my employee keeps getting deadnamed by a coworker

A reader writes:

I have managed “John,” a transgender man, for about two years. John does not keep his transgender status a secret, but he also doesn’t go out of his way to tell people, so some people know and some don’t. “Lizzy” recently transferred to a department that works closely with ours. She previously did not know that John was trans, but now that she’s interacting with him much more often, she’s found out. At first, she didn’t seem to have an issue with it, but then she discovered some articles he’d published while still going by “Sally,” and now she insists on calling him Sally. She claims that she has no problem with trans people, but that she feels it’s important to call John by the name he was given at birth “out of respect for his mother” (John’s mother does not work for our company, and to the best of my knowledge, she and Lizzy have never met).

John and I have both asked her to stop, but she refuses. On John’s request, I have also gone to her manager, but Lizzy has a very domineering personality and her manager avoids confrontation, so I don’t think he’s said anything to her. Not only is Lizzy’s insistence on deadnaming John offensive, it is confusing, because many people don’t understand who she’s talking about when she mentions Sally. I’ve tried casually correcting her in the moment, as if I thought she was making a mistake, and John has outright refused to answer to the name Sally, but she keeps saying that it’s disrespectful to his mother to use a name she didn’t choose for him. John complained to HR, but they said that because she is not explicitly harassing him for being trans, they can’t do anything. (For the record, our state did not consider being LGBT a protected class, though from what I understand, the Supreme Court ruling should have changed that.)

John has now started exclusively calling Lizzy “Elizabeth”; there is another Elizabeth in the office, and if there’s any confusion over which Elizabeth he’s talking about, John uses Lizzy’s maiden name, rather than her married name. Lizzy HATES this and has complained to him, me, and half the office, but he says that it’s out of respect for her mother. Honestly, I think this is hilarious (and kind of want to start doing it too), but I feel that as a manager, I shouldn’t encourage John to deliberately antagonize Lizzy, even though she started it (and definitely shouldn’t join in). However, it does seem extremely unfair to tell John that not only does he have to put up with Lizzy using his deadname, he has to use her preferred name. Do I have to tell John to knock it off? Is there anything more I should do about Lizzy?

Lizzy is horrible, and your HR sucks too.

It’s ludicrous for your HR department to say that Lizzy isn’t harassing John for being trans, when clearly she is. Anyone who has even a passing familiarity with the ways in which trans people get harassed knows exactly what this is.

You’re right about the recent Supreme Court ruling that discrimination based on gender identity is illegal. (But even aside from that, what’s up with your company refusing to intervene when an employee is refusing to call another employee by his proper name? It sounds like there’s an agenda there.)

How high up have you gone in HR? If you can go higher, do — because it’s possible someone will overrule whoever there told you that. Point out the recent court ruling, and point out that the company is opening itself to legal liability by refusing to protect John from Lizzy’s harassment.

You should also go back to Lizzy’s manager and push the issue again. You said he prefers to avoid confrontation, and often the best approach with people like that is to make not acting the more unpleasant option for them. So be pushy, be loud, and keep following up — “Have you talked to Lizzy yet?” … “This is still a problem, when will you be talking to Lizzy?” … “What Lizzy is doing is unacceptable. Can you call her in right now and we’ll both speak to her?” … etc. Keep up the pressure until he does his job. You owe that to John.

You also said you’ve been casually correcting Lizzy when you hear her deadnaming John, as if she’s just making an innocent mistake. Stop giving her that cover. Call it out more honestly: “Lizzy, you’ve been told repeatedly to stop calling John that. Why are you continuing to do it?” If she trots out her ridiculous line about respecting John’s mother, then say, “John’s name is not up to you. You are being disrespectful and embarrassing yourself, and you need to stop.”

As for John calling Lizzy “Elizabeth” and using her maiden name (out of respect for her mother!) … well, it’s pretty brilliant. If your company says it’s okay with what Lizzy is doing, then surely this is the logical conclusion. It would be tremendously unfair for you to tell John he has to stop, while Lizzy gets to continue harassing him. Let Lizzy experience some very deserved consequences of her actions.

But that’s not enough, amusing as John’s handling of it is. You need to keep pushing — with HR, with Lizzy’s manager, with anyone else with appropriate authority here — because you can’t let an employee be repeatedly harassed on your watch.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 841 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    I would 1000% start calling her Elizabeth Maidenname in solidarity with John. That’s awesome.

          1. JSPA*

            Speaking of which, if John’s mother might be on board, this might be the one and only time when it’s appropriate for a parent to write to someone at a child’s workplace, to whit: “if you continue to ascribe your action of dead-naming my child to my wishes, you will be on the receiving end of a lawsuit for slander.”

            No, that’s probably not a winnable suit. But it underscores the point that Lizzy isn’t only harassing John in an incredibly offensive way; she’s also being offensive to all other trans people, and all other trans-supportive people, in passing, as well.

            1. Dani*

              So true!! Love this idea. Hope John’s mom is as supportive as mine. She would call or show up in requested.

              1. Anonny*

                My mum would love to rip Petty Betty a new one. She isn’t a big fan of my deadname either, it was kind of a compromise with my dad because he was insistent that ‘Doris’ was a suitable name for a child born in 1991.

                She’d be like “If you disrespect my son, you disrespect me. Also, I don’t like the name I gave him, so go shove your head in a bucket of hyena offal.”

              2. AthenaC*

                Oof – now that I think about it, I hope invoking John’s mother isn’t opening any old wounds. Just one more way in which Lizzy is being awful.

            2. Raven*

              And also, for that matter, John’s mother, by claiming to speak for her without ever even having met her.

            3. NinaBee*

              How amazing if John’s mother actually showed up to the workplace and said it to Lizzie’s face :D

            4. Infiniteschrutebucks*

              Yes. I love this! If I were John’s manager at this point I would advise him to go to an attorney. Hell, I’d offer to to cover the cost. A well placed letter threatening a lawsuit (even if it’s not from his mom lol) may be enough to get this behavior addressed, even if it’s unlikely the lawsuit would succeed. A company will do something simple like tell her to cut it out to avoid the hassle. I saw this at an old workplace- there was a clear problem manager, nothing was done, an employee finally met with leadership with a carefully prepared statement and letter from her lawyer, and magically the guy was gone even though they’d ignored the behavior for 2 years.

          2. Donna Noble*

            Another mother of a transgender person here. I destroy people who deadname my child.
            Also, my ex-husband picked that child’s birth name.
            Also again, why does John’s mother get more respect than John?

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          I missed this post yesterday. “Petty Betty” was a great way to start my morning!

        2. DocPotterywood*

          OMG I’ve run the gamut of emotions reading this post (in the car with husband and newborn baby) – red faced with fury, knot in my stomach from anxiety (“omg stop. I can’t bear one more terrible anecdote about Lizzie’s behavior”), CACKLING at John’s genius, and literally fist pumping and yelling “YESSSS” to Alison’s response.

          If there ever was a post that I’d be more desperately needing an update …

      1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

        Petty Betty indeed!! I love it – and John is my hero! Maybe he can cheekily confound her name even further, if he knows of nicknames she’s been called, and put a variation on it. Or even call her “Cabbage”, a nickname that Prince Philip lovingly calls HM Queen Elizabeth, or Lilybet, her childhood nickname. (Nvm, that’s too nice for Petty Betty.)
        This letter hits home – a 1st cousin who I adore, was known as “Anthony” for most of their life. Then for a number of years, known as simply “A”. My dear cousin is now “Andrea” and I will always call her as she wishes.
        Team John! (And Team Andrea!)

      1. Artemesia*

        She should be fired; this is insubordination in addition to harassment (the more serious behavior of course). It would be great if the HR fails again for EVERYONE to call her Elizabeth Maidenname EVERY time.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It’s only insubordination if a manager has told her to stop. Until either her manager gets off his… rear end, or LW tells her explicitly and directly, it’s just harassment.

          Just. Sally *sucks*.

          1. MassMatt*

            Petty Betty’s manager is the one most at fault for the failure here, IMO.

            This was an infuriating letter, the smarmy “out of respect for her mother” line made me clench my jaw so hard my teeth hurt.

            1. Jules the Goblin*

              As someone said above, why does John’s mother get more respect than John himself? John’s mother does not work there?? Hello?? I’m LIVID omg.

        2. So they all rolled over and one fell out*

          Since both Elizabeth Maidenname’s boss and HR refuse to tell her to cut it out, how is it insubordination?

        3. Drew*

          She should be fired because this is 100% akin to calling a coworker a slur on a daily basis (especially given that she only learned his deadname after meeting him!)

      2. Middle Aged Lady*

        A former friend used to say people don’t have a right to be ‘petty’ about what people called them. My answer was to start calling him Asshole Avery. He didn’t like it. I told him he was being petty.

        1. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

          I particularly like that this person is now a former friend. Don’t need this level of toxicity on anyone’s life. Chapeau!

        2. hbc*

          I have a 100% successful record of stopping* people from being all “It doesn’t matter what you’re called, why does it matter what gender you feel, etc” by immediately calling them the wrong gender. As in, turning to some other person and saying, “Changing subjects, did you remember to send the report to Jane here? I know he really needed it for his customer.”

          *Stopped in my presence, anyway. Hypocrites gonna be hypocritical.

          1. Karia*

            It’s amazing how many people are absolutely fine with a thing until someone does it to them.

            1. Usagi*

              “Sexism is a problem that someone else has to deal with, therefore it’s not a real problem”
              — Those kinds of people, probably

        3. #WearAllTheHats*

          100% this. I shortened my name (let’s say as a fake example “AJ” from “Andrea Janae”) because I loathe my first name and yes, I had a shift in gender identity but respond to previous or current pronouns professionally. However, when someone replies with, “Thanks, ‘Andrea,'” I ensure I call them, “You’re welcome Antonio [for Tony],” or “Thanks, Kaitlyn Marie [for Katie].” Dude, it’s been two years. CALL ME BY MY NAME. Sigh.

        4. Tabby*

          A doctor I used to work with tried this precisely once. He did not like never getting my attention, or my help in exam rooms. Because, yanno, NOBODY calls me by my given name. It’s not the same as a deadname, as I /do/ use it for legal purposes, and some family members occasionally use it, or a variant thereof, but no coworker, be they my level or below or above is allowed to try me on that score.

          Let’s just say he found out that while I may be a gentle soul, there ARE lines he may not cross.

          Petty Betty really needs to stop, and I would SO be in on harassing the ever loving SOUL out of her for doing this to John. I would be the very devil of harassers on that score. :D

    1. Super Admin*

      Agreed. I am petty AF and would absolutely be abusing Lizzy’s name. It still isn’t as offensive as deadnaming someone, but it gives her an idea of how crappy it is to not respect someone’s right to use a preferred name.

      Of course, in reality Alison’s advice is probably more professional. But it’s not as satisfying.

      1. Forrest*

        OP isn’t pushing back hard enough IMO. HR is talking bollocks saying this isn’t harassment for being trans and the OP should be making a much bigger fuss at HR and Elizabeth’s managed to get this stopped right now.

        John should not have to be taking steps on his own, and whilst this might seem “awesome” it’s almost certainly taking an emotional toll on him and sapping energy that he could be putting into his work or his family or his NaNoWriMo novel or literally anything except dealing with harassment the workplace.

        1. Forrest*

          This was supposed to be a response to Robin Ellacott and I don’t know why it appeared here!

        2. Guacamole Bob*

          Yeah, OP needs to be pushing back hard – on Lizzie, on her manager, on HR. Escalate up your own chain of command as needed, too.

