how work changes when you’re a woman: an interview with a transgender woman

In a recent discussion about how men need to get better at spotting talent in women (and people in general need to get better at spotting talent in people who are different from them), a long-time reader and commenter, Tammy, mentioned that, as a transgender woman, she’s seen stark differences in the way people treated her before and after her transition. She offered to talk more with me about it, and here’s our interview.

Tell us a little about you.

I’m currently a mid-level manager at a software company in California. I’ve been in all kinds of technical roles in my career (QA, system administrator, programmer, database administrator, etc.) I transitioned almost 21 years ago in Silicon Valley during the first dot-com boom. Prior to coming to my current company, I spent 12 years working with my ex-spouse as a self-employed software developer and IT consultant.

You mentioned that you’ve seen differences in how people treated you before and after your transition. What did you notice?

Yeah, it’s super interesting — though, I suspect, not very surprising given what cisgender* and AFAB* people experience. (Cisgender: Someone who identifies with the sex they were assigned at birth. The opposite of transgender, and used to avoid stigmatizing language such as “transgender women and normal women” or “transgender women and biological women. AFAB: Assigned Female at Birth. Contrasts with AMAB, Assigned Male at Birth.)

Before my transition, people assumed I knew what I was talking about. They didn’t talk over me in meetings. They trusted me when I spoke, and they didn’t look to others for confirmation of my ideas.There was a baseline assumption that I was competent and capable. Since my transition, it’s distressingly common for people to talk over me, to look to men for validation of the things I say, to assume that I couldn’t possibly know anything about [technical topic] because I’m a girl. I’ve actually had people tell me, “what could you possibly know about that? You’re a girl!” In a previous role at my current company, I had a male coworker who needed to be told *by my boss* “Tammy knows what she’s doing and I trust her judgment, so please stop trying to hijack her meetings and run them like they’re your meetings!”

In a way, though, I’m lucky, because I’m in my 40s and have a 20-year track record of career success. I think this offsets some of that stereotyping, because I’ve noticed less of this kind of behavior, and dramatically less of the really egregious stuff lately. I remember one incident, not that long after I transitioned, where a guy I was interviewing for a position on my team called me an “f***ing bitch” to my face in the middle of the job interview, because the answer he gave to a technical question wasn’t something that was actually possible with a real computer! (Needless to say, we didn’t hire him.) I remember another coworker at the company where I transitioned who spent a goodly part of a meeting with me dropping things on the floor so he could try to catch a peek up my dress while he was picking them up. It was very brazen then, and I was younger, less experienced, and not nearly self-possessed enough to call him on it in the moment.

I think many cisgender women who encounter things like people doubting their expertise, talking over them when they speak, etc. often wonder if it’s something about them, or if it’s sexism. It’s so easy to doubt yourself and start making excuses for the other person — “oh, he just didn’t know I have a background in Topic X” or “I need to be less soft-spoken” or so forth — and it can be hard to know for sure “yes, this is definitely sexism happening in this meeting.” For you, because you experienced such a clear contrast pre- and post-transition, it sounds like you didn’t struggle with that doubt about your own perceptions. Am I right in thinking the contrast you experienced made it quite clear what kind of sexism was being directed at you?

On the one hand, you’re right that I didn’t doubt my own perceptions around sexism as much as I think AFAB cisgender people do. Some of that is that I experienced that clear contrast, and some of it is that in my teenage years (before I transitioned but long after I was aware of my own identity) I got a chance to see how men talk and act and behave when there aren’t female-presenting people around. And I paid really close attention to those things because, in those days, I was trying to figure out how to blend in and to play the role society expected me to play. I wasn’t ultimately any more successful at it than I think Jane Goodall would be if you expected her to be a gorilla, but I did try desperately to find other solutions to my torment when I was younger. So in that sense, I didn’t usually doubt that I was perceiving sexism that was real.

On the other hand, though, I ran into a set of societal expectations that I didn’t expect, and that threw me for quite a loop. On the one hand, trans women who dress and act and present very femininely — as I did early in my transition — are told to “stop trying so hard,” that we’re “becoming a caricature of femininity,” even that we’re “mocking what it truly means to be a woman.” (This is a criticism often leveled at drag queens too). On the other hand, when we dress in jeans or pants and tops, ditch the stiletto heels for flats or boots, and dial back the makeup, we’re told “if you’re not even going to bother to be feminine, why did you even bother transitioning” and referred to as looking like “dudes in dresses.” It’s like there’s this magic way we’re supposed to perform femininity so that society will find us acceptable. When you’re trying to find that magic balance point, usually by painful trial and error, you start to doubt your perceptions about everything, because that’s how gaslighting works.

I should add that this is solely my experience from a trans-feminine vantage point. I’m sure that trans men and nonbinary people experience similar challenges, but I definitely can’t speak to their experiences on this issue.

Do you think you were any better equipped to respond to it effectively, not having been socialized your whole life to expect it?

Yes and no. I think I was better equipped in the sense that I was more socialized than I think a lot of AFAB people are to speak my mind. My natural communication style is more direct than I think is typical of a lot of women, and that’s something I’ve had to learn to soften somewhat. On the other hand, not having been socialized to expect that stuff meant I didn’t really have the emotional tools or mental context to deal with it when it came up, and so I tended to sort of freeze when I saw it. I see a similar challenge for trans women early in their transitions around personal safety, too – we weren’t socialized to be as aware of the risk of violence as most AFAB women I know are, so we tend to forget that situations which men don’t think about can be really dangerous for us.

You also mentioned that you’ve seen differences in your resume and work experience were perceived before and after transitioning. Tell us about that.

Early in my career, the sexism was very stark. Prior to my transition (and during the first dot-com boom of the mid-1990s), I’d send out resumes and I’d get calls. It was quick and easy to find work, and I don’t remember ever taking more than a couple of weeks to find a job. Just a few months after my transition, with essentially the identical resume and experience, it took me the better part of six months to find a job. I still notice that it takes a lot longer for me to find a job now, and my qualifications are scrutinized much more closely. This problem has gotten both better and worse as I’ve become both older and more senior in my career. I have a long track record of accomplishment, so I don’t notice the same skepticism about my experience, but senior roles are less plentiful. I’d estimate it still takes me 6-12 months to find a new position on average, which is longer than it took before my transition. But there are a lot of reasons that could be true, so it’s hard to say definitively how much of that is about gender.

One thing that did surprise me a lot, though, is how much societal awareness around LGBTQ issues has changed things in the past decade or so. Prior to coming to my current company 6-1/2 years ago, my ex and I ran a consulting firm for about 12 years. Back then, I was always terrified about negative consequences if our clients found out about my past, and so I was very secretive about it. Turns out most of them knew anyway, and I actually damaged our relationships because they wondered why I didn’t trust them enough to be honest. When I was looking for what became my first (of five) roles at my current company, I decided I wasn’t willing to keep living in fear and keeping secrets. So from my first interview, I was very open about my story. If a company wanted to look at everything I brought to the table as a result of my experiences and that was the reason they didn’t want to hire me, I reasoned, it wasn’t the right company for me. I attribute a lot of the success I’ve achieved here, and the trust and respect and credibility I have with our team and executives, to my willingness to be authentic and transparent. I recognize that I have a lot of socioeconomic privilege and live in a relatively open and tolerant place, so that advice isn’t true for everyone, but it’s worked out pretty well for me.

What was it liking handling a transition at work?

One thing that’s always interesting to me is that a lot of coworkers who I thought would be supportive of my transition weren’t, and vice versa. I worked as part of a team of half a dozen men and two other women at the company I transitioned at. One of the women came to me when my transition was announced (in a way I now find a bit cringey, but which I didn’t think was odd at the time — a whole other story I’m happy to talk about). “I’m having a hard time dealing with this news,” she said, “and I need you to give me some space to figure it out.” She ultimately became one of my strongest allies. In contrast, two of my male coworkers were extremely vocal about their support when the news was announced, but during my first week back to work after my transition they took me out to a Chinese buffet for lunch. It was the most awkward lunch I think I’ve experienced, and they spent the whole meal making sexual jokes and trying to throw shrimp tails down the front of my dress across the table. I tell other trans people, “don’t waste a lot of energy trying to predict people’s reactions.” When I’ve done so, I’ve been wrong nearly 100% of the time.

Something that always seems to come up with trans folks who are transitioning in the workplace is “the bathroom issue.” I even knew one trans woman whose boss insisted she hang a “Jane is in this bathroom” sign on the door when she went to use the restroom, so coworkers who are uncomfortable could avoid the bathroom while she was in it. Apparently, other people have far more exciting bathroom experiences than I do! I just want to get in, do what I need to do, and get out with as little fuss as I can get away with. To be honest, I’ve always been a bit perplexed about why this is such an issue.

Will you say more about how they ended up announcing your transition in a cringey way?

So, I worked for a medium-sized company when I transitioned, and they tried really hard to be supportive — the bathroom issue was never a thing for me, for example. But they announced my transition to the entire company in a series of all-team meetings, including hundreds of people who never worked with me directly and who really had no need (or desire) to know. I have to imagine some of those were pretty awkward meetings. But for better or worse, forever after until I left that company, I got stares and whispers everywhere I went. It was like i wore a scarlet letter! On the good side, I also discovered later that I had a few unexpected allies who’d shut down the whispers if they heard them. The other problem with announcing my transition at a series of team meetings was that a certain number of people were bound to be absent the day the meetings were scheduled. This created a lot of confusion when they came back to work and came into my office, as I’m sure you can imagine.

That sounds … not good. What advice would you give to companies that want to do it well? And coworkers, too, for that matter.

Educate yourself first. There are so many good resources out there now, such as this guide from PFLAG or this book. HRC also has a great resource for employers. Asking questions of your trans employee is fine – and encouraged – but do the heavy lifting to learn first. You might think your two or three basic questions are innocuous, but multiply that by all of that person’s family, friends, and coworkers, and the cumulative load can be exhausting. Don’t use the transgender person in your life as your personal Wikipedia. Besides, we’re all unique individuals, and we’re not made with a cookie-cutter.

Be sensitive to the difference between information you need and information you want. You’d be shocked (or maybe not) at how intrusive the questions people think it’s appropriate to ask are. I’ve been asked, in the workplace, about the configuration and state of my genitals, about my sexual habits, about the intimate details of the surgeries I have and haven’t had – it’s wild. When I had my gender confirmation surgery in 2015, I had to share a certain amount of information about some of those topics with our Benefits people so they could help me with insurance stuff, but that’s wholly different from people just wanting to satisfy their curiosity.

Ask your transitioning team member how you can support them. But also, remember that they might not be totally aware of their needs, because transition is a big thing that we’ve typically never done before. There are some obvious ways to be supportive – smooth processes for adjusting name and gender on paperwork, a new badge with the right name and photo, a new name plate on their desk, are all small ways to show support. Having another team member who can intercede with the folks who missed the announcement so that’s not all falling on the transitioning team member who will be oh so nervous and stressed out on their first day as their true selves is good. Beyond the obvious, though, ask them what would support them, and do that.

Watch for and be proactive about addressing inappropriate behavior. Don’t assume your transitioning employee will feel safe enough to come to you about it. After I transitioned, I dealt with all the usual creepy stuff that women and AFAB people deal with in the workplace: The coworker who’d stand too close and stare. The boss who came up behind me and massaged my neck and shoulders without asking. The guy who invited me 34 times to go square-dancing with him and who didn’t take no for an answer. I didn’t know how to address those things, so I just quietly let them make me feel uncomfortable and afraid. Enlist the whole team to support shutting this stuff down. “If you see something, say something” really works here.

Thank you. What advice would you give trans people trying to navigate work safely and happily (something I get asked about a lot and don’t have nearly enough expertise in)?

Advocate for your needs. Your employer is doing the best they can to support you, because you’re a valued member of their team. But this is highly likely not to be a situation they’ve faced before, and even if they have, they haven’t faced it with you. They’re not mind-readers. And just as importantly, you’ve probably spent years coming to this understanding of who you are and the path you’re on. Once you come out, everyone in your life is on that train with you whether they’re ready or not. So speak up and ask for what you need. Not everything you want is going to be possible – if you work in a call center and get upset when people misgender you, not having to talk on the phone just might not be a thing. But the people who want to support you need to know what you need. So use your words and speak up.

Build your support system early. Like, ideally, before you start your transition. The reality is, changing who we are is HARD. There are going to be bumps in the road. Lots of them, large and small. In my experience, transition is EXTREMELY difficult to do solo. Make sure you have your “team you” who can encourage you on the hard days and help you strategize your way through the obstacles. The earlier in your journey you put that into place, the better.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. There’s going to be lots of hard stuff, painful stuff, just plain STRANGE stuff that happens along this road. I remember my first week back to work after my transition, I ran into a coworker who I knew casually in the women’s restroom 5 days in a row. It wasn’t until the fifth day that it occurred to her to ask me if she should still call me by my former name. (Spoiler alert: No. No, she shouldn’t.) People are going to be confused. They’re going to mess up on your name and pronouns, not out of maliciousness but because brains are funny sometimes. You’re going to have plenty of awkward experiences and conversations. The months I was learning to cultivate a bit of a bubble of space around me so I didn’t bump into stuff with my boobs were some kind of fun, let me tell you! All the awkward experiences cisgender girls have in junior high happen to trans women at whatever age we start transitioning, and second puberty isn’t any easier for having had a first one. If you can appreciate the absurdity and retain the ability to laugh at yourself, you’ll make it through a lot happier.

Make friends with the admin people in your office. They’re the best way to stay plugged in to what the gossip grapevine and rumor mill are saying about you, and that can be incredibly useful information.

This is all helpful. Thank you so much.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to have this conversation. I think it’s super important to talk about stuff like this. I had a chance to hear Michelle Obama speak last year, and one thing she said was “we need to keep telling our stories, because it’s awful harder to hate up close.” So I’m grateful for the chance to tell my story!

{ 463 comments… read them below }

  1. Czhorat*

    My thanks to Tammy for sharing this with us; as a cisgender male I have not much to add, but find it very valuable to understand the experiences of those different than me.

    1. Drew*

      Seconded. I spent too long not open to hearing from people different from me and I’m poorer for it. Thank you, Tammy, for being so open, and thank you, Alison, for posting the conversation.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This was amazing, and I’m so grateful to Tammy for sharing this. I didn’t realize how hard (in a good way) the interview would hit me, and I feel lucky that it did.

      I also truly appreciate the guidance for employers and allies, and I’m looking forward to implementing the things I don’t currently do.

  2. Myrin*

    What a wonderful, interesting, and insightful little interview, Tammy. Thanks so much for sharing all of this!

  3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Thank you for sharing this. If you share any more or anywhere else, can you drop a link?
    It reminds me of Roddy McDowell telling Goldie Hawn how she’d been given the gift of seeing the world from wholly different place (after those crazy kidnapping shenanigans!) and felonies aside, it was true.

    1. Tammy*

      For sure! Also, I’m home from work today, so I’m trying to be present here for questions. So if anybody has specific questions, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond.

      1. Analysis Paralysis*

        Tammy, thank you so much for sharing your experiences & perspectives with us!

        I’m AFAB cisgender. This quote hit home for me:
        “My natural communication style is more direct than I think is typical of a lot of women, and that’s something I’ve had to learn to soften somewhat.”

        Would you mind expanding on this topic a little?

        Ironic note: I wrote then automatically rewrote the above question three times before I was satisfied that it struck the right tone. During the final rewrite, I realized the irony of what I was doing. Yup, softening my question to ensure I wasn’t perceived as demanding by you or anyone else who might read it. FYI, my initial phrasing was “can you expand…”

        1. Tammy*

          In a way it’s been a bit easier for me since I was formally diagnosed with ADHD (and probably somewhere on the autism spectrum) because people are more likely to attribute my directness to that now. But, like, I noticed that when I’d say things like “I think we should do X” or “the right answer is Y”, people told me I was being too direct or too pushy. I get better results – and people perceive me as less pushy/bitchy/aggressive – with things like “my thought is we should do X, but I’d like to hear what others think too” or “I’m thinking the answer is Y – what do you all think?” And this is so even when I’m actually the authority and the decision-maker. It’s so exasperating!

          1. TechWorker*

            I (afab, new manager) literally go back through my emails and remove ‘I think’ in places :D I’m much more likely to use soft language in person but I’ve found on email I get better results when I remove uncertainty…

            1. Effective Immediately*

              As a universally* loathed email sender who has literally sent grown men fleeing to my boss’s office because I was m e a n for making a direct request/not softening up my language enough, I feel you.

              *universally is hyperbole; it’s mostly dudes.

      2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Awesome. Thank you.
        When you apply for a job using an online application, you enter your name. When you first transitioned was it more complicated?
        How has it changed in the years since you transitioned? I mean, now that you have a job history with this name, it’s less complicated, but in the first job search, was it well, hard to fill in the blanks on a cookie cutter online application?

        Has anyone replied to your application with questions about why your school credentials don’t match? Have you ever been challenged, “the school/company has no record of you?”

        1. Tammy*

          When I started to plan my transition, I was able to contact most of my previous schools/employers to update records, which helped. The big place where it became an issue – and where I have been challenged – was when companies performed background checks, because for a long time you’d find my former name if you ran my credit report. (You might still; it’s been a while since I’ve checked).

          When I applied for my first role at CurrentCompany, I told the recruiter “just so you know, I’m a transgender woman, so when you do a background check you might find my former name, which is X”. Usually you can trust HR/Recruiting to keep such information private, in my experience. But if you’re “stealth” (not open about your past) there’s definitely a degree of risk of being outed that comes with job-hunting.

      3. Completely Anonymous*

        I’m not sure if you’re still keeping up with this thread, but I’ll give it a shot.

        As a youngish woman in the tech field, what advice do you have? I’m often talked over or totally ignored. At other points, my position is described by coworkers “the designer girl” or “the artsy one” or what have you — “you don’t need a computer, just crayons”. Yet when my input should actually be considered, I’m kept out of the loop. Is there any recourse here or is this one of those where my job sucks and isn’t going to change?

        1. TechWorker*

          I think your coworkers suck for sure. (And ‘not all men’ etc but not all workplaces are that bad either – though obviously subtle sexism has its own issues).

          What are the consequences of you being kept out of the loop? If they’re clear then that one might be possible to deal with – or pull in your manager to deal with if required. (‘Fergus, I see you’ve gone ahead with the code without getting sign off from design, can you make sure we’re included earlier in the process so we don’t all waste time?’). Taking questions to your manager with the tone of asking for advice on how to deal with it can be useful. (Some of my reports do this and it’s usually like ‘okay, I recommend you try x, and if it doesn’t work get back to me and I can step in’)

          1. Tammy*

            Agreed. I’ve also found it helpful sometimes to enlist the help of the non-terrible male coworkers to call that behavior out when they see it. “Hey, Tammy was talking! Let’s let her finish” and “thanks, George, but I’d like to hear Tammy’s take on this” help a lot. It’s hard and exhausting, but over time, calling the behavior out really helps. Even looking at the male coworker with that shocked/confused look and saying things like “I’m sure you weren’t intending to talk over me when it was obvious I was speaking” or “I’m sure you weren’t meaning to suggest that women can’t know about X ttopic” can help sometimes. But it’s tough to navigate, for sure.

          2. Completely Anonymous*

            I agree. Not all men suck, and not all of my coworkers suck either. But it seems a bit more rampant than I’m used to here.

            I’ve tried pulling in my supervisor (also a woman), and that occasionally helps, but the whiskey in a teacup strategy only gets me so far. I’ve legitimately had arguments about things that are so blatantly preposterous it’s mind boggling; it’s actually become a joke with one of my (male) teammates when I enter a bug that I’ll get questioned on it or it will be removed but if he enters the same bug, no questions/no removal.

