, let alone something complex and potentially triggering like inclusivity. I would consult the experts.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              The internet has several sites (as listed) that are useful in learning basic current issues and usages, which is what OP wants from this partner. People who are truly trying to ‘fix the problem’ of their own ignorance can use these effectively. I know I got my start on current issues and debates for PoC on the web. I’ve been steeped in LGBTQx culture since before the web, but I needed to catch up on 20 years of change in PoC issues and terminology.

              This assumes it is the *partner’s* responsibility to fix his own ‘problem’, instead of shoving that onto OP. OP does not owe their partner basic training; that’s not what they signed on for.

            2. Washi*

              Internet research doesn’t make you an expert, but with the appropriate sources, it can bring you up to a baseline level of competence. It sounds like the OP is ok with being the expert in the room, it’s just that it turns out that this guy needs remedial tutoring to even get up to a reasonable level for the project.

              That said, it doesn’t really sound like this guy is going to put in the kind of effort needed to get up to that level – if the constant corrections from the OP haven’t been a clue that he needs to educate himself, it would probably take a huge effort for her to get through with him, and it doesn’t sound like she has the bandwidth for that.

            3. MassMatt*

              We do agree on that, and unfortunately too many people act as though it does. But we are not talking becoming an expert here, we are talking about grasping some basics. Much of this information is readily available and it makes sense for someone to do some basic research on an important issue before taking up an expert’s time.

              The OP’s frustration is compounded by the fact that these are not just facts the mentor is messing up, it’s terminology and attitudes with all sorts of sexis and homo/trans-phobic baggage. It gets tiring even when the person you’re talking to is well-intentioned. At times I would really like to refer someone to a book or website vs having that kind of conversation repeatedly.

            4. pancakes*

              Of course not, but very, very few people are limited to learning about the world only from the internet. We all interact with people in day-to-day life too, almost certainly including people who aren’t hetero or cis, and we pretty much all have lots of cultural choices to make as to how parochial—or not—our culture diet is.

          2. ella*

            As someone who worked in public libraries for 10 years (and currently works in an academic one), the number of people who both have access to the internet and feel comfortable with it is HEAVILY correlated with age, economic status, country of origin, and education. It sounds like this particular guy probably has regular access to the internet/other resources, but I really want to challenge your assumption that everyone has regular, free access to the internet in this day and age, even within the US.

        3. Mayati*

          It sounds like he wanted things to be inclusive in theory, but doesn’t want to do the work in practice. That one line alone isn’t bad at all — it’s the continued practice of just…not really learning and growing in this area, or putting in the effort to be better. That sheds a really bad light on his intentions all along, but his intentions ultimately don’t matter if the results are this poor. People who work with marginalized populations need to put in effort to understand and listen to those populations on an ongoing basis. It’s just part of the job. You can’t outsource it or delegate it. And I’d argue that it’s just a part of being a responsible member of society, but when you voluntarily sign up to work on a project that’s related to LGBTQ and feminist issues, you don’t just get to pass the buck on to one of your colleagues.

          1. AMT*

            You nailed it. Making a project inclusive does NOT mean proceeding as normal and then asking the Designated Queer Person to magic in some inclusiveness for you. This happens all the time in organizations. If something needs to be made queer-inclusive or there’s a specialized queer-focused project, it gets delegated to the Designated Queer Person. Instead of integrating queer awareness into the organization’s work, it just gets handed off to the DQP whenever these issues come up so no one else has to deal with these issues or think more deeply than, “Huh, I guess I should have Jane take care of this.”

            Things this guy could have done:

            – Asked the LW for resources to do his own research
            – Taken a class or workshop related to the subjects he wants to know more about
            – Listened for broader themes when LW corrects him (e.g. it’s not just that “transsexual” isn’t used anymore, it’s that his entire worldview about gender needs to change)
            – Thought more deeply about his attitudes toward gender and sexuality and the way that his upbringing/professional life/education/etc. might have shaped them
            – Solicited input from more queer people about the project and/or researched how other people have approached such projects from a queer perspective
            – Acknowledged how much emotional labor it is to educate someone about things that affect you deeply and personally

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I’m thinking this is a microversion of the company that addresses its lack of inclusion by hiring an underrepresented minority and calling it a day–they realize they need to have better representation, but they don’t realize the rest of the company culture has to change too.

              1. Effective Immediately*

                Bonus points if that one person is hired into a newly created job like ‘Diversity Coordinator’ and now tasked with undoing systemic problems they actually have no authority to undo.

                I have so many stories from non-profits about this.

            2. Aveline*

              Add to this: not make himself the center of a project when it’s clear he doesn’t have the expertise.

              If he really wanted to be an ally, he could have used his name/power/influence to allow other people to do this on their own terms.

              It sounds like he’s exactly the wrong person to do this but he’s still placing himself at the center.

              1. AMT*

                Exactly! You can’t retroactively make a project inclusive when you approach it from a place of ignorance. Inclusion is a *lens.* It’s not just a matter of changing the “his/hers” to “theirs” or hastily tacking on a paragraph about feminism.

      2. Karen from Finance*

        I know what you mean, but I don’t know if I’d take it that far. The person clearly cares enough to want to make the project more inclusive and react positively to the corrections, which isn’t nothing. I do believe the OP when she says that the guy has good intentions, I wouldn’t dispute this without knowing him. I’ve known people like this.

        But I do agree that he’s not willing (or at best aware of the need to) to do the heavy-lifting himself. I’d suggest directing him to good reading material on LGBT and feminist topics. Some sort of “Being an Ally – For Dummies”. There is plenty of reading material out there and this guy needs to catch up, that’s for sure. But it’s probably just ignorance and clumsiness.

        1. Aveline*

          Part of being an ally is realizing that you aren’t an expert on something and haven’t got any lived experience, so you step aside and turn over the mike to someone who is either part of the group or has studied/worked on the topic long enough to have expertise.

          A lot of people – white men in particular – center themselves in projects and discussions instead of handing over the damn mike.

            1. Aveline*

              Not if he’s still insisting on maintaining his role at the center.

              If he can’t do that, he needs to turn it over.

              So, no, simply including her doesn’t mean he still isn’t centering himself.

              She’s a backup dancer, not the star.

            2. Aveline*

              PS From the sounds of it, he could have refused to do the project, but said “Annie here would be great to lead this project. I’d be happy to be HER SECOND if she accepts the project.”

              My guess is his name will be first and he’s getting paid more.

              Should be the other way around.

              That’s the point. Not that he should have zero role, but that he’s leading when he needs to be following IF his role is essential to getting this done.

      3. Celeste*

        I agree with this. I think that to him, inclusive means “marketable”. To the LW, it means something else. I think the LW had an expectation that he truly wanted to BE more inclusive.

        LW, I think the question you have to ask yourself is how much would you be willing to give of yourself to this project if it never gets better? I really think that’s the reality of it.

        1. AKchic*

          This is my take on him as well.

          It’s time to find out what his definition of “inclusive” is, and what his commitment to the term is. Because if his idea is “I’m so inclusive I’m getting someone who is LGBTQIA to work on the project and handle all of the inclusive bits”, then he’s not really all that inclusive. He’s outsourcing his inclusiveness.

      4. neverjaunty*

        Exactly this. You know that guy who leaves all the gross household and childrearing tasks to his SO because “I can’t seem to get the hang of it, and you’re so much better at it”? Same song, Woke Project Remix.

        1. Aveline*

          Add to it that he’d say that, but then try and pass himself off as having a superior opinion when the topic of childrearing is discussed publicly.

          ‘Cause that’s exactly what he’s doing.

          His name has no business being on this project in any capacity until he makes the effort to learn by himnelf.

          1. Effective Immediately*

            Oh man right? And privately. I know many dudes who won’t do ‘lady work’ but who sure as hell want to be The Authority on how the dishwasher is loaded and the laundry is folded.

      5. Dr. Pepper*

        I’m of the opinion that he perhaps thinks that he CANNOT be properly inclusive because it’s impossible for him as a straight white man to know the feminist and LGBQ+ perspectives and that is one reason he wants LW’s input. He may legitimately think that he has no voice here and that whatever he says will be wrong. It’s an attitude I’ve encountered before. Some people can only stand to be corrected so many times before they give up trying to get it right. They figure someone is going to jump down their throat no matter what so they’re just going to stick to whatever terms are familiar to them. You can argue about whether that’s right or wrong and what place of privilege that comes from all day, but that doesn’t change their mind.

        Another possibility is that he feels so far removed from certain groups of people that it’s akin to learning a foreign language and dealing with foreign customs. He may see LW as his interpreter so his project can reach demographics that he feels unable to relate to or communicate with, and since he does not wish to offend, he has enlisted the help of a member of that demographic to translate. You can claim that it’s not hard to educate yourself, but as someone else said, you don’t know what you don’t know, and there’s this learned helplessness response I’ve seen from men before of “I’m always wrong so I’ll just shut up”.

          1. Autumnheart*

            He could feel that way and still learn to use the correct terminology, so that OP doesn’t have to correct them over and over. She’s literally telling him how his writing “voice” should read, and he isn’t doing it.

          2. Aveline*

            Then he shouldn’t be leading the project and/or taking credit for it.

            He should be finding someone else who can “speak for” the group to do the work AND GET THE CREDIT.

            1. Starbuck*

              We don’t know that OP isn’t getting credit for their work; all OP said was that this project is a collaboration. This seems like projection.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          There’s certainly a common learned helplessness response to inclusivity in a lot of straight, white men. But whether it’s because they believe they can’t get it right even if they try, or because they believe they can’t get it right UNLESS they actually try, and they don’t want to bother with that much effort… I’m not sure if I could tell the difference; I’m not sure if *they* could tell the difference, and I’m not sure if it matters anyway.

          Helplessness is a really good excuse for not doing the work and still not being seen as a bad guy for it. “If it’s not going to help anyway, why should I even try?” really helps one square the circle of not trying without feeling bad. I have to think that in an awful lot of cases, this excuse is part of the intended benefits of choosing to learn helplessness, not just a completely unintentional (and unwanted) side effect.

      6. RUKiddingMe*

        “He brought this person on because he didn’t want to do the work to make it more inclusive; he wanted someone else to do the heavy lifting so that he could reap the benefits of having the reputation of being inclusive.”

        Ding, ding, ding.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          If the project is ultimately successful and inclusive, who will reap the praise. Methinks it won’t be the OP, and her collaborator will get plaudits for more wokeness than he actually has.

      7. Debra Fitzgerald*

        I have only commented one other time on this forum, but I feel like I should say something. I’m one of those turning 50 this year, and I can sympathize with him. I don’t fully understand all of the language I should be using, I had no idea that transexual was another word I need to throw out. But assuming that he is using her to do the heavy lifting is a jump that doesn’t need to be taken. He may be, like the rest of us in that age group, afraid to say the wrong word use the wrong term at the wrong moment, unintentionally offend someone and then get jumped on over and over again like I see here. Why is there the assumption that he is being malicious and is unwilling to learn? How are we supposed to learn if we don’t take the initiative to ask others? Is it how things work now, because I honestly don’t know–if I ask a real question, or ask for real help, is the general rule of thumb to now tell someone “figure it out” because it’s not ‘your job’ to educate or help them?

        1. Kitty*

          I agree with this. It’s a minefield for many people, and it seems that we’ve become very quick to pile on to mistakes or lack of knowledge that might not be malicious. It discourages dialogue and encourages the polarization and antagonism that is the norm nowadays.

        2. Oranges*

          Right now you’re asking for help. Right now I’m going to try.

          Everyone makes mistakes, assholes will make them over and over again because the effort to change their behavior to avoid harming others is “just too much work!”

          We get sick of trying to explain things over and over again. If you’ve ever been in retail do you know the feeling of “OMG people please stop asking me “where’s the bathroom” because seriously there are signs”? You shut up and nicely tell the 100th person where the flipping bathrooms are with a smile because that’s your job.

          Take that feeling but have it happen every time someone is too lazy* to look something up. And you’re not even getting paid!

          *All people are lazy. It’s actually a fundamental of existence that you won’t do more effort than needed to get a desired outcome. Aka you don’t keep on looking for your keys after you’ve found them. I’m saying the outcome desired should be “knowledge from people who want to teach” rather than “knowledge from random person I know”

          1. Oranges*

            PS. I should have made this clearer. That the second paragraph is how we view him right now because he’s not learning.

            The rest is my personal experience of being “the gay one”

          2. General Ginger*

            I’m saying the outcome desired should be “knowledge from people who want to teach” rather than “knowledge from random person I know”

            This is a great way of stating it.

          3. Avasarala*

            This is totally true in a general sense–nobody should go around asking their one [category] acquaintance personal questions they can google–but here OP has offered to help. I can see why OP is frustrated he’s not getting basic stuff, but I can also see why he might feel way in over his head, not know who or what sources to trust, and choose to rely on the person who has offered to help him: OP.

        3. Working Hypothesis*

          Generally, if you ask a question that shows you’re doing at least some of the heavy lifting of educating yourself, it will be answered with good grace; especially if you also acknowledge that you are asking for a favor, rather than treating the whole thing as if it’s that person’s job to explain it to you because they are a member of the underprivileged group in question. For example, “Hey, I read this thing but don’t understand it very well. I’m afraid of doing the wrong thing if I have misunderstood something; do you have a little time to help me with the basics so I don’t accidentally hurt somebody? I am really trying not to do that.”

          Where it gets into annoying territory is when a person appears to be leaving the whole job of teaching them to someone else. Clues to this often include asking the *same* questions over and over again without ever processing the answers you received the first several times; asking questions as your only means of learning, rather than combining it with reading or other ways you can take the responsibility for your learning on yourself; and failing to check with the person you’re asking about whether it’s convenient for them too reach you right then.

        4. Joielle*

          Ok, but you’re here on the internet so you presumably know how to Google things, so start there. You say you “don’t fully understand all of the language [you] should be using” – sure, but you know that’s a problem and you have the resources to solve it. You just aren’t. That’s what’s frustrating.

          1. Airy*

            At the same time, the internet is full of people using terminology inaccurately and a neophyte may be concerned that they don’t know enough to distinguish a reliable source from an unreliable or malicious one – that they could be making matters worse by naïvely doing their research in the wrong places. Imagine, for example, if they start getting their information on transgender people from “gender-critical feminists,” aka trans-exclusionary radical feminists. Just recommending Google doesn’t help because that goes everywhere. Naming a good starter website (as somebody did upthread) is far more constructive.

            1. Joielle*

              Sure, but this right here is the problem again. As you said in your own comment, there are lots of suggestions upthread for good 101 level resources. So if someone is looking for those resources, they can find them here with an extremely small amount of effort! This information already exists, it’s not helpful to insist that it be reproduced over and over. Or they can do some Googling and use their own analytical skills to figure out which organizations are legitimate and which are TERFs! I guess I just don’t think the over-40 crowd is that helpless when it comes to using the internet, if they put in the effort.

              1. Airy*

                I don’t know if you actually mean by “if someone is looking for those resources, they can find them here with an extremely small amount of effort!” that everyone can come to the Ask A Manager comments section for guidance on up-to-date LGBTQIA+ terminology and that everyone should know they can do that, but that really doesn’t make sense to me.
                I also don’t understand how what I said is “the problem again” when we agree that it’s good to provide beginner resources. Making those available only one time or in one place guarantees that they’ll be missed by a lot of people. The age range here is not the point so much as that lots of people in general have poor research and analysis skills (you only have to look at the current rise of nationalism to see that) and need guidance. You don’t have to guide them personally but I think you do need to pragmatically accept that people who should know better often just don’t and need to be told.

              1. Starbuck*

                Yeah, this seems like a fraught example to use. Gender critical? I can definitely get behind that. Gender roles are 100% B.S. I can’t get behind the vitriol for anything or anyone who gets accused of being “TERFY” and the frankly bizarre dogma there- I’ve been told it’s unacceptable to have even 2nd or 3rd degree connections with someone that’s been proclaimed a “TERF.”

                1. Anonymous was nonbinary*

                  Alison doesn’t have the frame of reference to respond to this appropriately, but this is actually a transphobic dogwhistle – think, “what’s wrong with nationalism?” Gendercritical is a word transmisogynists use to frame their hatred of trans women as value neutral. It is as bound up in unstated premises as “family values” and “pro-life,” it’s just less familiar to cishet people. There isn’t anything wrong with being critical of gender roles (ask most trans people!), just like there isn’t anything wrong with supporting families or protecting life, but these terms have much more specific referents. Use of this term identifies the speaker as someone who hangs out with hateful people. And it’s an example of why this superficially neutral policy is actually, in practice, a way to create a hostile environment for marginalized people.

                2. Dr Grump*

                  “Gender critical” is one of those phrases that sounds great, but actually has a pretty sinister meaning in transphobic circles. Being critical of gender roles, gendered assumptions, and the role that gender has in our lives sounds great! We should all be freer from societies rigid gendering! Sounds great right? But a “gender critical” perspective is actually one that criticizes the idea of gender being something different than sex. So in actuality, most gender critical people are really into reinforcing a very binary, biology-is-destiny, afabs-are-angles, amabs-are-demons view of gender and sex. And yet they somehow think they’re the rebellious, roguish ones.

          2. Avasarala*

            This is the exact sort of comment that discourages people like Debra from asking questions. “I don’t know the language I’m supposed to use without being offensive. Can you help me?” “You should know how to figure this out.” If they’re a complete stranger of course, you don’t owe anyone anything. But if you have offered to help someone, as OP has, and you want them to use the correct language for you that would make you feel good, then isn’t that counterproductive and also kind of rude? Imagine someone was trying to translate something into a different language, or use a financial/computer-related term, and you have experience and have offered to help. Would you say, “Just Google it, dumb@$$”? Or would you say, “This is a really common question, if you look for [these kinds of resources] you can find the answer”? I say this as someone often tasked with being a cultural ambassador; spurning genuine curiosity is often more harmful to your own goal of being accepted and understood.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              What I’d probably say, in either the case you’re proposing or that of the OP, is “Cool! Glad you’re asking. Here is the basic information you’re looking for, and here are a few trustworthy sources you can go to if you’re still confused or if you forget. I’m gonna go do my work now; hope that helped!” And then I’d drop the subject and move along. After that, it’s the asker’s responsibility to use the information and resources they were given to extrapolate if they can or look up further info if they can’t, because I’m not going to sit there for the rest of the year hand-holding, or answering the exact *same* questions over and over again.

              Bottom line: it seems only fair, if someone wants to learn from me, that they be willing to do at least as much work in order to do so as they’re asking me to do in order to teach them. If they want me to do *all* the work in the process, and just choose to sit there passively without involving themself, then it seems as if they’re not actually trying to learn; they’re trying to get me to do whatever they might be using the information for instead of them.

              “What’s the answer to this math problem?” asked eight times a day, instead of “how do I do this kind of math problem?” asked once, means they’re not trying to learn how to do the math themself; they’re interested in making me do their math every single time they have a math problem come up. That’s not on. “How do I do this math problem?” asked once means they want to learn to do it themself and then do it without needing me to keep running interference for them, and in that case I’m happy to help.

        5. Effective Immediately*

          “if I ask a real question, or ask for real help, is the general rule of thumb to now tell someone “figure it out” because it’s not ‘your job’ to educate or help them?”

          Correct, because people in marginalized groups spend a lot of time rolling that boulder uphill in hundreds of different ways, all day every day.

          It is the job of members of the majority group not to add to the burden by expending *our* time and energy educating ourselves.

          Flailing around like a helpless victim when you have a literal supercomputer in your pocket that will allow you to access information in seconds is privileged and absurd. No, that’s not malice, but it sure ain’t ‘inclusion’ or empathy, either.

          Nobody’s born woke; we’re all learning this stuff all the time. Messing up is going to happen. The question is: are you, personally, willing to put *your* time, effort and energy into not messing up? Are you listening to people who are marginalized in ways you are not? Are you willing to hear uncomfortable truths about yourself?

          Or are you waiting for this information to be delivered to you? How many yous are out there, waiting for people in minority groups to educate them? Do you see why that would be exhausting?

          To be clear: this isn’t an attack. People in minority groups expressing frustration at having to do all of this free emotional labor aren’t attacking you either. Everyone’s just asking for people to put in the work, and not throw up their hands and decry PC culture as inscrutable. Saying, ‘Oh, I’m sorry I didn’t know that was the wrong term! I’ll use [x] from now on.’ isn’t really difficult. I think a lot of this POV is wrapped up in the idea that the PC Police are going to come down on you like a ton of bricks for making an honest mistake, and in my experience, that just isn’t the case. The litmus test isn’t, “do you always use the latest, correctest, most inclusive language” and is rather, “are you putting in the work to understand *why* certain language is harmful and making adjustments accordingly”

          1. Aveline*


            This is like when menfolk say they do equal housework and you talk to them and they tell you that what they really do is “whatever wifey asks me to do.” Not realizing that reactive behavior to a request leaves all the work of seeing the mess, figuring out how to clean up the mess, then allocating resources to clean up the mess fell on the wife. So, no, you aren’t doing equal work.

            When it comes to cultural messes, very few people show up and try and do the analysis themselves. They expect to show up and be told and then to get a cookie for doing that.

            What the frustrated posters are asking of this dude isn’t impossible. It isn’t unreasonable.

            He shouldn’t be getting a cookie for doing the bare minimum to be a decent human.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Heck, I’m even willing to give him the damned cookie. I just want to see him DO that bare minimum.