          It’s the right thing to do, but also, the more John knows you legitimately have his back, the better. It’s probably really draining for him to go through this all the time, and having clear support from his direct line manager might mitigate that. Right now it seems like OP has done the first steps, but is wavering a bit on anything more difficult, and that’s probably not making John feel great.

          1. Middle Aged Lady*

            I would call her something different every day. Miss Eliza, Liz, Betty, Lisbeth, all of them. Start using her middle name too. Call her Miss Betty Boop or Eliza Doolittle. Keep her guessing.

            1. Esmeralda*

              No, that’s not appropriate. OP needs to say, every time, His name is John. Calling him Sally is harassment and you must stop it now. Send her away. Call her manager and say that you cannot allow anyone who is harassing a member of your team to work with your team.
              And let HR know what you are doing. Kick it upstairs as AAM advises.

              1. Middle Aged Lady*

                She did advise it, and she also said what John is doing is brilliant. I was just pushing it a little further. Wrong of me i know. Inappropriate. I know. But us oppressed folks get so tired of taking the right path. Sometimes it’s fun to have fun with the possibilities of messing with a harasser’s
                Mind, when the powers that be won’t back you up. Gotta laugh and make up crazy names for this amoral, horrible person. Or I might cry!

                1. Princess Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

                  Honestly I think everyone other than John should start using “Elizabeth Maidenname.” Right now it’s John pushing back, but it’s also him putting himself on the line. Everyone else (except OP, who should be using their power to get the problem solves) should be putting themselves on the line and backing John up by doing it. Then, if HR has to come out and chastise people for “Elizabeth Maidenname,” that’s an opportunity to get them to do the same for “Sally.” It’s not just a brilliant stroke of kicking against the pricks, it is a form of protest to evoke a response. Everyone should support him.

        3. soon to be former fed really*

          Yep, John should have a quick consult with an employment law attorney. Maybe a strongly-worded letter would put an end to this crap. Or he could just start an EEO complaint. Those can be brought against anybody.

        4. Robin Ellacott*

          I agree! I read this thinking she was a colleague of John’s but later realized she was his manager. I think I may have been too angry to see nuance, initially.

        5. I work in HR*

          HR person here. I’m personally incensed that this HR Dept doesn’t recognize this behavior as harassment and creating a hostile work environment. This is why HR gets a bad name!!! Agree with Alison for LW to escalate this to higher HR if possible.

    2. Elbe*

      John is amazing and that is hilarious.

      Being petty in the workplace isn’t a great solution, but it’s the last solution John has now that everyone in the office, including HR, has completely failed him. If he can’t stop being repeatedly harassed, he may as well get some amusement out of Lizzy.

      1. another Hero*

        Yeah this is 100% a situation where John is being obnoxious but like he deserves to, team John

        1. nakto of shangor*

          John is not being obnoxious. John is treating Elizabeth in exactly the standards she sets for herself.

      2. Princess Trachea Aurelia Belaroth*

        I don’t even think it’s petty, it’s a form of protest. Without recourse, he is doing what he can. He is not giving up his seat on the bus, in hopes to force a response.

    3. Campfire Raccoon*

      I am here for this as well. Elizabeth Maidenname, said in its entirety, every time she’s mentioned or discussed.

      All day, every day.

      1. AnonForThis*

        One of my husband’s uncles (six kids total – 3 boys, 3 girls) married a friend of his sister’s, who was a brash personality, may she rest in peace.

        Ever since I have met his family, the aunties (as the girls in the family are known) called their sister-in-law by her maiden name in every.single.conversation.

        No one else in the family has the same name (although my MIL’s BFF does, so maybe that is how it started?), but his wife, for her entire life and still to this day, is referred to in conversation as FirstName MaidenName.

        1. Lizy*

          Ugh my dad (who I’m not close with) still has me as Lizy MaidenName MarriedName in emails and addresses stuff to me like that and I silently scream every time. I’ve been married for 13+ years. There are many people who have no clue what my maiden name is.

          Aside from that, wtf does it matter to call someone by their chosen name?!

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      My first thought, “please let her be married. Use her maiden name.”
      Big ups to John for taking this head on, even though it’s bullshit he should have to.
      This company is lead by morons, so treat them like that.
      Contact HR, tell them they misunderstand, she IS specifically targeting him for being trans. You can point to every other employee she addresses by the name they prefer, (looking at you Tom, Dick and Harry) which proves she is singling him out.

      1. LunaLena*

        Yeah, this is what I was wondering about! What about people who use nicknames, or middle names, or abbreviations of their names, etc? Does she insist on calling all of them by their official names “out of respect to their mothers”?

        I mean, I go by my middle name, and when I got married my mother suggested I change my first name to my middle name while I was at it because she doesn’t think my first name was a wise choice any more. So how does Lizzy know she’s even respecting John’s mother’s wishes? She wouldn’t be respecting mine if she insisted on calling me by my first name. Maybe his mother’s wish is for people to call her son by the name he prefers too!

        1. 10Isee*

          Also… am I missing the context where Elizabeth has reason to think “Sally” was John’s mother’s choice at all? My husband picked our daughter’s name, I just OK’d it. For that matter, my dad chose my first name and my mother chose my middle The assumption that his mother chose it at all is weird and a little sexist.

          1. MayLou*

            John might even be the name his parents would have given if they’d known he was male at birth!

          2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            This too, I got my name because after a bunch of kids, my mom said, NO. I’m naming this one after my side.

        2. whingedrinking*

          See, you’re thinking like that because you’re a rational person who thinks pointing out the flaws in other people’s professed reasons for bad behavior will get them to stop, out of shame if nothing else.
          Unfortunately, you can’t expect logic or even consistency from someone when their base reasons aren’t rational. Lizzy is almost certainly aware on some level that her actual reason is that she doesn’t believe John is a man, and also aware enough to know that she can’t get away with saying that out loud in her work environment. So she’s drawn the thinnest possible veil over it and counts on the fact that others are too uncomfortable to point out that everyone can see right through it to the naked bigotry underneath.

          1. Ellen*

            Well, she has the right not to believe it; she doesn’t have the right to arbitrarily decide what he should be called.

    5. Donkey Hotey*

      Up the ante: Find out Elizabeth’s middle name.
      Elizabeth Middle name Maiden name.
      Anything less would be disrespectful to her mother, after all.

      1. With an H*

        Up the ante further: contact Elizabeth’s mother, find out all the embarrassing nick-names her family called her growing up. Address her as Nickname Elizabeth Middle Name Birth Name. Preferably at the start of every sentence.

        She’ll never be able to get anything done.

        1. KateM*

          Assuming that Elizabeth’s maiden name is actually her father’s surname as it often is, is this not actually respectful of her *father* instead? Maybe she should be called Elizabeth Mother’s maiden name, to show respect for mother? Or maybe both mother’s maiden name and married name? Or maybe the way Icelanders’ name go – Elizabeth Mother’sdaughter?

          1. Quill*

            Oh, why stop at the mother? If you have the information without stalking, it’s Elizabeth Gloriana Tudor daughter of Anne of Cleeves, daughter of Maria of Jülich-Berg, daughter of Sibylle of Brandenburg…

            1. wendelenn*

              Now I’m thinking about Daenerys, or Ayla in the horrible last books of the Clan of the Cave Bear series, with all their full names and titles. . .

        2. AnonForThis*

          Or find out what her alternative names might have been.

          Elizabeth Alternate#1 Alternate#2 Nickname MiddleName MaidenName

    6. Elenna*

      SAME. Like, oh, HR says it’s perfectly okay to call someone by a name that’s not their name? Gotcha, will do!

    7. The CLawww!*

      I’m picturing everyone sending her postcards addressed to her maiden name. Then at the top, “Dearest Petty Betty…”

      And then an explanation of all the ways in which she sucks.

      Of course in that case, we’re all gonna need more postcards.

    8. allathian*

      Me too, absolutely!
      Lizzy’s absolutely harassing John for being trans. Even though I’m not in the US and I’m about as cishet as they come, I absolutely cheered when the Supreme Court ruling was announced. John needs all the support he can get and there should definitely be some consequences both for Lizzy for harassing him and for her boss for allowing it to happen. I do admire John’s response, though, but he’s still entitled to being called by his new name.

    1. Ray Gillette*

      Sadly, John’s brilliant handling of this situation comes from practice and the knowledge that he can’t rely on the people around him to put a stop to this behavior.

      LW, I know you don’t have any direct authority over this walking trash can, but you’re in the best position to do something. At the very least, keep her away from John while you go over her useless manager’s head.

      1. D'Arcy*

        Yeah, this is one of the standard things trans people learn to use as pushback against transphobic bigots.

      2. Shirley Keeldar*

        A good point. Maybe OP doesn’t have the authority make Lizzie (I mean Elizabeth Maidenname) knock it off…but might she have the authority to say, “I will not like your report work on anything with my report until she stops harassing him because of his gender identity”?

        1. designbot*

          I like this. And if that means Elizabeth Maidenname doesn’t have enough work for her to be seen as a productive employee worth continuing to pay salary too… well, oops.

        2. Shirley Keeldar*

          Gosh, typed that too quick. “the authority TO make Lizzie” and “I will not LET your report.” I hate typos.

          (Although if you want to not like Lizzie until she knocks it off, I support that as well.)

      3. Mookie*

        Yeah, I’m glad John has hopefully latched onto a strategy that might slightly offset the pain of this routine, insulting, undermining, boundary-crossing humiliation, but this is still an overwhelmingly sad and depressing situation. It’s never cause for much jubilation when you have to fight a battle singlehandedly like this, using weapons you usually wouldn’t. If this continues, I hope your colleagues stop behaving as bystanders, witnessing John be funny about this or having to figure out who Elizabeth is referring to each and every time she deadnames John, and start making good, fullthroated, unambiguous trouble about this. A manager probably shouldn’t. I see no reason why peers, not organized but as individuals, shouldn’t.

  2. Forrest Gumption*

    I’m not sure why Lizzie thinks respect for John’s mother trumps respect for John himself!

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      Exactly! I mean, we know why, but there are some BIG holes in her specious “reason” for doing this.

      1. une autre Cassandra*

        It’s interesting to see how people who hate trans folks try to contort their harassment to be Not About The Transness. More upsetting and gross than anything but interesting that they feel they need some kind of cover for their transphobia. (Even if “respect for John’s mother” is the weakest and most embarrassing excuse imaginable.)

        1. Miss Muffet*

          Seriously. What does HR think is harassing specifically on his trans-ness? Does she have to SAY the word trans for it to “count”? bizarre. Wonder what other things people are getting harassed about that don’t meet the threshold because the person doesn’t say the “right” word.

            1. Keymaster of Gozer*

              One wonders how they classify harassment at all. If an employee calls another one a serious of offensive names constantly, is it only harassment if the clearly say “oh by the way I do this because I hate your gender”? (As an example)

              1. Rexish*

                you need to state your intention .”I shall commence the harrasment due to your [fill in the blank]” otherwise it is only fun chatting

        2. Tidewater 4-1009*

          I grew up with people who did this all the time. They would harass and cover it as “teasing”, or “joking” when it obviously wasn’t.
          It was especially hurtful when authorities did nothing, like OP’s HR. They would literally say “he didn’t say he’s trying to hurt you” to excuse it. Like anyone would admit to that.
          If John is like me, anything OP can do to support him and get authorities to do the right thing will make him feel much better and stronger.

          1. BrainFlogged*

            Same. My folks call it everything under the Sun, but what it is.
            I allways called it bullshit and is not because there’s government blessing now that is less so.