            1. Gumby*

              That is… egregious. I was not questioned on bugs I entered when I was an *intern*. (At least not in a “are you sure” way – there were “let’s figure this out” questions.) More than twenty years ago when things were, in theory, worse for women in tech.

  4. Myrcallie*

    A dear friend of mine experienced many of the same things, but in reverse, as a transgender man (people taking him more seriously, even one person who told him he was ‘much more competent than [deadname]’)- this was a really interesting read in light of his stories! Thank you so much for sharing.

      1. Just Visiting*

        ‘deadname’ refers to the trans man’s given name when he was presenting as a woman, prior to being out. the coworker in the story told him he was more competent (as a man) than the same person he was when he was presumed to be female.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I was going to say this. Ben Barnes wrote and shared extensively the number of times people would say his scholarship was better than his “sister” (i.e., Ben Barnes—the exact same human—pre-transition).

            2. ThatGirl*

              OK I just need to comment to correct this because I looked him up myself and couldn’t find him at first – the scientist’s name is Ben Barres; Ben Barnes is an actor.

              1. The IT Plebe*

                Oh man, thank you. I was reading this thread going “I didn’t know Prince Caspian was trans and also a scientist!”

                1. ThatGirl*

                  You weren’t the only person who made that typo, so no worries, I just thought it was worth calling out in case someone else was trying to look him up.

          1. Emma*

            I’m sure they didn’t – with arms-length relationships where you don’t interact with the person often, some people choose to just reintroduce themselves with their new name and let the contact make their own conclusions, which is often that you’re new, or that you’ve been in the organisation a while (under your current name) and they just haven’t crossed paths with you before.

    1. a1*

      I read an article from Time about trans men and the differences at work and elsewhere and was coming here to post it. I find both this interview (thanks, Tammy!) and this article fascinating.

      Some quotes from the article.

      Over and over again, men who were raised and socialized as female described all the ways they were treated differently as soon as the world perceived them as male.

      “If I’m going off-the cuff, no-one really questions it,” Ward says. “It’s taken as, ‘He’s saying it, so it must be true.’ Whereas while I was practicing as female, it was ‘Show me your authority, you don’t know any better yet.’”

      Link to article in reply comment.

    2. Lucien Nova*

      That’s been exactly my experience Myrcallie – I’m a transgender man myself and the way people interact with me now is…frankly mindblowing. I’m treated as competent, capable, people are far more likely to ask me to help them with something and far less likely to harp on me if I make some sort of mistake. Before I transitioned, absolutely none of that was true, and it baffles me just how different things are now that I’m generally* perceived as male.

      * Another interesting point. I’m very small – 157cm – and perpetually babyfaced so I do still get mistaken for female at times, and without fail I notice that every time someone’s speaking to me while assuming I’m a woman, the tone of their voice becomes…honestly, not quite sure how to put this. It’s a bit softer, somehow? Less to-the-point and even verging on patronizing, at times. It kind of points out how society unconsciously reacts differently to women than to men, even in things as small as the way they speak to said women.

      1. patricia*

        As an AFAB female who has presented female my whole life, I find this fascinating. And I view it with a…kind of longing? Like, what must THAT be like, to be treated as authoritative and competent from the beginning? I imagine maybe it might be…less exhausting? Like, if I could be treated like a man for a week (while still being female-presenting), I’d maybe have so much more energy? Confidence? Who even knows? And the flip side- most men can’t possibly perceive how good they have it?

        Anyway, thanks to you and Tammy and others here sharing their stories. Fascinating and enlightening.

        1. Treecat*

          I am also a cis woman, and I think about this ALL THE TIME. How might my life be different if people just assumed me to be smart and capable all the time? How would my perception of myself be different if I had grown up being told I was right to trust myself and my instincts, instead of having my thoughts, perceptions, and feelings constantly undermined and challenged by everyone, including my own parents?

          I am resentful, and I make no apologies for it. To hell with this world and this society.

          1. Lucien Nova*

            @Patricia – it really is far less exhausting, and I honestly find that very, very depressing. Our society in general just seems designed to beat women down and hold them to impossible standards while at the same time doing everything it can to build up men, letting them off the hook for some really egregious things, brushing it all off as “boys will be boys” and the like. I won’t say I don’t appreciate that life as a man is in its way easier, but at the same time I feel guilty for it as I suppose it feels like a betrayal to my birth gender. Generally I try to channel that into attempting to be the squeaky wheel – if I can make even a tiny difference for the women, both trans and not, in my life, then that’s something I can be pleased with.

            @Treecat – in my opinion you’re perfectly right to be resentful! There’s a lot to resent. It’s just not bloody fair that female automatically seems to equal “less competent”, “less intelligent”, “only exists to look good for the menfolk”… Funny you mention parents though, because I have a set of extremely awesome parents who have supported me one hundred percent through 32 years of fumbling my way through figuring out who precisely I am, and even they seemed to unconsciously have a bit of a mental shift when I came out as trans. It’s not something anyone even thinks about, I hadn’t honestly given it much thought myself till now!

        2. Jadelyn*

          Most men definitely can’t perceive it. I saw an article written once by a guy at a recruiting/job placement firm who was struggling dealing with an impossible client – the guy refused to take his recommendations, continually claimed that the (wrong) way he was doing things was “industry standard” when it wasn’t, just insufferable. And then the guy noticed that he’d forgotten to change the signature on the shared email account from his female coworker’s name to his.

          So the next time he replied to the client, he changed the email signature and said “I’m [male name], and I’m taking over for [female coworker].”

          Instant demeanor shift. The impossible client started listening to him, stopped arguing, just a 180-degree turn in tone.

          So the guy decided to do an experiment. For a week, he signed all his emails as his female coworker, and she signed all of her emails as him. He said he had the most frustrating week of his entire career, as clients were dismissive, patronizing, rude, refused to listen, etc. – and his female coworker had the most productive week he’d ever seen in the years they’d worked together. And it made him consider, he’d been frustrated with her level of productivity in the past, but how much of that was because she had to repeatedly prove her expertise to every single client before they would work with her?

          So no, most men have no idea how good they have it.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            I remember that article. It’s utterly ridiculous that this is a thing we still have to deal with.

          2. Nonny Maus*

            I remember reading about that when it first came out, and my brain was like “We need more men to do this in general!” Witness the classic myth also of ‘no girls in videogames’. Yes, because we’ve learned if we present as female in games and esp. on chats, we get harassed.

            It’s honestly mind-blowingly frustrating how pervasive it all is. >.<

          3. smoke tree*

            I remember being quite frustrated with that guy, both because I didn’t feel like he fully appreciated how complicit he had been in not taking his female colleague seriously, and because he got so much kudos for basically saying the same thing that women are always saying. So the conversation around the experiment fully supported the results of the experiment. So frustrating.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              The interview I read with him, he pointed out that irony and said he hated it. And he discussed changes he’s making to his own behavior going forward.

          4. Pipe Organ Guy*

            I keep thinking, as a cisgender male, why we (as a species) treat half of our species’ brain power as not worthy of attention. I’ve seen it happen to women that they aren’t considered for positions just because they’re women (I wasn’t in a position to do a damn thing about it). Music history is rife with examples of women composers who couldn’t get published because they were women. The Vienna Philharmonic has only in recent years begun to incorporate women into its ranks, decades after women became significant in numbers in other major orchestras. (The Boston Symphony was one of the first orchestras to use blind auditions; that alone significantly increased the presence of women in the orchestra.) Unfortunately, women are still dealing with wage inequality in music.

          5. Database Developer Dude*

            Most -white- men have no idea how good they have it.

            There, I fixed it for you. I’m a black man with a Master’s degree in my field, and I -still- have to prove my expertise and ‘pay my dues’ before being taken seriously.

            1. Squab*

              Wow, thanks for writing in. I’m a white lady and I *know* I tend to oversimplify men-vs-women issues. I appreciate your point.

        3. designbot*

          Agreed, I’ve got tears in my eyes at my desk, longing for the world where people just give me the benefit of the doubt.
          When I was a kid I always said I wanted to be a boy. People asked all the time if I was a lesbian, but that’s not what I meant. What we’re talking about now, *that’s* what I meant. I wanted the easy assurance of moving through a world that was built for me. I didn’t actually want to be a boy, I wanted what the boys had.

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            Look up the Dar Williams song ‘When I Was a Boy’… don’t be surprised if your eyes tear up.

        4. Effective Immediately*

          YES. And it just makes me angry, frankly. Like: I (cis lady) will *never* have that; in my lifetime, I doubt society will come to a place where I will be viewed as competent relative to my even incompetent male peers.

          Excuse me, I have to go listen to some Bikini Kill now.

    3. Holly*

      I wouldn’t be surprised if performance does improve when one is more comfortable being their true selves, but still that’s a very inappropriate and odd thing to say, and could also come from sexism!

      1. KimberlyR*

        But it sounds like its more than confidence from being one’s true self. Sally brought the same knowledge and years of experience as Samuel, so why would Sally be treated as more competent after transitioning to Samuel? Samuel may be a happier person because he’s being his true self, but his knowledge of his industry and his years of experience have not changed.

        1. Sharp Dressed Dyke*

          I’m a trans woman. My experience after transition was that my work was often viewed as inferior but only when it was connected to me. I would write code to automate tasks and my manager and co-workers would never deem it acceptable. Once I gave up and a few weeks had passed one of those co-workers would “discover” my code and pass it off as their own, unaltered. It would suddenly be seen as great and put into production.

      2. On Hold*

        Why not take Tammy’s word for her own experience? There are plenty of accounts (as referenced up-thread in this very comment section) of trans people having these experiences, in both directions. There’s also a very good comment from Jadelyn about some cis colleagues who traded email signatures for a week – the man (signing as his female coworker) had a horrible time, whereas the woman (signing as her male coworker) got very little pushback. Transition changes a lot of things, but it doesn’t change accumulated technical knowledge or competence.

    4. Jadelyn*

      “one person who told him he was ‘much more competent than [deadname]’”

      My jaw literally dropped. My gods, do these people hear themselves?

    5. Close Bracket*

      Yup. Ben Barnes was told that his work was better than his sister’s (spoiler: “his sister’s” work was his own work pre-transition.”

      1. ThatGirl*

        Apologies for being correcty, but if anyone is looking for the trans scientist, his name is Ben Barres. (I only add this because *I* was looking and only found an actor.)

    6. Miranda Priestly's Assistant*

      Wait…he was more competent than himself (before he transitioned?) That is so…dense and also makes no sense.

      1. gyrfalcon*

        No, the person didn’t realize he had transitioned. The person thought he and were different people. So the person rated the exact same skills differently depending on if they were being done by a man or a woman.

    7. Apples*

      My partner, a trans man, is in IT. Last year he was transitioning while job searching and he switched from using his old “female” name to his current name and the interview requests multiplied! It’s absolutely insane.

  5. Q*

    “It’s like there’s this magic way we’re supposed to perform femininity so that society will find us acceptable.”
    Yeah… annoying, right?

        1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

          Speaking as a cisgender woman, even if I do femininity “wrong” (not wearing makeup, for example), no one thinks I’m secretly a man. Other things about me might be questioned and I certainly might be treated differently because of it, but my fundamental identity as a woman will never be challenged. That’s the difference.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            In my experience, cisgender women who aren’t feminine enough are often accused of being lesbians. Because of course the femininity can only be to please a man.

            1. Name Required*

              Yup. You’re not secretly a man, you’re secretly a lesbian, which is a man-version of a woman. So, basically a man or someone who wants to be a man.

              I’d love a eyeroll emoji right now.

            2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              I’ve been watching the Beverly Hills 90210 reboot/recreation. (Guilty pleasure, I’m a fan) In this meta parody of the cast, Gabrielle Carteris is exploring her sexual identity after 30 years. This story line began with a younger woman who was interviewing the cast inviting her for a drink and chatting her up. Conversation unfolds where the woman says she is gay, Andrea was her favorite character because she was role model for a young, woman…”well, a young gay woman.” The conversation progresses with Gabrielle saying that there is some truth to that. They kiss. It all made sense though because:
              Andrea wasn’t glamorous, she had brown hair, wore glasses, was driven and smart.
              You know, gay.

              1. Plush Penguin*

                I’m not glamorous, I have brown hair, I wear glasses, I’m driven, and I’m smart.

                And I’m straight.

                Good job, 90210 reboot! *sarcastic thumbs up*

                1. Becky*

                  I’m not glamorous, I have brown hair, I wear glasses, I’m driven, and I’m smart.

                  And I’m asexual.

                  I wish the world would just let people be people.

            3. Miss V*

              A couple months ago I cut my hair from a bob and got an undercut. One of the men I work with would not speak to me for a week. It was ridiculous. His manager had to get involved and he finally admitted that he wouldn’t talk to me because ‘women shouldn’t have hair that short.’

              Which is not to say that this is anywhere near the same discrimination/policing of femininity a trans woman experiences (I’m a cis woman) but it’s something all women experience at some level.

              1. Pomona Sprout*

                Holy crap. Sexism aside, what kind of a douchebag could possibly think it is ever remotely acceptable to ostracize a coworker because you don’t aporove of their freaking hairstyle? I can’t even come close to getting my head around that mindset. How totally bizarre.

              2. Mine Own Telemachus*

                That’s illegal – according to SCOTUS precedent, discrimination/harassment based on sexual stereotyping is illegal as it relies on gender discrimination. So, good thing his boss got involved because he was careening toward a lawsuit.

              3. Seeking Second Childhood*

                And yet we had the “long hair is not professional” right here on this list some months ago. (Says the former longhair who just got a short cut to fit in a swim cap.)

          2. Anonymous for This*

            Um, I’ve run into this, although I think since I got out of high school, or maybe a bit later, people who think this way have learned to keep their mouths shut. But there are people who think cisgender women and girls who do femininity “wrong” aren’t really women; they’re defective somehow. Or lesbian, as Turquoisecow said. But definitely not proper, normal, real women. It was liberating when I finally realized I didn’t take their opinions – I was a woman, therefore my oddities were part of being a woman and if they didn’t get it, tough. That’s their problem. Actually, maybe the increased confidence derived from thinking that had something to do with others being less likely to criticize me in that way.

          3. knitcrazybooknut*

            I have. I’m AFAB and most of my school years were spent being asked if I was a girl or a boy. I had (and have) a short haircut. Not having permed long hair was basically a misdemeanor. No one accused me of being a lesbian, just because no one admitted ANYONE was lesbian. Small town, small minds.

            1. Vax is my disaster bicon*

              I suspect that race is a significant factor there—black women’s femininity is scrutinized to a much greater degree than that of white women. Which is to say, there are a lot of different intersecting oppressions that influence how gender performance is received!

            2. clara sparks*

              This. Transphobia is absolutely weaponized against cisgender black women who are unacceptably good at things — Michelle Obama, Caster Semenya, Serena Williams, …

          4. Tammy*

            This has been my experience too. Like, cisgender women can be attacked for all sorts of things if they’re not performing femininity correctly, but it doesn’t usually seem to be the case that people attack their fundamental woman-ness and their right to be a woman. Whereas trans people are constantly having to defend their right to their identity. You see this most starkly when transgender children/youth come out and get barraged with a chorus of “but they’re so young, how could they possibly know??” When I ask cisgender people who say this “I don’t know, how old were you when you knew you were a girl/boy?” the response is usually something like “I just always knew, but that’s different!” No, no it’s not. (Psychology says a person’s gender identity is fixed and knowable by age 3, and virtually never changes after that.)

            1. AnonEMoose*

              Women who are childfree get that “not a real woman” thing sometimes, too. But not as pervasively, I’m sure.

            2. clara sparks*

              Heh, if it’s fixed and knowable by 3, then I’m in BIG trouble — I was 28 and married by the time I figured it out. (I’m still married, but unfortunately not still 28.)

            3. Monoceros de Astris*

              “Psychology says a person’s gender identity is fixed and knowable by age 3, and virtually never changes after that.”

              Definitely not my experience or that of quite a few other trans people I know. There’s no one way to be trans. And that’s not even to mention genderfluid people.

              I’m calling this out because knowing that there are other paths can be critical to helping people (like me!) come out to themselves.

              1. Tammy*

                Oh, absolutely – it often takes us a long time to figure out who we are, or what to do about it. I definitely couldn’t have expressed my identity at that age. But by 3 or 4, if a child IS identifying as trans, it’s not unreasonable to believe them. That was the point I was making.

                If you can’t yet express your identity at that age, that’s fine and valid. (And “genderfluid” is of course a valid identity, though not one a small child can typically verbalize.) My point was (and is) to call BS on the people who, when my friend’s kiddo came to her at age 5 and said “mommy, when I came out of my tummy, I came out wrong – can you put me back in so I can come out as a girl?”, responded with “[she’s] too young to possibly know that!”

                1. Monokeros de Astris*

                  It still sounds like you’re saying that I was a girl at age 5, and I’m by no means certain of that. I know now that I was a woman at 18 and for my entire adult life, although I’m transitioning only now in my mid-30s. And I totally agree that when children express a gender, you believe them. And children often say it in ways just as focused as that example.

                  But gender *can change* for some people. I think it’s more likely than not that it changed for me.

                  Saying anything at all without erasing something within the spectrum of trans experience is so difficult, isn’t it?

          5. Sharp Dressed Dyke*

            FWIW, as a trans woman who is a butch dyke on a bike, my experience has been that it’s all of that with some additional things attached, like being denied access to medical care, particularly HRT, for it. I do tend to be presumed cis a lot, though, so there’s much I undoubtedly do not experience which others do.

          6. BW*

            Unless you’re tall, broad-shouldered and assertive. I get misgendered all over the place. (Also see: Caster Semenya, who is amazing and deals with all that plus race and having her private medical details publicised in tabloids.)

          7. vlookup*

            Definitely. The consequences for performing your gender “wrong” as a cisgender woman are just not the same as they are for trans women.

        2. Alton*

          I don’t think it’s possible (or helpful) to try to quantify it, but I feel like trans people get it on a couple different levels. There’s the gender roles that are applied to cis people as well, and then there’s an expectation on you to justify your gender identity and trans identity to people. Trans men and AFAB non-binary people encounter something similar–if they’re too masculine, some people see them as women who have a lot of internalized misogyny and who don’t realize they can be masculine women. If they’re not masculine enough, then they can’t be men, or shouldn’t expect people to see them as men. Even non-binary people, who by definition don’t fit into a binary category, experience this. I’ve seen people openly speculate that an AFAB non-binary person who wears makeup must be pretending to be non-binary, for example.

          When I came out as non-binary, I had someone ask me why I couldn’t be happy as a masculine woman, which felt like a weird leap to make when I don’t see myself as being very masculine.

        3. Veronica*

          I’m cis AFAB, and I love being feminine. Until my 30’s I was afraid to because of the attitude I’d experienced towards femininity. Men who were hostile and rude and condescending were even more so when I was wearing a pretty dress.
          I finally realized I didn’t want to be around such men anyway. Men who love and appreciate femininity aren’t so common but they are out there, and I hang out with them.
          BTW, one of my friends is a very beautiful and feminine woman who is also a lesbian.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah, this is not unique to the trans experience, but I’m sure it’s extra difficult in that context. You are *always* doing either too much or not enough when it comes to femininity, and there is no escape.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Because often people think they have a right to tell everyone else how to be masculine / feminine / look / weigh / act / work / etc.

          At a high level: this is society trying to push people into boxes, to make interactions between people smoother / easier, to reduce conflict (“do what I want”) or maximize social utility (“get the right career”). For some people, it works because they can fit the norms without too much pain, or can vary from them in ways that society can accept, but it fails when it forces people to stop being their authentic selves.

          Different societies are dealing with it in different ways. *Hopefully* the world is moving towards ‘let people be themselves, and respect the differences’, but it does require new ways of thinking. New stories help a lot – thank you, Tammy, for this one!