              In general, what I see going down on this thread is that a lot of us are trying to explain that “the bare minimum to be a decent human” is a slightly higher bar than some others had realized it was, and the others reacting to this information with dismay. I can understand the dismay, since it’s always a bit alarming to find out you’ve not actually been reaching that bar all the time, even though you wanted to and thought you were. The rest, though, is whether the reaction to finding out there’s more to it than just asking the marginalized to tell you what to do every time is to say, “Oh! I hadn’t realized. I’ll work on that,” or to get defensive and begin arguing about why the bar *should* be set lower after all so they don’t have to do more than they expected to.

              1. Kitty*

                Well ok, I see the point being made. However, as a member of a marginalized community (if I need to state that credential..) I do think there is a possibility that one can be oversensitive to a basic question. If you always react by shunting people over to Google or whatever, you are losing the opportunity to create a positive link with another human being, in a way that might actually encourage them to think more carefully and put in more effort in the future.

                I don’t think everyone disagreeing here is reacting out of dismay or defensiveness. I think some people genuinely believe that the bar is at a different place. I’m glad we have forums like this to talk about it, because I think it’s a valid topic of discussion.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  Okay, let’s look at it from the assumption that some people genuinely believe the bar is at a different place.

                  We’ve got a collective category A, saying “I don’t see what’s wrong with expecting you to answer my questions. It’s just one or two questions; what’s the big deal? Surely you can do that much.”

                  We’ve also got a collective category B, saying, “It isn’t one or two questions, though. It’s six dozen questions a month, because that’s how many people like you think that I should be explaining myself and my whole category of humanity to them, rather than learning for themself or taking a class with someone who is getting paid to teach this stuff and doing it voluntarily. If I answer all six dozen, I will exhaust myself completely; and if I don’t answer all six dozen, the ones I don’t answer will get huffy at me just the way you’re doing, because ‘it’s only one or two questions!’ and I should, in their eyes, be able to drop everything I’m doing and attend to their needs. It’s not fair that I should have to do this for six dozen questions a month just because I’m a member of Marginalized Group X.”

                  This isn’t anything new to the world of ethics. In fact, it’s the Kantian Categorical Imperative, straight up: it’s unethical to do anything which would prove to be impossible if everyone in the world also did it. The only difference here is that it isn’t even hypothetical… the rest of the world DOES also do it. Regularly. Overwhelmingly. That’s the part which appears to be being ignored by a lot of the commenters who think it should be okay to ask members of marginalized groups to drop whatever they’re doing and teach them whenever they feel like requesting said teaching.

        6. anon today and tomorrow*

          When it comes down to it, you may see asking one real question or help as a one time thing, but I probably have 12 other people asking me the same thing that week or month and it’s honestly exhausting to have to explain the same thing about my identity to that many different people. I don’t need a dozen people all asking me to explain bisexuality to them when it’s something they can easily look up online themselves. It’s putting the emotional burden on me to answer your question that essentially comes down to, “hey, you’re different from what I perceive as the norm, tell me all the ways you’re different!”

          There’s a difference if you ask a question in a way that’s respectful and acknowledges that you’re asking that person a favor of explaining their identity. They don’t owe you an explanation just because you ask, especially in an era where there are so many resources out there for non-marginalized groups.

          Also, the fear some people have about using the wrong term and getting jumped over is nothing compared to those of us who try to correct people on their wrong terminology getting jumped over for daring to try to teach people about proper terminology. It’s easier to jump over people online for using the wrong terminology because there are less repercussions than in the real world. Not that it’s okay, but there is a difference, I think.

          1. Aurora Borealis*

            and herein lies one of my questions– is it better to look up something and do the research, and then assume I can place your identity in a box with everyone else? I’m not trying to be flip, so let me explain that: If you identify as a certain gender, and so then according to google, you ‘should’ or ‘prefer’ to use certain pronouns, is it right for me to assume that I should use that/those pronouns for you? Or should I take a personal interest in the individual in front of me? I would prefer to talk to the individual, but from the comments I’m reading here, people are tired of answering the questions and tired of educating those of us that are unsure, and honestly want to do the right thing.

            1. anon today and tomorrow*

              Research and then ask because then it shows that you at least did research instead of relying on only me to teach you.

              There’s a difference between looking up different pronouns online and asking someone for help understanding them than going up to someone and telling them to explain different pronouns without having done any research on your own. Many of us don’t mind answering questions if it’s clear that you genuinely did try to look up info and you’re not being invasive. It’s more that we’re tired of someone saying, “oh, you’re LGBTQA+, you can answer all my questions and do all the emotional labor for me!”

              To use a clumsy metaphor, it’s like researching a paper. You wouldn’t go to a teacher and say, “I want to write about WWII, tell me everything about it”. You’d research WWII and then ask the teacher to help you understand areas where you may have questions or are still unsure.

              But, on top of all that, be aware that even if you do ask a question, no one is obligated to respond to it and they’re not in the wrong for refusing to speak to you about it.

            2. hbc*

              I’m not understanding your question. How have you been informed of their gender identity?

              I mean, if someone has told you, “You’re going to have to meet Pat, my friend who plays guitar and is female-identifying,” then yes, you can feel free to say, “Great, maybe she’ll jam with me.” No one will scold you if Pat prefers “they”—“she” was a reasonable guess.

              But I find it much more common to be told pronouns before I’m told the label “female” or “gender fluid.”

              1. Aurora Borealis*

                Actually, how I was informed is not relevant, but as it was, I was informed by the person who had gender reassignment surgery. That person had worked for me previously, was asking for a letter of recommendation, and in the email they sent, I was informed by them (because they also had a name change, and told me so I would know who they were.) However, no pronouns were given, so I used ‘they/them’ and was jumped on loudly and rudely, I might add, by another employee who identifies as queer, that I had made an assumption, and an incorrect one at that. So, yes, I was scolded. I talked to my previous employee, and was told that they/them actually was the preferred pronouns. At the end of the day, I use people’s names, not pronouns as much as possible.

                1. AnotherKate*

                  Ok, so this is something I see a lot from white/straight/cis people who are mostly trying their best, so it’s not just a response for you, but for all of them (us!): Is it really the end of the world to be scolded?

                  There’s a pretty odd assumption out there that if a person is TRYING then they should never be made to feel bad even a little bit. But that’s pretty ridiculous; marginalized people have to worry about their own lives and safety being compromised. White/straight/cis people approach the same issues and the worst possible thing that could happen to us is…we get yelled at? Someone misunderstands our intentions and brings up feelings of guilt and shame that we didn’t do better? Don’t get me wrong, I hate feeling like that! But having my feelings hurt is literally the worst case scenario. That’s it. When compared against the actual perils of being a marginalized person in this world (including everything from job discrimination to physical violence to actually being murdered), the expectation that I should never be scolded or yelled at or made to feel shitty is…shockingly entitled. We have all absolutely got to stop acting like we are entitled to never ever feel bad after an interaction with someone marginalized where they called us out.

                2. Â*

                  This is a reply to AnotherKate.

                  Giant YES to your post. And…

                  Why must we jump so quickly to scolding? Why must the request to adjust be so frequently accompanied by a side of “you ignorant white cishet a$$hat”? Why not assume good intent from time to time? Why can’t it be a simple heads up like “Hey, I go by Jonathan, not Jon. Will you please use my full name going forward? Great. Thanks.”

                  I get the frustration and exhaustion of having to repeat yourself over and over. It’s reasonable not to want to have to do that. The marginalized need not educate the majority on a daily basis. But…

                  A little more kindness and decency would not come amiss. From every direction.

                  I love what Kitty said above. “…it seems that we’ve become very quick to pile on to mistakes or lack of knowledge that might not be malicious. It discourages dialogue and encourages the polarization and antagonism that is the norm nowadays.”


                3. NotThatCompany*

                  As a white cishet woman, my response to the scolding would be mostly “wow, that’s a sensitive topic for employee. let’s just back away slowly.” Sometimes people have emotional minefields and triggers and we stumble on them accidentally.

                  I have a friend who tells wonderful stories, and having spent time around her I have no doubt said stories are true. There was one time she was recounting one of her experiences (it goes around the internet occasionally) on twitter and I responded – totally kidding and attempting to play with her – “pics or it didn’t happen.” I meant absolutely zero harm by this. Said friend, however, finds this particular phrase problematic for a lot of reasons. She mentioned this (I wasn’t the only one who responded this way). It wasn’t about me, or my intentions, it was about her and her feelings. Yes, I was scolded for making her feel bad But, here’s the thing – I unintentionally made her feel bad! I said sorry and make a note to remember this for the next time.

                  You now know current employee has some strong feelings about pronouns. That’s information you can take with you. The fact that the information wasn’t presented in a way you’re comfortable with is your issue to deal with.

                4. Â*

                  NotThatCompany – Yes, this. Exactly.

                  Scolded? Proper response:

                  “Ah, shoot! I apologize. Wasn’t intentional. Thanks for letting me know. How would you prefer I handle it in the future? Will fix.”

                  /privately nurses any “ouch” and makes requested changes going forward./

              2. Starbuck*

                Ah, see, now I’m realizing I’m behind the times too! I didn’t realize ‘female’ was something you could identify as, but rather a biological attribute that’s inherent to your body.

        7. Tehanu*

          I’m also about to turn 50 and I have some sympathy for the work involved in continuing to catch up. But I’ll use an example around trans rights. Some years ago, I had a friend disclose they were trans-identified, and one of the challenges that they experience (over and over and over) is having to do “Trans 101” with anyone they speak with about it. To well-meaning folks who want to be supportive, but who continually step into it.

          Luckily enough I work in a field that requires keeping up with things (and am also somewhat of an activist), so I’m familiar with the concept of not putting the onus of education on those who are already marginalized. Google was my friend. Spending some evenings reading through “Ally 101” types of posts, as well as more in-depth social justice analysis around trans oppression, made me much better equipped to be supportive without being intrusive, and also helped me to avoid common pitfalls.

          As someone who also experiences some marginalization (along with a lot of privilege, I’ll acknowledge), it’s exhausting to have to continually educate, especially these days when there’s so much great information out there. To me, this is part of recognizing oppression and doing what I can to mitigate it. I also think it’s valuable for those of us who don’t experience a particular marginalization to do our part in helping others understand why language/actions can be oppressive, and also to ensure that we’re providing supportive space for those who are experiencing it. Asking “what would be helpful for you” is far better than “I don’t understand, please educate me.”

        8. pancakes*

          I haven’t read through all the comments yet but I haven’t seen any so far asserting that he’s malicious. I don’t think it’s reasonable, either, to compare the sort of critical comments permitted here as getting “jumped on.” Feeling bad about having been criticized isn’t the same as having been jumped on. Or, to use the phrase popularized by Sarah Schulman, conflict is not abuse. The other aspect of this is that it’s unlikely he’s reading these comments himself. Feeling jumped on on his behalf is quite a leap. A leap and a pivot, because it’s a way of shifting the subject from the criticism itself—some of which maybe isn’t even criticism so much as candid discussion—to how he might theoretically feel about it, or how other people who find him relatable feel.

      8. Aveline*

        And to provide cover in case something wasn’t well-received.

        He doesn’t care about the content or about learning. He cares about not getting in trouble.

    2. The Tin Man*

      I agree in the sense that I see it less as generational and more as being in a bubble. Sometimes that bubble is a generational one because the people you are closest to are in your same age range and sometimes it is just the company you keep.

      All said I think the thing that bothers me the most is the repeat mistakes. That makes it seem like this guy brought in OP to be an “offensiveness editor” so he doesn’t need to actually read and learn about these issues and how to communicate about them.

      1. Mayati*

        Seriously, especially the part about how she can fix his mistakes if she wants. So his mistakes are her problem, not his, and he doesn’t even consider them *her* problem because he just. doesn’t. care. or understand. that they are a problem.

        1. sunny-dee*

          Or he’s recognizing that this particular area is highly nuanced and wants her to feel free to make changes rather than letting something remain.

          1. Aveline*

            But that doesn’t explain repeating mistakes.

            If I come into your house and discover you hang your toilet paper roll the wrong way around, but you tell me you like it that way, then I’m entitled or a jerk if I continue to do it my way. Even more so if you have some reason that you have to have it that way b/c of your physical or emotional needs.

            Continuing to make mistakes after you have been told “don’t say striped horse, say Zebra” is disrespectful even if the topic is neutral. It’s doubly so when the topic is not neutral and matters a lot to the OP’s identity.

            1. General Ginger*

              This. He can’t treat making changes as “I brought this person onto the project, my work here is done”.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, if she’s in her late 20s and he’s in his 40s, they are *at most* a short generation apart in age. More like half a generation. He’s not her grandfather.

        My supervisor is in his early 60s and I would not have to hand-hold him through this. I’m in my early 40s and I’m probably not up to speed on everything since I’m a cis-hetero woman, but I’m not that much out of touch. I’ve definitely met people younger than I am who are a lot less attuned to this kind of thing. People of all ages can be clueless and/or unwilling to learn.

    3. adk*

      Yes! Came here to say basically this.

      He’s in his 40s, not his 80s, he can learn. I’m a straight woman in my 40s and I often find myself educating people both older and younger than me on things like non-binary pronouns and mis-gendering people. The problem is not that he’s an old fart who just doesn’t get it, the problem is that you don’t know if you have the bandwidth to be educating him right now. This is fine. I think you just need to have a conversation with him.

      “Listen, I like what you’re trying to do here. I respect that you’re asking me to help you do it. But you’re just not there yet and I’m not in a place right now where I can give you all the education you need to make this work. I’m going to go ahead and put my involvement on pause for a while. I suggest you get involved in some feminist or LGBTQ+ organizations and get some education separate from me. And maybe you can call me in a year and we can try this again.”

      1. Celeste*

        I like this a lot. You need to be free of this situation, LW. If it changes, great. If not, you go on with your life.

      2. AKchic*

        This is perfectly worded. He may move on and find someone else who is more willing to be his personal censor. He may not. But at the end of the day, you don’t have to be.

      3. SimonTheGreyWarden*

        And even in his 80s he could learn. My grandma was pro gay marriage because in her words, everyone deserves the right to find love”. Her mom was in an arranged marriage and her first marriage wasn’t happy, so my grandma knew how special love is.

      4. Temperance*

        I work with volunteer attorneys all the time. One of these men is in his 80s. He works with trans and queer clients all the time, and has no issue using chosen names, pronouns, etc.

    4. Anon From Here*

      Rolled in to say this, as a Gen X’er approaching 50 who participated in the 1993 March on Washington for Lesbian, Gay and Bi Equal Rights. Someone who’s in their 40s doesn’t have a “generational” problem with learning inclusive language, recognizing oppression, etc.

      1. Delta Delta*

        Yep. I’m 40. I have a generational problem figuring out how to play Fortnite, not in figuring out how to use inclusive language.

      2. serenity*

        Agreed. For pete’s sake, Matt Bomer and Kate Winslet are in their 40s now. It’s not age or generational (although regional or cultural barriers can come into play).

    5. OlympiasEpiriot*

      My father died 10 years ago in his 80’s and had had no trouble over the decades adjusting his language as meaning, connotation, and just basic general courtesy standards changed. He was courteous to start with, though, I think. (I wasn’t around in the 1920’s & ’30’s to listen to him growing up, but that was always the feeling I had.)

      It isn’t generational.

      1. boo bot*

        Yes, I came to say exactly this. I have family members in their 70s (and in one case 90s) who have always kept up with what it means to treat others with respect. If they screw up around changing language, they learn from it and remember next time, much as I try to do.

        Here’s a fun thought experiment: does this man in his 40s use the right language around current technology? Does he know the difference between an iPhone and an Android? Does he use Instagram? Or does he play Oregon Trail on a Mac LC II and carry a Palm Pilot?

        I’m not trying to be flip – human rights matter more than Pintrest. Which is kind of the point: I think we excuse some people from keeping up with the times when it comes to social issues, when it’s clear that they manage keep up with tons of other stuff that is pretty complex and quickly changing. It’s about what people choose to prioritize.

        1. TootsNYC*

          (sort of like, my husband can remember what tanks had what guns, and what airplanes flew at what speeds in what wars, but he could not remember that we didn’t recycle the peanut butter jar [we do now, but we didn’t then])

      2. Aveline*

        My dad died about the same time and same age.

        I will never forget going for a walk down a fence row with him during “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” debate and him asking me tons of questions about it b/c he was trying to decide how he felt.

        When I asked him why he was struggling, he broke down and told me about how one of his best friends in the Marines had committed suicide rather than go home and face his Catholic family who wanted to force him to marry a woman. Dad’s issue was that, when he was in, none of his friends cared about the dude being gay. He didn’t understand why “DADT” was even being discussed.

        The main point: he wanted to learn. And he did.

    6. Karen from Finance*

      No generation is 100% uniform. It can be generational in the sense that millenials are MORE LIKELY to be aware of certain issues than gen X’ers. It doesn’t mean that no gen X’ers or boomers can be progressive. This guy is already ahead of the curve as far as I’m concerned in that at least he cared enough to try and make it inclusive, even if he did go about it the wrong way. A lot of people in his generation wouldn’t. This doesn’t make this guy a hero on any account, but let’s cut him some slack here.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Naw, he doesn’t get slack for this. He might be in a cultural bubble, but Gen X’ers are not among the generations who lack exposure or access to information about gender and LGBT+ inclusivity. This isn’t about being progressive—it’s about what can be expected as prevailing norms based on a person’s age/generation.

        1. AMPG*

          Right – Gen X is the Act Up, “Silence = Death” generation. We were the ones forcing a lot of these conversations into public discourse 30 years ago. Even if he’s younger Gen X (like me), he was hearing about these topics as a teenager. If he’s so far behind that he doesn’t even know what he doesn’t know, that’s on him.

      2. Elfie*

        For goodness sake, I’m a Gen X-er. You can’t say a lot of people in my generation wouldn’t even try to be inclusive. A lot of people in my generation have tried to be inclusive since we were old enough to think for ourselves. The concept of inclusivity isn’t a new one – people have been being inclusive for generations before me! It’s just that the scope of inclusivity has widened – but the mindset is exactly the same.

        1. Karen from Finance*

          > You can’t say a lot of people in my generation wouldn’t even try to be inclusive.

          I can beause a lot of people wouldn’t. A lot doesn’t mean all, it doesn’t even mean most. A lot of millenialls wouldn’t either. “It’s just that the scope of inclusivity has widened” – yes, that’s what I’m saying.

        2. old white guy*

          I also think that with the internet, it is easier to spread ideas and also easier to create cultural niches/tribes, whatever. Some of this is awesome, but it freaks me out a bit how much we all tend to repeat the same talking points. It’s a little intense. And I think there is also more radicalization, as people need to differentiate themselves from previous generations and/or mainstream culture as they perceive it.
          Also, as someone who wore makeup and heels when he went out in the 90s and was surrounded by androgynous men and women, I get a little grumpy with the kids today who think they invented gender fluidity.

      3. Anna*

        You’re right in that no generation is monolithic, but if you’re using his age/generation as the reason he’s struggling, the fact that so many of us from his generation aren’t struggling with this indicates it’s not an age/generation problem.

      4. Autumnheart*

        Things Generation X has witnessed mostly before age 35:

        The fall of the Berlin Wall
        The Anita Hill hearings
        The rise of the Christian Coalition and the religious right
        The Clinton impeachment
        The Gore/Supreme Court election decision
        The Iraq War
        The dot-com crash and resulting recession
        The beginning of the mortgage crisis and the Great Recession

        Millennials did not invent progressive viewpoints, and the world didn’t start happening once they achieved adulthood.

        1. OlympiasEpiriot*

          The AIDS crisis.

          (I — GenX — am old enough to remember it being called GRID. I was in high school and had to read about it mostly in french, because, for some reason, there were articles in the general interest french mags we had in the library but I was rarely seeing it in the US press. I also remember being really offended when I read something from the CDC calling it “4H” … like that was cute n funny or something. Did or didn’t Billy Joel write a stupid roll-call song called We Didn’t Start The Fire”, eh?)

          1. Karen from Finance*

            No one is saying that gay people didn’t exist before 2005 or that there weren’t any allies anywhere ever.

      5. Karen from Finance*

        Listen, all – just because two things aren’t 100% correlated doesn’t mean they aren’t correlated at all.

        I do not deny the merits of all the people who have fought before us. I would not be standing here today if it wasn’t for brave people in those generations before mine. But I think it does a disservice to all of us to forget that things did use to be different before. That women WERE more oppressed before than they were now, that LGBT people DID suffer a LOT more before than now. So there was fight, there was success, and now we are standing in a world that is more progressive and fair thanks to that. I do not deny any of that.

        But it is precisely because of that that this generation is growing up in a world that is different than it was before. A world where we get to enjoy the freedoms generations before us fought to give us. And because of that, certain types of bigotry are now less frequent than they used to be – denying that they used to be more frequent is denying the horrors of the past, is denying the facts that people on our side were once in the minority, it’s erasing their merits.

        But some people weren’t in the front lines. Some people weren’t even in the sidelines. Not active participants on either side. A lot of them weren’t. Not all, obviously. But many. And so, there’s a lot of people who are still struggling to catch up on the correct vocabulary and the best way to act in a world that has changed, not through maliciousness of their own, but out of genuine confusion on how some societal norms have shifted.

        So no, I’m not saying that because he’s old he just won’t get it, man. I’m saying, give your fellow human being a break. Assume the best in people, not the worst. It’s not like he’s not even making an effort.