          2. yala*

            Yeah. I’ve gotten that at work with a bullying coworker, who keeps it *just* this side of plausible (and sometimes not even that). It’s infuriating. (Nevermind stuff like “no, ___ didn’t technically say ‘you can’t do this job if you have ADHD’ but does make comments like ‘Don’t you think [absence of ADHD symptom] is crucial to doing this job?’ when I describe my methods of compensating for said ADHD symptom.”)

            I’m glad OP is reaching out for advice and that they’ve gone to HR, but they need to try going further up the chain and if that doesn’t work, a letter from a lawyer might be the next option.

      2. irene adler*

        Elizabeth, for all you know, John’s mother DOES address John as “John” (his Dad too!). So who are you to do otherwise?

        1. Sled dog mama*

          And who says John didn’t get his parents in put when making his transition. Or have it indirectly, I know the name my parents had picked out for if I was a boy maybe he chose to go by that name and she’s actually refusing to call him by a name his parents suggested!

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            My mother would have read Lizzy the riot act, and I would have found a way to let her. I hope all of his coworkers are calling out Elizabeth on her bullpoop. Every. Time.

            1. irene adler*

              Yeah! I’d love to have John’s mom show up just as Elizabeth is (mis)addressing him. Then, have Elizabeth go though her “respect for John’s mother” bit. Then let Mom let her have it!

              No excuses here.

            2. HoHumDrum*

              This might be the *only* letter on AAM where I would even consider actively rooting for someone’s mom to get involved in their workplace issue.

              (assuming John’s mom is a decent one who supports her son)

              1. The CLawww!*

                Order your “John’s Mom” and “John” pennants here!

                Or if John’s mom isn’t (God forbid) supportive, I volunteer to be his stand-in mom and will crowd fund my flight out to his workplace.

            3. Working Hypothesis*

              I am the mother of two nonbinary children (as well as a son). If anybody tried to use me as an excuse for deadnaming my kid, they’d be hearing from me and it wouldn’t be pretty!

          2. Quill*

            Yeah, I have aquaintances whose parents gifted them a new name upon transition, and also… even if John’s parents aren’t that awesome, respect for John’s self always beats respect for his parents’ wishes.

            1. Baja Vista*

              I also know someone who, upon transition, chose her new name based on learning what her parents would have used if they’d known she was a girl at birth.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                One of my kids chose a gender-neutral nickname we’d used for them since they were about four, when they decided their legal name was too feminine to suit their nonbinary identity. I was mildly regretful to lose the connection to the deceased friend for whom I had originally named them, but deeply touched that they went out of their way to choose a new name which had also, in its own way, come from us.

                To be first, I’d have willingly used any name for them that they told me to — it’s their name, not mine!! But it was really sweet of them to pick one we’d been using for them already; just in a less formal way.

                1. Working Hypothesis*

                  To be clear, that second paragraph was supposed to say. I have no idea why my spell checker wants me to be first. I guess it’s competitive or something.

        2. GS*

          Though how much worse if he does have friction with his parents over it, and this is a constant reminder?

          1. Rectilinear Propagation*

            Right? How awful is that and how can you even begin to argue that this isn’t transphobic in that regard?

            She’s either saying:
            “I’m not transphobic, I’m just siding with the transphobic person I’ve never met!”
            “I’m not transphobic, I’m respecting his mother by disrespecting her son by using the name not even she calls him by now!”

            1. whingedrinking*

              I mean, suppose that someone was cis and had friction with their parents over their name. If someone said, “I have always hated the name Gertrude, please call me Cleopatra”, and her parents refused and always called her Gertie when she was at home, would Lizzy say, “Out of respect for your mother, I will only call you Gertrude?” Somehow I doubt it.

              1. Avi*

                My uncle’s birth name was *Lucky*. With a middle name of Rockford. Gramma was… an interesting person. Anyway, he changed it to something that wasn’t completely ridiculous the first instant he was legally allowed to do so. Gramma persisted in calling him by his childhood nickname, Rocky, for the rest of her life, but everyone else who knew him from before the name change had no trouble respecting his decision. If someone who only knew him from after the change found out about it and suddenly started calling him ‘Lucky’, he’d take it as even more of an insult if they tried to couch it as ‘respecting his mother’s wishes’. What part of naming a kid like that deserves respect?!

                1. Personal Friend of Lucky's*

                  “Lucky” is a fairly common (legal first) name here by the way. I have also met a few “Happys”. Just FYI.

                  They never thought to change their names, nor thought them ridiculous. From an outsider they may have tolerated someone mentioning “their Mother must be interesting,” but that would have been the start and end of it.

                  Neither would our bosses have tolerated coworkers hassling them for their names. It only demonstrates that the focus is on something that is not work, nor contributing positively to the proceedings.

                  All this woman is doing is looking for an opportunity to harass.

          2. Kumajiro*

            Exactly my thoughts! My roommate decided to change his name to something completely different during his transition. His mother haaaaaaates his new name. Told him point blank “Ew, I’d never have picked that name for you. I hate it.” Like 1.) Who says that to their own child trying to figure out their identity? 2.) Why should it be up to random people like Lizzie years later to determine that attitude needs respect?

        3. Third or Nothing!*

          My in-laws have been using my BIL’s new name and pronoun since the beginning even though they’re not 100% on board with his transition. For Pete’s sake, you don’t even have to be super supportive of trans rights to give someone the common courtesy and decency of addressing them as they’ve indicated they want to be addressed.

          1. Lucien Nova*

            You don’t have to be supportive at all, really. My maternal aunt refuses to admit I exist 99 percent of the time and she still doesn’t deadname me. It’s really that simple.

            1. Gaia*

              Right! Because we address people by their preferred name ALL THE TIME without question. There’s literally no reason – other than transphobia – that this should be any different.

              1. Marika*

                This – so much this!

                Look, I’m a teacher – it is RULE ONE that you get your students’ names RIGHT. And, if they have a preferred name that is not the one on your list, that you use that name. Period. The ONLY exceptions are if their preferred name is utterly inappropriate – no I won’t call you sex god, master, ballmeister or ni**agirl (yes, all of those are actual examples) or if you have enough students with the same first name that you need to either a) ask if they would be willing to use a middle name or b) go to everyone’s last name – I had a calculus teacher who literally didn’t know my first name – I was on his list as S. Middle name Last name, because there were six girls named S in our class of 29, and two of us had last names that were similar enough to muck everything up.

                Names MATTER. They have power. They’re how we interface with the world. You get to use someone’s deadname exactly ONCE – if you knew them when that was their name and no one has filled you in on their new name. The MOMENT they say ‘actually, my name is…’, then that is the name you use. No ifs, ands or buts. And yes, I’ve deadnamed a student once – it was the name on my list and I called it. It was the last time I did it; now in my first class I do my lists by last name and let my students fill in the first name – so ‘Brown?’ ‘Present, and it’s Mike’. It’s not hard – Elizabeth is making it hard because she’s a bigot.

                1. Kumajiro*

                  I would like to say that it can be harder to switch which names you call people. I do my best (and have gone through a name change myself, so I do get it), but it does take time and practice if you knew the person for years before they changed their name. The point is to make an effort. If it’s me and you go “Oh hey, Sally- Sorry, John-“ and continue on, it’s fine. And over time that happens less and less. The issue is not respecting the change at all.

                2. miss chevious*

                  As a former teacher, totally agree with you. When I taught, I would go down the rows and ask students for their names, which tended to elicit which Jennifers go by Jen and which by Jenny, or whether Robert goes by Rob or Bob. Another benefit for me was that I wasn’t massacring the pronunciation, I was hearing it right the first time.

                3. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                  I so wish I’d had a teacher like you. I so, so wish I had you when I was in school. I had a few different teachers who had run-ins with my dad who was very willing to back me up that my name was “x, please respect x enough to use their name.”

                  I will admit not always being super mature about my responses to those teachers, but in my defense I was a kid, and it was a common easy to pronounce for English speakers name.

                4. Darsynia*

                  I love everything that you said here.

                  It’s also why I was so confused by the Psychology 101 professor I had in college. First of all her classes were always overbooked by at least 5 people, on purpose, she KNEW this, but she always gave the people who showed up last (even if they weren’t late) crap for it, every time. Second of all, she was so insufferable that every single iteration of her class ended up with 3-9 people who hadn’t dropped out by the final, no joke.

                  Thirdly? She called us whatever the F she wanted to. GLORIED in it. Thought it was HILARIOUS (anyone still wonder why we all dropped her class?)! She was rude, dismissive, and confrontational if you pushed back on her choice of name for you. I still hate her and it was over 10 years ago. Tenure is a terrible thing sometimes.

                5. SusanIvanova*

                  My company directory has a field for “what name do you prefer to be called” – nickname, middle name, surname, making it clear that it’s a double first name, thank you very much – whatever you want to put there.

                  I suspect that aggressively refusing to respect what’s in that field would get HR’s attention.

            2. Third or Nothing!*

              It’s so stinkin’ basic. Seriously, we call people by their nicknames all the time. Or even Ms. vs Mrs. People deserve respect regardless of how you feel about them!!!!!


              1. EchoGirl*

                Yep. I’ve actually had the opposite problem, where people have used a nickname in place of my full name without asking*. It’s a little annoying (not nearly to the extent of being deadnamed, though), but it also blows the “it’s haaaaaaaaard not to use real names!” argument out of the water.

                *To explain further, I don’t use the nickname to the exclusion of my full name like some people do — I tend to see it as indicative of a certain amount of familiarity or closeness (although not everyone I’m close to calls me by it — my husband, for example, never has, even though he knows I’d be cool with it if he did).

                1. Wheee!*

                  YES! It doesn’t happen to me frequently, but every once in awhile someone decides to be “cute” and add an ie to my name. Like if my name was Sam and they called me Sammie. If you didn’t know me in elementary school, just call me by my name.

                2. allathian*

                  I have a family nickname that I used at school in first grade as well, because I was one of 4 girls with the same name in my class. When I got older I no longer wanted to use it, but it took years to get my extended family to stop. I didn’t even try to get my grandparents to stop, but it was hopeless with my aunts, uncles and cousins. These days, only my parents and sister use it occasionally, and one cousin I see maybe three times a decade, but my husband never has.

                3. Reluctant Manager*

                  Yes yes yes! You can use that name if we were introduced by my parents or if you have specifically requested permission. Otherwise it is presumptuous and I will judge you for it. And that’s a name I like and identify with!

                4. EchoGirl*

                  (Ran out of nesting, so this a reply to everyone who replied to me.)

                  I think it my case, it’s generally been more of a “pattern recognition fail” kind of thing. The only time it really happened to a significant extent was high school, and what I really think it was is that my friends (and even a few teachers I was close with) called me the nickname, and other people would hear that and think (erroneously) that that was the name I went by, and then other people would hear those people using it and so on. If it was intentional it probably would’ve upset me more.

                5. Darsynia*

                  Hah, my husband has always preferred his full name. Fun story: when we were dating, he gave me a phone card to use the pay phone at my college to call his dorm. I called, asked for [full name] to the roommate that answered, and was told he wasn’t there.
                  Perplexed, I called his mother. Yup, it’s the right number… I called back to the dorm and the same guy answered, still said ‘no one here by the name of [full name]–‘ and my boyfriend called out ‘uh, that’s MY name’ from a different part of the same room. LOL! He’s easygoing about names but prefers the long form, so he never told them not to call him the diminutive, but I always have.

                  Someone once asked me if I ‘really love him if you don’t call him by his nickname.’ Can you believe that?? Yes, I really love him and respect him enough to use the name he prefers, thanks.