        2. Jaydee*

          I think that’s the whole idea of intersectional feminism. There are certain pressures that women face in a given society. But then when you start layering on things like race, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, other cultural factors, disability, body size, socioeconomic status, family dynamics, etc. you get both the pressures of each of those things and then the pressures of each of them as they relate to the others. But then how that all applies to any given individual is unique. Two people who each identify as the same race, same gender identity, same socioeconomic status, from the same culture and geographic region may have very similar experiences or very different experiences (or a mix of similar and different experiences). Like, there are things that apply at a population level don’t necessarily apply at an individual level and vice versa.

        3. clara sparks*

          Part of the difficulty, (at least for a lot of abled, white, transfeminine people who mistook ourselves for straight cis men until well into adulthood) comes from missing some of the shared context to understand all of what’s happening to us. When the School of Hard Knocks enrolls you in a crash course on “Why We Need Feminism” just as you’re trying to finish your thesis on “How To Have A Gender,” it gets confusing and overwhelming really fast.

          I feel really lucky that I already knew about / believed / tried to practice a lot of feminist *ideas* and didn’t have to learn them on the fly, and I owe a LOT to the feminist cis women in my life for that … but some of the gut-punch *experiences* still caught me off guard.

            1. clara sparks*

              Here’s a mild example of how it helped, from my internal monologue sometime last year: “Wait a minute, when did I start feeling bad about how my thighs look when I walk? That seems like a weird thing to have dysph– OH, I bet it isn’t gender dysphoria this time! Screw the patriarchy, I’m wearing these shorts anyway.”

              As it turns out, sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between realizing something is Wrong for _you_ and correctly applying what you’ve been taught all your life about how it’s Wrong to have your body,* which is something that cis women have been writing about since before my parents were born. It would have taken much longer for me to make sense out of that if I hadn’t already known where to look.

              *(N.B.: It’s important to be REALLY careful about statements like this in general. All too often, they’re followed by “and therefore there’s no point in transitioning because [you’re not really a man, you’re just too deep in your own internalized misogyny] and/or [chasing after stereotypes of femininity can’t make you a woman, you’re just harming ‘real’ women by reinforcing them],” which are both rotten things to say to anyone.)

    1. AnonEMoose*

      Can confirm. This is something that happens to AFAB people ALL. THE. TIME. It literally doesn’t matter what a woman does or doesn’t do, someone will Have Opinions about it, and is likely to insist on sharing them. A few examples from my own life:

      “You’re too blunt/direct, you need to soften your communication style.”
      “You need to speak up if there’s an issue.”

      “How can you not want children?” (Note: I haven’t personally experienced all of these, but I have plenty of childfree friends who have.) But childfree women tend to hear all kinds of variations on how “selfish” we are, how we’ll regret it, how we’ll be old and lonely and turn into crazy cat ladies (personally with that last one, I always want to respond “You say that like it’s a BAD thing…”).

      Conversely, women who have children get criticized for having one child, or for having “too many” children. For having fertility treatments (if needed), for adopting or fostering. For literally every decision they make related to child-rearing.

      Then there’s the body-size shaming. And the wardrobe and makeup judging Tammy has already experienced.

      If you have a career you’re dedicated to, again you’re “selfish,” “aggressive,” “pushy,” and/or “abrasive.” If you’d rather put your primary focus on home and family, you “lack ambition” or “have no drive,” or are “wasting your potential.”

      It’s a big part of the background noise of life as a woman. I’m sure there are variations applied specifically to transgender women. But a lot of what Tammy was talking about sounds so very familiar. Down to the intrusive questions, although the topics of those questions differ.

      Mostly, though, I want to say thank you to Tammy for sharing so openly, it was, in roughly equal parts, fascinating, frustrating, and in a way validating to read. I say that last because it did confirm for me that some things that I’ve always thought were sexism…most likely were.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Being “too obsessed” with your children = boring, silly helicopter woman
        Having children and not being “engaged enough” with them = hateful, unnatural woman
        Not wanting children = selfish, immature girl

        The actual correct balance, according to busybody strangers would be a constantly changing calculation it would take all your effort to hit correctly.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          But of course, you can’t actually show that effort!! Because femininity should be natural and effortless, and if you’re putting visible effort into it, you’re trying too hard and therefore fake. /eyes roll out of sockets, down hall, out the door

          1. Effective Immediately*

            ‘Ugh, why do you take so long to get ready!?’

            ‘Ugh, why do you spend so much on clothes/makeup/hair/etc.’


            ‘Wow you’ve really let yourself go.’

            ‘[various and sundry comments on a not pleasing enough appearance here]’

      2. Jaybeetee*

        Not to mention there’s like a six-year window of acceptability for having children, out of potential decades of fertility. If you’re younger than late-20s, you’re treated basically like a Teen Mom. If you’re over about 35 having your first kid, people talk about how selfish you are to have them when you’re “that old.”

        Unmarried/perma-single/perpetual bachelor dudes are part of the scenery. I’m a 32 year old single woman, and I’ve had people literally *lecture* me about it.

        Then there’s all the “Mommy War” stuff. Breastfeeding vs. formula. Working vs. SAHM. Even on this site, the ire when a woman had to bring her baby to a university lecture one time. Whereas there seems to be a trend on my social media lately to share sweet videos of dads spending time with their babies, because “Dad hanging out with kid” is still considered novel and awesome.

        I don’t think it’s a “man” thing (in fact, when I’ve dealt with these issues myself, they just as often come from other women…), but it seems to be a patriarchy/society thing. For some reason all of us seem to scrutinize women a lot more than men, and we all seem to be much faster to criticize women in general.

      3. Tammy*

        I think there’s a difference between “you’re too blunt/direct” and “you’re too blunt/direct, AND THAT PROVES YOU’RE NOT REALLY A WOMAN AND YOU’RE REALLY JUST A DECEITFUL MAN IN A DRESS”, though. People can attack the way you perform femininity without attacking your right to that identity. There’s a difference between “you’re doing it wrong and need to do it this other way” and “you’re doing it wrong, and that proves you’re not really a woman.”

        Just throwing that thought out there.

          1. Tammy*

            I’m not suggesting it is. I’m pointing out that there’s a bit of a different dynamic with trans people who are called upon to defend their right to exist in their identity in ways that cis people typically are not. Not that either experience is better/worse or more/less valid. They’re just different. It’s like a person of color saying to a white person “it’s not that you haven’t experienced X and Y terrible obstacles in your life, it’s just that you haven’t experienced them BECAUSE OF the color of your skin.”

    2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      I can’t tell if you’re attacking the OP or not so I’ll leave that aside.

      It does remind me of the only transwoman I have ever worked with and the issues I had relating to her. She was a very annoying person for reasons that had nothing to do with her gender (in fact I briefly worked with her many years before her transition and found her deeply annoying, even creepy, at that time). But at work she would make a point of talking mostly to women, steering the conversation to things like makeup and clothes, and other stereotypically “female” subjects. Not that I am entirely uninterested in such things but I don’t have much to say about it, and it seemed wierdly sexist. It struck me at the time how difficult it must be to try and learn all the subtle little things that serve as markers for being a given gender, and I felt uncomfortable with my own discomfort. Someone presenting as a man would probably have been called out for being sexist, but it seemed mean spirited to do that to someone I knew was transitioning.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        I can’t tell if you’re attacking the OP or not so I’ll leave that aside.

        If that’s directed at me, I am absolutely not attacking the OP. Just saying “yeah, this is part of being a woman, the fact that no matter how you do it, it won’t be done correctly according to some people.” Of course, not all of us have to deal with the extra layer of crap – trying to convince certain people you’re actually a woman at all – so it’s definitely a spectrum of experience.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Sorry, I meant Q’s “Yeah… annoying, right?” comment. Somehow it struck me as an attack on Tammy. I think I was probably wrong.

    3. drpuma*

      This sentence jumped out at me as well! Count me as yet another AFAB cis lady who read that and immediately, simultaneously thought both “I’m so sorry you have to deal with that” and “Welcome to the club”.

      Tammy, thank you so much for sharing your experiences and perspective!

    4. Anonym*

      It struck me in reading that line that… there’s no point in the Venn diagram of people’s expectations where they all overlap. There’s nothing that you can do that will make all people pleased with how you’re [gender]ing. I’m going to try to remember that – hopefully the visual is useful to someone else, too. It’s a bit freeing.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        EXACTLY THIS. That’s really, if you ask me, kind of the point of the whole thing. If women are kept busy trying to figure out how to “woman” “correctly,” we’ll be too exhausted – and too busy criticizing each other – to realize that the game is rigged, the house (by which I mean the patriarchy) always wins, and we always lose.

        But once you realize that, it can be very freeing and much easier to just do whatever you were going to do anyway, and (at least mentally) tell the finger pointing and jeering committee that they can shove their opinions where they have to pump in daylight.

    5. Close Bracket*

      This is true. I’m at, “Thank you for sharing what that looks like for trans women” and “Yep, that’s what being a woman is like,” but also with a sprinkling of, “It’s not like the feminine double-bind is a secret.”

  6. Mathilde*

    “…trying to throw shrimp tails down the front of my dress across the table”

    … what ? :O It seems awful and I don’t event get it.

    1. AnotherCorporateStooge*

      Yeah, doesn’t seem like they were being nearly as supportive as Tammy paints them out to be. Just lip service.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I don’t want to speak for Tammy, but I think that is the point she was trying to make. The people who “claimed” to be supportive in reality were not.

        1. ChimericalOne*

          They likely thought they were being supportive by treating her “like a woman” — which to them, meant sexualizing & objectifying her.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            This action struck me more that they were treating Tammy as a joke and dismissing/dehumanizing both her and the transition. Like they didn’t view her as a “legitimate” woman at the end of it. I could be wrong, but it strikes me that throwing shrimp at someone is more like something you do with your drinking buddies, not something you do with a woman you view as a sex object.

            1. Minocho*

              I have a friend I do tabletop gaming with that drew my attention to how much I wasn’t noticing others in our group turning non-traditional heterosexual relationships into jokes. I ran a game where one of the major NPCs was a trans woman, and I ran it as just an fact about her character. This friend, after a character death, decided to play the NPC’s wife. She pointed out one day how the most experienced player in the group couldn’t refer to her character, the NPC character, or their relationship without turning it into some sort of joke. I thought he was being immature about it, but hadn’t stopped and realized how he was focused in his immaturity around anything but traditional heterosexual relationships. I’m disappointed in myself for not noticing without her help, but I’m trying to be a lot more aware of that stuff so I can shut it down more quickly going forward.

              Thank you, Tammy, for sharing!

            2. BigLo*

              I kinda saw it this way as well. I figured that they believed they were going to now have both a bro and a “sex object” who they don’t want to have sex with – because they don’t view her as a “real” woman – so they can now take advantage of the dumb sh*t they wish they could do with women but can’t because “real” women ~can’t hang~

              (Excessive quotations because I do NOT want to imply in any way that I believe Tammy isn’t a real woman)

            3. Risha*

              Or they legitimately thought they were being supportive, but felt so awkward that they tried to turn everything into an over-the-top joke and slid smoothly into being asses about it.

        2. Tammy*

          Exactly! So many of the people who claimed to be/I thought would be supportive turned out not to be. And conversely, a lot of the people I expected not to be supportive turned out to be. I’ve given up trying to predict how people will react, because I’m wrong virtually 100% of the time.

      2. Wonderer*

        I think that was her point – they had been very supportive ahead of time and then turned out to be jerks.

      3. Bear Rambles On*

        I think they thought they were being supportive – “this is how we treat women and so we will treat you like this too.” It is performative. And disgusting. And they should have learned something about themselves from it, but… *sigh*

    2. Nobby Nobbs*

      Not exactly what you picture when someone says “second puberty,” but it maps with what I remember from the first one. I guess you can take the boy out of middle school, but you can’t take the middle school out of some boys, the creeps.

    3. Semprini!*

      I’m kind of amazed that it even occurred to them to a) throw food at a co-worker at all, and b) that you could get food down the front of someone’s dress by throwing it at them from across the table

      1. CMart*

        Trying to get food down girl’s shirts was the national pastime at my middle and high schools [insert eyeroll]. I honestly think that most dudes who had girl friends as teens have attempted at least once to get bits of food down the front of someone’s shirt.

        If I had to get into the minds of Tammy’s gross “supportive” broworkers, my guess would be they were trying to show how super cool and not weirded out they were by her transition, see – they’re throwing things at her boobs! Like a real girl! They’re totally cool with this, guys! If they were weirded out and not supportive, would they be willing to engage with her body like this?


        1. wickedtongue*

          Yeah, my friends (good ones, even), once were egged on by a third acquaintance to throw coins down the back of my shirt and low-rise pants. It’s definitely a thing.

    4. JSPA*

      Ugh. I do.

      It’s, roughly, “you’ll always still be one of the guys to us” (intended as a bro-bonding positive vibe) “plus now we can get free thrills and cheap jokes off your new tits, because as a bro, you’re sure to think it’s as hilarious as we do.”

      I’ve overheard something semi-similar with a drunk, bluff, lesbian soon-to-be-ex friend loudly making (kinda envious) “legal to be shirtless” jokes and following up insistently, repeatedly, with “hey can I make a video of me punching you in the fake nuts if you get your bottom done” requests.

      It…doesn’t come from the same deeply horrible place as people who want to (say) outlaw / re-define confirmation surgery as mutilation. I think of it as the human version of someone’s clueless, scat-snarfing, skunk-infused dog stuffing their crap-covered nose in your crotch and humping the leg of your new suit: On some level they’re totally intending to bond with you, but that only makes it grosser.

  7. Mathilde*

    Thank you for this interview, it is really interesting – although profondly depressing to have the confirmation that yes : you can do whatever you can, you will never be taken as seriously as a man.

  8. Hawthorne*

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Tammy. My partner is a transwoman in tech who isn’t out yet at work and when I saw this I texted her like PLEASE GO READ AAM TODAY IT’S RELEVANT.

    Thank you!

    1. Sophie*

      Also a transwoman in tech (recently transitioned about 10 months ago) and this already resonates so much to me!

      As for all the supportive women on this thread, it is indeed, sadly, welcome to the club.

      I got “too sensitive” and “you’re unprofessional” on my women in tech bingo card in the last few months :)

  9. Rusty Shackelford*

    Very interesting, thanks for sharing.

    This part really jumped out at me:

    Before my transition, people assumed I knew what I was talking about. They didn’t talk over me in meetings. They trusted me when I spoke, and they didn’t look to others for confirmation of my ideas.There was a baseline assumption that I was competent and capable.

    You’re in your 40s, and you transitioned 21 years ago, so you couldn’t have had much work experience before your transition. And yet, even though you must have been very young, you still automatically received respect. More respect, it seems, than you currently receive as a woman with 20+ years of experience. I wish that was surprising.

    1. Master Bean Counter*

      Preach it!
      I’ve got an idiot that I work with that looked at me and said we’ll do this if it’s okay with my male boss. I looked the guy square in the eye and said, this is my territory, if I’m good with it will be done. My boss will agree with what I want (which is true). He then said, “if you are sure.” To which I replied, “I’m the controller it’s my job to make this decision.”
      This push back from an idiot who is not signing off on a procedure I sent him weeks ago that would solve problems between his employees and mine.

      Anyway, Thank you Tammy for confirming what I already knew. And I applaud you for sharing your journey with us.

    2. nhb*

      Tammy, I see you said you were at home and available for questions. My question is: What were the most important things done during your transition that made you feel supported? If you could break it down by, say, management, vs. coworkers, I would be very grateful.

      Thank you so much for sharing your story and experiences. This interview is very helpful and insightful.

      1. Shawn*

        I can’t answer for Tammy but for me (as a female to male transgender man) was with people using my preferred pronouns and new name. That went for both management AND coworkers. Misgendering and using the previous (or what people refer to as the “dead” name) made me feel completely disrespected.

        1. nhb*

          Thank you, Shawn! I definitely understand the deadname issue. I am a cisgendered woman, but I worked with a transwoman in a previous position. I definitely accepted her new name and pronouns easily, but since I had worked with the AMAF for several years, I did accidentally slip up and say “he” or “him” in conversation a few times. I immediately corrected myself, but as a trans person, do you have any kind of allowance, for lack of better word, of people truly accidentally using the wrong one? I really respected my previous coworker, and I’d hate to think she felt disrespected because I used the wrong pronouns a couple of times.

          Caveat: I am not asking about the people who “slip up”, but who are really doing it intentionally just to be asshats. I am asking about true accidents, and again, with immediate correction.

          1. anonykins*

            I can’t speak for Shawn, but as someone who has changed pronouns, and who has my own trouble remembering other peoples’ pronouns occasionally, I think you handle it well if you 1. apologize briefly, 2. correct yourself quickly, 3. don’t do it again.

            I know that 3 won’t always happen, and I do give people a bit of leeway, but if someone is consistently, over weeks/months, continues to get my pronouns wrong…that tells me they don’t *really* care about getting my pronouns right. And believe me, I know it’s hard! I hate when I get someone’s pronouns wrong and I kick myself mentally and sometimes obsess about it for weeks. But I also go home and practice – like, literally practice saying out loud “he sent me an email today,” “he was out sick,” “he’s on vacation.” Practicing reduces your likelihood of getting it wrong in the future, and that’s ultimately what will make us feel respected!

            1. Agile Phalanges*

              Ooh, practicing out loud sounds like a great idea! You could tell stories (real or made up) about the person in question to your partner or pets or whatever, to practice using the correct pronouns. Should help adjust my mental…not “picture,” necessarily, but perception?…of the person to the proper gender/pronouns, especially folks who use they/them. I’m really not used to using those particular pronouns as singular, and it still feels weird to my mouth. This will help.

            2. nhb*

              Thank you so much for the reply! I actually did that, after I did use the wrong pronoun. I went back to my desk and basically had a whole conversation about her with myself :) And when I say a few slip ups, I literally mean 2 or 3. I really appreciate the response and practical advice for the future :)

          2. Kesnit*

            I’m also a transman and this is only my opinion. I do not pretend to speak for all transpeople.

            If someone slips and then catches themselves, fine. If you slip once or twice but normally get it right, fine. On the other hand, if you consistently “slip” and “correct yourself,” you are being a jerk. If you say “I can never think of you as (new name). You will always be (deadname) to me,” you are contemptible.

            1. JSPA*

              Any hints for those who are super-visual, and episodic in our memories, as far as describing past events?

              I have no problem remembering that Tray is Tray, not Tania, when I see Tray every couple of weeks. I do slip with Aaron, whom I see maybe once a year, always unexpectedly, but I used to see him, pre-transition, in a very specific setting focused on women’s issues, for about half an hour, 30 times a year, for a couple of years.

              Why? Because I don’t actually know Aaron in his life as Aaron. (We’ve seen each other, what, 3 times in 4 years, for under 10 seconds.) We don’t have much in common, frankly. So I basically only recognize Aaron as “Hey, that looks like Amy.” It’s always night, always loud, always after a beer or two, and…so far, I’ve gotten it wrong each time: “Amy? Oh, oops, I thought you were Amy.” Or worse.

              Furthermore, Amy was always super butch, and we both always used to get misgendered back when both of us were officially female. At the time, I (naturally) put in what appears to be a longstanding block against misgendering Amy as male. And that may now be interfering with my intention to correctly gender Aaron as male.

              As someone whose memories are both entirely visual and not really editable / taggable, so long as my default recognition is “Amy” not “Aaron”…and I don’t have a picture of Aaron…and I’m not around Aaron…I’m not sure what non-contemptible thing I can do to block my recognition circuit. I sure as heck can’t expect Aaron to hang out long enough to form a new visual impression (so as to overwrite the “Amy” default) after I’ve misgendered and deadnamed him, YET AGAIN. But no level of, “His name is Aaron” (minus a compelling visual) is going to stick to the visual.