        1. voyager1*

          This is a good post, only thing I would add is there isn’t a “Ally” or “Woke” button you can push in people and all of sudden they are different. People learn, opinions beliefs change over time.

        2. Avasarala*

          This. Maybe I’m just lowering my expectations too low. But all of us have learned things from each other–how many of us admitted we didn’t know to avoid words like “gipped” or “jewed”, or that we used the word “r—-ed” as children, or the current discussion about avoiding “crazy” and “b-tch”. I’ve also seen some pretty insensitive things said about other cultures here too. And I think because many commenters here actively read about social justice topics, we forget that many people don’t, and don’t have people in their lives who educate/insist on current ideas and terms. Everyone must make their own choice how to deal with those people. But I have chosen to remember that everyone is on their own journey, everyone’s lives and perspectives and experiences are different from mine, and not to assume ill intent. Yes it is frustrating that some people will never understand things the way I want them to, but this is how I choose to preserve my mental health navigating these issues.

        3. Working Hypothesis*

          I think what we older folk are trying to say is that, because there was an active and flourishing progressive movement centered around LGBTQ+ rights for pretty much our entire lives, someone of our generation who didn’t pick up the basic information about those issues long ago WASN’T making an effort. If he’d been making even a marginal effort, he’d have learned this stuff in the 1980s, like the rest of us did. You’re correct that there are always some people in every generation who weren’t even involved enough to have noticed what was going on… but pretty much by definition, those people were *not* “making an effort.”

          And he’s still not making an effort to this day. He’s outsourcing his effort, hiring someone else to correct his language for him and not listening when she tries to teach him how to correct his own, because he doesn’t appear to want to change his own. He just wants somebody else to intercept the words before they reach the public, because he knows they’re enough to embarrass him, but doesn’t care enough to change them before they come out of his mouth (or his keyboard).

          That doesn’t sound at all like making an effort to me. That sounds like covering his rear. There’s a big difference.

    7. Mazzy*

      Yeah 40s is not old! It most likely meant you finished high school in the 90s! I’d say anyone who is a baby boomer forward shouldn’t be shocked by gay people. And baby boomers can be in their early 70s now

      1. Elfie*

        Thanks Mazzy – I’m in my 40s and I’m shocked that I might get a generational pass on being respectful of people. I try my best to educate my less respectful parents and inlaws, because I do believe you can teach an old dog new tricks.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t even think “old” matters here anyway. There’s no neat age cutoff where you get to hold the job but not be responsible for awareness of contemporary culture.

      3. Grapey*

        I 100% agree with you, but there is a difference between “90’s terms” and ones like demisexual, aroace, ze, genderqueer, using ‘them/they’ as a pronoun etc.

        1. fposte*

          Sure. But I’m not convinced it’s a difference that matters. If my collaborator says “for our future communications we’re checking people’s pronouns and using the ones they prefer,” I can either 1) say “No, I think we should do things this other way instead” or 2) do that. There really isn’t a 3) say yes but only do it once and then stop. We’re talking the creation of writing or other definable product, where a style sheet and guidelines for inclusion are really easy to follow for anybody who’s willing. I’ve got ten years on this guy and it has actually come to my attention that culture and progressivism change and that just because the way I thought 20 years ago was in the vanguard then doesn’t mean it stays that way.

          He’s not being asked to guess at specific people’s orientation using terms with which he’s not familiar. He’s being asked to follow, more or less, the style sheet the OP laid out. It seems to require more work than he’s willing to do.

    8. anon today and tomorrow*

      I agree. As I wrote in my comment below, I still find a lot of millennials are bad about this too. They might be more aware of terminology, but I still see a lot of reliance on certain LGBTQA+ stereotypes.

    9. AnotherAlison*

      Agree. These are topics that are not beyond comprehension for people in their 40s. Also worth noting: people in their 40s and 50s can have kids in their teens and 20s. We have to be fluent in topics affecting their daily lives.

    10. TootsNYC*

      I’m 58. I totally agree with EditorExtra’s point.

      It’s not a generational thing. My FATHER would be able to do this sort of switch; my mother would be out in front of it.

    11. Roscoe*

      I think this is a bit harsh. I have a number of Gay and Lesbian friends, but don’t know anyone transgender (and I”m in a major city). I feel like things are constantly changing in terms of the accepted terms (this is in many communities – as an aside I just learned that hearing impaired is no longer an accepted term). You can be pretty fluent in terms of speaking of one group and have no real idea of how to talk about another group. Think of race relations. There are many black people out there who would jump down someone’s throat about how they discuss race, but have 0 idea how to speak in terms of sexuality. All of this is to say that being “fluent” in appropriate language isn’t as easy as just deciding to one day.

      1. EditorExtra*

        True, but if you actually care, if the point of your project is the market inclusivity in some way, and you go so far as to hire a young queer person to work with you on it, then *actually* learning when the information is *in front of you* in the form of her edits is not difficult.

        Also, sorry: Google it. That’s something a Gen Xer invented.

      2. Friday afternoon fever*

        Nope but if you’re writing on or adjacent to the topic and know your education is lacking or not up to date, the expectations to educate yourself are a little more stringent

      3. Tehanu*

        Hey Roscoe — I understand where you’re coming from, but allow me to say that you probably do know some people who are trans-identified! Statistically speaking and all. But they may not have shared that with you. Worth it for those of us who aren’t trans-identified thinking about how we can make it clear to everyone that we’re open and supportive, in case anyone’s wondering if we’re a safe person to talk with about it.

    12. Alton*

      I generally agree with this. Age isn’t an excuse. But I do think that terminology and understanding of intersectionality and identities have evolved so quickly in the LGBT community especially that it may be understandable that he has some outdated knowledge and ideas. I even have some cisgender gay and lesbian colleagues in their 40s and 50s who are really great about wanting to learn but who weren’t really familiar with non-binary people until recently, for example. And outside of the LGBT community, I’ve encountered so many people who have no idea that transexual isn’t a widely-used term anymore and that some people see it as inappropriate, for example.

      I think the problem is that this guy sounds like he’s at the 101 or 102 level at best, when he probably needs to be at a 200 or 300 level if he’s going to be doing major work on a project like this.

    13. RUKiddingMe*

      Bingo. I was born in 1963…technically I fall into “Boomer” but realistically Boomers were my parents’ generation. Culturally and experience-wise, pop culture, et al. I am definitely an X-er. Even as old as I am I grew up with gay people, people of color, and even though no one that I know of who was trans gender but there were a couple/few people who were crossdressers/drag queens/kings in my life over the years (IDK if there’s a better term so anyone feel free to correct me).

      Hell two of my mother’s best, closest friends, one woman and one male were gay…and she was a “war baby” (1944) born right before the Boomer generation started. Somehow she managed to deal when my nephew that she adopted came out, welcomed (genuinely) all of his friends and romantic interests. Also, my dad. Same age, same generation. When my niece came out he was her biggest supporter. Also my step-dad, born in 1925…was cool with gay people and trans people. The aforementioned drag queens/kings were his friends.

      I think it’s more of a close minded, not interested in being inclusive personally but want to reap the benefits of looking like I am thing than a generational thing.

    14. Liz T*

      Agreed that he’s really not old enough for age to be relevant here. I’m 37 and very often have to correct people on these issues, often people my age or younger. (This is not to defend “old” people–just to say that you can be ANY age and have conveniently avoided immersion in these topics.)

    15. ka*

      I really can’t agree with this.

      As a fellow millennial, the acceptable language regarding LGBT (especially T) people has changed SO DRASTICALLY in the last 10 years.

      I have managed to keep up because I’m in the LGBT movement and have a lot of friends who are as well. I’m also online a lot. But I can imagine if none of those things were true, I’d be saying things that are considered offensive now that were the preferred vernacular 10 years ago.

      Bringing on someone to help consult on these issues is the exact right way to do things. However, maybe that person should be a professional in this area and not OP. There are LGBT representation consultants out there.

      1. old white guy*

        Yeah. Also, at least in my conversations with queer activists, there is a real aversion to be defined at all, which makes this even trickier. I went looking for respectful ways to ask about non-binary identities for a survey, and one of the serious suggestions from a real website was “genderf****d,” as if that were a reasonable thing to use in a professional context.

        1. pancakes*

          I read pretty widely & constantly and find it hard to believe a reasonably-widely-respected site was earnestly suggesting using that in a professional context. I think you’re probably being disingenuous here. “Real website” is a bit of a tell. Maybe you mean “not satire,” but that’s an enormous category. I’m not sure if you’re aware of this or not, but depicting ideas that are at least a bit fringe as suddenly & terrifyingly mainstream has been been a mainstay of anti-gay rights politics in the US for years & years.

          1. old white guy*

            It’s from a post called “How Can I make the Gender Question on an Application Form More Inclusive” from a site called “It’s Pronounced Metrosexual.”
            It is one of the things that came up when I did a search for “how to ask gender identity on surveys.” It is presented as a serious advice on how to ask the question. Obviously they are being a little cheeky but it was still presented as a something that might be reasonable to put on your survey.
            My point isn’t that fringe ideas are terrifyingly mainstream so we should repress gay people and unperson trans people. My point is that these identities are in transition and there is not yet consensus on the language to use to describe these identities, and among some in this sphere there is a real aversion to being defined at all. And I’m walking the balance of wanting to be respectful of people’s identities but also needing at some point to put people into categories so that in aggregate I can understand the populations I am working with.
            The reason I wanted to ask the question is because it uncovered that almost a third of the people who engage with one of my organization’s programs identify as non-binary, something we were not aware of before we asked the question. (Interestingly, it is mostly split by age – people under 30 are way more likely to identify as non-binary than people over 30). A small percentage of our partners identify as trans, and a much larger percentage identify as non-binary. Something we need to know to make sure that when we have events they are as inclusive as possible, and that we aren’t wording things in our materials that misgender people or imply binary genders.

            1. pancakes*

              I had a look at that site. The main page says the creator had a “social justice comedy show,” and presently “the main work I’m focusing on is all things social justice dogma.” I don’t doubt that it was among your search results, it’s plainly trying to hit the SEO jackpot, but there’s no good reason any moderately sophisticated professional should or would think it’s a great resource for, say, putting together a questionnaire. It’s a vigorously self-promoting comedy act. And you acknowledged yourself that “[o]bviously they are being a little cheeky.” It doesn’t make sense to rely on a site with these qualities for a snapshot of current consensus or where it’s headed.

      2. Decima Dewey*

        Consult, yes. But if OP edits stuff collaborator gave her last week, and mentions “BTW, don’t refer to anyone as ‘a hot tranny mess'”, and two weeks later the phrase “hot tranny mess” shows up in collaborator’s draft, it indicates that collaborator either doesn’t get it or thinks of OP as the automatic inclusiveness machine.

      3. Starbuck*

        Agreed; and it’s not like there is always consensus within the community either- I hear a huge variety of opinions on how the Q-slur (or is it?) should be used, and who should feel free to use it. Different groups within the LGBT community seem to go different ways on the question; and personally I have second thoughts each time I write out that acronym.

    16. late baby boomer agrees*

      I agree. In the course of her life, my 86-yo mother has become completely accepting of gay people and is learning more about trans issues and trans people thanks to her horizons being broadened by family members and by time. She’s handled some pronoun switches among her social circle, though she’s struggling a bit with singular they, and while I’m sure she still uses inappropriate terminology from time to time, she has come a very long way.

      Also, I’m in my late 50s and definitely agree that people my age or younger have few-to-no excuses for not being fluent in appropriate terminology, _especially after being corrected more than once_. Yes, we may have had to learn some of those terms as adults while younger people learned them in childhood or their teens, but seriously, get with the program.

      (also also, wrt to the “socially awkward” aspect–has anyone else noticed that it’s always men who get to use this excuse?)

    17. pleaset*


      I’m about that age and will admit I’m probably a little transphobic and am absolutely a little sexist. But that’s on me. I should know better. No excuses. So I’m trying to change. No excuses.

    18. old white guy*

      I’m a genexer who grew up around queer and trans people, and for me there has been a pretty noticeable shift in the language around queerness in the last 5-10 years. Small example: tr*nny, which I often saw used as a term of affection and acceptance (although also as a slur), came to be viewed as only a slur. Gender fluidity and non-binary gender identities are talked about and conceived of differently than they were even ten years ago. Someone who was butch or androgynous or femme when I was in my twenties would have a very different identity today. Even the acronyms that we use to talk about queer people in general have changed and are different depending on who is doing the talking. In short, what was relatively progressive twenty years ago might now be seen as offensive and backwards by many in the queer community. As a straight dude, I find it hard to keep up sometimes. And I also notice that much of the language and theory that people within the queer community are immersed in don’t necessarily leak out to the rest of society. I have friends who live in my same liberal area who aren’t part of the queer community and don’t work on social justice issues to whom the concept of listing pronouns is foreign, and who don’t understand what “genderqueer” is supposed to mean.

    19. Not Today*

      YES, Boomer here. I am fighting a losing battle against ageism, but I still point it out when I see it. Assholes are in all generations and age categories.

  3. BRR*

    Can you say this project is taking more time than you anticipated it would and that you’re not able to dedicate the amount of time that is needed?

    1. BRR*

      I want to add that is specifically to your question on how to step down without getting into the overall topic. I might consider providing some feedback and resources about current terminology whether or not you want to spend more time on this.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      I like this because it actually addresses OP’s real request: how to step out of the project that is requiring more than expected without burning bridges.

      OP, you might consider pointing him to the websites Alex mentioned and saying, ‘if you want to continue, these will give you some good background and understanding of the issues around this project. Maybe we can check in when you’ve had a chance to learn more background and see how things have changed.’

      This is a significantly softer approach than saying ‘partner, you don’t have the LGBTQx knowledge and I don’t have the energy to teach / correct you.’

  4. TF*

    Neither of you are going to win here, I’d back out. He’s going to resent you lecturing him, you’re already resenting the emotional burden.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Yes, backing out is absolutely the conclusion I’ve reached, I’d love advice on how. I have to admit I’ve dug myself into a hole by not backing out sooner and by giving every indication that I’m excited and invested. My own fault but I kept hoping it would get better.

      1. A tester, not a developer*

        Would you be interested in continuing to work on the project if you weren’t singlehandedly responsible for having to educate him, edit his work, AND do your part for the project?

        I’m wondering if there’s other people in the various communities you’ve mentioned who would be keen to be involved with a more specific scope (I’m picturing my local university, where students from the gay/straight alliance, and an assortment of different LGBTQ+ groups have events, write op ed pieces, etc. – sometimes together and sometimes separately). Not only would it take the burden off you, but it might help teach your mentor that ‘the gays’ aren’t a monolith.

        1. Aveline*

          Or, you know, if she’s doing most of the work, maybe she gets top billing and paid the highest rate and he steps back and lets her take over.

          Sounds like he wants the cake of being the lead but not to have to do the work.

          So there’s both a social justice/learning/emotional labor issue and a credit v. workload issue.

      2. JLCBL*

        See above? adk November 15, 2018 at 11:15 am
        He’s in his 40s, not his 80s, he can learn. I’m a straight woman in my 40s and I often find myself educating people both older and younger than me on things like non-binary pronouns and mis-gendering people. The problem is not that he’s an old fart who just doesn’t get it, the problem is that you don’t know if you have the bandwidth to be educating him right now. This is fine. I think you just need to have a conversation with him.
        “Listen, I like what you’re trying to do here. I respect that you’re asking me to help you do it. But you’re just not there yet and I’m not in a place right now where I can give you all the education you need to make this work. I’m going to go ahead and put my involvement on pause for a while. I suggest you get involved in some feminist or LGBTQ+ organizations and get some education separate from me. And maybe you can call me in a year and we can try this again.”

        1. JLCBL*

          Just to clarify this is fully a quote from a comment by adk. I just pasted it here so you might find it faster.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Honestly, if you’re up for a CTJ talk with him, that’s what I would do. I would sit him down and say (kindly but firmly):

        “Look, we lack a shared understanding of key issues that are necessary for our collaboration to be effective. I appreciate your desire to be inclusive, but that requires you to come up to speed on [specific issues he’s missing, like basic gender and queer theory]. Significant problems keep popping up, and they all stem from that lack of understanding. It’s been extremely draining and demoralizing for me to have to focus all my energy on correcting problems that could be addressed if you come up to speed on [specific issues]. It’s not possible for me to be effective on this project if I have to consistently correct language and assumptions that are fundamentally problematic, and frankly, offensive.

        I also want to flag for you that it is not inclusive to recruit someone that you feel better understands [specific issues] to correct your work. That approach imposes a double burden on me—it forces me to try to correct the information you’re missing while also trying to contribute original content. It’s really important for people who feel they lack an inclusive lens to make a good faith effort to learn more about inclusivity without asking other folks—who may be from more marginalized backgrounds—to do that for you.

        In light of all of that, I’d like to step out of this collaboration. I was very excited to work together, but at this point, I cannot make the contribution I had hoped to make. I hope we can find ways to collaborate in the future, and I appreciate that you thought of me for this effort.”

        1. It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's SuperAnon*

          I really like this approach and specific wording. If he promises to come up to speed on [insert topic/issue] and does incorporate it, will LW be willing to collaborate again? Or is it done at thispoint?

        2. green*

          This is great. It lets him know what’s going on while also drawing a boundary about what you are and aren’t willing to do.

      4. TootsNYC*

        I have to admit I’ve dug myself into a hole by not backing out sooner and by giving every indication that I’m excited and invested. My own fault but I kept hoping it would get better.



        You haven’t dug yourself into a hole.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, yes, yes. I was going to say “It’s not like you married the project,” but even if you marry someone, you’re allowed to change your mind. This project does not require greater commitment than that.

            1. boo bot*

              Indeed! I feel like this is a logical fallacy I’ve noticed a lot among my fellow humans lately – the feeling that “I thought this would be okay but it turned out to be terrible,” is the same as “I LIED when I said this would be okay.”

              People are allowed to change their minds.
              People are allowed to fail at predicting the future.

              People who react to you changing your mind as if you LIED to them, are jerk-people.

      5. Rey*

        You get to choose your reasons for backing out and then do so without any hesitation or judgment or questioning from anyone else. My default would be to deliver this script in a phone call, but judge that against the norms within this relationship (i.e., if you only interact via email, just send it via email). I assume you want to back out delicately, because long-time mentor and continued professional benefits without burning bridges. I also think you want to strike a tone that says of course, he will accept this information and everything is normal.

        “I am grateful for our collaboration on this project to this point. Unfortunately, due to (vague white lie), I can’t continue working on it. I will email you my collaboration notes about x and y by (your chosen deadline) to wrap up my role on this project. I am excited to hear about (nicety about future project outcome). Sincerely/Best, Letter Writer.”

        In some settings, you could completely remove the “due to (vague white lie)” section entirely, and just leave it at that. It seemed like you didn’t want to get into the real reason because continued emotional labor on your part. So, you can very vaguely say ‘more family obligations’ or ‘new work assignments’. Do not add more detail than that! Adding more information (helping a sick family member or work collaboration for new contract) will add too much context and perhaps suggest that you will come back and help later once you deal with family or work thing. You don’t want to come back, so completely close the door on that. It is not your responsibility to give him resources to teach him or help him find a replacement because again with eliminating your emotional labor. If you have collaboration notes, send them per the deadline you set. After that, if he asks you for suggestions on who to replace you, a vague answer of, “No one comes to mind from my side. I know that whoever you find will be great” is fine because you do not want to be involved at this point. Even if you do know of someone or know of resources he could use, do not share them because you are closing the door on your future involvement on this project. And don’t jump write on responding to his communication-let it sit for a day or two to continue reinforcing that you are busy and that this isn’t your priority.

        I hope this helps! I’m sending you warm supportive thoughts.

      6. AVZ*

        Honestly, if you don’t want to burn the bridge, I wouldn’t get into too much detail about why you’re backing out. I would give an honest, but non-specific reason: “This project is requiring more of my time and attention than I initially thought it would, and I just don’t have the bandwidth for it on top of my other responsibilities right now” or something like that. You don’t have to say that it’s emotional bandwidth; just that this is more than you thought you were signing up for & it’s too much for you right now, which is perfectly true and doesn’t risk offending him.

        You don’t want to fall into the role of “educator” yet again, in the very act of trying to relinquish that role! Especially if it risks burning a bridge you want to preserve.

  5. Ms. Meow*

    Honestly, you shouldn’t see it as your job to ~teach~ him. Yes, you should definitely edit/correct his language and let him know how and why it’s wrong, but you shouldn’t feel responsible to change him. Maybe what you’re saying will eventually sink in and have some impact on him, but the emotional burden you’re carrying is not yours to bear. Stay on the project so you can impact it in the best way you can, but you shouldn’t let the burden of trying to improve one straight, white dude’s views on the world drain you into giving up work that can do some good in this world.

    1. SherSher*

      Yes, and also see my comment a little further down. If the project itself can do some good in this world then it might be worth staying on. If not, then what Ms. Meow said!

    2. MockingJ*

      I agree with you here. LW, you have taken it upon yourself to teach/educate him when this was not a project goal. His goal was a successful, inclusive project. Your goal has expanded from a successful project into educating him, resulting in Mission Creep.

      I understand you are frustrated with his lack of knowledge, but it is not your job too teach him everything about the LGBTQ community. You state in your letter that his errors are inadvertent. I’m an inclusive, educated, Millennial with many (soooo many) LGBTQ friends and I wasn’t aware that calling someone transsexual is offensive. My point is that not everyone knows everything. I’m sure there are areas of knowledge that you also lack. I’m not defending overtly offensive behavior or language, but those things he may say or do that are inadvertently incorrect.