                6. SusanIvanova*

                  IRL I am not even close to being a Susan, but my mom used to call me Susie or Susie Q. It wouldn’t even register if someone else called out that name.

      3. nm*

        When she says “I’m respecting his mother!” I’d be tempted to say “oh honey, do you think we’re that stupid?”

        1. soon to be former fed really*

          I would respond “Why? You don’t know his mother, and you’re disrespecting HIM. Stop it.”

          1. SeluciaMD*

            Love this. Or conversely “Well I talked to his mother and she wants you to call him John.”

            Such BS. This woman is a terrible, terrible human being, the company SUCKS, and I feel so badly that John is having to endure this day in and day out.

    2. Hills to Die on*

      She knows damn well it doesn’t have anything to do with his mother – and so does John and everyone else.

    3. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

      And how does Lizzy know John’s mother doesn’t approve of his new name? Perhaps he chose the name his mother was planning to give him if he had been AMAB, or chose the name of her father or deceased brother or something.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        John should bring in a note from his mother endorsing his new name as a tongue-in-cheek response to this. Nobody even needs to know if it’s not actually from his mom. Although can you imagine his mom coming in and telling Elizabeth to back off of her son John? I would do that for my kid in a hot second. Over the top and not realistic, but very, very clear.

        1. COBOL Dinosaur*

          This was my thought. If John’s mother is behind him then I would go as far as to have her call John at work, put her on speaker phone and then tell Elizabeth to knock it off.

        2. kittymommy*

          Oh man, if John’s mama came and reamed Elizabeth Maidenname I would get some snacks and tape it for later viewing!!

        3. Them Boots*

          I volunteer my Mom as tribute! She would so go in there and pretend to be John’s mom! (Most of my close friends call her Mom because, well, she Mom’s)

          1. ellex42*

            Mine would do the same. I’ve said more than once that my Mom is so Mom that anyone who meets her instantly knows she’s a Mom.

            Incidentally, my parents gave me a nickname when I was a child that, although actually derived from my legal name, does not, on the surface, appear to be related to that name (think Dick for Richard or Peggy for Margaret). When I reached middle school, I decided to go by a nickname more obviously derived from my given name, and over the years, have tried out several other nicknames. And while my family still call me by my childhood nickname, they have always supported me in whatever I preferred to be called outside of my family.

            1. Raven*

              My late aunt was named Roberta. When she was a young child, she declared she wanted to be called Pat. Everyone, INCLUDING HER PARENTS, called her Pat. People who knew her later in life didn’t even know her name wasn’t actually Patricia or anything like it.

              1. BonzaSonza*

                My dad’s mum was always “Nanny Jo (my Surname)” to me. She never went by any other name.

                I was an adult with children of my own and my Nan 10 years gone when I learned that her name was actually Nancy, and she’d never taken on her husband’s surname, she’d kept her own French surname. She was a very progressive woman for her time and raised three kids on her own as a mechanic in an era when women were meant to be decorative and nothing more.

                It rocked my world when I learned that her name wasn’t ever her actual legal name, but it was the one she chose for herself.

                Names have meaning, and everyone gets to choose their preferred name. Blaming ‘respect for his mother’ as a reason for disrespecting him is just a thin veneer over transphobia and needs to stop.

                Whether or not you are successful in getting Petty Betty to stop, I’m sure it means a lot to John to have you publicly in his corner

              2. Working Hypothesis*

                Yeah. When I was nineteen, I decided to use my Hebrew name socially instead of my English (legal) name. You know what? My parents call me by the name I’ve used for the last thirty years, and there’s no issue with it. When I told my dad I wanted to be called ______ he said, “Okay, ______,” and that was the end of it. My mom did occasionally complain wryly that if she had known I was actually going to *use* my Hebrew name, she’d have picked one she liked… but she still learned to use the damn thing.

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Mine will come and support!
            (She’s an ‘adopted’ mum to several LGBTQ friends who were disowned by their families)

        4. Environmental Compliance*

          Hell, I’d volunteer to pretend to be John’s mom and write the note & read Elizabeth Maiden the riot act.

        5. Blue Anne*

          I don’t think it’s helpful to actually resort to bringing in a response from his mother. John needs to be respected in his own right.

      2. Anon Scientist*


        My response to Elizabeth Maidenname would be:
        “Let’s call my mother right now, and she can tell you herself that you should call me John. She will be veeeeeeeery unhappy to hear about your treatment of me.”

        I also happen to have a supportive mother, and appreciate that not everyone is as lucky.

        1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

          And if his actual mother doesn’t approve, I’m sure he has a female friend willing to adopt him for the purposes of this phone call.

              1. old curmudgeon*

                All of the swears. Oh, very yes.

                I give out free mom-hugs to anyone who needs one, and I’d be TOTALLY onboard with serving in loco parentis to tear Petty Betty a new one. As credentials, I can (and have) made a Marine blush by the time I got through with them, so I feel fairly well qualified to serve in the capacity should it be necessary.

                1. Sled Dog Mama*

                  Do you give lessons? As mom to a six year old I think I will need these in the future either to use on her or any friends that come around.
                  Hubby has the sketchy guy your parents warned you about angle covered so I need to cover the ability to dress anyone down in anyway, over anything.

            1. Can I be John's mom?*

              Please, please, please? I am an older woman who gets to have no fun. As John’s temp Mom, I give him permission to call her Lizard Breath at every opportunity.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            I have an amazing mom voice and would totally audition for the part of John’s mom. I have no patience with people like Elizabeth, and her “logic” is dumb on so many levels I lost count.

            Multiple people in my family aren’t crazy about their given names or share a name with another family member, and they use a variety of nicknames that may or not relate to the name their parents gave to them. I bet you the Elizabeths of world don’t tell the senior VP who goes by Buzz or Babs that she won’t use their preferred name.

      3. char*

        This was my thought! If someone deadnamed me “out of respect for my mother”, my mother would be first in line to tell that person off.

        Not that it actually matters whether or not John’s mother approves, but there’s a decent chance that she does.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Mine too.

          In fact, she has some serious rage to work out, so OP, if John needs a faux mom, let me know. He can borrow mine.

      4. Working Hypothesis*

        You know, there are so many people here who are eager to volunteer as John’s substitute mom (in case his own isn’t sufficiently eager to tear Elizabeth Maiden name a new orifice) that I’m now imagining that we all get together and totally mess with her head. One after another, we can ALL line up and confront her, demanding that she immediately stop disrespecting OUR SON. Then step aside and it’s on to the next Mom! (The last one in line would ideally be her manager, telling her “actually, you don’t need to call John anything at all anymore, because you’re fired,” but it sounds as if that’s not likely, alas.)

        Maybe with a couple hundred moms — of all shapes, sizes, colors and genders — getting on her case, she’ll decide he has too much support to mess with?

    4. The New Wanderer*

      I would be calling her out with this every single time. Bluntly, not casually, because this is not “Oops Lizzie, please remember he goes by John,” it’s “You will respect your coworker and call him by his name now and always or you can GTFO.”

        1. fogharty*

          “His name is Robert Paulson…. His name is Robert Paulson….”
          Have everyone in the office stand in a circle around her and chant, except using John’s name instead.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Insufficient. Tell Lizzy ONCE that she needs to respect *John* her actual co-worker, by treating him in a professional manner and calling him by his name, which is John.

          1. Observer*

            Except that the OP doesn’t apparently have the authority to make it stick. Because HR apparently claims that you can only make people behave like polite adults if their misbehavior uses magic words.

            1. allathian*

              HR needs to get their collective heads handed back to them by the highest authority. Have any cases been tried in the US yet in accordance with the recent Supreme Court ruling about LGBT being a protected status federally? Does John’s employer really want to set itself up for a landmark case that will be referred to in every similar case in the future, like Roe vs. Wade?

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yes. “You know his name is John. Call him by his name. Anything else is transphobic and unacceptable. You sound very stupid right now.”

    5. Elbe*

      There’s no reason that calling John by his name would disrespect his mother. And there’s no reason to disrespect John (the person sitting right in front of her) out of loyalty to someone she doesn’t know and hasn’t met.

      Is such a flimsy excuse and I doubt anyone believes it. I hope that the LW calls Lizzy out on this fig leaf of hers, too.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        By Lizzy’s logic, she is disrespecting her own mother by preferring to be called a nickname herself. Apparently HER mother named her Elizabeth, so that’s the name she should use. Not only is she incredibly wrong, she’s also an incredible hypocrite!

    6. Momma Bear*

      Lizzy took it upon herself to find out John’s old name and deliberately started calling him that, even though no one else in the entire company does, she knows he doesn’t like it, and has been told by both him and OP to stop. That is harassment at minimum and possibly insubordination, depending on OP and Lizzy’s roles.

      IMO, John has every right to refuse to respond to anything addressed to Sally (Sally doesn’t exist). I agree that OP needs to take it up the food chain. It is absolutely about harassing a trans person, especially since it seems to be limited to John and not anyone else who uses a nickname or otherwise had a name change (like herself). She’s also deliberately causing confusion in the workplace because others don’t know who she’s talking about and SALLY DOESN’T EXIST. Maybe that is an angle OP can also use. Tell Lizzy’s boss (and HR and anyone else affected) that Lizzy’s refusal to properly address John by his correct name is causing issues with projects and workflows. Either Lizzy needs to sort herself out or she needs to be removed from those projects since she cannot behave professionally. I certainly hope she doesn’t have any customer facing role because can you imagine her telling a client why she calls John the wrong name? Or having something get dropped because people are trying to reach Sally, who doesn’t work there?

      John is brilliant. My hat’s off to him on his response to her.

    7. BethRA*

      She doesn’t really think this, she’s a horrible transphobic person using that as an excuse.

      1. LQ*

        This is so important. I’m glad John is finding a way to cope.

        I’m hesitant to say that I know what’s in someone’s true heart, but in Lizzy’s true heart she doesn’t give a single care about moms and is just transphobic with a very transparent lie.

    8. CJ Record*

      This is an incredibly common “excuse” trans folk hear. Usually in combination with some variation of “Don’t you respect how your parents raised you?” It’s “nice” transphobia via identity denial.

    9. MissDisplaced*

      It doesn’t. It’s just some bullshit trope to bully and oppress. It’s an incredibly passive aggressive tactic used by the religious right and their ilk as a method of refusing to acknowledge someone who is transgender by refusing to use their chosen name. Refusing a name seeks to diminish the person, their sex and their choices. It is absolutely harassment.

      1. Jennifer Juniper*

        Look up TERF – Trans Exclusive Radical Feminist.

        Warning: You will need a shower and a barf bucket after reading these ladies’ rantings.

    10. D'Arcy*

      Lizzie is doing this it’s one of the *standard* bigoted radical feminist arguments against trans people. It’s mostly focused on trans *women*, but it also gets applied to trans men like John.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        Does rad feminism have a problem with transmen though? I would peg Lizzie as just some kind of religious nut. I don’t know that a rad fem would deny someone’s name in the workplace.

        1. HoHumDrum*

          They do- they express their hostility by refusing to acknowledge transmen as men. They view transwomen as male imposters trying to take over “women’s spaces” so that gets the bulk of the attention because it’s so hateful. But at the same time they also are pretty open about viewing transmen as butch women. Some rad fems try to cover up their bigotry by pointing to their acceptance of transmen in those spaces as evidence they’re not anti-trans but in reality it’s still a denial of that man’s actual identity, because the reason they accept transmen is because they consider them to be women.