              I’m generally crap with facial recognition anyhow, and at least as shitty with any other sort of name change. But that’s hardly going to make things less gross for Aaron. My worsening eyesight will eventually take care of the problem for me, but…that’s both sort of sad and not generalizable to anyone else whose memory works the same way.

              I get that “you could just, not” is apparently something that makes sense to a lot of people, but I don’t seem to have that option (and it’s not for lack of searching).

              1. BethRA*

                Whenever I’ve struggled with names/pronouns, I’ve found that practicing using the correct name/pronoun is the best way to avoid those mistakes. Can you access any of Aaron’s online profiles? Can you intentionally visit those profiles now and again to reset your image of Aaron as Aaron? If there are specific places you tend to run into him, can you make a habit of scanning the crown and thinking “I wonder if Aaron’s here?” to reset that search image?

                Just because you’re contact with him is occasional and sporadic, your practice seeing him and addressing him correctly doesn’t have to be.

          3. Will G.*

            I’m a nonbinary afab person, not transfemmine, but standard practice is to give a quick apology and correct yourself in the moment (Eg “Sorry, I mean she–She will be doing X on this project). Your immediate correction sounds like it’s probably fine. If you have a pattern of using the wrong pronoun and you think it would go over well with the person, you can apologize more extensively in private.

            For the future it can help to practice using the new pronouns to yourself. While you’re, say, sweeping the floor at home, practice saying things like, “A is my coworker. She’s in charge of Projects C and D. I always ask her about how to do X.”

            In general:
            -what NOT to do is to publicly go “Oh my god I’m so sorry, I’m such a terrible person!” and make it about your feelings if you misgender someone
            -It’s really helpful if you make a point of “getting ahead of” using the correct pronouns. I had a boss who would introduce me to new people by saying “This is Will. They coordinate X, Y, and Z on the project.”
            -If someone else misgenders a coworker, it’s greatly appreciated if you give a quick correction!

            1. Will G.*

              Also, minor addendum: It’s usually “trans woman,” not “transwoman.” “Trans” is an adjective that modifies “woman.”A trans woman is the same gender as a cis woman, the same way that a nice woman is the same gender as a mean woman, and you wouldn’t write that someone is a “nicewoman.”

            2. nhb*

              This is great! I’m so glad I posted asking today, because you are all giving such great feedback and information. I really appreciate your taking the time to do this.

              I did correct a number of coworkers on her pronouns, so I’m glad that is overall OK to do. She wasn’t around when I did so, so I wasn’t going over her head or stepping on her toes or anything. But now that leads me to ask: if someone misgenders a trans person in conversation, which they are a part of, is it best to just be quiet about it and let them handle it, or is it better to speak up and quickly make the correction? I’m thinking this may be individual-specific, but I’m curious if anyone has any experiences or strong feelings one way or the other.

              1. Will G.*

                This is pretty specific to individuals! Personally, I think a quick correction is good since I’m often not comfortable correcting people, but escalating it into an argument if someone keeps misgendering me is more attention than I want. If you notice it happening a lot, or if you are a manager, it’s probably a good idea to have a private conversation about how the trans person wants you to handle it.

                In general, cisgender people have more social power than trans people do in these conversations, so allies risk less by correcting people on pronouns.

              2. MayLou*

                I’m not trans myself, although a number of people in my life are. I think a good rule of thumb is to never speak for someone who is there to speak for themselves and, also applicable if they’re not there, remember there might be good reasons why they’re not correcting those people themselves. Safety reasons, politics reasons, can’t-be-bothered-today reasons. So if you can, ask in advance how the person wants you to handle that sort of thing. If you can’t ask in advance, it’s probably safest to not “out” someone without their permission.

              3. SarahTheEntwife*

                +1 asking in advance if that’s an option. Coming out as nonbinary has basically made all conversations 10% more awkward and it’s *amazing* if people correct other people on my pronouns and I don’t have to do it myself. But preferences vary widely there.

            3. Veronica*

              I would probably find “This is Will. They coordinate…” confusing because I would be looking around for the other person/people included in “they”. Is it ok to ask for clarification on who “they” are? Because that’s what I would probably do!

              1. msjwhittz*

                I suggest you adapt to the common usage of “they” as a singular pronoun, it’s been used as such for hundreds of years (since at least 1375, according to this OED blog post I’ll link in my next comment.)

                1. Pipe Organ Guy*

                  VERY interesting article, and very illuminating! I have a lot of habit to fight in my brain, because the use of “they,” “them,” and “their” as exclusively plural pronouns was drummed into me from an early age. But dishonoring how a person wishes to be named (and, at a very fundamental level, who that person is) seems an offense against that person, and so I must adapt gracefully.

                2. JSPA*

                  It’s been used for hundreds of years in a large subset of the instances where it’s now used; in other instances, it’s been consistently avoided because of ambiguity. A good rule is to use “they” freely in cases where there’s no other group that would equally-or-better be referred to as “they” in the sentence, even temporarily, as the sentence unspools from your lips. Where there is temporary (or lasting) ambiguity, just reintroduce the name.

                  “This is Will. They coordinate onbording for new hires” is fine.

                  This is Will, which is great, because the new hires are due, and they coordinate….” is temporarily ambiguous / distracting, because “they” seems likely to refer to the plural “new hires,” until the sentence continues. It’s clearer, sooner, to say, “This is Will, which is great, because the new hires are due, and Will coordinates….” Then drop Will’s pronouns into some other, non-ambiguous sentence. (Or heck, just state, “Will’s pronoun is ‘they.'”)

              2. Will G.*

                Well, if you say something like “they?” or make a big deal on hearing someone’s uncommon pronouns, that does come across as possibly hostile. (And if not hostile, just kind of tiring for the recipient, the same way that repeatedly hearing comments on an unusually-spelled name is.) “They” is a pronoun that is sometimes singular, sometimes plural, the same way “you” is, and I guess people just need to be aware of that. If you’re confused, maybe repeating back, “Will coordinates X?” to confirm is a good way to go about it.

                1. Veronica*

                  And thanks to you mentioning it, it will now be somewhat familiar if I ever come across this, and I’m less likely to be stupid.
                  My experience up to now with “they” in the singular is it’s only been used when discussing someone who isn’t present, and we don’t know the person’s gender.

                2. clara sparks*

                  And the only thing that’s changing is that now the person can be present. Turns out you can’t tell someone’s gender by looking at them anyway ;-)

              3. Quill*

                Would you find it weird if someone said “when our new hire is chosen, they will take over teapot polishing?”

                Personally I think we do people a disservice by using clunky workarounds like “He or She” in our communications, when we’ve had a perfectly good non-gendered singluar third person pronoun for centuries. And we’re not the only language where the same or similar pronouns need context to figure things out.

                1. Veronica*

                  No, and that’s an example of what I was talking about. They don’t know who the new hire is, so they don’t know the gender.

              4. SarahTheEntwife*

                @Veronica and PipeOrganGuy — there are more and more books and short stories coming out with nonbinary protagonists, and I totally recommend that as a way to get more comfortable with different pronouns :-)

              5. JSPA*

                It’s not hostile not to have encountered that aspect of language.

                Granted, some people who know of it, refuse to use it. Granted, too, that people who have not encountered the idea of “preferred pronouns” may come from (sub)cultures, regions or countries where trans-and-non-binary awareness isn’t very evolved.

                But it’s just as possible that they’re entirely open-minded (and/or LGBT+ themselves, for that matter) but this actually is their first experience with a singular preferred personal pronoun other than “he” or “she.”

                I tried to do an ngrams comparison, but it wasn’t doable because ngrams only go back to 2008, and there are no usages of “what are your pronouns” or “my pronouns are” in that time period in books. That pretty much confirms it’s not in the grammar books used in many (most?) schools, nationally and internationally.

          4. Becky*

            Not directly comparable but somewhat similar–my younger sister who is cis AFAB changed her name a number of years ago and I still sometimes slip and call her by her birth name (I immediately correct myself). There’s just 30 years of associations in my brain with her birth name and 5 years with the new name.

          5. Karen*

            I don’t hold it against people that misgender me accidentally. It have done it too. But it will probably pop into my head a couple of times over the following 24 hours, and I will feel bad about it. I wish I could turn that off, but that doesn’t seem to be possible.

        2. Anax*

          Absolutely agreed, as another trans man.

          A lot of computer systems still use “legal name”, and ignore the preferred name – or the employees are used to using legal names, even if the preferred name is visible. For instance, a lot of systems at work require you to use the name on your social security card – and that’s time-consuming, expensive, and of course, exposing to change.

          It’s always a big deal when people actually use my name – either because they saw it in the system, or they consistently responded to correction.

          (I’m working on a legal name change, but it involves a small sheaf of documents, about six months, and $500-ish to percolate through all the government systems in my state – and I’m in California!

          There are also social factors. For me, I’m completely out of the closet, but I’d like to use a relative’s name for my middle name, so I’m waiting until I can see them in person to ask if they’re okay with that – which has meant waiting until I have time and money to travel to another country. Other folks might have other social factors that delay a legal name change.)

        3. Media Monkey*

          can I ask you (or any other people who have transitioned) about pronouns? how would you like people who you don’t deal with often to ensure they use the correct pronouns? if you were a day to day coworker or someone i interacted with all the time, i guess either you would tell me or i would feel comfortable asking. but with someone you engage with less often (for example, a receptionist in my old office who dresses as a woman and has a gender neutral name) i didn’t know them well enough to ask how they identify and it would seem a weird question out of the blue. is it acceptable to use them/they to avoid misgendering or is it not weird to ask? I hope that doesn’t come across as expecting you to speak for all non-cis people, but just something that i have wondered how i should have approached it!

          1. vlookup*

            I’m a cisgender woman, so any trans/NB folks should feel free to jump in.

            My understanding is that it’s generally okay to ask someone what pronouns they use as long as you’re polite and don’t follow up with intrusive questions. There’s also been a movement toward making sharing pronouns the norm (putting it in your email signature, on a nametag at an event, etc.), so that’s a practice you could consider implementing if you’re, say, organizing a meeting of a bunch of people who don’t know each other well.

            I’m cisgender and have always used the same pronouns, so acknowledging that I have a lot of privilege here, but I am fairly masculine-presenting and semi-regularly get “sir’ed” in public. I’ve noticed a big uptick in people asking me what my pronouns are, and personally, it makes me feel more comfortable when they do it in a low-key way and also share their pronouns in return — certainly preferable to being told I’m in the wrong bathroom or whatever!

      2. Tammy*

        Agree with Shawn. The biggest thing for me was the coworkers who accepted me for who I am and, like, didn’t make a big deal about using my new name and pronouns. Sometimes people will do that, but with an edgy vibe like “look at how supportive I’m being! Please recognize my greatness for my extreme supportiveness!” I’ve heard that called “seeking ally cookies”, and it’s definitely NOT supportive.

        The other big thing for me is being willing to go to bat for me without me knowing it. At the company where I transitioned, I had a few coworkers who called out others on their transphobic gossip, and I didn’t know about it until much later. But it definitely helped make the environment better for me. When I transitioned, I already felt super self-conscious and uneasy. Anything anybody could do to soften that was definitely most welcome.

        1. nhb*

          So the place I worked at before had a LOT of “lifers” there…as in worked there 20 years or more. The trans woman had also worked there that long. She was in a different, but tangentially related department, so we (meaning my department) often had to correspond with her about things, and include her in meetings. To be perfectly frank, I am amazed at her courage to transition in such an environment. Most of her coworkers didn’t like her before the transition, so now they just had something new to harp on. Many of the “lifers” had a more “old-school” mentality (and I’m not saying all people of any age are like this, I’m just trying to use generally-recognized terms to explain the situation…I do NOT believe all people are like these people, regardless of age!), and were very reluctant to accept her as she transitioned. And while I’m not sure if this counts as “going to bat” for her, there were so. many. times. that I made a pointed reference to “her” or “she” or “[newname]” when they would reference “he”, “him”, or “[deadname]”. AFAIK, that coworker never knew about those conversations (which is the way I’d want it…jeez, she’d been through so much already, it was infuriating to me that she was being ridiculed and so severely disrespected, she didn’t need any more stress than what she already got to her face, I’m sure).

          So I said all of that to make the point that I am not asking about these things to try to get “ally cookies” (although regular cookies would be much appreciated!). I just feel like, while that was my only experience so far with a trans person that was close enough to me for me to know about the transition, more will be coming at some point, and I definitely don’t want to be one of the people who makes anything about the transition harder, or worse, for the person going through it. But it’s so hard to tell without directly asking, and if I don’t really have a good rapport with someone, it feels really awkward to just say “Hey, can you let me know what pronouns to use for you…?” And I also feel like, well, if they wanted me to know, they would’ve said, so maybe I shouldn’t ask.

          So I’m really glad for all of the insight and perspective you’ve all been providing. Thanks for helping me, signed the one who doesn’t want to be “that” coworker everybody hates because I’m too awkward for my own good.

      3. Anax*

        Actually, another thing –

        Many AFAB trans folks still look and are treated like women, and we experience the same kind of sexism and harassment which women face – but we don’t have access to any of the networking or safety resources intended for women.

        There’s been a great push toward opening those spaces and resources to trans women. I’d be really grateful if some also included AFAB folks who do not identify as women, because so many of us have similar experiences.

        I started to transition in college, and it’s always been a little depressing to be welcome neither at the “boys’ table” nor the “women’s table” – being an AFAB person in STEM can be frustrating regardless of one’s gender identity!

        (I personally don’t “pass”, and likely never will – I look and sound like a woman, and no one guesses my gender identity without being told. With some trans men, you would never know they were AFAB – but many of us have non-stereotypical transition trajectories, for medical or personal reasons, and they make passing far less likely.)

        1. Tammy*

          That’s a good point. I had reached out to some agencies that work with intimate partner violence survivors when I was married, and they told me “we can’t help you because we don’t work with men.” I know of multiple cases of trans folks who were sexually assaulted, and the rape crisis agencies told them similar things. I myself was the victim of what we’d now call a hate crime years ago, and the police told me there was nothing they could do and I should “try harder to fit in”.

          1. msjwhittz*

            Ugh, I know I shouldn’t be surprised by those things but here I am, gobsmacked. I’m furious that what you went through was made more difficult by those agencies.

            Also, I really appreciate how open you’ve been in your initial interview and in the comments, Tammy. Thank you for your generosity.

          2. nhb*

            I’m with msjwhittz…gobsmacked. I am so sorry you had to go through what you did, first of all, and then be victimized AGAIN by the people/agencies supposed to support people in your situation. As I hear more of your story, I am so grateful that you decided to do the interview, because I am learning so much (and believe other readers are as well). But holy ****, Batman, that is SO messed up.

        2. metageeky*

          I can say the same can happen to trans women in STEM in not being welcome at either table. When I transitioned in grad school, there were definitely some some women in computer and engineering events where it was clear that I was not welcome. Even when I’ve been around people who don’t know my past, I’ve heard transphobic comments echoed in women-only STEM events.

          1. Tammy*

            Yup. And this dynamic plays out for lots of different marginalized groups. I have a friend who’s mixed race, and she’s talked about being told she’s not white enough to belong with the white people while simultaneously being told she’s not brown enough to belong with the people of color. Not having a place anywhere is such an isolating and lonely feeling!

    3. AvonLady Barksdale*

      This stuck out at me too, especially since I read it right after being dismissed for the umpteenth time by someone who refuses to listen to any ideas I have that might be slightly different than his, and who also refuses to acknowledge that I have over 10 years of experience in an area that he does not and maybe, just maybe, he could learn something from me. I’m feeling dejected and unappreciated.

      Good to know I’m not alone? Nope. More like pissed because if it were just a “me” thing, or a “him” thing, I could do something to fix that. Tammy’s story just lays out that this is more pervasive and real than some might want to believe.

      1. InsufficentlySubordinate*

        But to some degree, it’s validating to me that it isn’t just me and something wrong with me personally rather than societally.

  10. Captain S*

    I thought this was really informative and helpful! Thanks so much for giving this interview and educating people on trans* issues.

    1. Kelsi*

      I don’t know if you know this, but it’s mostly recommended not to use the * after trans anymore–while it was originally intended to be inclusive, it’s been used to delegitimize and disparage trans women, so while some people are comfortable with it, using trans without the asterisk is less likely to be offensive to anyone involved.

      1. Tammy*

        This is true, and a good note. I personally tend not to fuss about such things – I’ve been a part of the LGBT community long enough to see a LOT of changes in language – but I know some folks are very sensitive to it. I have definitely experienced people who treated me like my gender was “female, but with an asterisk and fine print”, though. And I say that only half jokingly.

        1. Captain S*

          I wasn’t aware of this dynamic, thank you and I’ve bookmarked the resources you provided to read through this week (I obviously need to)

  11. Jaid*

    Thank you! I’ve heard stories about how women are treated after transition and I’m glad for the advice you have given on how to deal with it.

    I wish you well!

  12. Wearing Many Hats*

    Thank you so much for this interview! The reference materials are especially welcome as I head up team ‘my wife’ during her transition.

  13. Ana Gram*

    Thanks for this! I’ve had a few work friends transition but didn’t know them well enough to talk about sexism related stuff. Super interesting to hear your perspective.

    I was really intrigued by the violence against women point you made. I’m a cisgender woman and I’ve absolutely spent my life assessing possibly dangerous situations and it never dawned on me that transgender women likely haven’t done that. My husband is a physically imposing guy and he teased me for looking up the sex offender registry near our house. Why would I do that? Just avoid any sketchy looking people and I’ll be good, right? I think moving through the world as a woman would be a massive culture shock for him.

    Thanks again for doing this Q & A. I love commenter interviews and learning about others’ experiences!

    1. Massmatt*

      That was an excellent, if sobering, point, and this completely separate from the issue that trans people (like others that are LGBTQ) are specifically targeted for violence.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes it seems that they are uniquely at risk in our current crappy culture, perhaps even more so than those AFAB (because they would have all the same pool of threats PLUS a special pool of transphobes).

          1. Tammy*

            Indeed. Almost all of the trans people murdered in the United States in the last 3 or 4 years have been trans women of color under age 35.

            I have a theory that part of the reason so much violence – especially sexual violence – is directed toward trans women has to do with the societal perception/idea that being a man is “better” than being a woman. It’s easier for some folks to understand trans men, because they can understand why someone would want that privileged position. But they find the idea that trans women could be born with that privilege and willingly choose to give it up profoundly threatening, because if I can choose to give up that privilege it means the privilege isn’t immutable and someone could take it away from them. That’s got to be a very scary and vulnerable thought.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              That makes a lot of sense. I’ve wondered if homophobia also plays a part. If they think of “trans” women as “not really women,” find themselves attracted to a trans woman and then find out that she is trans, then in what passes for their minds, they just felt attracted to a man. So they feel the need to lash out violently to reassert their masculinity/heterosexuality.

              Which is all completely toxic bullshit, but too many men are still like that. But I am neither trans nor male, so I could be completely wrong about this.

              1. nicotene*

                Yes sadly I feel like I see more fetishism of transwomen in way that seems unique from transmen – I’m thinking depictions in p*rn, connection to sex work – and I think that men who are over-invested in identifying as “straight” find it very threatening, particularly their own attraction.

            2. coldfingers*

              “it means the privilege isn’t immutable and someone could take it away from them”

              Thank you for sharing your theory on this – I agree completely but have never been able to articulate it so succinctly.