      I believe you have great value to add to the project. If you can re-frame your goals, you can stay on the project and maintain your mentor relationship.

      1. anon today and tomorrow*

        Language and terminology has moved so quickly int he past five years that I expect people not in the community to not be entirely aware of current norms. That’s okay, and inadvertent mistakes are to be expected.

        I think part of the issue is that not everyone in the LGBTQA+ community agrees with what language is or isn’t offensive. I find straight people using “gaydar” offensive because it relies on outdated, incorrect, and often fetishistic stereotypes (and it’s very different to how LGBTQA+ people use the term), but some people don’t mind it. The term “queer” is considered a slur for some, and a word to take back for others. It’s really impossible to have everyone agree on it.

        But for OP, if she corrects him and he keeps using those terms she tried to correct, that becomes the bigger problem and she has no responsibility to stay with the project and keep correcting him.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          It’s totally true that language is moving quickly right now, but “transexual” has been an offensive term even before I graduated from college in the early aughts (when OP’s boss was in his mid 20s). The only caveat is if he’s in a geographic or social bubble, but I’m having a hard time understanding how he’s still in that bubble after 15+ years.

        2. Emanual*

          “I wasn’t aware that calling someone transsexual is offensive.”

          It’s hardly universally offensive. The APA, for example, finds it acceptable. From, December 2015:

          Transsexual: term to describe TGNC people who have changed or are changing their bodies through medical interventions (e.g., hormones, surgery) to better align their bodies with a gender identity that is different than their sex assigned at birth. Not all people who identify as transsexual consider themselves to be TGNC. For example, some transsexual individuals identify as female or male, without identifying as TGNC. Transsexualism is used as a medical diagnosis in the World Health Organization’s (2015) International Classification of Diseases version 10.

          The current Publication Manual of the APA has a similar entry on the term.

          Maybe the guy is using it too broadly or inaccurately, but how the example in the OP is presented doesn’t offer a very good indication of being out of touch.

          1. S*

            Just because a medical organization (that frankly has a pretty terrible history when it comes to supporting trans people) uses a term doesn’t mean that its not offensive though.

            I’m autistic and I’ve yet to encounter any sort of medical professional who doesn’t refer to my “symptoms of autism” or how “I have autism” even though I have told them that I’m autistic, I don’t have autism. And I have a lot of autistic traits, but they’re not symptoms.

            But more broadly, It’s usually pretty easy to tell the attitude that somebody is bringing to an interaction. Are they not listening to what you’re telling them is language that works for you? (It sounds like the coworker is not listening to the LW) and does the person read or listen to media by people from whatever group/community? If the coworker who wants to be more inclusive took 15 minutes a day to read various queer media articles they wouldn’t be relying on one person to teach everything, they’d get exposed to diverse opinions about language, and hopefully they’d actually be able to absorb some things.

            1. Tinker*

              Argh, this thing.

              I about can’t count how many times I’d see an interaction on Twitter (most commonly there, because of how that site is structured) where professionals or parents would burst like Hi-C Man into a conversation among autistic folks to tell them that “people with autism are people first, so you shouldn’t refer to them as autistic”.

              With ways of being that are sometimes stigmatized, it gets to be important to attend to the distinction between the language used to talk about us and the language that we use to talk about ourselves — and the medical profession, though in some corners it is working on improving, is all too often a reliable source of the former.

          2. Snarl Trolley*

            lmao, if you’re using the MEDICAL FIELD to decide what’s offensive or not, have I got some news for you regarding the systemic historical and current oppression queer and trans people face from those in science and medicine. wow.

            Here’s a crazy idea: listen to actual queer and trans people! that’s it. full stop. maybe some of them are just fine with “transsexual” as a term. cool! use it for them! but a LOT of us aren’t okay with it, at all, and surprise! you don’t get to tell us otherwise. keep it all the way out of your mouth when talking to those of us that do find it dehumanizing and oppressive. thanks.

          3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            The DSM also pathologized homosexuality until recently, and there’s no indication OP’s mentor is using the term “transsexual” in the APA’s very specific and precise medical context. Let’s not pretend that the APA is the arbiter of inclusive language.

            1. Emanual*

              The APA is not the only arbiter of inclusive language, but it takes pretty great pains to establish inclusive language, and, its style manual, like most style manuals, draws from sources and usage in creating guidelines. Two of the four sources cited in its entry on terms such as “transgender” and “transsexual” are the GLAAD Media Reference Guide (2007) by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association’s 2005 stylebook.

              People are of course free to prefer whatever terms they want, but a term with perfectly good grounding in the usage guidelines created by the largest organization of psychologists on earth is not on its face offensive.

              Here’s GLAAD’s current entry on “transsexual”: Transsexual (adj.)
              An older term that originated in the medical and psychological communities. Still preferred by some people who have permanently changed – or seek to change – their bodies through medical interventions, including but not limited to hormones and/or surgeries. Unlike transgender, transsexual is not an umbrella term. Many transgender people do not identify as transsexual and prefer the word transgender. It is best to ask which term a person prefers. If preferred, use as an adjective: transsexual woman or transsexual man. (

              As for the APA and pathologizing homosexuality, the latest date I’m finding for when that officially stopped is 1987, with a major shift starting in 1973:

              And yes, the OP makes no description of exactly how the term was being used in this case, which I already commented on: it’s not a good example as presented.

    3. Positive Reframer*

      +1 I get that you have a vested interest in people getting this “right” but I think trying to divorce your emotions from the corrections is a good idea.

      Additionally, OP have you provided him with any resources that he can use to educate himself? Is there a published style guide/lexicon that you can provide him?

      Its easy to be such an insider that you can’t even grasp the learning curve for someone who is only aware of the existence of a thing. There have been instances where I’m trying to explain things and just have to stand there blinking at them for a while while I figure out how to go back to an elementary understanding of things.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        Yes, this. Imagine a college professor trying to teach their subject to a bunch of first graders. I’ve been there in the position of the first grader and it’s so overwhelming and confusing that you just kind of shut down and stop trying to figure it out. I’ve also been there in the position of the professor giving a lecture on Llama Nutrition to a bunch of children and literally started my presentation off with “This is a llama” complete with visual aides. When you are intimately familiar with a subject it can be very difficult to bring yourself back to Square 1.

      2. boo bot*

        LW, GLAAD publishes (and regularly updates) a media reference guide that includes a glossary of terms NOT to use, as well as what is preferred, and other information about covering the LGBT community, if you could send him to something like that for the absolute basics.

        Overall, I think the suggestions above that he should look into more resources on his own is the way to go – there’s not a quick fix for ignorance, but it’s easier than ever to find information.

      3. peachie*

        This is a band-aid fix, but I linked in my name something that might be useful. Of course, it doesn’t address the “…but he keeps making the same mistakes!” thing, but you could maybe use it as something you (increasingly sternly) direct him back to. In general, I’m a fan of providing documentation if available, not least because you can always say “As we discussed, we’ll be using the [xyz] guidelines I provided you with. Please update accordingly.”

        (That said… It sounds like you want out of this, and honestly, I would too. I don’t have great advice on how to do this, but I would personally probably say something like “I didn’t realize the scale/length of this project / I thought I was going to be in a one-time advisory role / other work duties have ramped up and I no longer have time,” but that’s mostly because I’m uncomfortable with confrontation.)

    4. Dr. Pepper*

      I agree. He’ll learn or he won’t, and that really isn’t up to you. I know how deeply that desire for him to “get it” can tug on you, I’ve been there. Part of it is a wish to be understood yourself, which is a basic human need and thus a powerful driver. But you don’t get to decide if he “gets it” or not. Which sucks, because you want him to understand so badly and that by itself is a huge burden. Then again, since you don’t get to decide that, you also don’t have to feel guilty for his lack of understanding. It’s not your load to carry. Hurray! Set that down and walk away.

      If you can do that, I bet you’ll gain a clear perspective to evaluate whether or not to continue working on the project. It may make sense to continue. It may not. Right now it seems like you are so bogged down with the emotional load of “making him understand”- which you can’t- that it’s skewing your perspective of everything else concerning the project. How much time would it really take if you weren’t so mired in trying to fix *him* instead of just making edits? Is this actually a worthwhile project for the world at large that will benefit others or have you approached it from a more personal angle of having the opportunity to educate and connect with this one person who has been important to you in your life? It happens.

    5. mialoubug*

      It could be, too, that he knows what he doesn’t know and this is one of the reasons he asked you to be on this project. Clearly he is not learning or making an effort to use what he is learning from you but he does seem to be accepting the changes you are making without argument.

  6. Psyche*

    It seems like you could side step the root cause by citing the amount of time the project is taking. “Unfortunately, this project is taking much more of my time than I thought it would. I can’t dedicate the amount of time that this project needs and will have to step down.” Then say something nice about the project and wish him well in completing it.

    1. Karen from Finance*

      I like this script if OP does want to avoid bringing up the sensitivity issue. Alternatively, you can add “here are some resources that you can use to make sure this project continues to be as inclusive as it’s been so far” (and a couple of links to information, maybe books, to help him figure out these subjects himself).

    2. Sabine the Very Mean*

      Yes and especially because time in this case also relates to the emotional aspect of it. It’s simply exhausting explaining how to stop discriminating (ugh not the right word here but moving on) against one’s own representative group.

    3. n*

      I like this suggestion of side-stepping the root cause of the problem.

      You could also frame the backing out as it not being your area of expertise. Like, “I initially thought this project was going to be more writing and editing focused [or insert skillset you’re known for here], but as we’ve proceeded, it seems like there’s a need for more general training and education, which is not my area of expertise.”

    4. LurkieLoo*

      For the question as asked, which is how to respectfully step down, not how to respectfully get him to step up, I would go this route. If he presses and asks WHY it’s taking more time and you feel like telling him some or all of what is the actual problem, great. It might actually get him to think about what he’s doing and improve. I’m not sure how much I would spend trying that if you’re already at your limit, though.

      If he does want more and you feel like getting that deep, I think you’ve explained yourself really well in the letter and a few minor tweaks could make it: “Your familiarity with engaging topics around women, queer people, and trans people is a lot more elementary than I anticipated. As a result, I’m spending a lot time engaging with and editing the parts of your work that are inadvertently sexist, queerphobic, and transphobic. You acknowledge my notes and I can fix them as I please, but that’s taking much more time than I anticipated and they’re not really sinking in in any permanent way. I don’t think I have the bandwidth or time to continue the intensive editing of your half of the project on top of my half of the project.”

      More or less depending on your comfort level. I think you’ve stated it all very professionally and respectfully.

  7. Meredith Brooks*

    Is it possible to just back out of the project and say that you weren’t expecting it to be so time consuming (or a more tactful phrase) and then recommend someone who might be more inclined to be a gentle educator on these issues. I don’t know what this project is, but my assumption is that if it directly impacts a specific group of people, it also may not be out of order to suggest partnering with a local community group that works within that community and who are likely well-versed in providing guidance on such topics to ignorant (though well-meaning) individuals.

  8. Akcipitrokulo*

    That’s tough…. especially when the usual motives aren’t as good when someone wants educated! A genine wish to learn is rare… but also doesn’t have to be on you.

    Are there any resources you think would click with him as primers? Maybe a couple of basic articles that you could put time aside to discuss the general principles, and then refer back to?

    Maybe “Hmm… there are some basics that would be helpful to review so we can have more meaningful input…” rather than “you’re not educated enough in basics…”?

    Someone else you can point him at?

    It sounds as if he WANTS to be more inclusive and is reaching out to you because of your relationship… which is good for him! But doesn’t mean you have an obligation. You don’t.

    1. OlympiasEpiriot*

      But it also reads as though he isn’t even taking in the edits *she* makes. If he isn’t willing to absorb that — from someone he ostensibly respects since he’s working on this project — I don’t know there are any articles that would get through to him.

        1. Letter Writer*

          It’s a little bit in between: He accepts the notes but doesn’t give the impression that he thinks they’re that important. The attitude is very, “If you say so. Let’s move on.” And I’m responsible for implementing the changes.

          1. Oranges*

            Soo… he doesn’t have to do any heavy lifting/research into what’s okay and what’s not. You just fix it and it doesn’t matter that he’s using offensive language.

            Why does he even want to do this project?

          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            OMG, OP, that would grate on every last nerve I have. I really hate the idea of accepting notes in a dismissive way. (You have my commiseration and sympathy.)

          3. nonymous*

            I wonder if, in his mind, getting to inclusivity in tone and content is a downstream step of his workflow?

            For example, when I’m in the early stages of a project, I might have bullet point objectives that are short and have no business being seen by an audience – they are just placeholders that I need to include content that fits a certain functionality. If I work with collaborators who don’t see themselves as contributing to content development, showing them this list makes them go WTF?! Not Good Enough! and then they run around thinking that I’m only capable of incomplete work, because they think their role is really that of friendly audience feedback (and maybe catching some typos). But from my perspective, if this is going to be TEAMWork, it’s a waste of my time to develop materials to completion along multiple streams and let them choose from a range of polished products – I need their feedback earlier and to consider high level implications. I’m wondering if he is showing you work that is equivalent to my bullet points and expecting you to be part of a collaborative content creation?

            Now, of course this completely misses the point of inclusivity. It’s not a layer of polish that gets copy-edited in the final draft. Nor is it an equal distribution of labor for you to refine his work from that initial skeleton state if he does not have the skills to contribute to your original content. However, if you think the partnership can be fruitful because of his connections, it may be worth restructuring the working relationship to better fit his strengths. Maybe he can focus on the financing/marketing and contribute to general brainstorming and you would take over the details of content creation? If that is a path that sounds reasonable, I would recommend bringing in a lower level contributor with the necessary skills – your role can be to supervise their work and write the occasional feature piece. If you are doing all the content creation AND grunt work, that doesn’t seem like a relationship of equals.

            I would also argue that – in order for your joint product to become commercially successful – his public presence will need to fit the tone of the content. And given the amount of editing you have to do, he clearly isn’t at that point (which he does seem to acknowledge). It doesn’t matter how brilliant/successful he has been historically, because modern audiences have different expectations (see: Orson Scott Card). I’m sure he doesn’t want to preemptively tank your success by having misguided conversations with potential advertisers (or whatever you’re doing for funding).

          4. Holly*

            OP, does he seem to have a genuine interest in the subject matter at all, or is it more that he came up with an idea that he thinks is profitable regarding the LGBT community?

    2. Katy Gall*

      I agree with this – also having a conversation about norms and parameters might help establish some baseline so that you don’t have to go back over basic things.

    3. Kiki*

      I like the idea of citing time constraints as the reason for backing out, but leaving him with resources to learn more. It seems as if he asked you to partner with him because he knew he had a lot of weak spots in this area, so I don’t think he’d be insulted if you left him a list of books, workshops, etc. Since you’ve been making edits already, you can give him the resource list and say, “We’ve talked about this a little already, but here are more resources to learn about those edits I made and some related issues that may come up.”

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        This is what I was going to suggest as well.

        The other thing you could suggest to him is to consider partnering with multiple people, preferably well educated allies. A POC shouldn’t have to educate someone on Racism 101. An LGBT person shouldn’t have to educate someone on Homophobia or Transphobia 101. That’s a lot to put on one person.

  9. Justin*

    Maybe say what others suggest and say this is taking up too much time and effort, and then also link him to some reading material that might help him.

  10. SherSher*

    Would taking the time to candidly talk to him and educate him benefit the the LGBTQ community via this project? If there is a greater good in the project being more inclusive (and I’m not sure based on the letter) then, even though it isn’t entirely your job, it could do some real good in the world. If it’s for instance a project about diversity, then he really needs to be educated and this project likely needs your help. But if he just wants to make sure he doesn’t use all white males on the cover of his brochure of his business that’s for his own benefit, then he can figure it out himself… especially since he is of an age that he should be taking these cues from you a lot better than he apparently is!

    1. The Principal of the Thing*

      I agree. There may be emotional drain that comes with the work, but if it could prevent that drain for others in the future, it might be worth it to slog it out. If you could share the load, though, that might be an option.

  11. Employment Lawyer*

    This is the perfect opportunity for a white lie, if you care to use one.

    You’re busy with another project. Some family things are coming up. Your job is taking more time. You want to move your attentions elsewhere. You don’t have time to spend on this any more and can’t predict when that will change, sorry. You want to try to take on other kinds of work. You want to work in a larger group. And so on.

    He may well go along with the project anyway in your absence, since he appears to be lead. But you don’t seem to object to that. Give him a bit of extra notice, if you can; wish him well; and move on.

    1. Princess Loopy*

      Agree with this completely. I mean this kindly, to both LW and collaborator, but you don’t owe him any more truth than “I need to step down from this project.” And if it helps to grease social wheels by claiming an unanticipated conflict, so be it.

      If you wanted to have the discussion about his casual marginalization of the people he claims to want to include, you’d be well within your purview. But if you don’t, please feel zero guilt about bowing out without taking on EVEN MORE emotional labor on your collaborator’s behalf.

  12. ThomasT*

    What’s not clear to me from the letter is the extent to which the overall project is at risk, and what the impact of the project’s failure would be on the letter-writer, and perhaps also on the marginalized communities that it’s at least trying to include. That seems relevant, in addition to the personal impact on LW and their career.

    If continuing the project is still desirable, I wonder if there is a way to recruit a third collaborator, perhaps a better-educated ally in these areas, to the project? Someone who could come in knowing that this level of education needs to be done, and focus on that without feeling like they’re being asked to do work they didn’t sign up for? Alternatively, maybe encourage him to get some training on these issues from another source.

    If LW decides that leaving the project is the best course, I think you could say that the commitment is more than you anticipated for a side project. You don’t necessarily have to get into the details of what’s causing it to feel like more work than you wanted to take on. I’m not sure whether that will preserve the bridge, but it should avoid having to detail his shortcomings in this area.

  13. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    He acknowledges my notes and I can fix them as I please, but they’re not really sinking in in any permanent way

    Based on this, it seems like he may just think that the agreement is that he writes whatever he wants and then has you go back to edit it to incorporate the inclusive language. Are there any edits that you find yourself making repeatedly, words that you frequently exchange? That could be a place to start. If you have the time and energy, write a list of alternatives to help him start learning on his own. With a resource like that, he could start decreasing your list of edits and hopefully will learn the words well enough to start shifting his vocabulary, saving you the emotional bandwidth in the future.

    1. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

      Shoot, I just reread the letter and realized your preference now is to back out of the project. In that case I think it’s probably fine to say that this project is taking up more of your time than you anticipated and you’d need to put it on the backburner or remove yourself entirely. I don’t think that your coworker necessarily needs to know why.

  14. Ruth (UK)*

    That’s a tricky situation and I’m curious what other people have to comment as, though I don’t deal with tis professionally, I have a lot of interactions in my social life with people who sound similar to this person. I’m in my late 20s, and a gay woman (and daughter of an immigrant). Due to the nature of some of my hobbies (traditional folk music and dance), a lot of the people I interact with are 40 or 60+ and, combined with my location (a fairly rural county in England), also tend to be straight/cis/white british etc. They also as a rule tend to be well-meaning and accepting of equality and LGBT+ related issues (etc) but, a bit like the person OP describes, often saying or phrasing things in a way that is not really acceptable or ideal, or just show a lack of understanding or knowledge.

    Because they’re social connections, and some are good friends, I tend to just address things in the moment as a series of small things (eg. “[x] is considered a slur by many people these days, I know you didn’t realise but I wanted to tell you so you don’t accidentally upset someone” etc) and am typically met with a positive or at least neutral response – and generally some sort of attempt to store the information for future purposes (eg. to try and remember not to keep using that word)

    For your case, OP, it sounds like you’ve already tried addressing the individual cases of these things and there’s a mix of it just being too much for you to handle and also not making any real long term difference.

    I’m not sure definitely what the best answer is and I think ideally you’d be able to explain to him that there’s just too much he is repeatedly not understanding etc for you to have the time to keep correcting… but with the aim of preserving your relationship presumably being a high priority, I’d be tempted, if it were me, to actually just make up a non-related reason why I no longer had the time or ability or whatever to continue to be involved in this project…

    Or perhaps would it be an option to suggest he brings an additional person on board to help, specifically for when it comes to navigating these types of issues?

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I dunno about bringing on even more people, or just single, ‘in the moment’ addressing of issues for LW. If LW’s project partner wants to do a professional project that is consciously LGBTQx inclusive, they have an obligation to learn the basics. It’s important to have participation from members of the community, but you really need basic understanding if you want to work in that space.

      Or else you end up with “Woman” on the GQ cover…

  15. Mazzy*

    I’d divide the issues and start with the most urgent, which would be homophobia. The trans comment- when I’ve confronted people on this it usually turns out they’re annoyed that the government is getting involved in bathrooms and not doing more important work. In other words, it usually has nothing to do with transphobia and everything to do with what gets governed and what doesn’t and what the government works on versus what it doesn’t. Activists who choose to ignore this huge reality are only making the divide bigger. I’d completely steer clear of anything about feminism. The last few years have seen news stories about supposed feminist causes be hijacked by a few crazy people and unfortunately I think no one on the “other” side is going to be listening at this point. I think that is beyond any of our control. We’ve seen pay gaps at companies that you’d consider traditionally very liberal and other pay gap data get debunked as inaccurate sampling and then we saw Madonna and others hijacking the women’s march to spew hate and condoning violence and there’s been a growing trend in pop culture articles labeling anything and everything as potentially sexist. Until that does down you’re wasting your breath discussing those issues with someone who is already making whatever type of comments your referring to.