          It’s just thoroughly disgusting all around.

        2. Akcipitrokulo*

          Yeah, they do :( They focus on transwomen, but also say (amongst other things) that transmen are de-legitimising lesbians.

        3. Diotima*

          I think the term “TERF” used to mean trans-exclusionary radical feminism, but ‘reactionary feminism’ might be acceptable too. See: JK Rowling.

        4. Littorally*

          Yep. The usual framing is that we’re unwitting children led astray by the big bad patriarchy who need to be protected from mutilating our bodies. Bonus points if autism is brought up. While it’s not as bad as being called predators, it’s still pretty disgusting.

          1. Jennifer Juniper*

            Huh. Never heard of the autism angle before. But not surprised they’d bring that up.

            I’m autistic myself. Nice to know that TERF’s are ableist AND sexist.

              1. I take tea*

                WTF? How weird.

                Good piece. I especially liked the part with “Neither trans nor autistic people are trusted as authorities on the subject of ourselves.” Sending it to a friend, who I suspect knows this too.

              2. Jennifer Juniper*

                Thank you, Felix.

                As a white cis woman, I have used the “gullible and childlike” thing to my advantage all my life, and still do so today at age 46.

                I am well aware I can only do this because I’m white and feminine. If people want to think I can’t tell a lie, I’ll never disabuse them of their pet belief.

              3. Ice and Indigo*

                Oh yeah, that one makes me see red. (Figuratively.) My son’s autism includes what the doctors call ‘severe language delay’, and he doesn’t give half a hoot if what he’s doing is ‘boy stuff’ or ‘girl stuff’, he’ll happily do both … and he’s 100% clear what his gender is.

                Manipulate him into thinking he’s a girl? HA! I can’t manipulate him into thinking it’s easier to tidy up as you go. They’re just throwing kids like him under the bus because they think it’ll make them look woke.

        5. Dahlia*

          To TERFs, trans women are “men in dresses” and trans men are “confused lesbians”. They ABSOLUTELY would deadname someone.

          Also, just an FYI, space between trans and men (or man or woman or women). Just like how it’s not shortwoman or tallman.

          1. Portia*

            I sort of knew this (trans woman not transwoman) but had never seen it explicitly said; thank you for the brief and elegant explanation!

            1. Ellen*

              I don’t think that’s what terfs think. My understanding is that they don’t think anyone can change physical sex, and have no idea how to define the terms “men and women” without referring to biology or old-fashioned sexist stereotypes.

              Do you?

              1. Akcipitrokulo*

                I was replying to learning its trans men/trans women not all one word – I didn’t realise was doing it wrong, now do know, and thanking (non sarcastically) for the correction.

              2. Working Hypothesis*

                While it’s true that TERFs don’t think it’s possible to for gender to be separated from anatomy, there are a lot of side beliefs thrown in there which mix up with the core group. For example, they’ve bought into the “LGBTQ = sexual predator” thing (even those who are fine with gay people) and tend to believe that am overwhelming majority of trans women are actually just men who want an excuse to get into women’s locker rooms, restrooms, etc for purposes of committing rape (or at least voyeurism). The “men in a dress” line comes up pretty frequently.

                (Why, yes, I have had to listen to far more of these people yammer than I ever wanted to hear. How can you tell?)

    11. MusicWithRocksIn*

      I would actually put it just like that. “Lizzie, respecting your coworker to their face is more important here than projecting your feelings onto his mother, whom you have not met”. Which kind of brings up for me – if his mother is a decent person she would not be ok with this. Maybe she loves the name Sally – maybe she would have named him that if he had been born female. We don’t know! Respecting his mother is such a balled faced lie! I just…. flames on the side of my face!!!!

      1. Robin Ellacott*

        “Lizzie, respecting your coworker to their face is more important here than projecting your feelings onto his mother, whom you have not met”.

        Beautifully put.

    12. Jules the 3rd*

      This is the point LW needs to make, and make *hard*.

      ‘Sally, use John’s correct name, which is John.’
      ‘But Respeeect for his Mooooother’
      ‘Does not excuse disrespect to John. Use John’s correct name, which is John. This is a direction from a manager.’

      Document the time / date you give this clear directive (ccing her manager and HR, with ‘this is illegal harassment’ context), and tell John to let you know the next time she doesn’t use John. When John lets you know, be on the phone to her manager immediately, and:

      “Per my documentation, at X date / time, I told Sally, clearly and directly, to use John’s correct name, which is John. She has failed to do so. This is disrespectful to John, it is confusing to everyone else, it is insubordination to me, and it is harassment that has to stop before she opens us up to legal action. I want a written disciplinary action for insubordination and harassment, with the clear understanding that this is is a potentially job-ending. I will happily provide you with the text of the disciplinary letter, and conference in with you when you have the disciplinary meeting with her, but I expect to see a copy of the disciplinary action within 5 business days. We have to stop Sally’s illegal harassment of John.”

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Thinking about it more: OP, you don’t have to wait for another example of it. You can call her up and tell her to stop, now. Anytime. As John’s manager, you have standing to tell her to stop harassing him.

        You will also need to watch that she doesn’t shift the harassment to a different mode; there’s a lot of subtle things our highly-gender-segregated society would give her openings to do. So I’d add some of Alison’s scripts about ‘It is a job requirement that we treat our co-workers respectfully, and unprofessional behavior will not be tolerated.’ And then talk to John and ask that he let you know if she gets out of line at all. If he even *thinks* Lizzy’s getting out of line, you need to check.

    13. Observer*

      That’s the first obvious question.

      The second obvious question is what does she do about everyone else’s name changes?

      And, last but not least, what’s up with having a hissy fit over John using her maiden name? You should point out to HR that the fact that she insists on her married name but refuses to do the same for John indicates that she *is* explicitly harassing him for being trans – She is treating the SAME situation (ie name change) differently because of his status of being trans.

      Your HR is not going to like it, but it becomes much harder for idiot HR to ignore this when you call out a thing that courts have consistently pointed to.

      1. Pen keeper*

        “She is treating the SAME situation (ie name change) differently because of his status of being trans.”

        Yes! This is the angle and evidence to use to (hopefully) get something through to HR!

    14. Elenna*

      Also, for all she knows John’s mother is 100% supportive of John and would be immensely pissed off if she knew what Elizabeth Maidenname is up to…

    15. Not So NewReader*

      Does she call everyone in the office by the name their mother gave them? If not, why not?

    16. Beth*

      She doesn’t. She just thinks this transparent excuse will get people off her back about her transphobia–and so far, it looks like she’s mostly right.

    17. tamarack and fireweed*

      Also, she doesn’t even know John’s mother. This is extreme-level concern trolling.

    18. Hard Rock Lover*

      Lizzy’s reasoning is ridiculous! What if John’s mom is a good supportive mom & calls him John now (which I hope she does)? I am sure his mom would feel disrespected that someone is disrespecting her son!

    19. LCH*

      how the eff does she even know that his mother doesn’t call him John? (i mean, she might not, but no way lizzy knows this for sure)

    20. Anonymous Hippo*

      Because it is a lie and she is just harassing him for being transgender.

      Maybe he should bring in a note from his mother okaying his name choice, I’d like to see her get out of that (not that should be necessary, HR should do it’s job, but to see her try and explain it).

  3. Ellie May*

    Everything Alison says and I’ll add that Lizzy is sexist by assuming that only John’s mother contributed to naming him (not Dad?).

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        Lizzy doesn’t just have issues. She’s got the whole damn subscription.

    1. Grapey*

      In Lizzy’s mind, dad probably donated the last name and doesn’t need any additional input.

    2. Campfire Raccoon*

      And she can shut the crap up, because how can she possibly be “honoring her mother” by COMPLETELY disrespecting the mother’s son?

      Dear freaking lord, Elizabeth Maidenname is a jerk.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        You disrespect my son and I will rain down all the sharp, bruising fury of a mama tiger. Compounded if you dare invoke my name in your justification.

        – a mom

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Yes, this. You disrespect my child and I will see you chopped into tiny pieces… but I might leave it to my kid to do themself, it being their business (and since I know they’re perfectly capable of it). But I’ll gladly hold their coat.

          You dare to *use ME* as a weapon with which to disrespect my kid, and I’ll do the chopping myself and apologize to the kid later, because then it becomes my business.

    3. Lady Heather*

      I’d even go as far as to say that there’s about a 98% chance that the sex assigned at birth had everything to do with dad’s contribution and nothing at all with mom’s.

    4. Quill*

      It’s fairly common with people who go out of their way to be duckwads to trans men, based on their (terrible) understanding of feminism.

    5. HoHumDrum*

      It’s a rad fem thing- trying to use feminism as a Trojan horse to get away with bigotry.

    6. Batty Twerp*

      OMG, totally this.
      Hubby Twerp’s best friend isn’t transgender, but did change his name legally as soon as he hit 18. His given names ALL came from his dad (his mum was, well I don’t know the ins and outs but I gather there were medical and/or post-partum mental health issues, and his dad pretty much steamrollered and registered the birth and names while she was recovering). Then his dad had an affair, filed for divorce and was out of his life by the age of 14. He kept a variant of his first name (think Harry rather than Henry), because it happened to match his mum’s grandad’s name.
      So if Elizabeth MaidenName wants to suggest using Henry out of respect for his mother, I think she would be very firmly put in her place.
      But Harry isn’t transgender, so she probably wouldn’t give it a second thought.
      Bigots make my teeth itch.

  4. Luke G*

    The advice seems spot-on. I come here only to say that John choosing the malicious-compliance route of calling Lizzy by her birth name shows the perfect blend of wit, ingenuity, and restraint. Brilliant.

    1. Tupac Coachella*

      Malicious compliance is my favorite form of petty. I agree with OP that it would be inappropriate for the manager to jump in, but I would want to SO. FREAKIN’. MUCH.

    2. sequined histories*

      I really heart malicious compliance. It can be such an awesome way to expose foolishness and hypocrisy.

      Does Lizzy take off personal days to protest outside the courthouse when someone’s getting a legal name change? Sheesh.

      As my father used say: Some people seem to have very little with which to occupy their time.

  5. NYWeasel*

    I had to take a mandatory harassment training last Friday, and this situation was LITERALLY one of the examples shown. According to the program, Lizzy is exposing the company to legal liability by being allowed to continue to harass John. That might help you get more traction than asking her manager to tell her to stop being an ass.

    1. PleaseVoteInLocalElections*

      Absolutely. This is so blatant that I feel there must be an ingrained culture of bigotry at this workplace since OP doesn’t mention any of the other employees pushing back in the moment. This is not something that would go unremarked in any of my recent workplaces. I’d be telling Lizzy in no uncertain terms that she should be ashamed of herself.

      I hope Lizzy pays for John’s next house.

    2. Friendly Comp Manager*

      I came here to say this, too, HR saying that it isn’t harassment because he is trans is INSANE — she is LITERALLY doing this ONLY to the trans person in the office. That IS harassment!

      Get to the bottom of this, and then get new HR.

  6. Nicole*

    I’m surprised this doesn’t qualify as creating a hostile work environment. Lizzy absolutely has an agenda here, and it isn’t John’s mom.

    1. Czhorat*

      I suspect that it would – especially if harassment like that is allowed to continue. Caveat is that gender identity is not necessarily protected in all states (to the best of my knowledge), and arguing that this is straight up sex discrimination might not fly with the courts, depending on what kind of judge you get.

      In any event, it’s outright, naked bigotry.