    2. Myrin*

      I found that point really interesting as well, but from another angle: I’m a cis woman but I don’t navigate the world with that fear/caution I see basically every woman on the internet talk about. I’ve sometimes wondered if that has more to do with inner factors or with outer ones – I live in a very peaceful area when it comes to violent crime so thinking back, apparently no one ever felt the need to instill in me the socialisation to be aware of risk of violence; but also, I’m just strangely unaffected by stuff like this – I’ve talked before about how I’m 28 now and have been cat-called literally three times in my life, once only two years ago but the others 17 and 12 years ago, for example, and that extends to other areas of my life as well. I sometimes wonder if I, were I ever in a situation which might lead to danger, would actually be completely blindsided by it, the way a man might be as well. (I mean, I hope not, since I’m still aware of my surroundings but who knows?)

      1. Jaybeetee*

        I think there are some regional variations to experiences to be sure. I’ve rarely-to-never been catcalled myself, but when I read on the internet, some women talk about barely being able to leave their homes without being harassed or even followed! People describe changing how they’ve dressed and present themselves to avoid harassment, which I find bonkers!

        I’ve lived in some decidedly-not-good parts of my city, but even the “bad” neighbourhoods are fairly low-crime, especially if you’re not involved in drugs. Random attacks of any kind just aren’t that common here. So growing up, while I wasn’t oblivious to safety, I don’t think I had that kind of fear others describe either.

        1. Lyys*

          I’ve lived all over the US, in small towns to big cities. The harassment (catcalls, being followed) started when I was 14 and hasn’t stopped. I’m 40 now. It’s shocking to me to be honest that there are two women in this thread that find this unusual in their lives. The only time I had a break was when I was visibly pregnant. And I’m not even a woman who really does any performative femininity. When kids my age were being mean and telling me I looked like a boy that was not the perception of the men. I’m jealous. I wonder how I would have grown had this not been my experience.

          1. Jaybeetee*

            See, in the past, I legit thought that I “wasn’t attractive enough” to be catcalled or similar (healthy, I know). I eventually realized that a) men who harass strange women probably aren’t all that choosy about looks, and b) people around me don’t seem to have experienced much of it either. I do seem to have lucked out in terms of where I live (non-USA). Not to say I’ve never had annoying or frightening experiences, but they haven’t been a regular or constant aspect of my life.

            1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

              I’ve also had the strange idea that I wasn’t attractive enough to harass, because I have experienced it very rarely. I’ve lived in big and small cities in the Midwest, Southwest, and the UK. I *have* had people shout abuse at me because of my weight, but rarely anything that could be taken to have a sexual tinge. I don’t really know why. My clothes are usually quite plain and I think I’m pretty frumpy, but then I’ve seen women who do not fit a standard “attractive” profile be harassed while I was ignored, so I don’t think that is the real explanation. Maybe I am just oblivious?

              1. Allonge*

                You are not necessarily oblivious – it happens. I was also quite lucky so far, and I have no specific explanation for it.

                I do seem to have something that makes me invisible in the street – people will literally walk into me. I am fat, I wear bold colours more often than not and as I am healthy, I find this mostly hilarious: with my weight, well, let’s just say physics is on my side.

          2. Project Manager*

            I’ve never experienced any street harassment, either. Nor have I experienced being taken less seriously than male coworkers. And I’m an attractive woman who does present in a very feminine way. And I’m in STEM and live in the South. Don’t know what to tell y’all.

            Sometimes I wonder if the internet is a portal to alternate universes, because the world many other people describe is just totally alien to me.

            1. Sparkle*

              I can’t speak to the street harassment, but I have noticed a few things about getting taken seriously at work: it is more common when the head of the department is also a woman (perhaps because jerks self-select out of working on that team) or in a department/group that has significant numbers of women (in tech, this is generally more women than men named Dave). I’m not sure how things roll outside of tech, but it sounds like you have had some excellent workplaces!

            2. Lyys*

              This I think is regional and has to do with what is considered normal social interaction. Southerners tend to use more intimate phrasing. That’s a weird way to put it, I know. What may not even remarked upon when everyone is from Georgia* can come off as boundary crossing/condescending (from men and women) when the subject hasn’t always been socialized with it.

              *This isn’t all across the board of course and I couldn’t begin to differentiate between cultures within the South, or identify the exact origins. Georgia was just a plug in.

          3. Extremely Online*

            I also thought this was more or less universal to female-presenting people, though I am glad for anyone that haven’t experienced it. I’ve developed an unconscious vigilance/hyperawareness that’s hard to articulate.

            Over the last few years, my once-invisible disability has become visible much more frequently. In those instances, it’s either what you described from your pregnancies, OR something more insidious (offering help too forcefully, being overly solicitous, condescension). The way/extent to which I perform disability becomes more important than performing femininity.

            I mention this NOT to center myself in the conversation, but to reinforce the comment upthread about multiply marginalized people. The 17 (or more) young trans women of color killed this year should be kept front-of-mind in all of these conversations.

        2. Librarianne*

          It’s definitely regional. I hated living in New York City because I’d get catcalled, followed, etc. at least a few times a week, but I’ve lived in my current city for 1.5 years and have only (only!) experienced catcalling a handful of times.

          1. Kimmybear*

            Had catcalling, flashing, and being followed happen all the time in one big city in the U.S. (including being stopped by a police officer in a marked cruiser) and never in other big city in another part of the U.S.

          2. Zillah*

            And even in the same city, it can vary a lot! I live in NYC, and while I was cat called a lot as a teenager and had a couple really scary things happen with strangers, it’s gotten much less common as I’ve gotten older – and by older, I mean I’m 31 now.

            Part of this miiiight be that I usually wear headphones when I’m on a busy street and seem like I’m absorbed in my phone, so maybe there’s just an assumption that I’m not worth the trouble it’d take to get my attention. I often don’t actually have anything playing, so I know it’s not happening without my hearing it. I’m still cautious etc, and I don’t think it’s changed that at all, but I get targeted less than I used to.

      2. HR Bee*

        My experience has been similar to what you describe, Myrin. I’m a cis woman and often find myself surprised by the depth of the fear and caution I see described on the Internet, and relatedly, by the individual stories I read all over the place, ranging from utterly absurd to downright terrifying. It doesn’t match up with my own experience, but it’s so incredibly prevalent that I know I’m the outlier here.

        With that said, I do still find myself expressing much more caution than, say, my sister-in-law, who grew up in a very similar situation as me. I think the difference is in who I have known in my adult life (being in HR means you Hear Some Things, even if they’re not aimed at you), and how much time I spent reading/listening to the stories of other women on the Internet or elsewhere. So my guess is that you would not be ~completely~ blindsided by gender-driven danger, if only just because you are clearly an active denizen of the Internet?

      3. nicotene*

        yes, I used to be the same way until I was the target of gender-based violence. there’s kind of a hindsight bias that kicks in anyway, bit it also doesn’t help that our culture asks why you were walking there alone, why you were out that time of night, etc. the police literally told me i should have been more careful. nobody can be vigilant all the time but some of us will be uniquely blamed for what happens.

      4. Kelsi*

        I can’t speak to your experience, Myrin, but I think there are also different ways in which that fear/caution manifests, too. I don’t think I’ve ever been catcalled, but the place I live, the way I travel etc. make that less likely just by logistics. I haven’t (yet) had any issues in my neighborhood, despite it having a reputation for it not being a great one, so I’m generally not afraid to walk at night there.

        On the other hand, I have a disproportionate number of experiences where men who are in my friend group but not my friends have used that connection (and my reluctance to make waves in the friend group) to gain access to my work or home spaces and harass me in those spaces. So when a new man becomes part of my friend circle, that’s where my self-protection mode switches on and I begin watching VERY closely for signs he might be That Dude, for routes he might use to get at me, etc.

        You may not have any areas where you are this kind of cautious, and that’s fine…but it’s also possible you do, and that your “caution areas” just don’t necessarily match up with other women’s because your experiences differ.

      5. Filosofickle*

        I’m the same! I’ve lived in 5 states & 10 cities, so I have experienced a range of regions and types of communities in my 40+ years. I am rarely afraid for myself (weirdly, I am more worried about my car/home than my person) and in general don’t have a big fear orientation. I’ve lived in big, even dangerous places (Oakland, Chicago) and often walked home alone from transit in the middle of the night — I wouldn’t say I do that without a second thought, but with reasonable precautions I’m okay. I am not often cat-called or asked to smile to by randos, though it does happen and it’s gross. To my knowledge I’ve never been groped or grabbed on transit, and women I know have told me they literally don’t believe me — that I must be blocking it out or rationalizing it — because it’s so common for them. At work I am very much taken seriously, listened to, and treated generally well. It helps that I’m a senior business consultant, that elevates me right off the bat and allows jerks to opt out of hiring me in the first place. Of course I have experienced some sexist crap, just not as much as those around me and way more socially than professionally.

        ALL THAT SAID I 100% believe these things are happening to other women all the time. I witness it happening to other women on my own team, by people who simultaneously treat me very differently in the same meeting. I wonder what it is about me that is different?

        What I do experience and resonate with in this thread is this “how to be woman” stuff. I have a fierce inner critic that tells me all the time I am womaning wrong. Everything that makes me respected seems to make me “less feminine” and “less likeable” to some. And the downside of my armor is that I have often been considered unapproachable socially.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Oh, one more note: I’m not oblivious to the fact that I may have such strongly internalized bullshit that I don’t actually see things that are happening to me. That’s possible!

        2. Gumby*

          Yeah, ditto to pretty much everything you said.

          I think one thing that might have influenced a portion of my experiences was that in school I was both the daughter of a teacher on campus for most of my primary/secondary schooling and pigeonholed as “the smart one.” So I never experienced harassment of that sort from classmates at all. In junior high I actually heard one guy tell another guy to shush when he started to comment on my assets because “that’s [Gumby].” (Since junior high was the one school I attended where neither parent taught, I assume that was from a pigeonholing reasoning.) That is one of only two instances that I can remember of being catcalled. And yes, at the time I was all “I can’t have a nice butt because I have a good GPA?!?” because in junior high I was great with class work but very dumb in other ways.

          None of that had any influence on why I haven’t experienced catcalling, etc. from strangers though.

          Have you noticed getting significantly better customer service when you are tired and a little air-headed? I have definitely experienced that a few times. Which always annoys me after I get some rest and realize what happened.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I was “the smart one” too and that did seem to create something of a force field. Elsewhere in this conversation a woman said that, being in tech, she’s treated as a 3rd gender…that feels like my experience. As a top student and athlete, it did always feel like I wasn’t one of the girls or one of the boys. (And you’re so right, it was like hot and smart could not coexist in their minds.)

      6. Sam I Am*

        You want to trust your gut, in my experience.
        While traveling in my youth, I ended up in a situation (getting a ride) that felt off when I was getting into it. Once it became clear that it was dangerous, I grabbed the steering wheel and threatened to steer us into the concrete barrier lining the outside of the breakdown lane if he didn’t stop and let me out, which he did while cussing me out.
        I’ve never ignored that feeling again. It may not always be correct, and I try to take my biases into account when I feel it, and I’m careful to try to not insult people when declining whatever they’re offering or asking. I do this by keeping it short, “No thanks,” is a great phrase for this. But that feeling gets a big vote in my behavior.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Yes! I used to date online a fair bit. Trusting my instincts was critical to success there. Once, and only once, I ignored my instincts in a couple of key moments and ended up in a very scary situation. Listen to that voice, always.

        2. Veronica*

          Also it doesn’t hurt to follow the rules, even if you’re not feeling anything in particular. Don’t get into cars or go home with people you don’t know well, and call 911 if someone is following you or making you feel threatened.
          Calling 911 has always worked for me. Before cell phones I went into a restaurant or gas station and asked to use the phone and the staff was always accommodating, and let me wait until the stalker was gone.

          1. Veronica*

            It’s amazing how fast a threatening man leaves when I call 911 and start describing him! Seriously. Drunk and following me saying nasty things at 7pm in my own neighborhood.

        3. Quill*

          Yes, go with your gut.

          I have a pretty hair trigger creep-o-meter and every single time I’ve told myself “it’s all in my head, it’s from the PTSD,” I have been dead wrong about that.

      7. Anonforthis*

        I had early violent experiences and lived in rough areas and was still blindsided every time. It’s why the cautionary lectures annoy me so much. Restricting my life didn’t protect me from any of the encounters I faced. They’re just stories we tell ourselves to feel safe.

      8. Owler*

        Like you, I don’t have that fear/caution that I hear about from other women. I’m almost 45, and the times I’ve felt unsafe because of my gender (or even catcalled) have been few and far between. I, too, have wondered if I’m just oblivious to the sexism around me, but I honestly feel like my path has just been easier while knowing friends who have genuinely have had many more struggles. Perhaps my height (5’9″) has helped me? Just last night I counselled my tall daughter that she might find herself being a defender for her petite friends.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Hmm, I hadn’t thought of height as a factor, but maybe that could be part of it. I 100% believe other women’s experiences, but I find it baffling that I’ve attracted so little of it. But I’m relatively tall and large, so I wonder if in some way I read as masculine and hence not a target for harassment? I wish someone would do a study of this because I’m really curious about it.

          1. Filosofickle*

            Height is definitely not a factor in my case. I’m under 5’3″! But I imagine it would help. I must have some sort of other armor / RBF / “don’t even bother” vibe. I am on the larger side, though — even when I was young and un-fat I was an athlete and very strong.

            Another thing sucks SO MUCH is that, looking back, I realize now I internalized the lack of inappropriate attention as meaning I was unattractive. I am so sad I believed that for so long.

          2. This is She*

            I am also tall and large, although very feminine-appearing/performing (long hair, feminine figure & clothes), and I experience little harassment too. My theory, which may apply to you, may be that rather than reading as ‘masculine’ to predators, you just don’t read as ‘vulnerable.’ It makes a big (ha) difference, in my experience.

          3. vlookup*

            I virtually never get catcalled and I’m quite certain that it’s because of my gender presentation (tall, short hair, men’s clothes). I feel lucky that my masculine-of-center look actually makes me feel more rather than less safe, at least most of the time.

            An experience that blew my mind in my early 20s: I told a friend that I never got catcalled. We took a short walk together in my neighborhood and she got catcalled over and over and over again, on a street I walked every day without so much as a look from these same guys. She’s traditionally feminine and Latina (in a predominantly Latinx neighborhood), and I’m a gender weirdo white person. It was really eye-opening for me.

        2. Media Monkey*

          Same age and same height as you. I also have a fairly large build, broad shoulders etc. i am careful but have never really had a problem, despite living in major UK cities (Glasgow, London, Reading). I wonder if i look like a harder target than a smaller women might?

      9. Vax is my disaster bicon*

        I’m nonbinary, was AFAB and am still mostly read as female, although it varies these days. Even when I was younger and presented more femininely, I generally experienced much less harassment than some of my friends. I think there are a lot of factors, but for me I suspect that the fact that I hit 5’9” and 150 pounds by age 14 or so was a major influence. Men are much less willing to harass women who aren’t smaller and presumed weaker than them.

      10. Quill*

        I’m a cis woman who grew up in a fairly peaceful area, my anxiety is all more general fear of… everything relating to people, than stereotypically “bad neighborhood” or “out at night” type fears. (I’ve been catcalled a few times but I live in relatively suburban areas and I guess that’s not where catcallers cruise more often than that.)

        But honestly I think it’s a roulette – the first time I was ever catcalled I was 14, and then it never happened again until I was 25. The problem isn’t usually where you live or what you do, it’s whether or not a harasser happens to be around and see you.

      11. Elenna*

        Same! Apparently nobody ever told me (cis woman) that I was supposed to be afraid of stuff like walking around after dark? Also I’m 21 and have never been cat-called that I’ve noticed (if someone was, say, ogling me but didn’t say anything there’s a 0% chance I’d notice). Maybe suburban Toronto is a good place for women to live? Maybe I’m just clueless? IDK

    3. Semprini!*

      Why would I do that? Just avoid any sketchy looking people and I’ll be good, right?

      Does…does he seriously think that all sketchy people are sketchy-looking??

      1. Lora*

        I am also baffled by this. There’s no shortage of serial killers notorious for their charm and good looks as a means of trapping their victims, often with women marrying them while they’re in prison despite their crimes. Ted Bundy, Richard Ramirez, Paul John Knowles…

      2. Anonforthis*

        Literally every dude who has caused me harm has been eminently respectable looking. Often more so than me. It’s how they freaking get away with it.

      3. Ana Gram*

        Haha, no, he doesn’t. So, the backstory is that we’re both cops. He’s seen me do the macho stuff at work but he hasn’t seen me, say, avoid an elevator full of men or not Uber alone or use a crossbody purse so I can keep my hands free because I don’t have to do those things when he’s around. So, I would say that he both perceives no one as sketchy and probably thinks I’m tougher than I am (not a bad thing, honestly).

        I had never thought of the fact that transgender women have often grown up being perceived as men and just never internalized those unspoken rules about how to stay safe that I think cisgender women somehow get by osmosis. It made me think of how surprised my husband would be if he suddenly had to do all those things and how, frankly, it probably wouldn’t occur to him for quite awhile and that would affect his safety.

  14. Just Sayin'*

    Haven’t read this yet, but what an awesome opportunity to hear first-hand knowledge about the differences between being a man and a woman in the workforce! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!

    ‘Scuse me, I am going to go read it now…

  15. Wonderer*

    “there are a lot of reasons that could be true, so it’s hard to say definitively how much of that is about gender.”

    It’s true that it’s a complicated issue – times have changed since then and looking for more senior roles definitely takes more time – but it’s also clear that a lot of the other issues are directly gender-based. I’m not sure how much of job searching is affected by gender, but I bet the interview process is.

    Thanks for contributing such an important perspective!

      1. CRM*

        I’m a cis woman with a gender-neutral name (which tends to be more associated with men than women) who works in STEM, and I think it’s really helped my applications get picked up. People are sometimes surprised to find in the interview that I’m not a man (one time, someone literally shouted in surprise “oh, I was expecting a man!” when I first walked into the room), but by then I have my foot in the door and I’m able to credibly discuss my experience and skills.

        1. Tableau Wizard*

          I actually have a friend who named her daughters with names that work well for both genders, but that might be assumed to be male – specifically so that they could have this advantage. I remember hearing that and just being so sad about it. I totally respect her for it, but so sad that it is so prevalent as to impact what you decide to call your child.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              It’s also one reason why names like Leslie and Robin and Loren are less common for men than they used to be. And why Marion Morrison* changed his name for the movies.
              (*John Wayne)

      2. Treecat*

        Yes, there have been studies done that show that a resume with a male name on it gets way more callbacks than an identical resume with a female name on it. Same for obviously racialized names (“John” vs. “Juan” or something.) I know people who have changed their names on resumes to get around this.

      3. Quill*

        I know I’ve been lowballed for contract roles based on my gender, mostly because I have gotten higher offers from not necessarily more professional contracting agencies, where the recruiter comes from a place where names ending in A aren’t automatically feminine.

  16. Desk Weasel*

    A HUGE thank you to Tammy for sharing, and Alison for providing a platform for this information and as always “listening more, talking less” to amplify Tammy’s voice. I love being a part of AAM’s supportive, curious community!

  17. TheMageling*

    Thanks for this, Alison and Tammy. I’m earlier in my transition than Tammy but I certainly see a lot of the patterns she describes, especially since I’m also in a tech industry.

  18. I❤️Spreadsheets*

    Thank you for sharing Tammy.

    I found out at the weekend that a family member has started the process of transitioning from male to female and has come out at work. I will pass the link to this thread along when I next talk to her.

  19. Massmatt*

    This was an awesome interview, among the very best things I have read here on AAM, which is saying something.

    I am glad you mentioned that while asking questions is a good thing, don’t treat me as your resource for all things trans, and how an innocent question multiplied by dozens of coworkers makes for exhaustion. This seems parallel for many situations, such as people with disabilities, chronic conditions, or other things that make them seem “other”.