    1. Jessie the First (or second)*

      I’m not sure what your point here is, other than to rail against feminist causes and the effort to help trans people be able to exist in safety in vulnerable places.

      LW wants to back out of the project so does not want to focus any more emotional energy on educating her mentor on any of this anymore. LW’s goal is to back out without burning a bridge – not to solve the mentor’s homophobic, transphobic, and sexist worldview.

      LW, you can white lie it (I am too busy and cannot devote the time this project needs, so sorry); or be direct and tell your mentor a version of “doing the work of making this more inclusive has turned out to be very time-consuming, and it seems that the same issues pop up repeatedly. It is more than I have time for and I am going to need to bow out” and then, ideally, suggest a replacement.

    2. Afiendishthingy*

      Really not sure how you have enough information to say this guy isn’t actually transphobic, regardless of how well-meaning he is. Transphobia is a huge issue. As is sexism.

      1. Mazzy*

        Sexism can be an issue but in my experience most people are complaining about the current face of feminism and not the actual issue. Same for trans issues. There is the actual issue and then the face of the issue.

        I’ve never heard someone say they just don’t like women, but I’ve heard plenty grumble about being told air conditioning is sexist, for example. That’s why I divvied out the issues.

        I have, however, seen real homophobia, which is why I’d call that one out first.

        None of us now if the person is actually transphobic or not or saying things about the current face of the trans rights movements.

        My advice stands, and that is to divide up the actual issue vs how it is portrayed in the media – which I’m betting is what the guy is actually complaining about.

        1. Afiendishthingy*

          The op is saying the guy makes transphobic comments, like saying “transsexual” because he doesn’t know that term is no longer appropriate. We are asked to take the OP at their word.

          1. Oranges*

            Heck, yesterday my mind went “what’s that word again…. transexual??? Don’t think so….” I couldn’t remember the right one. I just knew that I hadn’t heard that word in a long time and the “sexual” sounded incorrect since the definition had nothing to do with sex…

            It’s along the lines of: Everyone makes occasional mistakes, assholes will make them again and again because they don’t care about the harm/work their mistakes cause others.

        2. Socks*

          Yeah that has not been my experience at all, Mazzy. In fact, what I’ve found is the opposite, that people claim to have a problem with the face of feminism or trans issues, but the actual problem is they resent having to change anything that they are currently doing. Looks like our personal experiences cancel each other out and can be safely left out of the conversation. Luckily, none of that really changes OP’s situation, which is that they are tired of making the same corrections over and over, and would like to back out. This situation does not change if the collaborator deeply hates women, just hates PC language, or even if he has absolutely no good reason whatsoever to insist on writing stuff in a certain way besides that he likes the way it sounds. The point at which such speculation was helpful has passed. If OP were tired of correcting this guy’s mundane grammar mistakes, their advice would likely not be fundamentally changed.

      1. Afiendishthingy*

        Mazzy has a history on this site of suggesting marginalized people aren’t really oppressed ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        1. Mazzy*

          Seriously? You’ve got to be kidding me. I don’t have a history of anything but especially not that? Where are your gathering that from. We’re literally having a discussion on how to address it and this is your response? If you aren’t aware enough on the issues to be able to understand that you might need to describe the difference between an issue and the public face of an issue then maybe you need to take a pause instead of angrily attacking people on the internet.

          Instead of giving righteous indignation I’m trying to give actual information from real life. I know from real life many people are skeptical of the being lectured to on these topics because all they see are the bad sides of the movements in the media. So instead of ignoring those the OP should be prepared to address them.

          1. Czhorat*

            You are coming across here as needlessly combative, and very much dismissive of some real concerns in a comment which is, at the very best, tangential to the LW’s question.

            It feels as if you saw the broad issues and applied them to your personal pet peeves.

          2. Legal Beagle*

            You said explicitly that you don’t think misogyny is real. (“I’ve never heard someone say they just don’t like women.”) That is exactly what Afiendishthingy suggested you have a history of doing.

    3. Psyche*

      I think you missed the point of the letter. He is ASKING her to help him with those issues because it is integral to the project. She isn’t hearing comments he makes and taking offense. And she doesn’t want to educate him anymore because it is exhausting.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Mazzy, this response is confusing to me. If your point is “back out without bringing up LGBT issues, transphobia, or feminism because this guy fundamentally Doesn’t Get It” then that’s certainly advice that OP could try to operationalize.

      But if your point is “hey OP, your transphobic boss may not be transphobic, he might just not like when the government tells him it’s not ok to be transphobic,” then that’s truly unhelpful and also invalidates OP’s experiences. I’m not sure what the sidebar on feminism is about, but fortunately, it shouldn’t affect OP’s next steps.

    5. Kelly L.*

      If they’re really concerned about how government time is being spent, it’s the -phobes who are spending all the government time on it, so.

    6. Jules the 3rd*

      Dividing the issues leads to a false dichotomy – transphobia is misogyny; a lot of homophobia is based in misogyny and ‘not wanting to be the girl’. All this stuff is linked.

      And you’ve been talking to different people than I have – I live in NC (google NC HB2). The people who made comments about bathrooms were transphobic af and mad about ‘men in women’s bathrooms’ and when offered single-use bathrooms just started frothing at the mouth. Like, seriously, one guy got so upset he had spittle in the corners of his mouth. It was scary and fascinating at the same time. The ones complaining about gov’t interference in bathrooms opposed HB2 and didn’t in general make comments like LW mentions. It was HB2 supporters who did.

      Srsly off topic, sorry LW.

      1. Oranges*

        Amazingly enough when a person has one -ism they usually have others! Who knew that a tendency to Other and hate people for {insert reason A here} also means you’re likely to Other and hate people for {insert reasons B-ZZZA here}!


    7. Czhorat*

      “I want people to focus on MY preferred social issues, and don’t care at all about the minorities who aren’t personally important to me”

      This is, and I say this with all due respect, both divisive and shallow commentary. It adds nothing to help the letter writer, and creates needless conflict between different minority groups, all of whom face discrimination.

      Please don’t do that.

    8. Effective Immediately*

      I…very much want to know where you’re getting your news. I suspect that’s the bigger issue here.

  16. Lisa Babs*

    Sounds like he might need you more than you need this project.
    You can simply say “this project turned out to be more time consuming than I thought (which is true, just not the whole truth). Thank you for including me, but I have to walk away from this project, because I just don’t have enough time to dedicate to this project to do it justice.”
    If you want, you can add “But I’ll send you some sites that can help you with ____ (basic vocabulary or what ever you think he needs).”

  17. Anon for this*

    To add a different viewpoint here – I’d actually encourage you to go with a slightly more tactful, but still very straightforward version of exactly what you said: “You aren’t educated enough on basic feminist vocabulary or LGBTQ people, and I didn’t sign up for so much emotional labor. But don’t worry, I don’t hold it against you because it’s clearly a generational thing!” If there’s anything we readers have learned from Alison, it’s that sometimes people need things very, very clearly spelled out in order for them to absorb. If you’re clear but tactful and respectful, the message might actually penetrate, given what you already know about him as a person and what you’ve conveyed in your letter. You might have the opportunity to do some good here.

    That being said, if you really just don’t want to deal with it, or worry that it might damage your professional relationship with this, absolutely this is not your responsibility, and others have given and will surely continue to give advice on how to back out while totally or partially sidestepping the issues.

    1. Elfie*

      Ugh, if you add “Don’t worry, it’s clearly a generational thing”, that moves it from a decent comment about the situation to one that’s really quite offensive for it’s own reasons. Definitely don’t make it about his age, that’s such a red herring (and it will backfire on you spectacularly – either he’ll focus on the first part, and actually not worry about it, because you gave him a free pass, or he’ll double down on the generational thing).

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Also – it is TOTALLY NOT a generational thing. I’m in my 40s and have been hanging out in queer spaces since my teens, as have large swaths of my generational cohort. There were 4 thriving gay bars and a lesbian bookstore in my southern town (400K people) back in the 80s. My impression is that it was less open in the 60s, which is now people in their late 50s and 60s.

    3. Blue*

      I agree that this would be ideal, combined with a blunt discussion of the labor implications (“Because you’re not familiar with these topics, I’m finding that I have to largely rewrite text you’ve spent time producing. That means neither of us are using our time effectively, and so this has become more of a drain on my time and creative energy than I can manage right now.” And maybe a, “Before you continue with this project, it would be worthwhile for you to invest a bit of time reviewing [resources] and familiarizing yourself with X, Y, and Z.”) But if OP doesn’t feel up to the emotional labor of a CTJ talk, or if she thinks there’s no chance it sinks in, I think she can focus strictly on the “you’re wasting my time and your own,” side of things.

      I definitely feel for OP, because I’ve found myself in very similar situation before. Very frustrating (especially because the guy I was working with mostly knew better and was just being lazy.)

    4. Holly*

      I honestly don’t think she should say anything remotely indicating she thinks he isn’t educated enough (that will surely burn a bridge) or that it’s generational (that he’s too old).

  18. Quickbeam*

    I’m curious, is it just a vocabulary thing or a deeper lack of understanding? Because the current acceptable terms were often not even known a year ago. I hand wave away a lot of well intentioned use of now out of date diction. Unless you are steeped in it, it can be hard to keep up.

    1. Mazzy*

      Do you know what they mean by vocabulary? That part is confusing. Does OP mean they’re frustrated someone doesn’t know what a word means? Or is pretending not to? Or refusing to use a word?

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        The continued use of ‘transsexual’, from the letter, which would be OP’s project partner ignoring feedback that the word is outdated and often offensive. From experience, probably also regular used of gendered words inappropriately esp forgetting to use ‘they’ as first person singular. It’s *really* hard to go through and swap every ‘he’ and ‘she’ for ‘they’ after a piece is written. Universal find and replace can get funky or miss slight variations, like s/he or she/he .

        On a thematic level, stereotypes often creep in and require extensive rewrites.

  19. anon today and tomorrow*

    OP, I was going to write a similar letter, so thank you for beating me to it.

    Honestly, I find well-intentioned but ignorant straight people way more exhausting than outright homophobes. I’ve always worked with straight women who are overeager “allies” in the sense that they love cooing over how cute gay men are, and it’s pretty fetishistic and condescending. I’ve worked with men and women who think that being LGBTQA+ is the only part of any LGBTQA+ person’s personality, or that all LGBTQA+ people are either effeminate gay men or butch lesbians. Or straight allies who think same-sex marriage is our biggest obstacle in life, or who don’t understand why people don’t want to talk about our sexuality 24/7 and might want to keep it private (because I don’t want straight people to suddenly start speculating that anything I say or do is because of my sexuality, and because I’m tired of being the Token Queer Woman at work). And I’m really, really tired of straight people who use LGBTQA+ people as their “my gay friend” anecdotes to show how woke they are (or who, upon hearing I’m queer, immediately tell me about the movie/TV show/celebrity they also like who is queer).

    It’s not even a generational thing. I’m 32 and I find a lot of people my age and younger do these things as well (especially the women cooing over gay men aspect – and this is especially problematic in online spaces). I’m just exhausted by straight people still perpetuating outdated norms and Othering us (and yes, straight people, you Other us when you squeal over how cute we are and by spamming rainbow confetti unicorn “love is love” slogans everywhere on your social media in June – I’m bitter about how “love is love” has been appropriated by corporations and straight people, but that’s another story).

    I find all of this especially annoying in the workplace because like you, OP, I often find myself trying to teach straight coworkers how to stop perpetuating outdated ideas or how to confront their internal biases.

    OP, can you ask for a sensitivity training for your mentor? It sounds like he isn’t resisting your corrections, so do you think it’s also worth it to sit down and have a talk with him about his biases? Sometimes people outside a marginalized group don’t realize their biases until someone actually talks to them about it face to face.

    I’ve also found – however unfortunate it may be – to start these conversations as, “You may want to pay special attention to how you write about LGBTQA+ topics in your reports because if this gets out to the public, it may cause a problem because people will find your wording offputting and non-inclusive”. That’s worked with some more resistant people who are less inclined towards inclusivity, but don’t want to lose their job or hurt a company’s image.

    TL;DR: When it comes down to it, it’s not our job to teach straight people about LGBTQA+ culture and norms. We shouldn’t be easing them into the correct way to interact with us or perceive us, nor should we be expending so much emotional energy to educate them. You can only do so much at the expense of your mental and emotional health. I suggest having a talk with your mentor, but if he’s not willing to listen to your suggestions, he’s probably never going to learn (or it’s going to take him a lot longer than it should).

    1. anon today and tomorrow*

      I forgot to add – if you want to back out because you truly don’t even have the energy to have a conversation with him about this – then back out. Just cite other commitments that need your time. You don’t even need to mention anything related to his biases since having unexpected or other commitments is such a normal part of the working world.

    2. Oranges*

      Personally, I find them more annoying but less exhausting since I don’t have to have my shields “up” around them. Also, gasp, are you saying my entire life doesn’t revolve around how dissimilar or similar my romantic partner’s genitals are from mine? Heretic!

      1. anon today and tomorrow*

        I get that. I just know where I stand with homophobes. They hate me, they probably want me dead, just existing is me “shoving my sexuality in their face”. There’s never any question of how much they dislike me.

        With well-intentioned straight people, I never know if they’re going to start cooing over how they want a sassy gay BFF to talk about fashion and boys with, or if they’re going to start asking me invasive questions about the difference between sex with men and women or make a really dumb comment about how “I’m so lucky to be attracted to women because men are dumb and it’d be so much easier to just date women”. Eyerolls to the extreme.

        1. Oranges*

          Yeppers. Each person has different things that will exhaust their mental energy.

          I view the “OMG! Gay Person!!!” like a puppy in a home I don’t own. They can rip up the couch and go to town in the garbage can. I just will keep my distance from now on. I won’t be on the look out for it from other people though.

          The homophobes to me are like fighting dogs. They’re not okay in the head and see me as a danger. They want to attack but only a fence is between us (yay for the fence of social/legal repercussions!) and that fence can be flimsy as all get out sometimes.

          The uncertainty of when a completely normal dog will change into a “OMG” puppy is more exhausting for you. You know where you stand with the scary dog and can act accordingly.

          For me the fence strength/weakness is the most exhausting thing and wondering what will happen when/if it breaks.

          1. anon today and tomorrow*

            Wow, this is such a good metaphor. I’m going to borrow it the next time I need to explain this concept to someone.

            1. Snarl Trolley*

              (Although, if I’m being totally honest, I’ve received some pretty intense vitriol from so-called allied when they fuck up and I call them out on whatever nonsense they’re displaying. Allies: Your good intentions don’t mean shit when you get defensive and angry for being told you messed up your alleyship. :) Anger at a queer/trans person is just as scary no matter who it’s coming from. Real allies acknowledge they aren’t going to get it right 100% of the time and accept a call-out graciously and humbly, then actually change that behavior. Get angry and/or argue – even “nice” arguing, or “debating”, lmao, as y’all just love to call it…- and you’re off my list of safe people, and you bet I’m telling all my queer friends to give you space, too.)

              1. anon today and tomorrow*


                I’ll never forget the coworker who got very defensive and angry when I told her that straight women fetishizing gay/bi men is in the same league as straight men who fetishize lesbian/bi women. Her take was that she was appreciating inclusivity while dudes were just being lewd. Yeah, okay. I walked away with her trying to debate the issue with me knowing she was no longer considered a safe ally in my book.

                1. Snarl Trolley*

                  The fact that they think they get to have a “take” on it at all on it is indicative of a less-than-genuine approach to allyship. Sigh. It’s such a lose/lose situation- if we call them out politely and kindly, they try to open up a defensive “dialogue” about why we’re wrong and they’re right. If we call them out with genuine righteous frustration and indignation, we’re “combative” and they dismiss the whole call-out “until we can be civil”. Fun times. Fun times. Allies: possibly one of the most effective ways you can BE an ally is to frickin’ believe us when we say something you’ve done is hurtful or offensive, apologise, and then change that behavior/call it out yourself if you see someone else doing it. That’s it! Imo, that’s legitimately all we need from you as an ally.

                  (Sorry to Alison for the bit of a derail here.)

              2. Oranges*

                Ugh. The “alleyship is cool now” alley. Like recognizing you’re a human being is a huge favor they’re doing you and how dare you–the {insert slur here}–correct them.

                Let’s see if I can stretch my metaphor. A badly trained small purse dog and owner was the closest I could come. Why?
                Purse dogs are/were “in”
                Lots of the owners don’t want to do the actual work of training a dog
                And don’t see the need to train a small dog.
                And are suddenly surprised when the small dog harms someone
                And then double down on things because they can’t say “mea culpa” I shall do better in the future and live with the discomfort of knowing you didn’t come up to the mark now.

    3. LadyPhoenix*

      I sorry that I am sometimes THAT ally. Where I mess up or make it about myself.

      It has gotten to the point where I am not comfortable labeling myself as a potential member of the lgbtqa community, because I am not sure if I am truly bi or pan… or just straight with the occasional girl crushes. So I don’t want to take up a spot when I can’t be certain if my attractions are genuine.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        One of the best things about the LBGTQAx community (to me) is that it is working to break down the separations – I am finding the evolution of pan and genderqueer / genderfluid extremely heartening. My own concept of gender / sexuality is that it’s like a 4D version of that full color chart you get in MS office when you click on ‘more colors’, with a lots of options and overlap and spectrums (instead of dots) and likelihood of evolution over time.

        1. Oranges*

          Jules the 3rd is correct. Why? Because nature abhors being put into the corner.

          The more I learn about biology the more I realize that there is no dichotomies in human nature. All the things are spectrums.

      2. Liz*

        I used to feel this way. But “girl crushes” are CRUSHES, and the way our culture minimizes and devalues them can often make bi women dismiss their own feelings.

        1. Snarl Trolley*

          Oh my GOD yes, this.

          LadyPhoenix: Please know you’re entirely valid! Feelings are a strange, nebulous creature. Often, if you’re “wondering” if you’re queer, congratulations! You’re queer. Firmly straight people don’t quite tend to worry about co-opting identities, because they know what they are. Questioning is still a flavor of queer, in my opinion. You are welcome in my fold. <3

          1. Tafadhali*

            My friends and I all joke that having the thought “I’m probably not really bi enough to COUNT” is basically the hallmark of bisexuality. <3

      3. anon today and tomorrow*

        To be fair, I think there’s a difference between an overexcited ally who may be privately questioning or unaware of their sexual identity and someone who is definitely straight and is an overexcited ally.

        Part of LGBTQA+ culture is being an over-invested ally before understanding or acknowledging your sexuality. I know a lot of people, myself included, who had a phase of being an over-invested, overexcited, sometimes fetishistic ally before they realized their sexuality. It’s easier to be invested in a group as an outsider sometimes than admitting that you are part of that group.

      4. JennyFair*

        There isn’t a finite number of spots :) And do keep in mind, as you figure out where you fit, that your attraction to one gender may be very different from your attraction to another, and that doesn’t invalidate either of them. (For instance, I’m bisexual in a very ‘if men weren’t (almost) all infected by toxic masculinity, I might find some of them attractive’ kind of way).

      5. cleo*

        I’m bi and I used to think I wasn’t “bi enough” to claim it as my identity. And it turns out that I’ve met a LOT of bi/pan women who feel the same way.

        1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

          Oh boy I’m not sure I’ve met another bi/pan person who HASN’T felt that way away one point or another.

          In fact, realizing that other bi people had also experienced that “am I bi/pan enough though” feeling was almost more of an affirmation to me that I was in fact queer than the simple fact that I was attracted to both genders.

  20. DKMA*

    This somewhat echoes other comments, but I think it might be worth mentally seperating two aspects of this.

    1) Editing materials and creating a project that is inclusive: Is the project itself important to you? Will having it be inclusive be a meaningful outcome for you that you are willing to invest time in? Is the project a potential significant accomplishment that will help you achieve personal goals?

    If you are willing to invest time in the project so that it meets your standards, you can do that while divorcing yourself of the emotional labor of trying to change your mentor. He’s given you permission to make edits as you see fit, you change your frame to one where you just make edits and send them back as final product, rather than an emotional dance. Would that be work you are willing to do, or no?

    2) Changing your mentor: It’s not going to happen, it sounds like you’re not that upset it’s not going to happen, you can stop trying. Does that change your mindset?

    Basically, decide for yourself whether it’s the actual work that’s bothering you, or the emotional labor aspect of it. And then frame your decision on what to communicate back to him based on what you decide is the right outcome for you.

    1) “I’m sorry, this ended up being a more major time committment than I expected, so I won’t be able to support it anymore. I’ll do ________, and then won’t be able to help any further” Fill in the blank with whatever you are willing / whatever you think is the minimum needed to abide by your previous committments.

    2) “After the first few rounds of input, there seems to be fairly consistent changes around X and Y, going forwards I’m just going to make the copy edits without providing detailed explanations. Let me know if there’s anything in particular you disagree with.” If his disagreements start to be litigating these issues rather than other substantive concerns (or grammar or whatever) feel free to follow-up with something more firm, or to bow out of continuing to do the work.

  21. Oranges*

    In a perfect world he would pay someone with lived experience to write/create the content for this project. Because he just isn’t getting it and it sounds exhausting.

    Basically he’s not in a place where he can do this project. He thought he was but… nope! For the project to get done correctly; he either needs to have someone who can be much more “hands on” than you can be at this time OR someone else needs to do the project.