      1. DW*

        It doesn’t matter if a state considers gender identify a protected state – the SCOTUS ruling last June (or July? Time doesn’t exist anymore…) expanded workplace sex discrimination protections to include sexual and gender identities. If you are trans, you are protected from discrimination on the basis of your gender identity. So John is definitely protected here and Lizzy’s behavior is opening the company up to a discrimination lawsuit.

        1. Czhorat*

          I stand corrected- there’s been SO MUCH horror in the news (and so many attacks on trans rights) that I’d honestly forgotten this sliver of good news.

      2. Pro Trans*

        Per the Bostock decision this past June, it *is* sex discrimination. The company is very much opening themselves up to legal liability.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yeah, we already established that I’m bad at remembering things.

          I completely forgot that. Feels like a hundred years ago.

      3. John's #1 Fan*

        Please forward to John: Marry me!
        OMG, this made me laugh. I’m sorry he’s having to deal with Elizabeth’s disrespect, but I love his reaction.
        I really don’t understand why people get so bent out of shape over things that are none of their business. Elizabeth is being a tool and deserves some real consequences from her manager.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It does. In legal terms, this is a hostile work environment because the harassment is based on John’s gender identity. The company is legally liable.

      1. Another JD*

        Confirmed. I’d LOVE to take this case. John really should consult an attorney.

        Can the OP go to Elizabeth MaidenName’s grandboss? If her manager isn’t fixing this, it’s time to go over her head and up the food chain to get it resolved ASAP.

        1. Kyrielle*

          For all we know he is, has, or soon will be. OP, you need to have another talk with HR, this time about legal liability.

          Heck, if I were John’s coworker and had seen this unfolding and not stopping, I would be job searching. It’s not just Elizabeth MaidenName that looks horrible here, it’s also her boss, HR, and the company as a whole for not stopping this in its tracks. I would want OUT.

            1. Artctic*

              Yeah I don’t want to be harsh. But the fact that disciplining John is even a possibility suggests OP’s thought process has been warped by the company.

              1. SarahKay*

                It may not be entirely the company. I certainly grew up being told things like “two wrongs don’t make a right” and “Just because she started it doesn’t mean you should also do it” and variations on that theme.
                My guess is that some variation of this could be what’s lurking in the back of OP’s head when she’s asking if she ought to stop John – and to be fair, she’s not asking if she should discipline him, so much as just ask him to stop.
                Sadly, John is probably a reasonable person and probably would stop when asked, unlike awful Elizabeth Maidenname.

      2. emmelemm*

        Yes, as the (life, not business) partner of an employment lawyer, they are all salivating to take the case!

      3. Aitch Arr*

        In some states, the individual managers including HR could be liable as well since they knew about the behavior and didn’t take any steps to address it.

    3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      It very likely DOES qualify as creating a hostile environment, and that company’s legal department would very likely agree! Elizabeth/Lizzie sounds like a liability in more ways than one; if she gets away with this, who knows what her next “project” will be?! At the very least, she needs to be put on a PIP which clearly states that if she does this one. more. time. that she’ll be out the door. But if at all possible, she should be fired now.

      By the way, I love the suggestions that John’s mother should write a letter telling Lizzie to please respect her son from now on, thankyouverymuch. A chat with the legal department would be best, of course, but hey, what else is fantasy for? ;}

    4. Not So NewReader*

      John’s mom doesn’t sign Lizzie’s paycheck.

      We don’t get to use our work places to forward our own personal agendas. And personal agenda covers a larger area from Tupperware to personal beliefs and personal hatreds. All that stuff can stay home, preferably in this week’s load of garbage for pickup.

      Maybe consider telling Lizzie that when she goes to work for John’s mom, she can work by Mom’s rules, but until then she works at x company and she needs to follow x company rules/procedures. “We don’t pay you to work for other people. ”

      You could go in a different direction by saying, “Wow, can’t even get people’s names right?”

    5. Malarkey01*

      It does and I wish the advise had gone a little further that LW should be involving her boss, Lizzies grandboss, head of HR, and depending on size their legal department.

      By not stopping this immediately they are also sending a message that coworkers can refuse to accept someone’s sexual identity, orientation, disability, or religion. She needs to be told this stops today or she’s fired (honestly I’d fire her for refusing to follow previous directives and horrific judgement).

  7. Czhorat*


    To be honest, Lizzy needs to be disciplined for this. WHen I first read the title, I assumed she’d known John pre-transition and kept forgetting. This is deliberate and malicious bigotry.

    I SO strongly wouldn’t want someone like that on my team, I’d want them fired for this. In my opinion, it’s egregious enough that management can and should tell her to go home and not bother coming back.

    1. many bells down*

      Yeah my husband has a couple of coworkers who transitioned after they started working together and he’s only made that mistake once or twice. And nearly died of embarrassment, too.

      1. mdv*

        And I bet your husband’s coworkers were understanding of the fact that he was clearly not doing it on purpose…! Doing that once or twice after a habit of months or years is not nearly as bad as digging it up and then intentionally being so damned aggravating!

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          A dear friend transitioned some years ago, and was very gracious when her close circle of friends used her deadname…for about 6 months. After the grace period was over, she politely but firmly corrected the few accidental slips.

          The people who deliberately usder her deadname? Not so gracious. It was glorious to see her put them in her place.

          1. Accounting is fun*

            I had a friend that started transitioning a few years ago. She hadn’t decided on her new name yet and was only out on the weekends, but I honestly did NOT want to be that person using a deadname, so I awkwardly just called her by her last name. It was strange and super awkward and might have nudged her to settle on her name. John is handling this as graciously as possible, but Lizzy needs to understand how harrasing this is to him.

            1. Quandong*

              I’m quite sure Lizzy is aware of the impact her trans hating, malicious, and cruel behaviour is having on John. She doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt at all.

      2. cryptid*

        it is SO clear to me when someone deadnames/misgenders me on purpose vs accidentally! the entire tone, the frequency, the apology (or lack thereof) (and “apology” doesn’t need to be drawn out, just a polite “oops, cryptid” or “sorry, I mean cryptid” is plenty from an ally who slipped up). I don’t have hard feelings for friends or coworkers who are doing their best and have a brain fart!

    2. pony tailed wonder*

      I wonder if the manager could refuse to have Lizzy interact with her employees until she treats them ALL with respect? This could make Lizzy’s act. Just tell the other manager that you do not want Lizzy in your office’s interactions and someone else needs to step in. Or would this be too much?

        1. Glitsy Gus*

          Absolutely, she does. Since that isn’t something OP can do herself, though, shielding John from Elizabeth’s crap by forbidding her from working with him is a start. I would say it’s step one, along with making a huge stink to both Elizabeth’s manager and HR, being sure to point out the legal liability and how long John has already tolerated this abuse.

      1. Aquawoman*

        Yeah, one of the things LW can do to put pressure on Lizzie’s manager is to refuse to allow Lizzie to work with John and so ask for her to be taken off of every assignment that he’s on. And she should be fired, she’s purposely harrassing someone.

    3. Detective Amy Santiago*

      If I was a coworker, I would be raising holy hell every time it happened in my presence.

      1. Momma Bear*

        If I were John’s manager, I would tell my team not to engage with Lizzy when she refuses to call him by his correct name. Sally doesn’t work there.

      2. Pomona Sprout*

        Me, too. I would NOT let up on Dizzy Miss Lizzy as long as she kept pulling this mean- spirited, bigoted game. I might start with a light-hearted, pretending to think she’s joking approach, but I’d escalate just a little bit every time until I got to the point of, “God, Lizzy, this is obnoxious, you’re being incredibly rude, and you need to cut it the fuck OUT!”

        I also support calling her anything EXCEPT what she wants to be called. Betsy Wetsy has a certain appeal.

      3. PleaseVoteInLocalElections*

        Yes! I commented about this above, that it speaks to an institutional bigotry in this workplace that no one is telling Lizzy to knock it off.

    4. Djuna*

      We had someone transition at work, and a manager who kept deadnaming her. Everyone would correct him and he would just insist that he “had to” call her by her legal name (she hadn’t officially changed it yet). Company policy clearly states you call everyone by their preferred name. (In an ironic twist that came too late, after our trans teammate quit in exasperation, we learned that the jerk manager was using a preferred, non-legal, name himself.)

      John’s malicious compliance here makes me want to reach through the internet and give him a high five, and a hug if he would accept one.

    5. mreasy*

      I would give Lizzy one more chance, and then fire her, if I were her manager, and I’d be happy to have her gone. I had a colleague who mistakenly but callously continued to deadname a coworker and if I could have fired him, I would have (though sadly he was the owner of the company).

    6. OhGee*

      She’s already refused to call John by his name. She should have been fired long ago. It’s one thing for someone to transition and experience colleagues struggle to get their name and gender right, but this is pure malice.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this. Lizzie didn’t even know John pre-transition and called him John until she found out. Pure malice.
        The OP should take this to HR again with the legal angle. HR is being stupid. It’s also entirely possible that they have somehow missed the Supreme Court ruling making LGBT discrimination illegal on a federal level, but if so, it should be brought to their attention ASAP.

    7. Prof XYZ*

      I had a gender non-binary student in my class and they were a godsend in helping me clear up my use of terms. I rarely used the wrong pronoun, but they taught me that there are symbols for non-binary, transgender and many other genders when I put the ones for male and female on the board. They also were the one to talk to me about the difference between the terms transgender and transgendered. I so valued their input on this and told them so, so they felt very comfortable correcting me, usually after class so we could talk about it. They knew that I very much wanted to use the right language and be as supportive as possible, and were willing to put in the labor to help me, which was amazing.

      I so hope there is an update to this letter where Elizabeth MaidenName (who somehow thinks that its better to be ‘respectful’ to John’s mom rather than John himself, her colleague) learns the consequences of her bigotry and perhaps sets herself on a path to being better.

    8. yala*

      Right? Like, it’s not even sort of casual. Elizabeth MaidenName is putting EFFORT into being as awful as possible to John. Like…who has the energy?

    9. Liz T*

      Lizzy needs to be fired immediately for this.

      It’s not like she even has the excuse of having known John before his transition–she’s introducing this to the workplace completely unprompted, for the purpose of outing, humiliating, and tormenting John. There’s NONE of the plausible deniability that workplace bigots usually hide behind. This is shocking behavior, and I think OP is being far too nice about it.

      Obviously, the company’s got plenty of bigots in leadership and HR, so I don’t think Lizzy is likely to be fired for this. But she should be. And I hope John is prepping a lawsuit.

  8. glitter writer*

    John’s doing *great* but wow he should not have to. Everyone in the company — managers, HR — who have been told this is happening have absolutely dropped the ball and are enabling harassment. Gross. I hope someone higher-up actually addresses it.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      I’ve seen a manager who refused to take a harassment complaint seriously enough disciplined, as well as the harasser. That deserves to happen here with Lizzy’s manager and with the HR reps involved.

      1. Daffy Duck*

        I agree. Lizzy, her manager, and the HR rep who says it isn’t harrassment all need to be disiplined and re-educated at the least, possibly fired.

        1. Random IT person on the internet*

          If this is bigotry or transhate (it`s not a phobia) – then education is pointless.
          Fire them. (out of a cannon, into the sun.. )

  9. Robin Ellacott*

    I’m so glad OP is pushing back on this. Lizzy’s behaviour would result in firing at my company. I hope someone senior shows some more backbone, decency, and reason. (Also, I am so impressed by John’s sauce-for-the-goose response, though clearly he shouldn’t have to deal with this).

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I might push back further and be clear that she is being transphobic and the is illegally harassing a co-worker because of his gender (that it doesn’t “match” his current presumably legal name, but definitely his preferred and common name).