    Do you find it useful to refer people to resources to educate themselves, is it hard to do that “in the moment”? Is this something an employer should do, at least for people working closely with a transitioning employee?

    1. Tammy*

      That is indeed a useful thing to do. My gender therapist back in the day wrote a book for the family/friends/coworkers of trans people, and I kept about 10 copies on my office bookshelf to loan to people. (The book is “True Selves” by Mildred Brown and Chloe Rounsley; some of the language and resources are a bit dated now, but it’s still a good resource.) I think if I was doing it over, I’d like to have a couple of supportive and knowledgeable coworkers to whom I could refer people who wanted to educate themselves, and I’d equip those people with resources. That way, the labor of educating people could be shared.

  20. Shawn*

    Yes, yes, and yes! I am the opposite. I am a female to male transgender man and the differences in the way I am treated in the workplace are remarkable. Soooo many differences in now being male vs. female in the workplace! Thank you for sharing this interview!

    1. Filosofickle*

      Stories of how one is treated before/after transition are so powerful. People who have experienced life as more than one gender have a unique and convincing perspective on gendered expectations and treatment.

      BTW, I was happy to learn why we say cisgender. I was using it, but didn’t understand its need and meaning. Makes so much sense!

  21. e. monday*

    Also wanted to chime in with a huge THANK YOU to Tammy for sharing her experiences and insight, and to Alison for conducting and posting this interview!

  22. Campfire Raccoon Horking Potatosalad*

    Thank you so much for this, Tammy!

    I’ve sent the article to anyone and everyone I can think of.

  23. Junior Assistant Peon*

    The suggestion about enlisting the help of the office admins is a great one. Using the office grapevine to disseminate information can help protect someone from constantly being asked about their gender transition, dead family member, etc.

  24. StephanieA*

    Thank you , Tammy, for telling us your story and sharing your experiences with us. All best wishes to you!

  25. AKchic*

    Tammy, I really appreciate the time you took to share your experiences with all of us. Thank you so much.

    Would you and Alison be okay with me sharing this interview on Facebook with my LGBTQ+ group/page? I generally do like to get explicit permission first. I think that your first-hand account would be beneficial to many of our followers, even though we don’t actually cater to the workforce, but advocate for positive support. I think that giving firsthand examples of adults who have transitioned and are succeeding in their career paths would be beneficial to the youth (and their supportive parents) as well as the adults who are still transitioning and feeling less than fully supported, or still apprehensive career-wise, especially in the current political and economical climate.

  26. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    Thank you for sharing!

    I’ve been weighing whether I want to come out at work, or just put up and shut up in the interest of not distracting from my work performance. Hearing from other folks about long-term experiences really helps.

    1. Cats4Gold*

      In my experience, (female to male), it’s very much worth it. I find that I’m better able to focus on my work and do my dang job without stressing about somehow accidentally outing myself.

    2. SirIndy*

      It’s a personal choice, and while some people will be generally crappy and scoff, for the most part people are good. I would give them the benefit of the doubt unless they’ve shown you otherwise.

      I came out as male yesterday (while AFAB) at work. I finally had enough of walking into the ladies room and getting stared at. I pass for male as long as I do not speak. Last week I went to management and informed them I was about to do this, and let them weight in on how they prefer I spread the message. I wanted to give them a chance to digest before they got bombarded with questions or concerns.

      I did it via email. I didn’t use the word trans or transgender, or even FTM. I sent myself an email, BCC people that I normally interact with, that simply said “I am male, please call me MaleName.” I added some flair of he/him/his, and apologized for not coming forward sooner. That seemed to work REALLY well. Responses have ranged from applause for bravery, to someone coming out to me, to “cool, thanks for letting me know, NewName.” I have had ZERO negative response so far.

      I felt nauseous when I hit send, but within minutes I felt like a huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. I understand the concern of distracting from your work performance, but in my case I think showing up with a beard would be even more distracting, since I will be starting physical transition in the next month. I work remotely and travel to company sites, so chances are I might run into someone I haven’t seen in months.

      Good luck with whatever you decide!

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Hey, congrats! :D That’s really encouraging to hear.

        My egg’s only been cracked for a few months at this point, and I certainly don’t pass at all, so the temptation to come out at work is a bit premature, I think. But it’s a possibility.

  27. Batgirl*

    Tammy this really jumped out: “In my teenage years (before I transitioned but long after I was aware of my own identity) I got a chance to see how men talk and act and behave when there aren’t female-presenting people around”.
    As a cisgender woman, I often feel Im imagining sexism, or I feel that it’s subtle at the very least, especially to men! So this really fascinates me. What did you hear or experience in that situation?

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I worked as a caddy/caddie at a country club when I was younger (cis male), when I started there were not many female-presenting caddys, but eventually more started working. The conversations men had/have when there are no female-presenting people around tend to be a lot more sexual, inherently sexist/homophobic jokes, and talk objectifying women. Often times men would discus attractiveness of female staff at the club, “jokes” where the punchline was a man being called by a women’s name.

      I would notice the difference in conversations when there were female golfers in the group, or if there were female caddies in the group. Then there were some men who didn’t care who was in the group and had the exact same conversations.

    2. Tammy*

      What did I experience? A lot of low-grade sexism and misogyny, and some not-so-low-grade. It was obvious to me as a teen that a lot of that was driven by the oh-so-fraught expectations society puts on boys for what kinds of expressions of masculinity, and of emotions, are permitted, but that insecurity/fear got turned outward so much. Perhaps the starkest experience I had of that was in college when a woman was attacked and sexually assaulted on campus. The next day, all the women were whispering about how fearful that noise made them; the men in my dorm who found out who the victim was were saying things like “heck, she’s hot, I’d do her too if I could get away with it.” :-(

  28. Jaybeetee*

    I think I’ve read a similar account elsewhere – Tammy, have you done other interviews on this topic?

    Unfortunately, there seems to be some kind of really sexist vibe in tech, not sure why, but I’ve heard story after story of women in tech (very broadly speaking – Silicon Valley, gaming industry, start-ups, etc), being treated really horribly, and often in shockingly obvious ways. I mean, at my last three workplaces minimum, the next three people up my CoC have all been women as well! So luckily, I rarely encounter sexism on the job, at least in any institutional way. But other industries and regions sound really rough for this sort of thing.

    It does shine a light on things that just become the background noise of life when you’re always looking from the same perspective. I think there’s so much day-to-day stuff that we just internalize as normal, we don’t realize how much it changes should your outward appearance change. Like, how many things in my life have been “them’s the breaks”, but maybe if I were a man, those things would have gone differently?

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’ve worked in IT for almost 25 years. I’ve never personally experienced anything terribly sexist (I’m a woman), but at my last company we had a department meeting one day of about 40-50 people on the operations side of things and I noticed (and pointed out to the CIO) that other than the 3 of us that were on the 2nd tier help desk team, there was only 1 other woman in the department and they needed to fix that.

  29. Manders*

    Thank you, Tammy! This was a great interview.

    I’m curious about your experience as a freelancer, how do you feel that your relationships with clients were damaged by hiding your past? What do you wish you’d done differently, if anything? I’ve got a lot of trans and nonbinary friends who are authors, and many of them publish under pseudonyms that are neither their deadname nor their legal name, so the question of how much information they need to reveal about their lives comes up a lot.

    1. Tammy*

      My experience – based on the time I was a consultant as well as conversations with former clients later – is that they perceived (fairly or otherwise) that my hiding my past was an expression of mistrust in them. Or maybe mistrust in the quality of our relationships. That’s a bit of a slippery slope, because trans people are never obligated to reveal their pasts (though there are tons of social expectations that we should, especially in romantic relationships), but there’s a perception of “if you really trusted me/trusted our relationship, you wouldn’t hide who you are and keep that a secret.”

      If I had it to do over, I’d like to think I’d be more confident being authentically who I am and not hiding. As I said, I have a lot of professional trust/respect/credibility now because I’m honest and authentic about who I am. But of course, the world of 2019 is a different place than the world of 1998 was (for better and worse), and I made the best decisions I could at the time.

      1. smoke tree*

        It seems incredibly entitled to think that anyone would get that offended because an acquaintance doesn’t explicitly out themselves to you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In an “ask the readers” here last year, we had a bunch of commenters arguing that a closeted gay coworker was “lying” to the office and therefore they couldn’t trust the person. It was awful.

          1. Manders*

            It does happen, it’s terrible! Some of my friends have a very good reason why they’re not out as trans personally or professionally, and one was outed in a pretty horrifying public way, so it’s been a topic of discussion lately.

          2. Rectilinear Propagation*

            Yeah, I was initially surprised to read that part of the interview. Society has not earned the right for its individual members to be confused as to why a trans gender person didn’t out themselves.

            But your comment made it click: the “I’m confused you didn’t trust me” isn’t so much a genuine inquiry as an accusation of dishonestly.

  30. Hills to Die on*

    This is so interesting and insightful, thank you!
    I feel a lot of compassion for people who are going through this. I worked for a company well-known for its LGBT benefits and acceptance of transgendered people, so there were a few at the office. I assume that some of the transitions may have been recent because one or two people seemed very, very insecure.

    I would complement one lovely woman on her shoes or her nail polish (she really had great fashion sense) and her whole demeanor would change and she would relax and start smiling right away. Especially in the bathroom – I made sure to be friendly.

    It seemed welcome, and I wanted to be sure I hit the right note of saying ‘I’m a friendly’ versus being cloying. I hope that others are as patient as you with those of us who don’t meet trans people every day!

      1. Tammy*

        As a matter of usage, “transgender” is an adjective, not a noun, verb, or adverb. So “transgender man/woman/person” are correct. All of the following would be incorrect:

        “I’m looking for a transgender to fill this position”
        “Transgenders are so ___”
        “Did you know Jane is transgendering?”

    1. Mianaai*

      In general, I really like the practice of complementing people on something they choose for their appearance rather than something inherent to them/their body. I like that it validates people’s choices rather than being either generic or uncomfortable.

      1. Extremely Online*

        This is something more people (everyone!) could stand to learn.

        Commenting on someone *as a person* – from gender presentation to weight loss/gain to “looking young” and beyond – is more likely to do harm than good. Giving a thoughtful compliment based on a particular choice, as you said, will actually have the intended effect, and takes no special skills or extra effort.

  31. Kiwiii*

    Thank you Tammy for sharing your experiences and insight! I really liked the section near the end about people messing up not out of maliciousness — I think a lot of people get into an apology spiral or trip over pronouns and feel kind of stupid (and act out of embarassment) when they’re first in proximity to a trans person, but it’s much kinder to just do your best, apologize once, and keep going.

    I was raised really rurally (and pretty sheltered), but then went to a large liberal arts college in the early 10s and realized I was bi, but definitely stumbled over pronouns a few times, especially with the first transman I regularly conversed with.

    In the years since, an AMAB teenager at my parent’s church has started to transition — my mom was telling me about her and using her old pronouns and deadname, all while telling me about how well she’s doing in high school and how cute her prom pictures were. She was really sweet about it, honestly (she was focused on how it must be extra hard for her because she’s really tall), but I had to be like, “Do you know if Lacy uses “she” now? Can you try and use that then, too?” Mom’s been better, since, but I don’t think it had ever occurred to her or been pointed out to her that she should adopt pronouns like that.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      There is a young transman at my church who has been warmly supported by the church community but I have noted a similar difficulty for people who very quickly adjusted to saying Jeff instead of Jemima, but who really struggle to remember to say “he”. I think it does show that they are doing their best and are genuinely supportive of Jeff’s transition, but they just haven’t quite reclassified him in their heads yet.

  32. Jef*

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience! I am trying to become a better ally and would love your advice. At a national professional conference, there is a transgender woman who has been a part of the professional org for decades. Her transition has happened in slow-motion over much of that time. About a year ago she sent a post through the org’s message boards indicating that her name had changed (to a feminine name unrelated to her old name). I don’t know her personally, although I have seen her at conferences. At the last conference, a colleague made a dismissive comment and misgendered her to me (no one could have overheard). This person has been instrumental in helping me grow in how I participate in these conferences. I was so taken aback and completely froze. We went our separate ways shortly thereafter but I have been chewing on this for months, wishing I had spoken up in the moment. Do you have any advice on how I could handle this professionally if it comes up again? I do much better if have something in my back pocket to get past the freezing.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      Depending on how confrontational you want to be (or can be), I think “what an odd thing for you to say” or “why would you say that?” are handy phrases for a variety of situations.

    2. Just no*

      Jef, a good way to approach this situation would be to say something simple like, “Oh, she goes by ‘Alison’ now, and [wasn’t her presentation about the new llama grooming techniques interesting, she gave me some great advice about kitten training at that conference, etc.]? It was a great conference.”

    3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Honestly, my preference is generally to catch it out in a low-key way. “Oh, do you mean [Name]?” Obviously, contesting a dismissive comment is dependent on what the comment was about/whether you have the political capital to burn, but simply catching a name/gender messup, whether accidental or deliberate, can be a pretty undramatic thing to do.

      Treat it like an honest mistake, and if they then make it explicit that they’re deadnaming/misgendering on purpose, you can escalate from there.

      1. animaniactoo*

        If they make it clear they’re not doing it by accident, you can claim reasonable habit defense: “That’s the kind of thing that would be bad if it came up with someone who doesn’t agree with you about that. I think it’s better to just use [correct gender pronoun/whatever] and not run that risk. Let’s stick to that when we talk about [name].” and then move the conversation along – take the agreement as a given.

        You’d be giving a 2nd reasonable out, and if they don’t take that, you’re going to have to decide whether pushing up to “Bob, I respect you a lot, you’ve been really helpful to me and I appreciate it – but when I say someone who doesn’t agree with you about that, I mean me. Please don’t do that again when discussing her with me.” is a risk that you’re willing to take based on your own personal circumstances.

    4. Semprini!*

      Sometimes (depending greatly on personalities and variables) something along the lines of “People might think you’re misgendering her on purpose” or “You don’t want people to think you’re the kind of person who would misgender someone intentionally” can be useful tools in your toolkit.

    5. neeko*

      If someone deadnames or misgenders someone, just correct them. If it’s a mistake, then you just corrected the mistake. If they are doing it purposefully, they know that you are not down with their transphobic crap. If they continue to make disparaging comments, you can say something like “Hey, that’s not ok.” or “It’s transphobic to say that.”

      1. Kiwiii*

        I have not had great luck with pointing out transphobic (or racism/sexism/etc) as the perpetrator often just leans gleefully into it.

    6. Tammy*

      Other commenters have given some great advice. I tend to assume an honest mistake the first time and say something like “oh, maybe you didn’t know, she goes by Jane now”. The second time, I’ll say “you mean Jane” in a somewhat pointed tone of voice. After that, my go-to is usually “her name is Jane. Why do you keep calling her Steve?”

    7. Kiwiii*

      My extended family surrounds themselves with and then gleefully parrots a lot of hatefulness. I’ve taken to shaking my head, like I think it’s odd or I’m skeptical, and saying something along the lines of “I don’t have any business assuming I have a better understanding of them than they do” and continuing to use the pronouns I’ve been asked to.

  33. Damien*

    This was a useful read for me as I’ve got to work up the nerves to do this myself soon and I’ve just got a second job :s I’m bricking it trying to work out how to do it.

  34. dealing with dragons*

    Honestly what makes me tired as a cis-woman in tech is constantly having to represent that. I can’t just be a worker working – I have to advocate for my gender constantly. I get LinkedIn messages about “diversity in engineering” or people touting that of the 12 c-levels like two aren’t old white dudes.

    On the other hand sometimes I also experience what I term a third gender – to some men in tech I’m not a man but I’m also not a woman, so I’m in a weird gray area. They’ll tell the jokes they would otherwise but are flabbergasted that I don’t think a joke about a man being called a woman is funny (yes that was the whole joke).

    1. Tammy*

      That representation thing is so fraught, isn’t it? I navigated my whole transition with a very present awareness of the fact that my coworkers, neighbors, friends, etc. were going to judge all transgender people they met through the lens of their experiences with me. It was incredibly exhausting!

      1. Quill*

        Yes, oh gosh, being queer and a woman is a double punch of having to watch everything you do because apparently you’re the model UN representative for every minority you’re part of, all the time.

  35. Lana Kane*

    Thank you so much for this interview. Tammy, your insights will give me lots to think about going forward.

    I am cisgender, but LGBTQ issues have been important to me since I was a teen. I was raised in the Pentecostal church, which is extremely conservative. I had a “holy shit” moment when I was about 12, watching a talk show (back in the 80’s) with transgender guests. As you can imagine, the climate back then was hostile and closed minded. I was watching the host and the audience be brutal with these women, and my first thought was, “why are these people so angry? Why is it so hard to believe that someone could essentially be born with a disconnect between their gender identity and their genitals?” I surprised myself because my church teachings have very specific answers to these questions, and if I were a “good Christian” I would have instinctively reacted as such: God doesn’t make mistakes, this is perversion, etc. My church experience taught me that I would go to hell if I didn’t believe this, but I found myself strangely at peace with not thinking this was true. This was the start for me of freeing myself from this ideology and by the time I was 16, I left Pentecostalism behind.

    Tammy’s insights about navigating gender in the workplace, add a layer for me as someone who is in management. I want to make sure I’m recognizing these things as I navigate working relationships.

    1. Tammy*

      When I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, the only visible role models I saw in the media for transgender people were on those talk shows, or portrayed as (usually dead) sex workers on police dramas. I’m still unpacking some of the scars that left on my psyche.

  36. Ahoytheship*

    Thank you Tammy! This was so thoughtful and full of great advice for people on all sides of this important topic. I appreciate you taking the time to post!

  37. lawyer*

    This is a great interview. Thanks, Tammy, for taking the time.

    A thing I have seen in my workplace is pressure (often coming from younger workers, for some reason) on our trans employees to publicly represent the trans* experience (for lack of a better term). We had a summer associate complain that we didn’t have any trans people in executive leadership, for example. We do, and I told her so, and she insisted on knowing who it was. Which I didn’t tell her, because our very senior trans executive transitioned a long time ago – before she worked with us – and it’s her story to tell when and if she wants to. Most of us who are senior at the firm know she was assigned male at birth, because we are friendly with her and have had conversations where her pre-transition life naturally came up, but the majority of our staff and attorneys probably don’t know. That’s the most egregious example, but we’ve had other incidents where someone seemed to think that a trans* employee kind of owed it to the world to be vocal about their experience.

    1. Tammy*

      I’ve had people tell me that any choice other than being openly and totally out about my past to every single person in my life, and willing to answer any question no matter who intrusive, is being deceitful. I’ve had people tell me that I’m lying if I don’t disclose my trans status to everyone. I’ve had people tell me that I should wear the label “transgender” like a scarlet letter. It’s so exhausting! I’m pretty open about my past, but everyone should have the right to decide with whom they do and do not want to share their stories.

      The double-edged sword is that, when I transitioned, the prevailing “acceptable path” was to transition as quickly as possible and then move to another city and start your life over and pretend your past never happened. I call this the “transgender witness protection program”, and it’s awful. For the person transitioning, you cut yourself off from your support systems just when you need them the most. For the trans community overall, it meant that for a long time there weren’t really visible role models of what long-term success as a trans person looked like. I’m glad we have much more freedom now about how to transition, and more visible role models.

      1. AnonEMoose*

        People are so bizarre..and sometimes rude, and intrusive, and judgmental. Not my job to tell anyone how to be whoever they are in terms of any aspect of their identity…unless they specifically ask me for advice, in which case I’ll help them if I can, or try to help them find someone who can help if I can’t.