  22. Nita*

    Just from a logistical point of view, if you’re making the same edits over and over, is it possible to condense everything into one or two rounds of edits? That is, he puts together whatever it is he’s working on, you go through it once and cover it with red ink, and then he integrates your changes, and hopefully you’re done.

    Although… not the same topic, but certain kinds of writing mistakes irritate me so much that my blood pressure starts to spike and my head hurts. I’ve had to back out of reviewing a family member’s work for this reason – I like editing, usually, but that person’s bad writing was just too much. I bowed out by saying that one, I don’t have time any more for proofreading, and two, I’m struggling with proofreading the technical bits of the work because I’m really not familiar with them. Maybe you can use the excuse of having over-estimated how much time this takes. And if you’re not collaborating with him and your name isn’t on the final product, well, you can’t feel responsible it being less than perfect in the end.

    1. Delta Delta*

      I won’t edit for someone whose belief system about the Oxford comma differs from mine. It never ends well.

      1. Murphy*

        I informed a professor the other day that the Oxford comma (much to my dismay) isn’t officially a part of our university “style” and he was distraught.

        1. nonegiven*

          Just when I got to where I was leaving it out without having to think about it, now I’ve learned that I really need to go back and edit it in.

  23. Letter Writer*

    These responses are great and so helpful so far! I’m going to go ahead and rescind the detail about it being a generational thing. I agree that it’s not. It’s the word I reached for first because some of the issues have been around terminology that was acceptable at one point in his life but now isn’t, but commenters pointing out that it’s a bubble problem/lack of concern with staying educated are on the money!

    1. KimberlyR*

      It also matters what company he keeps (does he hang out with straight white people, primarily? Or does he have a diverse group of friends?) and possibly a geographical issue. I am not trying to excuse him or say that he is justified. But if he doesn’t try to break out of his bubble and broaden his own little world, he is never going to learn and grow in a way that will further this project. You can’t be his PC police, for lack of a better term. It sounds like he knows he has gaps in his knowledge but instead of trying to learn and change, he is content to stagnate and let you do the heavy lifting.

      1. Boo Hoo*

        I’ve traveled the World many times and have met many many people of al types and happen to not have any trans friends. That doesn’t make someone in a bubble, just how it panned out.

          1. Boo Hoo*

            Because I have known all of my close friends since before puberty so I would have noticed if they suddenly changed genders.

        1. Alton*

          There’s a very good chance that you know some trans people and don’t realize it. They just aren’t open about it.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, 1% of my high school graduating class have realized they were trans in the last 30 years. I’ll bet there’s someone you who is.

          Doesn’t really matter, tho, you can learn about the terms and issues even if there’s not a personal connection. The personal connection just makes it move higher on the priority list.

          1. Boo Hoo*

            Ya except that isn’t what I said. I said it doesn’t mean he lives in a bubble, in response to the comment above.

      2. Lily Rowan*

        Honestly, I mostly hang out with straight white people, and am in my 40s, and I can still understand changing terminology and mores! And take people’s corrections gracefully, AND do better next time.

  24. Aunt Piddy*

    I’m a queer woman who ends up playing this role fairly often, and when it’s someone I’m working with who honestly seems to want to do better I usually start sending them articles or books to study up on. He’s not going to figure out what he’s doing wrong by looking at edits, but if he genuinely WANTS to get it then he has to study (just like any other topic).

    The thing I like about sending study material is that it puts the effort back where it belongs – on the person who needs to do better – instead of taking up your own limited bandwidth.

    It’s great he recognized his own limitations, but now he has to start putting in effort to overcome them.

    1. Chinookwind*

      This is a great idea. If I were in the OP’s mentor’s shoes, I definitely wouldn’t understand why an edit was required by looking at but would accept that it was necessary because the OP recommended it. But, because I don’t understand the subtleties of the why, I would make similar errors again inadvertently even though I don’t want to.

      It is the difference between an error (where I don’t know/understand what is wrong) and a mistake (which is when I know what is wrong but make the mistake due to inattention). On the surface, it is hard to tell which occurs at any given time. If the goal of the project is to simply make the end product inclusive and respectable, then it doesn’t matter which is occuring and the OP is better just making the edits and not taking it personal (by focusing on the end goal). But if the goal is to educate the mentor, than it means she would have to do the heavy emotional lifting at the start (which may be enough for her to quit the project).

    2. Mockingjay*

      This is so true. It’s easy to ask someone else (and tune out the answer), or glance at edits and say, “ok, make the changes” (without registering what the paper says and means).

      Doing your own research – that’s how you absorb and retain information.

    3. Catwoman*

      This is what I came into the comments to say. I think a reading list is a grand idea. Lots of other folks have already put effort into explaining and hand-holding others through these issues. If you think he would be receptive to it (which from your letter, it sound like he might), I think you should give him one or two books to read and say that you’re going to put your involvement in the project on hold while he reads them. This litmus test lets you know how serious he is about being more inclusive and educating himself and gives you the mental health break you need. If he takes it seriously, you might want to reconsider dropping the project entirely (and indeed it may be less taxing if he’s taking some initiative himself). If he doesn’t take it seriously, then there’s a convenient out for you.

    4. old white guy*

      I like this approach. I get not wanting to do the emotional labor of explaining, but having at least some direction of where to go to educate oneself is helpful, the internet being the internet and all.

  25. Delta Delta*

    It seems to me that this could be a very beneficial project for both parties. And it also seems like OP values and will continue to value the relationship with Mentor. It’s unfortunate it’s gotten to a frustration point, because it seems like both could have a good end product.

    My first suggestion would be to see if there’s a way to salvage the project and to make some boundaries and goals. Sometimes projects, for whatever reason, take on their own lives, and need to be reeled in. This might be a little bit like that. It can be as easy as some of the comments made above. It sticks out to me that Mentor specifically asked OP to be part of the project for OP’s expertise (maybe not the right word, but you know what I mean), but it’s getting to be a lot. Perhaps OP’s conversation can include asking Mentor to reiterate and incorporate OP’s language through some self-editing before sending it over to OP (or however this project is divided up).

    Second, if OP really can’t continue, it seems like the line about “it’s taking more time than I thought” could be a good way to go. And perhaps leave the door open to figure involvement (if you want) if it’s a project you believe in and if it’s a mentor you believe in.

    I’d stay away from calling it “generational.” Nobody likes being called old. And it probably isn’t generational, given the ages listed here.

    It sounds like Mentor is actually pretty open to suggestion, but is a little slow on the uptake.

  26. The Cardinal*

    Yes, there are ways to remove yourself without burning bridges by simply stating that you will unable to continue because .

    One thing you may want to think about: your frustration at educating someone who is “ignorant” of rapidly changing terminology/acceptable & unacceptable utterances/etc… is understandable but…is it realistic to expect not to have to do this with some frequency given the seismic shift in both attitudes and laws? Shoot, I was a human rights advocate before it was cool but I gotta admit that the rapid evolution off terminology and types of self-identification are happening so fast that I’m sure if we were discussing gender-related issues, I’d plant both feet firmly in mouth without one malicious thought or intention in my head.

    FWIW I identify as part of a large American minority group that has gone through a number of “this is how we want to be identified” permutations and I’m here to tell you that you will never find 100% of any self-identified group that agrees on terminology or what terms are and are not inherently offensive (I personally never refer to myself by the term that is most commonly used these days because I believe it’s somewhat pretentious – but more power to those who want to use it!). I hope you can continue to exhibit patience with folks who have lived a lifetime experiencing the world as it was but who are genuinely supportive of human rights and are interested in doing right by all. Sometimes we nede to be willing to accept others imperfections if we want others to accept ours. Excelsior!

    1. Kenneth*

      That’s one thing that’s popped to mind as well.

      I’ve had the similar head-spinning thoughts as well. I was an active advocate for LGBT+ (what’s the current acronym?) rights back in college, back before the first Court cases eliminating the marriage restrictions. Back then, there was more a concern with reclaiming the word “queer” and wearing it in the open – the Q hadn’t yet been added to the acronym. Today it seems that not only are terms changing fast, but there’s this continual… walking on eggshells feeling as well, wherein even accidentally using the wrong term (because it changed 5 minutes ago, why aren’t you keeping up?) gets you labeled an “-ist” or “-phobe”.

      Someone else above brought up the idea of what company the Mentor keeps. If the Mentor has a diverse group of friends and colleagues he regularly interacts with, he could be getting mixed messages as well. Because he may hang out with people who may not care about the current terminology, or do not want to adopt it, whatever the reason. So who is he to trust in that instance? His group of friends and colleagues, or one person who’s more or less asserting the terminology she’s adopted as the single source of truth?

      In that instance, a lot of people are going to be less likely to change how they approach things until an equilibrium is reached. Instead sticking with what is familiar. And it isn’t just with social issues that this happens.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I actually see a lot of patience in the LBGTQAx community for people who use recently outmoded terms, and I don’t think LW is concerned about that. It sounds more basic than not including Asexuals in the acronym.

        When I’ve run across it, the most common symptom is misgendering, or refusal to use singular ‘they’ or to reduce gendered words / phrases / situations.

        I suspect if OP’s partner was engaging with OP on a debate between ‘boyfriends’ for two dating men vs ‘partners’ (which I believe is still active / down to individual preference; some find partner equalizing, some find it erasing), OP wouldn’t have written the letter.

        1. Oranges*

          Times I’ve seen when we’re not patient about this:
          1) You are the last straw in the parade of (conscious or unconscious) micro-aggressions.
          2) They are in a LGTBQuiltbag space and some one with high visibility (think keynote speaker) who should know better pulls it.

        2. Alton*

          I agree. I’ve been involved in LGBT education projects, so I know how considerations about specific language and framing choices can come up. The key thing, though, is that we all had familiarity with the subject and the things that required more consideration weren’t extremely fundamental. If we’d had to correct each other constantly, nothing would have gotten done.

  27. Aly_b*

    If you’re up for being kind of honest with him, can you let him know that you weren’t really anticipating doing these kinds of basic edits, and that either he would need to get some more background in it himself (if you want to continue under that condition) or that you’re not available to do that (if you’re just done.) Framing them as basic edits sets them up as being stuff he should have known but to me feels less antagonistic – they’re errors but, ya know, it’s not that he’s ignorant, it’s that everyone makes mistakes. And I know they aren’t really basic, they take a lot of knowledge and skill, but it’s clearly the sort of thing he should have known going into the project.

  28. CM*

    Ouch, I’m in my 40s but not an ignorant grandpa!

    That aside, here’s what I would say. First, I’d start with the “I’m stepping away from this project because I don’t have the resources at the moment” scripts that others have suggested above. Then if you’re willing to do a little more education — which I think would be appropriate for somebody who has been a mentor to you in the past — I would add: “I really appreciate your desire to make this project more inclusive. I’ve noticed that the issues that have required my attention the most have been about gender identity and sexuality [or you can be more specific]. I’d like to suggest some resources that I think will be helpful: [A, B, and C].”

  29. Hiring Mgr*

    It sounds like OP doesn’t want to continue on while not discussing the reasons, so as others have said, just tell him something about it taking too much time, family stuff that has come up, etc. and that you’re unable to continue..

  30. Nanc*

    I’m going to voice an unpopular opinion and say you can’t change other people’s actions, you can only change your own, so you may want to let go of trying to educate him.
    If he is causing you extra work and having a dialogue hasn’t changed his behavior you can let it go and continue to fix his mistakes, resign from the project, or come up with a way to reduce his mistakes. If he’s making consistent mistakes, try a cheat sheet. Instead of [OFFENSIVE WORD/PHRASE] use [INCLUSIVE NEUTRAL WORD/PHRASE].
    Full disclosure: baby boomer, 40+ years as a professional writer, still have to fix this same shit in content created by interns to 80 year old C-Suite execs. I’ve had success using the cheat sheet method. Does it change their actual thinking? I don’t know. I do get better content.
    Good luck–it sounds like a great project and opportunity and update us when you can.

    1. n*

      This is another good approach to take. I think the LW might feel emotionally invested in whether or not he gets it due to the mentor relationship. However, if LW wants to keep working on the project, taking on a more detached stance might be helpful.

      If this were a freelance client I was providing editing work for, I’d set out a number of rounds of revisions they get and any edits after that, I would either let them know I don’t have the time or that it’s going to cost extra. I wouldn’t invest more time in making sure they “get” the edits. If there were on-going issues, I might propose creating a set of style guidelines for them, but again, that would be for an additional fee. And after that, the lack of education is on them, not me.

  31. CatCat*

    It sounds like your expectations aren’t aligned here. He knew he was going to mess this up on his own, engaged you to participate so it could be successful, and you are making edits to the work he is producing and he supports you making the edits. Does he see you as having the role of editor, but you see yourself as having the role of educator? Is the role you have NOT supposed to involve this much editing? Have you asked him what’s going on? That may help with a solution.

    “Wakeen, I appreciate you bringing this project to me for collaboration. Your goals of inclusiveness are laudable, but the amount of time spent editing is much greater than I anticipated, especially since I am repeating edits. For example, I will change X to Y for [reason], but then you continue using X. What’s going on?”

    Part of me wonders if he is, due to his ignorance, failing to grasp that the edits are substantive and not just stylistic.

    If it really can’t work out, your probably just have to be upfront about it. “Fergus, when you asked me to collaborate on this project, I did not anticipate the time and level of editing necessary would be so great. Unfortunately, I do not have the bandwidth to continue and need to wrap up my participating in the project in the [time frame]. I am committed to ensuring as smooth a transition as I can during [time frame]. I suggest X and Y to help smooth, but let me know what else would help.”

    1. sunny-dee*

      Yeah, this jumped out to me. If he hired her as an editor, to make sure everything reads right and uses the proper terminology, it may simply not occur to him to try to change the output at all — her job is to make it right. Honestly, the only way I see “educator” as a reasonable response is if there are foundational issues that can’t be edited around and that would need to be addressed. Otherwise, the educator role is kind of presumptuous.

      1. Ann O.*

        Yes, especially because the OP describes the gender and sexuality aspects as tangentially related to the project, not core.

    2. nonegiven*

      This guy doesn’t want to be educated. He wants to be rewritten so he doesn’t have to think about it.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        That’s probably true. If so, teaching him isn’t going to help and should probably be dropped. Then, it becomes an ordinary work problem: does the LW want the job of rewriting his work so he doesn’t have to think about it, or not? Because that’s the job he was apparently offering… not that of diversity and culture trainer.

  32. Jason Funderberker*

    Could you recommend a sensitivity reader instead? Maybe tell him that it’s getting out of your area of expertise, but in a way that doesn’t undermine you. And suggest that working with one or a few sensitivity readers might be the best thing for the project as they are experienced around this sort of thing. Also, that may be a way for you to stay on the project because the emotional burden would be placed on someone who is more removed from the situation and well-prepared for it?

    1. drpuma*

      Yes! I was going to suggest this. That way the OP can stay involved with the project, but outsource that emotional labor to someone who’s expecting to take it on. Or even outsource an “education” session – “I’m doing more of these edits than I was expecting, can we schedule a meeting with Z? They’re an expert at this kind of thing and they can go over some ground rules and give you reference material?”

    2. ZSD*

      I also think a sensitivity reader is a great idea. I’ve learned about them through Twitter, so that’s one easy way to find someone who could do the work!

  33. Terri*

    I don’t think it’s generational. We’re talking someone in their 40s. I just turned 40 a few months ago and am at the cusp of GenX/Millennial. I have a feeling it has more to do with his privilege (assuming straight, cis, white, able-bodied, etc.) and never having to be accountable or do the emotional labor and *that* type of ignorance as opposed to the “aw shucks, back in my day” type of ignorance.

    Would it be at all helpful for you to, when you have this conversation, point him in the direction of some useful 101-type resources? OR suggest that he separately hire some sort of cultural competency consultant? Your work is valuable, and you should not have to be doing uncompensated labor on top of it.

  34. The Ginger Ginger*

    Are you absolutely 100% at the I’m-over-this-and-want-to-quit point, or would you be willing to give it one more try if you didn’t have to be his main resource for beginner-level education and could focus on more meaningful edits?

    If you’re done-zo: “Mentor, I really appreciate that you thought of me for this project, your desire to be more inclusive is a wonderful thing. The time I set aside for this project, however, was a little optimistic. I planned my calendar assuming that some initial research and study on the topic had already occurred and could be implemented into the writing right away. But I’m finding that most of my time is actually going toward establishing that bas-line education instead of working on the actual project. That misunderstanding is on me! But I don’t have additional space in my calendar to continue working on this. My last available day is X. Here are some excellent resources who can continue to help you on this.” (then give out names of other free-lancers who’d be willing to take it on).

    If you’re willing for one more stab at it if he could do some work on his own: “Mentor, I really appreciate that you thought of me for this project, your desire to be more inclusive is a wonderful thing. The time I set aside for this project, however, was a little optimistic. I planned my calendar assuming that some initial research and study on the topic had already occurred and could be implemented into the writing right away. But I’m finding that most of my time is actually going toward establishing that base-line education instead of working on the actual project. That misunderstanding is on me! But I don’t have additional space in my calendar to continue supporting the research at this level of granularity. Can you take a look at these resources (online, books, podcasts, etc)? I’ve found them extremely helpful in expanding my vocabulary and explaining why some important shifts in language and attitudes have occurred, and I think it will allow us both to spend less time on the type of revisions we’ve been having to do up to this point. Or, would you be willing to bring on a consultant for this type of work, and allow me to focus more on the collaborative side of the project?”

    Maybe it’s just a miscommunication of what he expected your role to be, or maybe he just didn’t realize how little he actually knew? Who knows! I hope this works out for you.

    1. MM*

      I was leaning toward something a lot like your second option. I edit/look over stuff for my dad all the time, and he likes to bounce ideas off me. There are times when I tell him, “I can’t help you with this until you’ve thought it through further/done some more research/narrowed down your question,” etc. Of course it’s easier to say these things bluntly when it’s someone you’re close to (he occasionally gets huffy, but it blows over). But in my experience, if somebody is trying to use you as a sounding board at a very elementary stage of the work, it’s just not productive, and everybody will be better off for you saying “Hey, call me when you’ve done your homework.”

  35. Kelly*

    It sounds to me like it’s pretty much exactly what he asked you to do. He knows he isn’t aware of basic terminology etc. in this area, you are, so he asked you to collaborate. If it’s too much emotional work, that’s a different issue.

  36. Secretary*

    I know you’re saying you don’t hold it against him, but it might take time for him to grow in this. I’m STILL not always up to date on all the vocab, there’s a lot of it!
    I think this takes grace, and ultimately you’re making the world a better place by educating this guy, assuming he cares about what you’re teaching him.

  37. tad confused*

    a lil offtopic maybe, but as we are talking about education in this area…

    since when did using ‘transexual’ become verboten?

    I must have missed the memo, but in some cases its clearly still the most accurate label and some still self identify as such

    and this question comes from someone who sits with the LGBT+ spectrum

    1. AnaEatsEverything*

      I am completely cis and this was also news to me, although I have a wide variety of friends on the rainbow, including two trans friends. I’m wondering if it has more to do with the -sexual suffix, since trans refers to gender, not sexuality? Hoping someone with more knowledge can check me on that.

      1. Oranges*

        You are correct from my understanding, it is the “sexual” part of the word that’s problematic. It makes it a who-you-are-attracted-to thing which it isn’t. It’s about what gender you are or aren’t.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Whew, glad I’m not the only one! I admit I used it in a social media comment the other day, early in the morning before I had my coffee; but after the coffee, went back and edited the comment, changing the word to “transgender”, because somehow it felt off. I was not aware of it being officially inappropriate, even though it did feel off. Things really do evolve quickly in this area, which is amazing, but I imagine there are learning curves and growing pains.

          1. Oranges*

            Just to underline the everyone messes up: I’m a lesbian and very much into trans/bi rights (because holy crap batman, gay people trying to pull that crap is just… no! nope! noooooo). You apologize, deal with your “cis/white/whatever” guilt, and try to do better.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        Speaking as someone who is trans, it’s partly the -sexual ending when it’s a matter of gender, not sexuality. Part of it for me also is that as a kid I used to hear people use “transsexual” to refer to people with intersex genitals (no idea if that was a regional thing or not). Being trans has nothing to do with my sexuality OR the state of my genitals.

        Also, frankly while growing up I just heard people use it in a nasty, hateful tone regardless of who they were using it to refer to and it makes me feel gross.

      3. Anon trans guy*

        It’s complicated. I am a trans guy (Gen X, transitioned over a decade ago), and I have trans friends who prefer to use the term transsexual. They are typically women and often have transitioned years ago. Some feel that the creation of a trans umbrella & language preferred within (including the overarching term transgender) has pushed them aside. They are frustrated at language and policy that centers other LGBTQI+ people (e.g., non-binary, genderqueer, etc.) in ways that ignores and sometimes invalidates their experiences.

        Language moves very quickly, and the LW’s perspective is hardly universal here. Things I’ve published in the past are no longer using correct or preferred terminology. That said – it’s not LW job to play educator and do this emotional labor. There are good resources (GLAAD, GLSEN, etc.) to point someone to if they need style guide tips. Sounds like the individual here isn’t even willing to do the baseline amount of work to understand or seek out resources underlying these terminological nuances and preferences. That’s where I’m with LW on politely withdrawing from the project.

        1. MaryM*

          Yes, this is my experience too. Basically I don’t use the term transsexual anymore, other than with older ladies who prefer it. In my mind it’s the same kind of old fashioned respect I give to older ladies at church who prefer to be addressed as Miss Susan rather than Susan. I also have older friends who prefer visually impaired. I find the old terms a little icky personally but whatever, it’s it the end of the world to respect the wishes of your elders in social situations.