      “Stop being transphobic and deadnaming John.”

      “Stop illegally harassing John by calling him ‘Sally’.”

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        This. OP, if Sally walked up to a coworker and said, “you look hot in those pants,” would you say, “I think you meant to say “those pants look nice” Sally.” or would you say, “nope, can’t do that.”

    2. Gatomon*

      Yeah, if I were in charge at this company Lizzie would be on her way out the door the second I got wind of this.

  10. Tehanu*

    John sounds awesome. He should definitely keep calling her Elizabeth Maiden Name.

    I can’t believe she switched to calling John by his deadname after calling him John.

    I also think that if she refers to Sally, people should ask sho that is. “There is no one by that name here.”

    1. Hills to Die on*

      I wonder if he should start calling her ‘ElizaBert’ – since she isn’t using the right gender, neither should he.

      1. Dahlia*

        No, because that’s saying that it’s okay to misgender someone because you don’t like them.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          I thought it was saying I will misgender you since that it was what you are doing to me but I understand your point. Oh well.

          1. D'Arcy*

            It *does* say that; the problem is that this still implies that misgendering is an acceptable form of insult.

    2. Molly*

      Tehanu, brilliant! Whenever she refers to Sally, flatly refuse to acknowledge her. And make it obvious. If she asks, “Should I give this to Sally to work on?” The reply should simply be a flat, “There is no Sally here.” Nothing further, no explanation. And then if she doesn’t interact with John properly, call her on the carpet. Each and every time.
      “Should I give this to Sally?”
      “There is no Sally here.”

      “Why didn’t you give this to John?”
      “But I asked if I should do that”
      “No, you asked if you should give it to Sally. There is no Sally here. Now why didn’t you give this to John?”

      “Why haven’t you given this to John? Do we need to pull (her manager) into this discussion?”
      “But I asked if I should give it to Sally!”
      “There is no Sally here. Let’s go discuss this with your manager.”
      And I would enter a complaint with HR that she is not doing a routine part of her job. Make enough work for her manager and HR that it becomes easier for them to make Miss Transphobia behave.

      1. Rachael*

        That’s what I was thinking. If she says the name “Sally” don’t react and just “innocently” say that there isn’t a Sally in the department. Maybe give her an org chart if she is still confused.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. Sally doesn’t exist. OP also mentions that her references to Sally are confusing to other employees because, well, Sally doesn’t exist.

        2. Anna*

          There’s no reason to feign innocence. Be blunt. She’s behaving appallingly and should be treated as an employee who is violating the law and exposing the company to massive liability, not to mention being intentionally hurtful to a coworker.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        nothing further, no explanation.
        This. I’m a big fan of letting people talk themselves out.

  11. Three owls in a trench coat*

    “I don’t have a problem with trans people” is what cis people say when they don’t want to face the fact that they’re a transphobe.

    So yeah, if Lizzy has used or is using that phrase, it’s another thing on her list of problematic behaviors.

    1. LegallyRed*

      Ding, ding, ding.

      Also, even if this somehow wasn’t trans-motivated (which it totally was), it’s still a dick move. I’m not trans, but I also don’t use my birth name. Occasionally someone will find out my birth name and use this information to “tease” me, even though (1) the fact that I don’t use that name should be enough to indicate that I don’t want to be called by it and (2) I explicitly ask them to stop. Best case scenario, Lizzy behavior is incredibly presumptuous and obnoxious and HR sucks for not acknowledging that.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        Lots of people don’t use their birth name, and nobody blinks twice. This person would not be doing this is she found out John used to go by Gus as a kid.

        The people teasing you with your birth name are just mean. It’s definitely a form of bullying, and one that I found extremely distasteful. It’s not fun if it at the expense of someone else’s comfort.

    1. Czhorat*

      Yep. If she’d known John when he was calling himself Sally and slipped sometimes it would be one hundred percent different. This isn’t that.

      And yes, lots of people use names different than the ones on their birth certificate. Some use a nickname. Some a married name. Some change for some other reasons. (of my First Last Middle, the First is the ONLY one on my birth certificate. Nobody has insisted on using my old name or initials. Funny that… almost as if this isn’t abotu the name after all).

      1. ev*

        I agree with this. slipping up and using She instead of He, or Sally instead of John when you previously knew them as that is one thing, and something I have done with trans friends from time to time. At worst they correct it and move on, usually its either ignored or I correct it myself as soon as I realise I slipped.

        However this insistence after the fact is horrid, similar to an incident recently when I introduced a friend to an acquaintance and the latter kept, with emphasis, saying the wrong pronoun despite having been correctly introduced.

        I fail to see that it isn’t targeted gender harrasment tbh.

        1. Artemesia*

          I once referred to one of my BILs as ‘Bob’ the name of my SIL’s first husband instead of ‘Mark’ her current husband. We see them regularly every 5 years and it was a slip — she corrected me, I was mortified and took care not to do it again. That is what happens when you make a mistake — this is not a mistake. It is a transphobic assault on John. And it is insubordination since he has been told to stop. I’d take it all the way to the Board if the head of HR and then the COO refused to fix it.

  12. whistle*

    “John complained to HR, but they said that because she is not explicitly harassing him for being trans, they can’t do anything.”

    What the everloving fuck? Even if she is not explicitly harassing him for being trans (which I agree she is, but let’s just grant HR that one for a sec), SHE IS STILL HARASSING HIM. Jesus.

    1. Elbe*

      HR at this company is clearly terrible.

      Intentionally calling someone by a name they’ve asked you not to use would be bullying and wrong even if John wasn’t trans. Calling someone by their name is basic respect. Even if they weren’t at risk of being sued (which they are), they should at least take a firm stance and ask Lizzy to stop.

      1. Momma Bear*

        So, trans concerns aside (which pains me b/c the transphobia is her real problem) is HR OK with Lizzy calling anyone anything she wants? How about the CEO? Would that person enjoy being misgendered and misnamed? No? Then why is it OK for her to do it to John? It’s not. Is that company’s HR just really bad or are they transphobic, too?

        1. Elbe*

          I tend to think that HR is bigoted, too, because this is so very clearly an issue of basic respect, as you illustrate. If someone were constantly and intentionally (!) misnaming and misgendering a non-trans employee, everyone knows it would be A Thing.

          1. Pen keeper*

            Yeah I agree, the HR person here seems to be the type of person who would listen to this and think “Why do people have to be so sensitive these days?” when they themselves are Very Offended if a baby boy is wearing pink.

    2. mreasy*

      Deadnaming a trans person is one of the main types of harassment in employee handbooks! You don’t have to literally say “listen I’m calling you Sally because you are trans and I am transphobic” for it to be harassment. Fire Lizzy AND the HR person!!!

    3. Raven*


      If she insisted on calling him, say, “Johnny Boy”, that would still be harassment.

    4. Malarkey01*

      If Lizzie was going around calling a coworker “fatty” as a pet nickname they absolutely wouldn’t allow that even if it’s not a protected class. I cannot get over HR saying they have no recourse for someone harassing an employee.

  13. agnes*

    Your HR person doesn’t know what they are talking about. This is harassment and it has to stop immediately. Go as high as you have to in order to get the matter addressed.

    1. Specks*

      Yep. I think this is legally harassment on the basis of gender. And also, it’s just horrible. You need to do a lot more, OP. A lot, a lot more. Not only make it super uncomfortable for the asshole’s manager (I would push for firing her), but also bring it to their manager, and make it really uncomfortable for HR as well — go over the head of the incompetent you spoke to in that department. If none of that works, refuse to have Sally work with John unless the harassment stops and there is an apology. You need to raise hell over this and make it stop.

  14. HB*

    John is my hero. I also want to say that it was refreshing to see a letter like this (the harassment is terrible, but at least it’s from the perspective of a manager who knows it’s terrible and is trying to get it to stop!). Keep pushing and please update us when you can!

  15. Daisy*

    Lizzy is a truly horrible person an I’m impressed how well John is managing it.
    OP, you have the chance to be a “truly awesome manager” (other than a true LGBT supporter) and gain some well deserved loyalty, don’t let this opportunity go to waste.

    PS: I know this is something we should expect by all manager, but standing up for your employee when the company makes it difficult is not an easy task.

  16. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

    I want to be friends with John. Maybe he can troll her harder by producing a letter from his mother that certifies that she approves of his name, assuming she’s still alive.

    1. Syfygeek*

      Is anyone else old enough to remember “Welcome Back Kotter”? Juan Epstein would bring in a note from him mom to the teacher and it was always signed “Epstein’s Mother”.

      John’s note could be signed by “John’s Mother”.

      1. juliebulie*

        Yes! I was thinking John could write such a letter himself. But really, Sally should be put on a PIP (at the very least).

            1. Pomona Sprout*

              I’ve been reading down the comments, and so far 3 different people have referred to Lizzy as Sally. So you have lots of company! :-)

    2. Elbe*

      I doubt that getting his mother to cosign his name would change anything, because respect for his mother was never Elizabeth’s issue in the first place. However, I would still love to see her squirm after her flimsiest of fig leaves is taken from her. I’m genuinely curious as to what her new justification would be.

  17. EHB*

    1. John is brilliant, as a fellow Elizabeth who doesn’t go by Elizabeth I fully encourage this treatment of the bigot
    2. Anti-trans commenters can get fucked
    3. Don’t stop fighting. You’re a good manager.

  18. Ashley*

    Halfway through the letter I immediately thought that John should start calling her by the wrong name. He’s a better person than me because I would’ve started calling her Becky, Karen, or Queen Latifah.

    Hi Sally can I ask you a question?
    Sorry Queen Latifah I’m super busy looking for Sally. I’ll let you know when I find them.

    1. Just J.*

      This would be me. A quick Google will produce a list of *delightful* nicknames for any name. I would be hitting Google hard.

    2. MangoIsNotForYou*

      I would probably start calling her OfHusbandsName. Out of respect for her husband, of course.

      1. Middle Manager*

        You have won. While less literal tit for tat, I think this really get’s at the spirit of Elizabeth Maidename’s actions.

    3. IsItOverYet?*

      I was also wondering if he can not respond to the wrong name. And if the good people of his office can act really confused when she calls him Sally.

  19. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This dimwit doesn’t even know John’s mother, John’s mother may happily call John by his name. Just like many parents of trans folks, they’re not all bigots who seem to think a mother would want their son disrespected so callously in their name.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      Yes! I hate to go all “as a mother,” but AS A MOTHER, I would have some serious words for anyone who used me as an excuse to antagonize my child.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I’m not a mother but I have one who is the same way.

        Not the same level at all but I changed from Nickname to Given Name as a kid. My mother fiercely protected my right to be called what I wanted to be called, even within the family and was like “Stop degrading my child by disrespecting her wishes.”

        1. Prof XYZ*

          OMG this. I have one of those names–at 6 years old I asked to be called, for example, ‘Rebecca’ instead of ‘Becky’. I decided it was okay for anyone who knew me then (and later, who married someone who knew me then) to call me Becky, but it was not okay for new friends/acquaintances to do so. My parents supported that. Anytime someone tries to call me Becky after I introduce myself, usually jokingly, I tell them that I prefer they not use it, and I have never had anyone insist on still using that name! And its a name I still use!! And some people who I’m fine with using it have switched to Rebecca on their own, including my mom, which is also fine. I can’t imagine someone insisting on calling me Becky after I ask them not to, and its so much worse when its dead naming. This is preference, not my gender identity.

      2. Elbe*

        Yes! If John and his mother have a good relationship, the excuse of “disrespecting his mother” falls even more flat.