        I know a few people who have transitioned or who are in the process. And my personal way of interacting with them is that it’s absolutely their decision to tell me whatever they want to tell me, whenever they want to tell me. It seems like the best thing I can do is be sure to use their correct names and pronouns, and to maintain whatever relationship was there – if we were friendly but not super close before they began to transition, then we’ll continue to be friendly but not close, unless they decide otherwise. And I’m not going to ask them anything except “How are you? Things going ok?”

        If they choose to post updates about their transition on social media, I’ll be happy for them if they’re happy, or try to be supportive if they seem to be struggling or sad. Like I would for any friend or acquaintance who seemed to be struggling or sad, or conversely who had happy news to share. Probably not perfect, but it seems to work ok mostly.

  38. A*

    Admin who works really hard to make things go as smoothly as possible for NB and trans employees here. Thank you for shouting us out!

    Also the most rewarding part of my job is when I can use my powers of gossip and I-have-the-boss’s-ear to help my coworkers, and the advice to coworkers/offices in this situation is great to keep in mind.

  39. Sebastian*

    Thank you for sharing your experience, Tammy. I’m a trans guy and I’m feeling really nervous about jobhunting, especially because I began my transition long after I started my previous job, so I’ve never been jobhunting while openly trans before.

    Perhaps in a few months I’ll have some weird/cute/success stories to share in solidarity but for now, thanks again.

  40. animaniactoo*

    Tammy, this was really informative and fascinating. Thanks for being willing to talk about it in such depth. On another note, this makes me weep: “Back then, I was always terrified about negative consequences if our clients found out about my past, and so I was very secretive about it. Turns out most of them knew anyway, and I actually damaged our relationships because they wondered why I didn’t trust them enough to be honest.”

    Saying who you are today is not dishonest. Nobody is entitled to some of my core stuff, especially from such an emotional standpoint. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether I trust them at all – it has to do with whether I want to discuss it at all, and there is no shame or malice in the answer to that question being “No”.

    You did not damage your relationships – their unwillingness to accept that they had no right to such disclosure from you, and holding it against you as a measure of trust, damaged those relationships. I’m glad that you feel comfortable being public about it now, but I think it’s important to be clear that there is also nothing wrong with being private about it. The same as if you were a 4-time cancer survivor and simply never mentioned it because you don’t like talking about your health with people in general. Or had a career in a completed unrelated profession but never mentioned it because it was just absolutely not relevant to the work you were doing today. Or. Or. Or.

  41. Agile Phalanges*

    Thank you, Tammy, for sharing your experience! (And to Alison for interviewing her and asking such thoughtful questions.)

    I think my biggest takeaway was the comparison of being pre-transition but knowing your internal feelings to being Jane Goodall amongst the gorillas–that feeling of knowing that you know so much ABOUT them but feel like you’ll never BE them must be very difficult, and wasn’t something I’d really thought of before (cis woman here). It just seemed like a really apt and descriptive analogy.

    I’ve read a few interviews of (or essays by) trans women now, of workplace situations and sexism and whatnot, and it’s depressing but enlightening every time. Thank you again for being willing to publicly share your story.

  42. StarbuxAddict*

    Thank you for sharing this, Tammy and Alison. I haven’t run into this in my professional life as far as I know but now I will be better prepared if I do.

    I have a few friends who are gender fluid or neutral so I have dealt a little with changing pronouns mid-friendship but I hadn’t really thought about how that would cross apply over to my professional life. Typing that makes me feel stupid because duh, of course it would, but there it is. It’s funny how our brains compartmentalize things until we read something that opens our eyes. I appreciate you doing that, Tammy. Again, thank you.

  43. Tableau Wizard*

    I’d love to get advice on how to be a supportive ally regarding transgender coworkers.

    I have interacted with a coworker, let’s call her Jessica, for almost a year now. I don’t know her well, but we probably interact at least weekly.
    Recently, another coworker who I’m much closer to and who has been here a lot longer than me, asked me if I knew that Jessica had once been John? I didn’t, was a little surprised to find that out, and probably reacted something like “No, I didn’t! Okay well, good for her” and the conversation moved on.

    I just don’t know what’s the best way to be an ally in that exchange. I’m not scandalized by the news, and I’ll never treat Jessica any differently, but I don’t know what I could/should do to help my other coworker. It felt a little gossipy, but I also don’t know if Jessica cares that people share that information.


    1. Tammy*

      I think in that situation, I’d tend to look at the coworker sideways and say “I don’t know or care whether that’s true, but if it is, do you have Jessica’s permission to be sharing it with other people? It’s really not okay, and sometimes even dangerous, to out people without their consent, you know.” I might also mention it to Jessica, so she knows that the coworker isn’t a safe person if she cares about her privacy.

      People who don’t think outing trans folks matter should google “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and look at how many trans people are murdered every year. It really is an issue of safety, not just privacy.

    2. Bunny*

      From my personal experience and from what I have heard from my trans friends is advocate on gender, they can’t fight every battle and they can’t be expected to answer for everything.

  44. Angie*

    Alison (or anyone else), do you have any advice for someone who doesn’t want to be a transgender ally for religious reasons, but also doesn’t want to be an ass? Do delete this if this is an inappropriate comment to be asking on this post, but I’d be interested to hear what people have to say (even if I do get flamed!). I view this sort of thing as personal/political and not the kind of thing I want to be a part of my work life. If Tim turns up one day in a dress and wants to be called Tammy, I’m going to behave in the same courteous professional way as I always do and just act as if I have a new coworker named Tammy, but if anyone asked if I wanted to take part in LGBTQ pride, I would say no.

    1. automaticdoor*

      Angie, I think your last sentence actually answers your own question. Treat people with kindness, courtesy, and respect, period. You don’t have to join a pride parade with your colleagues, but you owe it to your colleagues to be respectful–which goes for any difference.

      1. Bunny*

        This is something so many of us in the LGBTQ+ community have, that people feel entitled to have opinions about our lives, that they have to believe facts of our lives, my sister-in-law has told us that she does want to have to explain gay people to her children at their age.

        The fact is, I’m married to a same-sex partner, we have built a life together, we have completed the legal paperwork that says we are married just like any heterosexual couple, you don’t get to have an opinion on it, it’s fact.

    2. Bunny*

      You don’t have to act as if you have a new coworker named Tammy, you have a coworked named Tammy. Tim is not wearing a dress, Tammy is wearing a dress.

      Have you examined the genitals of your other co-workers? Asked for birth certificates and marriage licenses when they told you their name?

      Trans people exist, you do not get to have an opinion on fact, religious or otherwise about their existence. You know for an absolute scientific fact that there are intersexed people so I don’t understand why you are having a difficult time with someone assigned gender at birth being different than their actual gender.

      1. Moose*

        There are certainly people who seem to do better when receiving medication and surgery to make their bodies match their brains. As I understand it, matching one’s brain to one’s body is much harder.

        That said, “gender” is a vague and fuzzy concept that seems to mostly rely on stereotype. That’s not a good way for our society to go. I think we have bigger questions to ask about whether or not gender roles are necessary at all.

        1. Kiwiii*

          This is not the place to debate or denounce the validity of gender in general. It’s coming across as dismissive.

          1. Moose*

            I was responding directly to this comment:

            > I don’t understand why you are having a difficult time with someone assigned gender at birth being different than their actual gender

            1. clara sparks*

              And the idea that that comment is up for debate is exactly what trans people are sick and tired of dealing with. Knock it off.

    3. Kiwiii*

      Contrary to how you described yourself, accepting and behaving courteously and professionally when someone transitions is allyship. You don’t need to celebrate LGBTQ things and no one is asking you to, just use the new pronouns, don’t ask inappropriate questions, and gently correct your other coworkers if they seem slower on the uptake.

    4. Tammy*

      On one level, I agree that you’ve answered your own question – you can be polite and respectful to people, call out prejudice when you see it, not participate in LGBTQ Pride parades, and still be an ally to the trans community. In fact, that’s definitely a definition of allyship. (I like to say “ally” is a verb and not a noun). So keep doing what you’re doing.

      At the same time, I’d invite you to consider reflecting on why it is that LGBTQ pride needs to be a political thing and even a thing that exists. Why do we have those events? It’s partly to celebrate who we are, but it’s also to push back on a culture that questions, challenges, and even attacks our right to exist. That’s why, with the exception of a small contingent of far-right folks, there’s not a widespread “straight pride” movement – because one isn’t needed, because nobody is attacked, beaten, raped or murdered because they’re straight.

    5. LizB*

      Why do you think that having a trans coworker would mean you’d suddenly be asked to take part in Pride? Trans people are just trying to live their lives, same as anyone else. If your coworker transitions, they’re still your same coworker, just with a different name and pronouns. This reminds me of a graphic I’ve seen where the title is “THE GAY AGENDA” in a big scary font and then the items on the list are 1. Walk the dog, 2. Buy milk, 3. Watch a movie — we’re really just trying to live. We’re not being gay or trans AT you.

    6. Cats4Gold*

      Angie, we’re not asking *you* to transition. We’re asking you to continue treating us respectfully and professionally when we come out as trans. I suspect that Tammy would be aware of the fact that you’re not really an ally, and certainly wouldn’t invite you to Pride. (Also, as a side note, we don’t *chose* to be trans, we simply are. There’s a significant amount of biological evidence that our brains are wired differently. Medically transitioning quite literally saved my life. I was suicidal and basically just a walking husk. When I transitioned, it was like a switch was thrown, and all the lights in me suddenly turned on again. I’d tried nearly everything- including religion- and transitioning was the only thing that worked. )

    7. Stop*

      Don’t be an ass. Unfortunately, disagreeing with the fact of someone’s existence is usually considered ass behavior.

      That’s why I tried to learn more about trans people starting 10+ years ago. You can do the same. Read what they have to say in their own words and stop assuming that your approval is relevant. That’s a paternalistic position to take. Just read and listen.

    8. RhysasaurusRex*

      Angie, your LGBTQ coworkers likely don’t want you at Pride or other events, and you are not likely to be invited. Most LGBTQ people just want to be left alone to live their lives like any other person- we only become vocal advocates for ourselves because of repeated resistance to us doing so.

      In response to your question (not being an ass but not being an ally)- use correct names and pronouns, correct other people who use them incorrectly, and if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.

      I don’t want religion in my worklife either, but I know how to be polite and respectful with my religious colleagues and I expect the same.

    9. clara sparks*

      Congratulations, you have a new coworker named Tammy. It really is that easy! Of course, if that’s not something you’re willing to do … well, someone needs management assistance with not injecting “personal/political” issues into the office, but it ain’t her.

    10. Tinker*

      Going to Pride isn’t mandatory, even for people who support or even actually are LGBT. I don’t typically go to Pride — nor any other such summer festivals, because crowded public spaces are not my thing — and I’m a queer trans man.

      From coworkers, I expect to be called by my correct name and by one of the acceptable sets of pronouns, to be treated according to normal standards of civility, and as a subset of that particularly to not hear commentary on how my body is objectionable in a religion I do not practice.

      If you do those things, I do not care what you believe — I only care about how you act, and particularly how you act around me.

    11. Angie*

      Since posting this comment, I’ve read a lot of the comments on this linked posts: (But not remotely all of them because oh my goodness, there are 1337!)

      I found it interesting because the vibe I got was basically to keep on keeping on: don’t be an ass and don’t make a “thing” of it. Just do the work you’re there to do with the people you’re there to do it with. I’ve worked with gay people before but never had a colleague come out while I was working with them, so I was kind of using that as my mental analogy, although I realise it’s not the same. What I’ve realised is that I have very close professional boundaries, and have usually worked in that kind of workplace. A lot if not most of of my colleagues, I’ve never known if they were gay or straight or married or not or had kids or pets or whatever because we just didn’t have extended conversations about non-work stuff. Maybe it would come up in a kind of “Plans for the weekend?” “We thought we’d take the kids swimming” way on occasion, but nothing more detailed than that.

      So some of the comments in this thread about the kind of conversations that people have had when coming out seemed weird (even alarming!) to me, but that’s because I think they assume a different kind of workplace culture to what I’m used to. In the same ballpark as the “all my coworkers keep asking me when I’m going to get married and have baaaaaabies” questions. I guess I’m lucky to have found companies that match my preferred coworker-interaction-style!

      (Also, a thing that I always forget on this blog, I’m from the UK and we have a seriously different culture surrounding all of this stuff. Not saying we all bake cakes filled with rainbows and smiles while we hold hands singing Kumbaya at the end of every workday, but I think we’re way more live and let live than in the US, and have generally different standards about what it’s appropriate to “bring in” to work and what it isn’t.)

      1. Emma*

        There are cultural differences, but I think there are more similarities – one of the biggest being that it’s all 100% dependent on your specific workplace.

        I have friends younger than me (I’m in my late twenties) who have been fired in the UK for being gay, or trans. I know people who go on holiday with their coworkers, I personally know a lot about my colleagues’ families, and I have also worked with people who, after many years working closely with them, I didn’t know enough personal facts about them to win an ice breaker game.

        I currently have a coworker who, last time I worked closely with her, felt it appropriate to go on a long ramble about how she never knows how to talk about “the trans”, and giggled loudly as she speculated whether she should refer to a trans client as “it” instead of he or she. At the time I was brand new and broke and didn’t feel able to be as assertive as I should have been – now that we’re working together again, either she will have to buck up her ideas or I will wind up in a very exciting disciplinary meeting.

        I think Brits can sometimes have a tendancy to buy into the cultural identity of being quite stoical and detached, as a way of dismissing concerns about interpersonal behaviour, when in fact it’s as much of an issue here as in the US.

  45. Bunny*

    My direct co-worker is trans and what really frustrates me is how often people expect her to explain herself, people misgender her all the time, ask her completely inappropriate questions about her body, talk over her, etc. So she asserts herself and then people criticize her for being assertive.

    I can’t count the number of times I have listened to her have to repeatedly tell people her pronouns. And the thing is, when I started I didn’t even know she was trans so this can’t be a difficult concept for people to grasp.

    1. Tammy*

      A former boss of mine used to like to say, “once is a mistake, twice is carelessness, three times is a choice”. At a certain point, misgendering people or using the wrong pronouns stops being an honest mistake and starts being a clear statement that you just don’t respect that person enough to make the effort. I wish I could say it was an uncommon thing. But I’ve even had people who never knew me before my transition who started misgendering and deadnaming me after they found out I’m trans.

    2. Kiwiii*

      Can you correct them when you hear them misgendering her? It might help enforce that, no, it’s not funny or “common” to misgender her.

      1. clara sparks*

        One of the best acts of allyship I’ve ever experienced (in a professional context) happened during a conversation where I was patiently explaining to a guy that having changed my name to Clara was a pretty good sign that he could stop calling me “he” anytime he wanted, and preferably right that instant. (He was, genuinely and without malice, surprised to learn that!) The other woman in the conversation turned to look at me and said:

        “Wow, some people are really oblivious.” And I felt so seen.

        1. Extremely Online*

          I agree deeply with Tammy’s comment upthread that “ally” is a verb, and this is a perfect example of that idea in action. I’m a cis AFAB white woman; to me, it’s inexcusable to *not* chime in the way your colleague did (or in conversation with other coworkers). All it took was six words!!

          The concept of “spending your privilege” can be a useful teaching tool, but, in reality, sticking up for another person’s basic GD humanity and comfort ““costs”” me – and anyone in a similar position – absolutely nothing.

          (Okay, upon proofreading my comment, the “religious reasons” commenter above *may* have gotten me a little fired up.)

  46. Mimi Me*

    What a fantastic interview. Allison, I truly enjoy when you do interviews like these. There’s something so special about hearing from someone who has a job or life very different than the one you happen to be living. This is likely the reason those hollywood gossip magazines exist. :)

    Ohhh…I’d love to see an interview with someone who is in the Paparazzi.

  47. olusatrum*

    Thank you so much for sharing! Extremely helpful and timely for me as I (AFAB) am considering beginning testosterone treatment to transition to a more masculine presentation. I’m 24, about 3 years post-graduation and in the working world. So though I’ve been thinking heavily about gender and identity for several years now, it only sort of recently occurred to me to consider the impact to my career and professional life.

    I have around a billion questions, but I suppose the most pressing for me is this: Could you speak more on how your transition affected job-searching? How did it affect your choices in where to apply, what things you look for in an interview, that kind of thing. Also, to what extent was timing an issue for you? For example, were there times that you had to schedule career moves (or other life moves) around medical moves, or vice versa? If you had to make any significant decisions based on what your gender presentation was in that moment, or how you expected to present in the future. I think transitioning is one of those “never a perfect time to do it” kind of things, like having a child, but I get overwhelmed at how many moving parts there are.

    Some context on me: I am 100% sure I need to leave this workplace, but significantly less certain about to what extent I will medically/socially transition, if at all. Currently I identify as nonbinary with gender neutral pronouns socially, and let people treat me as cis-female professionally. Some things I worry about include interviewing while beginning testosterone, with noticeable changes showing up constantly. I’m worried about transitioning at my current workplace (kind of toxic, but the devil I know) vs. at a new workplace where I don’t know anyone and have no prior relationships or allies. I’m generally worried about trying to establish a career while also trying to establish an entire new social identity, but that’s so open-ended I don’t even know where to start asking about that.

    This ended up kind of long, but seriously thank you so much Tammy for sharing and Alison for publishing. Just hearing your story is a huge help. What you said about how difficult it is to transition without a good support team really resonated with me. I don’t have much of a team me, but I do have a fantastic therapist who is transmasculine, himself, and I’m slowly building a network through support groups. It just all seems very scary from where I stand right now!

    1. Tammy*

      This is definitely complicated, but the short version is: If you want something badly enough, you can always find a way to do it, and if you don’t, you can always find a reason not to do it. And trans people face enough adversity in our lives that I think we don’t get to adulthood and into the workplace without developing resilience and tenacity. So if you want to transition (whatever that looks like for you), go for it! Just make sure you have support systems in place for the inevitable hurdles.

      When I’m looking for jobs, I tend to look at Glassdoor reviews. I look at whether they’re on the HRC scorecard of LGBT-affirming companies. I’ll ask if they have an LGBT affinity group, and how many LGBT employees they have in leadership roles. I look at whether I know any LGBT people in my network who work there. I’m very out, and a lot of my story of professional success is connected to my identity, so I tend to talk about that in interviews. If they then decide not to hire me, that’s a clear sign that it’s not the right company for me. (I know not everyone feels comfortable doing that, or has the socioeconomic privilege to take that risk, but it works for me.)

      Transitioning IS scary, but we have a pretty good track record of doing scary things, and I think living as our truest and most authentic selves pays huge dividends. Good luck!

  48. Jules the 3rd*

    Soooo: The bathroom thing. There’s probably articles out about it, but here’s what I saw in NC (US) during the HB2 debacle. I hope this post clearly conveys my support for transgender people, and that these strategies are based on bigotry, transphobia and ignorance.

    1) People who sexualize *everything* – the HB2 crew were the same people who won’t be alone with / won’t lunch with opposite gender people.
    2) People who are weaponizing an existing situation (assault by cis men) and mis-applying it as a tool in political repression. Bathrooms are secluded, which can make them risky. While ‘Schroedinger’s transgender woman’ is not a thing (transgender women risk so much, no one is doing this lightly), ‘Schroedinger’s rapist’ is.
    3) People who weaponize a social stigma (biowaste) against something they want to stigmatize (gender identity that doesn’t match their preconceptions). Bathrooms are just an excuse and a tool.

    The boss who required a sign? #1 , or dealing with some #1s. And also a maroon.

    1. MayLou*

      I couldn’t even begin to understand the fuss about bathrooms (especially in schools – how would a child ever even know if a classmate had different genitals than they expected?!) in the USA until I saw some photos of public toilet stalls over there. You folks don’t have a gender problem, you have a the-doors-have-big-gaps-round-the-edge problem! So much easier to solve! Just install proper doors and everyone gets privacy!