          I do think it can be confusing to others though.

    2. Emily*

      I know that ‘trans’, ‘transgender’, and ‘gender nonconforming’ are currently the accepted words in my circles (with ‘gender nonconforming’ maybe applying to a slightly different subset of people), but I couldn’t point to exactly when or why this became the case! I would suggest that ‘trans’ or ‘transgender’ is the (current) default terminology but that obviously people should be able to self-label/self-identify however they’d like.

      (I’m coming at this from the perspective of someone who is in her late twenties and probably (?) cis, but went to a very liberal, very queer undergrad.)

    3. MM*

      Part of what’s difficult in this arena is that the language has changed very fast. So there absolutely still are people who would call themselves transsexual and others who would recoil at the term.

      My understanding, contra the others who have already replied, is that the shift has to do with recognizing a distinction between sex and gender. Not all trans people will have surgery or pursue a physical transition at all. In that sense, they have not and will not change their sex; their bodies are the same. (This is as distinct from sexuality-sex.) But regardless of transition choices and status, trans people’s gender identities do not match the sex they were assigned at birth, so they are transgender.

    4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I think this is part of the problem. There has been so much change in accepted language recently that I think a lot of people are having a hard time keeping up regardless of their willingness to be inclusive. From what I’ve read there hasn’t really been a clear consensus, within the LGBT community on some of the terms.

      I guess my opinion on the OP’s question, FWIW, is that they need to decide if working on this project is worth their effort, regardless of the reason.

    5. Alton*

      It’s complicated. It’s still a term some people (especially older trans women) still self-identify with, but it’s no longer used as a default term and some people are very uncomfortable with it.

      Part of the issue, I think, is that it goes back to a time when being trans was largely understood in the sense of medical transition. “A man has surgery and becomes a woman,” for example. There’s been a shift toward recognizing that people are trans regardless of whether they’ve medically transitioned (or intend to do so), and that a trans woman, for example, might feel that she’s been a woman since birth and is not “becoming” anything. It’s a shift away from sex (a biological thing that can only be changed with medication and surgery) to gender identity (which doesn’t always align with your sex).

    6. n*

      You may want to look up the GLAAD media reference guide, which I’ve found to be a pretty up-to-date glossary of terms that are currently being used. (I posted another comment with a link to it but it looks like it got filtered so isn’t showing up.)

  38. Undine*

    If you to leave, and you want to go beyond the white lie, could you say something like:

    Fergus, I was really excited about this project and the opportunity to work with you. But I think neither of us realized how different our visions were for this project. To get this to my concept of “inclusive” would mean a lot more work on both of our parts, and that’s more of a commitment than I can take on. It’s a valuable project and I hope you find the right person to work with you. Let’s meet to wrap up loose ends and answer any questions you have about my contribution.

  39. Pam*

    My feelings are either to correct the issues, but don’t spend too much time on personally educating* him, or, as others have suggested, step back with the perfectly appropriate ‘this is taking more time than I can allot,’ perhaps referring him elsewhere.

    *For instance, point out some 101-level material that he can review

  40. The Happy Intern*

    I doubt you had to worry about a weird power dynamic since you said you have always had a good relationship before and he was so willing to let you give feedback and make changes as they go. That being said I think the best thing for you to do would be to sit him down and say, “I’m so sorry but this is taking up a lot more of my time than I expected, and I really can’t afford to spend this much time on it as I have other important projects that need my attention.” You could continue on to say, “I don’t want to leave you hanging however as you continue this project. I have some websites that I think will really explain a lot of where I’m coming from and the community as a whole, and you can read this and absorb what they’re saying so that it’s not only easier for you as you continue but also helps you to truly understand what this project is trying to say and where it’s coming from.” And then provide with a list of links to really good explanatory websites that are meant for people like him – those with good intentions who don’t have the knowledge but want to understand. You should then end it by letting him know that you’re available to do check-ins every now and then to make sure he stays on the right path, but that it can’t be an every other day/weekly basis, that a monthly update is more manageable for you. This way you can respectfully remove yourself from such a demanding task while also continuing to help him both with the project and his daily life by pointing him where to go to educate himself, and you also don’t have to risk your relationship with him nor the outcome of what seems to be an important project to get right by making yourself available once in a while!

  41. RUKiddingMe*

    “He acknowledges my notes and I can fix them as I please, but they’re not really sinking in in any permanent way and I don’t think I have the bandwidth to continue playing the role of educator on top of my half of the project longterm.”

    I get this so well. I am righteously sick and tired of educating males (almost always males) about gender issues, so I feel you.

    I have a question OP. Is this project important to you? Can you just edit as you please without putting in the work to educate him. Something along the lines of ::edit, edit, edit:: “this won’t work” and moving on without going into alllll the reasons he’s wrong/insensitive? Like just do the edits and move on without putting int he emotional labor?

    I’m not sure how to go about telling him you want to back out, but I’m gonna roll it around a while and probably come back with some brilliant (LOL) insight later. Maybe…

  42. Mom of a trans young adult*

    I wonder whether part of the issue is that the scope of editing to make the material inclusive and appropriate is way more than LW anticipated. It’s one level of editing to say ‘use a different word here’, and a whole other level to have to revise material because the discussion of the issue omits some very important areas to include. For example, if the material were to discuss how to be inclusive regarding work-related travel without being aware of trans issues regarding documents, shared rooms, etc. that would be a bigger edit than just saying “don’t say transsexual”.

    1. Julie*

      Yes! I was thinking exactly this. Not to read too much into it, LW, but I’ve been in situations where I felt like someone’s views or lack of education around a specific issue were informing the *entire* project (most prominently in writing projects). Sure, I can tell you to change a few words, but your worldview is still going to shape the content, just perhaps in more insidious or subtle ways.

      I want to reiterate that it is not your job to educate someone about issues by which you are directly impacted. You mentioned you are a queer woman yourself, so when he says “transsexual” (or whatever), it’s probably not just grating or annoying, it’s a microaggression against your identity. You are totally valid in feeling like this is too much, OP. Rooting for you.

  43. Czhorat*

    As a cisgender heterosexual male, I’d be absolutely mortified if this were me. I do get how it can happen, but it shouldn’t. I’m sorry you have to go through this.

    If he’s well-intentioned, perhaps you can tell him directly: I think that there’s a tendency some of us have to treat someone from a different background as “the diversity resource”, which is absolutely unfair and limiting.

    If he does mean well, a direct, “I’m sorry, but I can’t have my role on this project continue to be the gender education committee” should back him away. If you have some other resource at which you can point him that might be enough to get him off your back and have him take a more pro-active approach in educating himself.

  44. Dasein9*

    It sounds like this person wants the project to look inclusive without taking steps to make it actually inclusive. This might well be because he doesn’t understand the difference between the two; that’s not uncommon. (Using the right words is important, sure, but even more important is understanding the paradigms that caused the right words to be, well, right.)

    Not helping him do that might be a service to queer folks, honestly. When we count on programs and then find that they’re operated on the same old cis- and heteronormative assumptions, it can be more labor-intensive than just going in without expecting inclusion.

  45. CastIrony*

    I wonder if pointing him to where the boss could educate himself is a good idea. I also wonder if there’s a way the reader could ask to make her hard work made so public that they’d be recognized in their industry. Other than that, everyone else has great advice.

    I also didn’t know that “transexual” is an unacceptable term. I thought that “transexual” was used to refer to a transgender person who had gone through transition. I will never use this term again. *ashamed*

    1. Kate*

      To everyone saying “hey, don’t blame Mentor for what he didn’t know!”–please note this response. CastIrony said “I didn’t know, now I know, I will do better in future.” A gracious response from someone who cares about avoiding harm to others, very different from continually producing work product that uses the same harmful language, after LW has taken the time to correct Mentor.

  46. Effective Immediately*

    Since his intentions are good and you seem to have a good relationship, my big piece of advice is to gently explain to him that minorities and members of marginalized groups often do a great deal of emotional labor educating those in the majority group, and how exhausting that is. It is not your job to be the emissary of Women or Queerness and go around holding seminars for clueless Straight Male people. I am so sorry you’re in this position.

    However, if you do want to try to continue and he really is committed to working on this, then he does have the option to do the heavy lifting and educate *himself*. If you’re able to say something like that to him safely, I would–and maybe getting together some starting point resource suggestions for him (Judith Butler’s ‘Gender Trouble’, Peggy McIntosh’s ‘White Privilege and Male Privilege’, The National Center for Trans Equality, PFLAG, SisterSong and other intersectional orgs like TGI Justice, Echoing Ida, etc. would all be good starting points). But–again, if you’re able to have this conversation with him safely, and if you’re not just all the way done with it–tell him that this is where your provision of education to him ends. If he really wants to continue this project or continue working with you, doing the work of educating himself isn’t negotiable.

    I’m so frustrated on your behalf, and hope it all turns out well. Take care of yourself.

  47. Asenath*

    What is LW’s aim? Is it to complete the project, or is it to educate the co-worker? I thought it was the first, and then towards the end of the letter it seemed to be the latter. If it’s “completing the project”, what you decide depends on whether or not the work you have to put into it is so much in excess of what you expected that you need to pull out. And whether the project, which was initially described as very worthwhile, is worth the effort – and if you’ll burn bridges with someone important in the field by cancelling.

    If it’s “educate your colleague”, well, that’s likely to be a thankless task, especially if he still thinks that the task is completing the project and isn’t going into this expecting a complete education on the issues he’s bringing you in as an expert contributor to the project. But it sounds like LW doesn’t really think that “educating your colleague” is an attainable goal, even though she’s trying to reach it.

    Decide on what the actual aim and scope of this project is, and then you can decide whether the work you need to put into it is acceptable, sufficient, appropriate, etc. And then you’ll know what to do.

  48. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    Sorry if this is long.
    Ask yourself:
    1. Do I have to educate him or can I simply edit knowing that he recognizes my authority and trusts me enough to accept the changes without involved explanations?
    2. Is he looking to you as a teacher, or have you, yourself, taken on that role? ( I ask this as a black woman who sometimes has to take a step back and ask “does this person want to know ‘why’ it is this way or ‘how’ is it supposed to be?”) .
    3. Can you make a list of common mistakes and offer him a list of appropriate terms and phrases (i.e. say this not that)? Would he even use the list if you provided it?
    4. Are you willing/do you have time to do any of this, even just the editing, in addition to your other tasks for this project?

    From your letter, it seems as if he knows he is out of touch – and knows you know this too – and encourages you to challenge him. Use this to your advantage by sitting him down for a status update and state outright something along the lines of “I know part of my role on this project is to make it more inclusive. As I have been working on this I am noticing the same recurring issue(s) of outdated language, stereotypes, etc. I’m happy to provide you with some materials to help you better phrase your objectives,” and see if he is open to this suggestion, or if he expects you to make the corrections on his behalf. Then, internally, refer back to my questions above. If ultimately you cannot step out of the educator role, use the suggestions other commenters have offered on gracefully backing out.
    Good luck.

  49. Maya Elena*

    LW doesn’t need to do the emotional labor. Just correct the content where necessary.
    It isn’t her job or place to change the thoughts and language of others, especially since the specific jargon around these issues is probably going to morph in a couple of years anyway.

  50. leighanneg*

    I think you need to take a step back for the sake of the project. You say there is a good chance this project will bear some fruit, and honestly, do you want him to turn to someone who isn’t as invested in getting everything right?

    Maybe do as I’ve seen suggested, and keep it about the quality of the work instead of the content. Treat it as just another project. I know it’s draining to constantly tell someone just how insulting their stuff is, because there’s the expectation that he won’t be insulting (intentional or not) the next time. But if this were a grammatical versus social error it wouldn’t be so taxing.

    I’m not saying that the errors aren’t important. The TL;DR version is it is apparent that he’s not going to get the social errors of his ways, maybe frame them as factual errors or technical mistakes and there will be less emotional investment for you and he might get it better if framed differently. The project is going to go ahead anyway, do you trust him to pick a replacement that is just as knowledgeable as you in this very important “field”?

  51. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    I work at a place that has an LGBTQ+ “ally training” that staff and faculty can take for free. Do you (or does he, if he’s elsewhere) work at such a place? I think you could frame it as “Mentor, I want to thank you for being responsive to my notes about X and Y. It made me think that you would be a great candidate for this program that our/your institution offers. Look, the next session is in two weeks!”

    Then he gets some training from people who are literally being paid to say “here’s a list of words that haven’t been okay to use for a long time” and some resources for later. If it’s a good training, it will also emphasize the importance of straight people getting their own shit together and reminding us that google is our friend. It probably won’t solve all the problems, but it might give you a better place to start the conversation or refer to in the future.

    1. Ella Vader*

      Ooh, ally training! Yes, something like that would be great. Or safe space training. Or any kind of “trans 101” etc public talk. Or blog post. Or book.

      It still kind of sucks that it’s the LW who’s identified the problem and written in, so anything we suggest is like telling the LW to do the emotional labour of looking up all these programs for him and explaining why they will help him …

      1. Oranges*

        I know! I wanted to do that too and I notice a bunch of commentators are doing it because such is human nature.

        But trying to solve a “too much emotional labor” issue with… even more emotional labor is probably a bad idea. Maybe. Possibly. Let’s try!!!

  52. Chell*

    This is not emotional labor. It’s labor! It would be emotional labor if you had to do the work of controlling your personal feelings or managing his, but it sounds like instead you’re just explaining and re-explaining things he should know already. It’s annoying, but not emotional labor.

    1. Jane*

      No, this is emotional labor. When you belong to or identify with a disadvantaged group having to repeatedly discuss or correct language around that group with someone who doesn’t get it is emotional labor. It’s extremely personal, and incredibly exhausting.

  53. Name Required*

    It seems like you’re being asked to do exactly what you were brought on to do — it’s not clear to me how this work exceeds the work you were asked to complete. What were you expecting the boundaries of your role to be as the subject matter expert brought on to ensure that the project is inclusive?

    This person has mentored you in the past. I would lean in and return the favor. Are you frustrated at his actions, or frustrated that reasonable people in this day and age still need to be educated on these subjects?

    1. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

      Yes, this. If it’s as simple as the time commitment exceeding what was expected, then OP can tactfully exit by saying just that. But it does seem like there is a strong element of OP’s personal frustration and disappointment with the mentor’s disengagement or lack of demonstrated learning based on OP’s… um… tutelage, and I only use that word because that’s the way OP sees it, rather than mere editing or advising. When I look at certain elements of the letter, such as her worry about the “weird power dynamic”, and use of “grandpa”, “emotional labor”, “generational thing”, etc., and the fact that he must be at most 20 years older (a common age difference for co-workers), it makes me believe that OP has dived into the emotional labor voluntarily and perhaps unnecessarily, and should view this as any other business arrangement that’s not working out because of time limitations.

  54. theletter*

    If it’s more of a creative project, could you suggest that you two switch the outcome of the project to more of a video/recorded document of his effort to get up to date on intersectional feminism and queer activism? That might help him get into more of a “learning” and “accepting the emotional labor” mindset rather than the “Mentee tweaks this to appropriate” mindset, but still with the outcome of a project that could be profitable.

    I know I’d watch it, even if it was a short.

    and just incase it comes up, emotional labor is . . really . . . labor! and it can be really laborious! you are teaching! and drawing on difficult personal experiences! and the research! You could drop the word “emotional” from it if he gives you a hard time about it.

  55. Seeking Second Childhood*

    I’m wondering what kind of changes & edits are happening again & again. I’m suspecting it’s a more difficult to address level than word choice.
    Collaborator might be assuming, oh I don’t know…that teapot molders are all male and teapot painters are all female. Or let’s pretend their project is aiming at inclusion for left-handed people in a right-handed world… and collaborator doesn’t see the problem in a teapot-handwarmer that fits around your right hand.
    If that’s the case, it’s an even larger challenge than addressing language usage. There’s no style guide for him being unable to recognize when he’s making assumptions.
    Any suggestions for this scenario?

  56. Kate*

    A number of people have speculated on the importance of the project to the communities LW cares about. I would point out a flip side: LW may have a responsibility to avoid giving Mentor “cred” he doesn’t deserve. If LW stays on the project, busting tail to make the work product genuinely inclusive, the project appears and Mentor gets a rep for being “woke” and safe for LGBTQ folks that is not accurate. (Based on the fact that Mentor doesn’t seem genuinely interested in learning, based on his failure to incorporate reasonable feedback from LW that he theoretically solicited.) LW, I think you’re on the right track not to put your own reputation on the line in this way–not to mention the cost to your own time and sanity.

  57. Liz*

    It’s hard to think through this without understanding the project itself, but the first thing that came to mind to me was taking a pause and agreeing (or re-agreeing) on the project goals. I would probably start with, “I’m wondering if you can share a bit about your own personal goals with this project. What are you hoping to get from this work?” If he just focuses on the project output or end result, I would probably say, “I don’t think we are at the point where we can really achieve that goal yet because we aren’t on the same page about the subject matter. Here are a few examples where I see us being disconnected…” On the other hand, if he’s using the project as a means to open his mind or better understand issues he is not familiar with, the LW will have to explain that education isn’t really her goal, and explain her goal instead.

    I could be way oversimplifying this, but it seems like there may be conflicting goals at work here, which is why I would start there.

  58. Troutwaxer*

    By the time I was forty the sort of language I used was pretty much set in stone. Despite the fact that my heart is in the right place where LGBTQ people are concerned, and I am very supportive, it can take me 6 months to a year to process a change in gender/pronoun, and I have major troubles with all kinds of racial/cultural/sexual jargon changes. I very much doubt that your partner’s heart is in the wrong place; your corrections will take hold in a year or two if you keep up with them.

    Meanwhile, if the problem is causing you extra work, you should negotiate better terms or find a way to automate your corrections with search and replace routines. Or better yet, have your partner apply the search and replace routines. A brief talk would also not be out of place, but keep it short and businesslike.

    Obviously, if he’s deliberately using the old terminology and he’s being a dick about it, maybe my advice isn’t any good.

    1. Snarl Trolley*

      “it can take me 6 months to a year to process a change in gender/pronoun, and I have major troubles with all kinds of racial/cultural/sexual jargon changes.”

      Hey! So this is something I hear a lot from allies. Changing your socialized mental patterns IS hard work, and it DOES take time! That being said, I’ve also found that a lot of allies also don’t…necessarily put as much effort, maybe, into reprogramming themselves as they could! They’re approaching it more passively – waiting until That Conversation About Our Mutual Trans Friend comes up to practice using the correct pronoun, and such. Instead of waiting until it’s applicable in your own life, I really encourage cishet allies especially to take much more active control of it! Journal the changes you’ve committed to make before bed, a la Bart Simpson writing lines on the chalkboard. Rehearse using gender-neutral pronouns in your head every day in different casual-convo scenarios while you’re commuting to work, or while you’re falling asleep. READ EVERYTHING YOU CAN by marginalized voices, and prioritize your own education from them on your own time, making a point to think critically about what you read – maybe even engage a (willing, please check first! :)) marginalized friend to discuss anything you’re confused by or stuck on. Take control of your own alleyship! Approach it like you’re studying for an exam. I think I can….just about promise it won’t take *6 months to a year* to figure it out if you’re actually utilizing all you can, and not just waiting for it to be applicable around you. Good luck!

  59. Outlier*

    Just focusing on you question – “Is there a way to step down in a way that doesn’t burn this bridge or put me in the position of having to explain in detail the ways I think he’s insensitive and uneducated.” If salvaging this relationship is priority 1, would it make sense to make your reasoning less directly about his ignorance? You could always back out for another reason, like things picking up at your existing job and not being able to maintain the same (or any) amount of time you are spending on the project. You can even leave him with a transition plan terminology list or reference doc to the things he is repeatedly missing as a last attempt. Ultimately though, while it is admirable that you are trying to educate him, don’t feel like you have to bear the entire weight of doing – especially at the expense of other important things in your life. It’s ok to do what is best for you here. If maintaining the relationship falls secondary and you’d rather have a more direct conversation, this won’t apply. But sometimes it’s helpful to hear from someone else that you’re off the hook from this, have done what you can & it’s ok to prioritize you!

  60. Koala dreams*

    It’s totally okay to explain that you can’t continue: “I’m sorry, this project demands more time and energy than I expected, I won’t be able to continue working on this.” You don’t owe your friend a totally exhaustive explanation of all the factors behind your decision to not continue, only the information that you don’t have time for the project any more.

    If you do want to continue working on the project, I would suggest you to spend less time explaining things. People usually learn more if they have to correct their mistakes themself. Maybe you remember a teacher back in school who marked mistakes with a red pen and then expected you to hand in the corrected version next week? For the parts your friend is responsible for writing, just look them over and maybe mark the wrong parts, if the mistakes are only partially, and tell him an one-word explanation: “This writing is sexist/transphobic/incorrect/rude/whatever.” Then it’s up to him to correct it, and you can look over the new version again if you are feeling charitable.

  61. Ella Vader*

    With experience in the theatre world, this reminds me of how artists and creators are wrestling with the principle of “Nothing about us without us!” meaning that when people need more stories of minorities and the historically disempowered, those stories also need to be told by the people they are representing. Someone in your collaborator’s position can be starting from the good intention of, “the community needs this project to be inclusive of feminist, trans, and LGBTQ2S+ people”, and/or he can be starting from the less altruistic intention of, “the best way to get grants / attention / audience these days is to do a project for feminist, trans, and LGBTQ2S+ people”. Either way, what he brought to the proposal and brings to the project is probably things like experience with mainstream projects and reputation with the granting bodies and certain sectors of the public, and what you brought to the proposal and are bringing to the project is things like experience and credibility with other sectors of the public and the relevant minority/disempowered communities.