      That’s a bit tongue in cheek but I genuinely don’t see how anyone can argue that the “bathroom issue” is about safety rather than transphobia, but be advocating for trans people not to use the bathroom instead of for everyone to get adequate privacy. If a problem can be fixed through single-occupancy toilets and you’re instead making policies about excluding people fron urinating, your bigotry is showing.

      1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

        I’ve never understood the toilet stall door design. I have even seen a portable door curtain with magnets/hooks that you are meant to put up inside the stall for more privacy for sale.

        When I first moved to the UK I was amazed that none of the doors, regardless of the design, have those huge gaps. And it is also quite common to have an opposite-gender cleaner in there working while it is in use, though there will often be a sign to that effect on the door. Once when I was working in a normal office in the US I spilled coffee all over my hands, so I went into the bathroom to wash them. There was a guy in there changing a light bulb, and even though I was only going in there for a minute or so to wash my hands he was obliged to leave, because you couldn’t have a man and a woman in the bathroom at the same time. I always thought it was bizarre. I don’t think that would happen in the US.

        We have such wierd hangups and an overly sexualized culture in the US. In a way it’s not surprising that there is so much creepiness and harassment, given that every damn thing is viewed as sexual in a way that seems absurd to other cultures.

    2. Temp anon*

      I don’t get this either, some people really got full on hysterical about trans people in bathrooms.

      I would challenge anyone to ask women have they ever been harassed by Cis men while going to the bathroom. The answer most women I asked gave was “Yes! Why do you think we often go the the bathroom together?” I have yet to encounter someone saying they were harassed by a trans person, and I asked plenty!

      1. Tammy*

        It is literally true – and I’m not saying this for hyperbole or politicization – that you are statistically more likely to be sexually assaulted in a public restroom by a member of Congress than by a trans person. There are literally so few examples of it, and with good reason – calling attention to ourselves is generally the LAST thing trans people want to do in the bathroom!

  49. Sarah M*

    This was great. Thanks to Tammy for agreeing to the interview, and thanks also to Alison for posting this!

  50. bubba g*

    Tammy, thank you for your insight and openness in sharing your story.

    When a coworker transitioned at my work about 10 years ago, everyone was ok, except one person, who made a huge issue over the bathrooms. It surprised me, because I thought she would be an ally, and she was really hostile about the bathroom. Our coworker transitioned from male to female, and female bathrooms generally all have private stalls, so I couldn’t understand what the issue was. I can say that her reaction forever colored my opinion of her, because everyone else was like, “no big deal.”

  51. JustaTech*

    Thank you so much for sharing this!
    My SO has become the preferred manager for people in transition in his department and he’s a bit confused; mostly about why folks think he’s the best choice for a boss, but also how best to be supportive. I think he’ll get some good insights from this interview.
    Thank you Tammy!

  52. Liane*

    Thanks Tammy! It was very informative. I am going to to tell my 22 year old about this post. She’s pan & has lots of other LGBTQ+ friends, at least of of whom is transitioning (female to male). So maybe it will be helpful to her or her friends.

    1. Quill*

      Hey Liane, not to horn in with unsolicited advice, but it sounds like your daughter’s friend group may have some of the same problems mine did around college graduation: probably the best thing you can do for the young man in question when there are graduation related events is AGGRESSIVELY engage his parents. If they’re supportive, so much the better! You can help them on that path, or help them head off anyone else who wants to get judgy.

      If they’re not you can keep the heat off him if they have questions or complaints on the day of graduation (or any other event that’s going to bring you in contact with his parents.)

  53. Paige Flanagan*

    Thank you for sharing your experiences and insights. I’ve spent the whole of my professional life in higher education and transitioned far more recently than you. But I, too, have shared my story and advice. If anyone is interested, take a peek at “Becoming a Woman” which was in The Chronicle of Higher Education back in November, 2017 []. I was very calculated in planning my transition for the ease of both myself and my immediate and closest colleagues as well as my institution. It went very well. In June, 2019 I began in a new administrative position at an institution which hired me knowing I was trans. The interview process was an excellent experience and one that I am planning on sharing as well. Best thing I can say to anyone considering transitioning is to find a way to be confident and do your best to love yourself. Beyond that planning REALLY helps!!

  54. Will G.*

    Not aimed at anyone is particular, but I’d be wary about making a big deal of someone being “female socialized” or “male socialized.” It’s a common transmisogynistic talking point to claim that trans women are “male socialized” and thus inherently violent or evil.

    Socialization doesn’t fall into neat boxes–different people who are the same gender can have a variety of gendered experiences. It’s very common for trans kids who aren’t out yet to be treated worse than other kids with their same birth assignment (I think Laverne Cox has an interview where she talks about this.) Individual trans people might think of themselves as having used to be [other gender] or having the experiences of [other gender], but I would not take it as a rule.

    (For context, I’m a nonbinary person who isn’t affected by transmisogyny.)

    1. Tammy*

      Agreed. There’s also an idea of “you can’t REALLY be a woman, because you were socialized as a man” which some people drag out to invalidate trans people. And I’ve yet to identify a single experience or attitude that is common to 100% of cisgender women and 0% of trans/NB women, so really all the socialization argument says to me is that the person is looking for an excuse to not accept a trans person’s identity.

      1. Will G.*

        Oh yeah. You already know this of course, but the hardcore “socialization!” transmisogynists seem to think that the only socialization that matters is that in childhood, and that any experiences after that don’t change someone’s self. They also seem to think that internal framings don’t affect how someone is externally treated. It’s clearly such nonsense that falls apart when you look at real people’s experiences.

      2. Quill*

        Yeah, my socialization as a white cis girl in the midwest is going to be very, very different from a black girl in alabama. But exclusionists are usually pretty against nuance / acknowledging intersectionality overall…

  55. Elizabeth Proctor*

    Thank you Tammy! I found this interesting, as it’s something I’ve thought about lately: “I think I was better equipped in the sense that I was more socialized than I think a lot of AFAB people are to speak my mind.”

    I’ve noticed that the most vocal trans people I follow on Twitter are women–Parker Molloy, Charlotte Clymer, Alexandra Erin. I’ve tried to find and follow equally vocal trans men but haven’t had much luck. (I do follow Daniel Ortberg.)

    1. Tammy*

      I think it’s easier for a number of reasons for trans-masculine people to fade into the woodwork if they want to, I’m sure there are other reasons the trans-masculine community isn’t as visible in the same way, but I can’t speculate on those reasons because that’s not my experience set.

      1. Will G.*

        I don’t exactly consider myself transmasculine, but I’m sure some people would consider me to be so, and in my experience, trans women just have a higher cultural profile in general. (This is not a privilege, as most of that attention is because of transmisogyny, and most transfeminine fictional characters are hateful stereotypes.) The average Western person just has less of an idea what “the trans man” looks like.

        But for Elizabeth Proctor and anyone else interested in following outspoken trans men, I would suggest looking for transmasculine people who aren’t straight, particularly transmascs of color who aren’t straight! Straight trans men are more likely and able to go stealth. There are plenty of transmasc public figures who talk about being trans.

      2. Dasein9*

        To agree with Will G.’s comment, yeah, misogyny plays a big role here.

        Trans men are typically socialized to be quieter and less assertive. That can mean that we don’t speak out quite as much or in the ways that men are typically expected to speak out. In fact, many of us have enough experience of “that guy” that we consciously do not adopt some typically masculine behaviors. (With varying degrees of success.) But that also can translate into a bit more “fading into the woodwork” as well.

        The queer communities do tend to have more outspoken trans men, though, it’s true. Patrick Califia is one of the first to come to my mind. Jake Hale, Leslie Feinberg, and Stephen Whittle as well. The current International Mr. Leather is a trans man.

        1. Will G.*

          To clarify: I do not agree with Dasein9 that trans men are less visible that trans women because they are socialized to be quieter. As per my comments in another thread, “socialization” is more complex than that. Like I said, think the main reason that the average cisgender person is less likely to follow outspoken trans men on twitter than trans women is because ideas of transfemininity are highly culturally visible.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      There’s Danny of Dear Prudence on Slate, but he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. (Me, I was too much a fan of the old Prudence, I think.)

  56. Nobody Here by That Name*

    Echoing the others saying thanks to Tammy for sharing her experiences. The scope and detail of them were very helpful.

  57. Valkyrie*

    This was wonderful. My daughter is trans and transitioned socially a little over a year ago. She’s not in the work force yet (because she’s a child), but there were so many things here that reminded me of how her school has been dealing with things and I really appreciate your frankness, Tammy. It affirmed that I’m mostly on the right track with how I deal with the school and support my daughter and reminded me that I still have so much to learn.

  58. Jessica*

    This is a great interview – thank you for sharing!
    In the spirit of recognizing women’s areas of expertise, Jane Goodall works with Chimpanzees, not Gorillas. ;)

  59. cwhfstl*

    I really appreciate hearing your story and perspective, Tammy. Great insights and as someone who works with LGBTQ+ youth, so important for them to hear all stories.

  60. Candy*

    || I think many cisgender women who encounter things like people doubting their expertise, talking over them when they speak, etc. often wonder if it’s something about them, or if it’s sexism. It’s so easy to doubt yourself and start making excuses for the other person — “oh, he just didn’t know I have a background in Topic X” or “I need to be less soft-spoken” or so forth — and it can be hard to know for sure “yes, this is definitely sexism happening in this meeting.” ||

    I don’t know any women in my life who doubt whether this sort of thing is about them or if it’s sexism. We all know it’s sexism. It’s only when we describe it to our male peers that we’re dismissed with a “oh, he just didn’t know you have a background in Topic X” or “You need to be less soft-spoken”

    1. Quill*

      It can depend on your age / experience with sexism though.

      Most women my age are well aware when something is sexism, but sometimes for people who grew up in the 70’s and are still stuck on how things have improved, (or for people who grew up with less personal experience with sexism, and may be younger or more sheltered) it may not be as obvious.

  61. Anon Librarian*

    This topic is super interesting to me because I’ve always had a weird relationship with the gender labels. I don’t want to talk over Tammy! But I’d like to add something about the experiences that I’ve had while exploring in this area.

    – I don’t think this is universal, but I realized that as a gender-questioning AFAB who isn’t open about it, my experiences with sexism are different from those of most cisgender women. There’s the side of it where because I’m more masculine in some ways, I relate to men better but also get negative reactions because of it. And I think I come across as someone who is playing a role to some extent and maybe is being secretive about an aspect of their identity. I think people pick up on that, and sometimes it seems like they’re being sexist when they’re really reacting to a gut feeling that you’re hiding something from them.

    – When I presented as male and passed (was assumed to be male), I found the sexism just as disconcerting. I mean the assumptions people make and the expectations they have provoked the same, “Ack! Don’t judge me by what I look like!” kind of reaction in me. This made me think that I’m non-binary, but I could just be really uncomfortable with gender stereotyping and sexism. It can be hard to separate the two – is this about my own gender identity or is it a reaction to sexism?

    My thoughts and experiences alone. I’m sure not everyone who isn’t cis would relate, but I thought I’d bring this up anyway.

    I’m still trying to figure out how to explain my gender, and how to be taken more seriously when doing work that is considered masculine.

    1. Dasein9*

      It’s really complex. I don’t think we even have a concept of gender that isn’t shaped by sexism, at least in the West. Knowing which we’re reacting to is going to be tangled up and messy. My experience is also one where people could tell there was something off and it did affect how I interacted with most other people. For me, transitioning solved the issue, but for a lot of people, simply finding the right culturally expected category to settle into isn’t an option because the options that already exist are too limited.

  62. Not Me*

    I appreciate hearing about how other peoples experiences at work and how that information can be helpful in improving the work environment and this was very interesting to read.

    I have to say though, it’s disheartening that instead of simply listening to women and believing that we are treated differently there’s somehow more credence given to a transgender woman because she had experience as a man in the workplace. We shouldn’t have to qualify our experience in a male dominated work environment with this kind of testimonial. I’m not suggesting AAM or anyone here is saying we do need to do that, it’s just the society and culture we live in, but it’s sad to me.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it’s that it’s so easy to wonder what other factors could also be at play otherwise — like, are women not taken as seriously because they’re socialized to be more hesitant? Still a problem, but a slightly different one. But when you can get trans people’s experience in the mix, it becomes really clear that nope, it’s just plain old bias.

    2. tunmi*

      I totally get your point. It’s unfortunate that we really just couldn’t cis women.

      But the upside of that as Allison said is that we have their experience to add to pointing out sexism, and even the intersection of racism and sexism. Unfortunately, trans women do get hit hard because they’re leaving a perceived place of privilege (masculinity).

      But yeah, I understand being disheartened that folks really just couldn’t believe cis women.

  63. MotherofCats*

    “It’s like there’s this magic way we’re supposed to perform femininity so that society will find us acceptable.” This! I’m a cisgender woman & my female co-workers all think I’m unacceptably weird. I’m direct, have no interest in kids & no need to make sure everyone else is happy at all times. If I were male I’d probably be considered pretty normal. Every time my manager introduces me to a new employee, she anxiously points out that I like to bake! Every single time, as if that makes up for my love of power tools and action movies :-)

  64. GlamNonprofiteer*

    Thanks, Tammy. This was truly, deeply informative.

    One of my former colleagues transitioned in a very public way (fired by an institution of higher learning for transitioning) around the same time as you must have and knowing what she experienced – even as recently as two decades ago – you are the hero that we need.

    My current boss decided that removing preferred pronouns from our email signature line was the hill he wants to die on and I cannot wait for him to find out that (influential and very generous) board member has not one but two adult children who publicly identify as transgender humans. (Sorry for the stilted language but I’m trying to avoid any chance of being identified because EVIL.)

    Rock on, Tammy.

  65. Ladylike*

    Tammy: I shouldn’t be too shocked (because they’re everywhere), but it sounds like you’ve worked with some real idiots! Seriously, trying to look up your skirt or throw shrimp down your top? How do these people even stay employed? Are they 9?

  66. JJ Bittenbinder*


    Thank you so much for being a trailblazer and for sharing your story. My son is a transgender male and his world is a lot easier and his future a lot less scary because of people like you.

    I hope that doesn’t sound cringey and weird. I mean it sincerely and with all my positive thoughts!

  67. I Rell Vatch*

    Thank you so much, Tammy, for sharing your insights with us. It was really helpful and has given me a much better understanding. I really appreciate it.

  68. Tammy*

    Just checking in on the comments one last time, and wanted to say “thank you!” to Alison for giving me a space to share my experiences, and to all of you for a fantastic discussion. And I was very heartened that I only saw one place where Alison had to remove a comment! There might have been other behind-the-scenes moderation which I didn’t see, but the discussion was incisive and sensitive and everything I’d expected and hoped for from the AAM commentariat!

  69. Another trans guy*

    This was a great interview! Thanks for sharing, Tammy.

    I transitioned in the work place some 10+ years ago, and I was pleasantly surprised with the support I got from my own boss and colleagues.

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned yet on allyship – One often overlooked part of how to help as an ally to trans and non-binary people is that you can help with normalizing the addition of preferred pronouns to business correspondence and paperwork. I’m seeing more people adding “he/him” or “they/their” to email signatures, for example. It helps trans people feel less othered when the default is that everyone should share pronouns and no one should assume that you can guess them for other people.

    1. Kiwiii*

      NewJob’s company approved signature has a space specifically for pronouns and it made me so happy seeing that during the interview process like. Yes! this is exactly the sort of place I want to be.

  70. Perpal*

    What a cool interview/post, thanks so much to Tammy for sharing!
    I was struck by the difficulty of finding “just the right level of femininity”; although not something I’ve remembered experiencing in a personal/professional setting as a ciswoman, we see it all the time in the media etc; a woman who is “attractive” (by typical media standards) can’t be taken seriously because clearly they’re more into looks than the job, or just trying to catch a husband, or whatever; a woman who isn’t also can’t be taken seriously because comments devolve into criticism of appearance rather than a focus on what they are trying to accomplish. It’s like there’s this perfect point where a woman is just “attractive” enough – but not too much! – to be deserving of respect and consideration.
    It is at least something that seems more prevalent in the court of public opinion than the circles I’ve made for myself, but still irks me when I see it.
    IDK keep rocking it Tammy.

  71. Budgie Buddy*

    “I wasn’t ultimately any more successful at it than I think Jane Goodall would be if you expected her to be a gorilla…”

    This analogy tho XD
    Thank you for sharing your story

    1. Alli*

      I’m quite late here, but this is a fantastic guide and is the template I shared with my workplace for my own transition

  72. PJs of Steven Tyler*

    Adding my name to the list of people thanking Tammy for this; it was incredibly valuable to hear this perspective :) Thanks so much!

  73. TheTomatoInUrFruitSalad*

    When I transitioned, it was in a VERY rural office with a lot of conservative men. I was terrified. I predicted how people would react and I was … wrong on all accounts. People I expected to run into issues with were great at being proactive on the pronoun change, and people I’d expected to be supportive, including HR, were not.
    I was also blown away by how quickly I experienced the opposite of this woman! Suddenly I was a man in tech and my opinions were Valid (with a capital v). I was being taken seriously in meetings, people stopped talking over me, I was seen as having more experience than I did. It took me a while to get used to.

  74. Old Admin*

    *clap* *clap* *clap*
    Thank you for telling us your story and educating us!

    We currently have a colleague transitioning in my company, and it’s all very hush-hush. Nobody dares comment or discuss anything whatsoever, neither with the colleague in question nor with others. It’s an awkward silence…

    1. Old Admin*

      Oh, and we all are still using the *original* name and pronouns at work!
      This is starting to get weird in the face of an increasingly obvious transition, but there have been no official or personal announcements of what to do.
      It makes me kind of sad because I consider myself an ally, but I don’t dare break the unwritten code of conduct here, no matter how wacky it is. I still need my job.

    2. Kiwiii*

      If you’re friendly/close with them at all, it might be welcome to comment something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed a change in the way you’re presenting yourself (I love those shoes!), should I still be addressing you the way I have been?”

  75. CM*

    This was fascinating, and vindicating to hear that I’m not actually “too sensitive” or “overreacting” — thanks so much for sharing! Tammy, I’m not sure if you’ll continue checking in here, but here’s what I’m curious about: your responses here were incredibly effective, affirming people’s good intentions while gently educating them. Not easy to do especially in an anonymous online forum. I’m wondering whether you have these skills as a result of your transition — because you’ve had to spend so much time talking with people about your identity — or whether you just have them naturally or through some other type of work you do. Also wondering whether you intentionally learned how to engage with people effectively in this way, or whether you picked it up along the way.

  76. Ell*

    Thank you for your insights, Tammy. As a nonbinary AFAB person in a very male-dominated environment, it’s interesting to see the similarities and differences in how we experience workplace sexism! Hopefully at some point I’ll be able to “out” myself professionally.

  77. AFRS*

    This is so interesting – thank you Tammy for your openness and generous advice, and thank you Alison for including such an important topic on AAM!

  78. That's Mister to You*

    Just want to echo the “befriend the admins” advice. When I transitioned at work, having the front desk receptionist on my side was golden. Her ability to consistently and confidently use my new pronouns with everyone who called/visited made things So. Much. Easier.

  79. Alli*

    Thanks for doing this interview. As a trans woman working through her own social transition, it’s lovely to see other people’s stories as well as the constructive discussion here.

  80. motherofdragons*

    Tammy, thank you so much for sharing this!! And thanks to Alison for spotting this great opportunity for a story!

  81. Attempting2Manage*

    I want to say thank you for sharing Tammy and for Alison to posting. I learned a lot, and am very grateful for your willingness to share.

  82. tunmi*

    One last thing to add to this is that it would be very helpful and in the spirit of allyship for cis people to include their pronouns. A relatively easy way is to include your pronouns in your email signatures. Another way would be to include it in introductions when interacting with people.

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