    Ideally, I would have suggested that the two of you talk about this stuff ahead of time, acknowledge what his background weaknesses are, and identify ways that he can bring himself up to date. It shouldn’t all be on you, even to be teaching him the 101 stuff once each – if he is seriously committed to doing this kind of work, he should be doing the listening and learning separately from the work, and that includes doing the emotional-labour homework to find out who to ask and what to read and how not to be an entitled jerk about it.

    Now that you’re already in the project, it might be worth seeing if you can have a face-to-face conversation about how it’s going, and what the obstacles are. Do you get the sense that he honestly intends to educate himself about other people’s realities and is just not taking responsibility for it? Or is he resentful and cynical, making comments about “political correctness” or “changing terminology that used to be okay”? I think for me, the answer to those questions would influence whether I was willing to continue with the project.

    In the first case, the answer might be something like, now that we’re further into the work, we are discovering that Mr J doesn’t really have the experience with the target populations to revise the mainstream content for use with this target population. He’s going to step back from that part of the work while continuing to do the financial tracking and reaching out to major foundations to get them on board. We’re going to recruit a writer/presenter who comes from that target population using the money we save on Mr J’s stipend. Mr J understands that he won’t be speaking to the media or the target-population community groups on this one.

    In the second case, I might be looking hard at whether I have the experience and reputation to take the lead myself with his consent, whether the community needs the project so badly that I’m willing to waste my time propping up the white man who brings in the money, or whether I can nope out of there in any way that won’t ruin my own reputation for later projects.

  62. Kobayashi Maru*

    Is there a class or two that you could insist he take that might help him expand his understanding and therefore improve his work and reduce yours?

  63. blink14*

    There often seems to be a general expectation that someone should automatically know the appropriate/accepted terminology and lesser known points about a particular group’s identity, sexual orientation, etc. But if a person, like the OP’s former boss, doesn’t really have the experience first hand through a friend, relative, community or whatever else, it’s that much more difficult to learn, and how are they supposed to learn? Perhaps point him towards some resources that will give him more knowledge, and that might cut down on your edits.

    There’s been an incredible amount of change in terms of gender identity just in the past year alone, and if one isn’t experiencing those changes, it’s that much more difficult to keep up. I think it’s also harder and harder to sort of “re-learn” these things as you get older. I am at the older end of the Millennial generation (which is a term I hate, but that’s a whole other story), and I see a huge difference between how my mind, and those of friends my age and older, is processing and taking in all these changes, and the minds of people I know in their early to mid-twenties, who are accepting and learning more easily.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      It’s one thing to not already know. Nobody can know everything, and this stuff does change within a human lifespan. But the 85th time he gets his writing back all marked up with notes about “we don’t say lady lawyers and lady doctors anymore, they’re just lawyers and doctors”, “it’s a myth that being raised a certain way ’causes’ gayness”, “the term ‘Negress’ has not been in common use since long before you were born, what even”, etc, and then the 86th time is no better, it does demonstrate a lack of curiosity.

    2. Loop*

      Not saying it’s good, but to help explain the mindset, I’d compare the terminology/culture change to learning new software at work.
      The first few times they change programs on you, you’re all on board. It’s easy to learn the new system and the new way of doing things. You figure out all the little insider tricks and stuff you can do. You get excited about how it’s going to change your job. Getting a week off for training is awesome, because you don’t have that much to do anyways. It’s great.
      However, by the 4th or 5th times they’ve switched, not so much. You’ve got all of these other systems in your head, and they’re all basically the same with minor, tweaky differences just big enough to cause problems if you get it wrong. Having to learn yet another is a chore. You keep trying to use a function the previous software had, but now this one is calling it something else and stuck the button in a different location, and that’s irritating, because it’s the exact same thing. And you really don’t want to go through the effort of extensive training, because you’re older and busier now, and it’s just going to change again in a few years, and you know enough from the previous versions to muddle through and get your job done.

  64. JessicaTate*

    And I’m going to focus on your first question: “How do I back out of the project respectfully?” A clarifying question I’d have for you, LW, is the only issue HOW you back out – i.e., whether to cite the emotional labor vs. giving another reason? If that’s the only issue, I have nothing to add to the various strands of advice above.

    BUT: I keep wondering if you have an element of concern that he will be upset at you FOR backing out, regardless of the reason. I ask because you said he approached you as a “collaborator” on this. Not hiring you to a job, but collaborating with you. So, my answer to “How do I back out respectfully?” would focus on that element. I would assume a collaborator is someone making more of an investment and commitment to the overall project. So, you can back out, but it’s a different dynamic than just giving notice to a job, I think. I’d say to do it respectfully, give as much of a timeline to transition out as you can, so that he can figure out what it means to the project. Does he need a new collaborator? Can he take it all on solo? Maybe this depends on industry or nature of the work, but in my world a collaborator backing out of something is a much bigger deal than an individual staff person leaving a project.

  65. Sammie*

    This is not so much to the LW, but to commenters and readers who fear saying the wrong thing and having someone jump on them for it. My experience has been that a sincere ‘I’m going to learn from that and do better’ will get you most everywhere – the fear, in this case, is mostly in our own heads, which is good. I have used the wrong pronouns, I have misgendered, I have said racist things, I’ve been bigoted, all while suffering bigotry myself. I am never quite as educated as I would love to believe I am. But it’s my wholehearted acknowledgment of this that makes the people around me compassionate. They see the improvements I am making, the self-learning. They appreciate the continuous effort and I appreciate the forgiveness. I try to return the favor to others whenever I can AND whenever it’s appropriate. If someone is not putting in the effort, e.g. if I was making my friends responsible for my self-growth or if I got defensive when they highlighted a hurtful expression or action, then I personally think it is right and fair for them to walk away from me. People have to want to improve. No one else can do that for us.

  66. LadyPhoenix*

    Just because someone is LGBTQA, does not mean they are conscripted to be the pillers, leaders, educators of every lgbtqa issue at every moment.

    An lgbtqa individual is allowed to be a sinple person who just wants to sit down, drink a hot cup of coffee, and read their book in peace. Or play Octopath Travley on Their Switch. Or just get their job done. Maybe they just don’t wanna have another Lecture(TM) with the next line of ignorant straight people.

    And that is fine. There are people who volunteer or are even paid to do this stuff. There is the internet with helpful websites that are informative. There are courses people can take.

    If the OP just wants to say, “No thanks” to the next ignorant straight dude, can we just let them?

    This also goes with Women not wanting to explain yet again why creepy dude why #MeToo is an important movement or a black employee not wanting to once more explain once more to his white coworker about Black employee’s concerns about driving at night.

    Sometimes we just don’t feel like it.

    1. Name Required*

      Sure, but then don’t accept a project that requires you to be the subject matter expert working to make sure that group has adequate access to the project.

      OP isn’t sitting in a coffee shop, and randomly interrupted to edit a paper by her mentor. OP volunteered for this project, with an opportunity to scope out how much of a knowledge gap was in place; OP didn’t adequately do that, and is now dealing with frustration over unmet expectations AND the pain of realizing how un-educated her mentor is on issues that are important to her. The second really has nothing to do with how she deals with the former, it just makes the situation more emotionally messy.

      1. Jaguar*

        Exactly. She signed up to be someone’s translator and she’s frustrated that her client isn’t bothering to learn the language.

  67. Nathan*

    Could you try to bring in another collaborator who is already educated in these areas to assist? That might give you more time to do your work. It may also give you an ally that will help change your male collaborator’s behavior. And lastly, it could give you a graceful way to exit if your male collaborator doesn’t improve.

  68. voyager1*

    I am really confused by your letter so I will just cut to the chase. Are you being paid for this, if Yes AND you feel this is a good use of your time then keep making edits or whatever. If Yes you are being paid but No you don’t value this then finish out whatever time or whatever is owed and bow out. And lastly if no you are not being paid then bow out of this project now.

  69. GreenDoor*

    “since he wanted to make his project more inclusive and knew he wasn’t the best person to do so” Uck! This reminded me of my husband who constantly tries to get me to do the laundry/figure out the kids’ schedules/organize the family vacation “because you’re so much better at it than me.” Um, nope.

    This guy is more than capable of looking up words and phrases on the internet to double check if he’s using them correctly. He’s more than capable of remembering when you explain why a word usage isn’t approrpriate and then never making that misake again. He’s more than capable of double checking things with you before he puts pen to paper. He’s CHOOSING not to do it right because he can just dump it on you to fix. Not cool! Can’t you simply tell him, “Im sorry but I’m no longer available to collaborate on this project anymore. I can give you X more of my time and then I’ll have to leave the project.”

  70. Chatterby*

    If this is a job, why are you attempting to “educate” him at all? I’d argue that it’s unprofessional to try, especially if you aren’t a trainer, educator, or been specifically asked to teach them.

    It’s like that “mansplaining” flow chart: You may have more relative experience on the topic, but did he actually ask you to explain this to him? No? Then don’t.

    If you’re an equal, collaborating partner on this project, you can say “You need to go do independent research on ___, because you’re getting it wrong, and it’s holding the project back in ___ way” and then let him go do his own research. If he blows it off, you can give him negative feedback on the consequences of that failure, and use that as the reason for backing out completely if he continues.

    If you’re an underling and he’s the boss, then make the edits and move on. You can point out he frequently makes __ specific mistake, but that’s it as far as commentary or educating. Medical/science/religion/culture experts brought in as fact checkers do not expect their employers to become fluent on their subjects. It would take forever and be a sisyphean task. Their job is to double check the final, publicly-viewed product isn’t going to wind up horribly embarrassing the company, make them liable for anything, or disseminate wrong information. It is not their job to teach their subjects, or lecture, and they would be considered very unprofessional if they felt making the corrections were “emotional labor”, since, barring egregious or offensive faux pas, it should not be an emotional task.

  71. Sarah*

    Ugh. Well, first off, you are, of course, just not required to do this. If it’s too much for you just don’t. And there’s nothing wrong with telling him why, or, well NOT telling him why, making up an excuse that saves your professional relationship, and keeping yourself emotionally safe.

    But, if you care about the project and want it to happen, I think you need to clearly but firmly put the onus back on him to do the work. I do a lot of anti-racism work, and in my experience, privileged, clueless types get very defensive if you say that they are, or their language is “___ist” or “___phobic”. It’s not a fair emotion, but again, doing this kind of work often requires a lot more grace towards other people’s sensitive feelings than is reasonable. But I’ve found that what most people ARE open to is concrete steps about how they can LEARN more. Most people don’t want to make mistakes, especially ones they kinda know are offensive.

    I think my exact response would depend on the kinds of questions he’s asking. If he’s just really at a 101 level, and you’re finding that he is asking new questions every time (like, first he didn’t know that transsexual wasn’t the right word, then he did that right but didn’t understand dead naming, then he did that right but said insensitive things about non-binary people…) I’d probably say “Hey, I’m sure you’ve noticed I’m making a lot of edits about sexism, transphobia, queerphobia. Ultimately, I want to help you with this project, but I don’t think you’ll be able to reach your goal of making an inclusive project unless you spend some time getting the basics of this topic down.” Sometimes I even really sugar coat it and tell them “it’s a hard topic with a lot of different facets and parts, so it’s ok that you don’t have a full grasp on it, lots of people don’t. you could also add “I’d really like you to do some reading (National Center for Transgender Equality has some really basic stuff) because I think if we’re not on the same page about the basics, we’re not going to be able to do a truly inclusive project. If he means it about wanting to be inclusive, doing the upfront work of giving him the resources may save you emotional work editing down the line.

    If he’s making the SAME mistakes over and over, I think you can take a harder line, and say “hey, I’ve corrected this term 2 or 3 times. You’ve got to get it right. Not only is it a waste of my time to edit this over and over again, but if someone outside of the organization saw a draft, or if I missed a word in an edit, it would make the project look really tone-deaf, and we really can’t have that.” OR, you can say “hey, so that word/way of talking about things is actually really hurtful. In my life, people have used it to disrespect me and tell me I was lesser than them, and it hurts a lot to see it/hear it from you because I respect you and I know you respect me, but that idea is really disrespectful. Please nix it from your vocabulary entirely”.

    All in all, collaboration with someone like this, especially when they’re up the chain from you, requires a certain level of capitulation to their delicate feelings. The key is that you DON’T have to compromise on what you will and will not accept from them. It’s about how you say it, not what you say.

    It’s not right that we have to do this. Research shows that unfortunately, this emotional labor is the most effective way to actually change minds. If we’re up for it, it’s a good way to make progress. But it sucks.

    1. Lynn Whitehat*

      I’m getting the feeling that this guy wanted the project checked for diversity the way other people want copy editors. “When does punctuation go outside vs inside the quote marks? I don’t know, the copy editor cleans that stuff up!” “What is the APA format for citing a newspaper editorial with no author? The copy editor will make sure it’s right!” Just all the little jots and tittles to clean it up at the end, but not the heart of the thing.

      Meanwhile, this stuff can literally be life or death to LW. Not a minor detail to be cleaned up at the end of the project.

  72. ILikeExtendedMetaphors*

    I’d compare this to the head of party planning running the holiday party plans by the openly Muslim coworker on their committee before they hit “send all” to ensure no one will get offended. Then, instead of getting the “take Santa off the flier and don’t serve ham”-type feedback they wanted, they receive an unsolicited, lengthy speech on the history and culture of non-Christian religions.
    Which is annoying, because the job was making sure the end result PARTY was secular, not the boss.
    As they keep working on the party, the planning head then has to handle the coworker getting upset some stray Santas wound up in the decorations, and chose to see it as a personal affront, proof no one listened or cared, and then deal with them thinking the party planning head is remarkably backwards and requires another educational lecture, and really should go do their own research on world religions before the New Years party.
    Instead of the coworker saying “A Santa made it through, and I put it in the storage closet to ensure the party remains secular. If you see more Santas, put them in the closet too” and getting some punch.
    Now, if the party head was Santa-mad and purposefully stuffing them everywhere, a calm “Why are you putting religious figures everywhere, when you specifically stated the party must be secular, and brought me in to ensure that?” would be warranted, but again, the speaker is not emotionally responsible for educating or swaying the repeat offender, and should determine from the answer whether they can continue working under such circumstances, or need to leave.

  73. pancakes*

    I’m not down with the idea that this is a generational thing or ever has been. Iggy Pop and Donald Trump are a year apart in age, and fwiw I’m a 41-yr-old bi woman. There have always been people who choose to live rather insular lives, and people who choose otherwise. I don’t see any particular evidence of good intentions here. Nor do I see any particular evidence of nefarious intentions either, but I think it would be fine and appropriate to tell him that the revisions required are too exhausting, and point out that he hasn’t given her any reason to believe they’ll become less so or less substantive at some point. That he hasn’t apparently hasn’t said anything terribly bigoted to the letter writer’s face isn’t evidence of good intentions; it’s simply evidence that he has what used to be considered average / baseline social skills.

  74. SierraSkiing*

    Just a thought (from another queer gal): it sounds like you really want to preserve the relationship with your mentor, but the amount of labor this is demanding from you is too much for what it’s worth to you. Is there some level of credit/money/other payment that would make what you’re doing feel worth it? If there is, you could have a talk along the lines of,
    “Hey Mentor, I wanted to talk to you about how the project is going. When I came on, I thought I’d just be doing some light checking and spending X hours a week or so, but this has involved into a big commitment of at least Y hours to make major revisions. If I’d known this would be such a big commitment, I would have expected (to be listed as a co-creator, to be paid X per hour, etc). Do you think that’s something you could do going forward? If not, I understand, but I really need to put my energies elsewhere.”
    This lets you dodge the “I’m tired of you not learning the things” conversation if you want to, and centers it as a “this favor has become too big and we need to balance it” conversation.

  75. Jack V*

    1. How to quit

    You ask what’s a graceful way to get out of this without burning bridges. If that’s still what you want, I would just say, “I’m sorry, this project is absorbing more time than I can handle, I’m afraid I won’t be able to go on with it.” Assuming it’s voluntary or otherwise possible to quit without breaching contracts etc.

    That happens all the time, and isn’t shameful. When you’re in a project it always feels like you MUST complete it, but other people are not at all surprised when something turns out to be unworkable after all.

    Many collaborators would be disappointed, but anyone halfway reasonable will know it’s a risk they accepted. If he’s NOT reasonable, it’s still probably the safest way to extricate yourself.

    2. If you want to see if you can fix him.

    I do not have much experience here! But if you’re willing to try, it might be worth, once, having a serious talk like “You are consistently ignoring X, Y and Z. This is making me feel really quite awful, and is likely to look bad if you publish things in this state. Is this something you actually want to improve at?”

    I bet he will just blow this off. Like, he’ll say he cares, but he won’t really care. But you can’t really fix that. I don’t think you owe this to anyone, it’s more likely to make him upset with you, but it’s a reasonable option if you’d prefer to take the risk.

    3. If you want to complete the project.

    If you think the project is worth it to you, despite the pain of dealing with his unfixed opinions, it may be worth seeing if you can complete the project and fix the problems in the final versions, but don’t waste your effort trying to push him or persuade him, just accept fixing the language at the end.

    Also be aware, he pitched this project (I don’t know what sort of thing it is), but you’re doing at least half the work — it’s possible you could do this sort of thing again without him, if you know who to pitch it to. I don’t know if that works, maybe you do need his expertise or contacts, but maybe you don’t.

  76. Lynne879*

    I don’t really have any advice other than to back up what EditorExtra said up above: I don’t think you can excuse your ex-boss’s ignorance as being a “generational thing.” He’s not in his 60s or 70s, he’s in his 40s. At that age, you’re being willfully ignorant.

  77. Leslie*

    OP, from my perspective, you were brought on the project to serve as a subject matter expert in the areas of inclusivity. I don’t know what other work you are doing on the project, as you state that you are spending too much repeated time editing incorrect language and concepts. But really, if you are getting paid for this work, your job is to be that SME and make those corrections. It’s harder, I imagine, because this is very personal to you, but what if it were another topic that wasn’t personal to you and the project lead continued to incorrectly communicate those items that are your area of expertise? You would probably correct it, then be exasperated by the numerous corrections at some point, and that exasperation would either get the project manager to change how he is communicating or you would simply take over ownership of communications in this topic – if you were getting paid to be the SME. If your role is to be something other than the SME, and you’re getting paid, then stay in that role and make your final comments on the subject. You can always leave the project, too.

    On another note, I would make sure that your project manager has the bandwidth to be re-educated at this time.

  78. Halmsh*

    In addition to all of the really good advice here, this person might benefit from something like media training! My relative, who is an older white gay man, has some issues using correct language for other LBTQ folks and uses racist language sometimes – he is a kind person but has had difficulty learning. It’s something we talk a lot about, and he has a genuine desire to improve. He participated in a media training with GLSEN recently at the behest of his partner, and it was really helpful! I think sometimes that framework of ‘how will this be perceived’ and ‘this is important to your brand’ can stick better with people who aren’t getting it on a person-to-person level.

  79. Tinker*

    I think in a sense the particular subject involved — cultural competency with regard to marginalized identities — has kind of served as a red herring.

    It seems like the pattern is one of scope creep — the LW came into the project anticipating a certain level of work, and she has now found that her colleague is not as competent in a key task as she thought, such that she is having to do much more and more in-depth work than she anticipated when she agreed to join the project. And the question is how to tactfully extricate herself, something that is a normal professional thing to do in circumstances like this, not whether or not she is being too sensitive dear and not about whether the kids these days have weird arbitrary strange rules that nobody could possibly understand.

    (There are a lot of nuances, granted — like, say, that using archaic and oddly nonstandard language to refer to trans people while also displaying lots of progressive/feminist/lesbian cultural markers can send a Very Unfortunate Message about what your group is about, but a) these nuances exist in part because people are evaluating whether you’re going to ruin their day or possibly assault them, and certain signals have predictive value that you may not be aware of b) if the point is being appealing and welcoming to a certain subset of the population, talking yourself into concluding that you don’t need to pay attention to what they find appealing is not going to help your goals.)

    The way folks feel about the fact that the language used to refer to trans folks has changed since the 1980s (the signals people are likely to take from seeing someone wear a power suit with massive shoulder pads have changed too, but marginalized folks are permitted less liberty to inconvenience others by changing) is an interesting subject, but it’s more window dressing on a question like “they hired me to install drywall, but when I showed up I found an empty lot and the expectation that I would be building the walls to put it on too”.

  80. Retired but Read Religiously*

    It would be easier if it were possible to print out a lexicon or cheat sheet and ask him to use it as a guideline. I can see how the constant verbal or commented efforts on your part are exhausting. Of course if there are too many contextual subtleties, this may not work.

  81. Miss Haversham*

    If I were in such a situation, one primary consideration would be–how much has this person helped me by being a mentor, and can I reasonably see this as a way to pay back what he has done for me? I’m not suggesting mentor/mentee relationships should be on a payback system, but it seems fair if the OP has benefited from this relationship so far that the OP might cut the mentor more slack. Maybe his behavior is too terrible to countenance, but maybe he’s just a slow learner.

  82. Typhoid Mary*

    Hi LW– I literally work at an agency that provides workshops on fostering LGBTQIA-affirming workplaces. You could google a couple and refer your boss to them in the future.

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