        And if John and his mother don’t have a good relationship, it’s all the more reason why using that excuse is a terrible thing for Elizabeth Maiden Name to do.

    2. many bells down*

      My little brother is a trans man. And his mother is a horrible person, generally, in virtually all aspects of her life, but she STILL CALLS HIM BY THE RIGHT NAME

    3. Campfire Raccoon*

      Agreed. Elizabeth Maidenname is not respecting the mother by callously disrespecting her son.

    4. OyHiOh*

      My (male) cousin would want to have serious words with anyone who tried to deadname his son . . .

      However, son is away at college (well, was before the pandemic, not sure how his campus is handling things for fall) and has developed into a young man quite capable of fighting his own battles. I’m pretty sure he too would take the Elizabeth MaidenName approach if necessary.

    5. J.B.*

      There is a transgender kid on my street and his parents are 1000% on his side. Anyone who did this around his mom would probably lose an eye.

  20. Combinatorialist*

    Also it really doesn’t have to be illegal in order for HR to act (even ignoring that in this case it is in fact illegal). Like being a jerk isn’t a protected class. So the company can fire Lizzy for being a jerk even if she isn’t even causing legal problems. Also if James starts calling Lizzy JerkFace, the company can fire him for that even though that has no legal liability in terms of protected classes.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      100% this.

      There’s lots of stuff that’s not illegal that gets you fired. Yelling at me isn’t illegal. Making my office smell like artificial farts every day isn’t illegal. But do you think I’m going to allow it?

      A company gets to create it’s own rules, as long as they aren’t breaking the laws. HR are weak and most likely also transphohbic tbh. Lots of passive enablers exist within this world. This HR person/department is doing just that.

    2. Elbe*


      I get the feeling that HR is just as bigoted as Elizabeth Maiden Name is. HR departments mediate between employees all the time. Even if the harassment weren’t illegal, the company could take the official stance that John should be called John, and it would then be a performance issue if she refused to comply with that.

      1. irene adler*

        I’d rather they simply fired her.
        Reason: is she mean enough to try another avenue to harass John? Or if not harassment, will she be sullen whenever she interacts with John? I don’t want her around to find out. I don’t want John to have to endure any more ugly -in any form.

        1. virago*

          Yes, fire Lizzy’s transphobic ass.

          If she’s disciplined but not fired for deadnaming John, she’ll keep coming up with new and different ways to needle John.

          And I’d bet folding money that her jabs will have just enough plausible deniability (“Oh, Lizzy’s just ECCENTRIC!”) that gutless HR will feel justified in doing jackshit while poor John winds up ordering Xanax by the case.

        2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

          Agreed. Fire Elizabeth MaidenName for harassing a coworker.

          I would add that the company should put Elizabeth MaidenName’s manager on a PIP for not managing their direct report for harassment and add a company policy that you use everyone’s preferred name, as long as it is not clearly offensive (i.e. racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc.).

  21. Health Insurance Nerd*

    Lizzy is a horrible person and should be fired. I realize this is not a constructive comment, but I am so mad at her on John’s behalf!!!!!

    1. HelloHello*

      I agree, and think it is a constructive comment. Someone being openly, willfully bigoted in the workplace is a serious enough issue that they should be fired over it!

  22. Wintergreen*

    My only issue with Alison’s script is the part about “Why are you continuing to do it?” comment. Don’t open the door for her excuses. “Lizzy, you’ve been told repeatedly to shop calling John that. You are being disrespectful and embarrassing yourself, and you need to stop.”

    And tell other everyone at the office to question Lizzy when she talks about Sally. Just because they are not her manager does not mean they have to be silent. Let them know you’ll have their back if they stand up for John. The more people who look at Lizzy funny and respond with “I don’t know a Sally, has there been a new hire?” the better.

    1. Annony*

      I would probably explicitly call out the behavior as harassment and transphobic as well. Make it as awkward as possible for her to continue. And if her manager won’t talk to her, go above him to his manager until someone steps in.

      1. Rage Against the Nonprofit Industrial Complex*

        YES- huge fan of making life as difficult and as awkward as possible for anyone who wants to die on some sort of Oppression Hill.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        Yeah, as a coworker I don’t know how I could stand there and listen to this without calling it out. I may have been shocked into silence the first time and laughed at John’s renaming of her, but even my conflict-avoidant self wouldn’t be able to stay silent and not tell Elizabeth Maidenname that she was being transphobic and that her excuse wasn’t fooling anyone.

    2. Rage Against the Nonprofit Industrial Complex*

      I think Alison’s addition of asking Elizabeth Maidenname “why are you continuing to do this thing that you’ve been repeatedly asked to stop doing?” is less about giving her a chance to make excuses, and more about forcing her to realize that there *is* no excuse for what she’s doing. Kind of like asking someone who’s just made a racist joke “I don’t get it. Can you explain how that was funny?” not because you didn’t understand the joke, but because it forces the teller to either a) shut up and apologize, or b) publicly struggle to explain why racism is funny to them.

      I’d definitely agree that being louder, more public, and more persistent about correcting the deadnaming is the way to go. You probably shouldn’t deputize people to correct her, specifically, but you could say that “part of creating an equitable workplace is naming and challenging oppressive behavior/language when you see/hear it.” The more other coworkers feel empowered to correct her or speak out against it, hopefully she’ll realize that her work life will be much harder if she continues this BS.

      1. Wintergreen*

        However, she has been asked why she keeps doing it and rather than introspection she carts out her “respecting his mother” excuse. Lizzy has shown blanket disregard, disrespect and bigotry toward John. At this point, asking for clarification is just asking her to double down and harden her resolve. She shouldn’t be given the option to argue her bigotry again.

        My point with the coworkers was not to deputize anyone specifically but make sure it is known in the office that standing up for John will not been seen as a negative by the higher ups and that they are free to call Lizzy out in the moment even if managers aren’t around or aren’t addressing it at that time.

        Unlike some other issues that get written about here, racism and bigotry are not just a managerial issue. A coworker who calls out another coworker for the number of times they have called out sick on a Friday should be reprimanded because that is between the coworker and their manager. A coworker who calls out another coworker for bigotry should not be reprimanded because it goes beyond a managerial issue.

        1. yala*

          Well part of the “explain it to me” strategy is following up, so it seems to me that the best response (if you were going to go that route at all) to her claiming she’s “respecting his mother” would be to ask why that’s more important than respecting John himself, who she actually works with.

          (Also, tho, I doubt she uses his proper pronouns either so it really does just fall apart)

          It’s absurd that this woman is so clearly and deliberately harassing a coworker (and putting so much EFFORT into it) and isn’t getting disciplined at all.

          1. Ice and Indigo*

            Or else:

            Q: Why do you continue to do this after you’ve been told not to?

            A: Respect for his mother!

            Q: Yes, you’ve said that before, and it’s been made clear to you that this is not an acceptable reason, and you were told to stop it again. Given this, why have you disregarded the instruction?

            No point engaging with the mother excuse, except to point out that it’s already been overruled.

    3. The New Wanderer*

      It’s a good opening to point out her hypocrisy and as ammunition for the HR report. When she responds with the BS line “I’m respecting his mothers name choice,” OP can respond with, “but you expect people to call you by a name that’s not your mother-given name, Elizabeth BirthName, and you complain when they don’t? Please explain how that is different [while I document this]”

    4. juliebulie*

      You’re right. There isn’t a satisfactory answer to “why are you doing that.”

      I am wondering how John’s other coworkers are responding to Elizabeth Maiden Name. I hope every one of them stiffens when she refers to “Sally,” then corrects her in a pissy tone. (I suppose that is too much to hope.)

    5. Ann O'Nemity*

      “Why are you continuing to do it?” is performance management escalation phrasing, and it’s great way to document that Lizzy continues to deliberately disobey direct orders.

    6. Absurda*

      I was also thinking that Elizabeth Maidename’s and John’s peers should be encouraged to push back on the use of “Sally”. They should not be calling her Elizabeth Maidenname (since that could go too far) but definitly, “who’s Sally? Oh, you mean John? It’s really odd you call him Sally.” or just flatly, “his name’s John” each time.

      Lizzy is doing this because she’s a bigot and a bully. She has identified John as someone “outside” of the group and therefore an easy target. She gets away with it because, apparently, only John and his manager push back. If their peers start indicating that her behavior is unacceptable and that *she* is the one on the outside in this then that could go a long way to making her stop. It won’t end her bigotry, but will end the bullying. If none of their peers sees fit to correct her, the company likely has bigger cultural problems than this one employee.

      1. Idril Celebrindal*

        I wouldn’t even say “Oh, you mean John?” John’s coworkers should just keep saying “Who are you talking about? I don’t know anyone by that name.” Even if she points at him or something, they should keep claiming ignorance until she is forced to call him John in order for them to recognize who she is talking about.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      I love this comment about “embarrassing yourself”.

      “Lizzie, you are gaining a reputation as being a difficult person and difficult to work with. Is this the reputation you want?”

      “Lizzie, a good number of people realize what this is, it’s called “hatred”. Is that something you want to be known for?”

      I do think that there is something to work with here , OP. You can say, “You know how the grapevine works and so you have to know that people are talking about how difficult you are on relatively basic things such as getting a person’s name right. And you know what they say, ‘If a person can’t handle the simple things, how will they ever be able to handle the difficult stuff?’. I am concerned that this will really impact your reputation in our arena.”
      (No, you’re not concerned in the least, I KNOW that. However, people like this make it all about themselves. So one of the prongs in a multi-pronged approach can be to point out that she is only hurting herself. Meanwhile John looks like a class act going about his day and going about his work. And you can point that out, too, that her campaign against John is having zero impact on John’s value and reputation as an employee. I am smirking because I really like that phrasing “your campaign against John”.)

      It might be wrong of me, but I have had some success with telling people that others will think poorly of them for doing x or saying y. And that is true but it also feels manipulative to me. Yet, I did it because it seemed to be the only way to get a person to stop what they were doing. I did limit the use of this technique to being one of the last things I would try.

      1. D'Arcy*

        Even your more stringent option is way too gentle on Lizzie, though. She is being *overtly* bigoted and as a trans person, I’d feel pretty upset if my coworkers insisted on pushing back *only* in such gentle terms.

        It’s not the manipulation aspect that bothers me; it’s the tacit insistence that bigots have to be handled nicely.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, this. When they deserve to get the fire of the seven circles of hell poured over their heads every time they make a bigoted statement.
          But I’m hopeful that HR will take some action when it’s pointed out to them that as a trans man John is a member of a federally recognized protected class and that failing to protect his right to be known by his current name is a real liability for the company. John should be talking to an employment lawyer, and it’s not out of bounds for the OP to remind him of this.

    8. Random IT person on the internet*

      Is this not short for:
      You have been told you should call John John, and not anything else. Why are you continuing to do this – even though you have been asked, then told, to stop calling John anything else?

      So, basically saying – you are harassing someone for no good reason, you have been told to stop, why do you continue to do this – do you want to get fired for creating a hostile environment and being labeled a bigoted duckwad?

  23. Shenandoah*

    Ooo this makes me mad! The mom thing is a just such a paper thin “excuse” for being bigoted.

    Our child is named after family members and we put a lot of thought into the choice. I love it very much. But if my kid one day comes out as trans and selects a new name, you best believe that overwrites my “mother’s choice”.

    Elizabeth sucks.

  24. staceyizme*

    John is brilliant! So interesting (and entertaining) that Ms. Lizzy doesn’t like for someone to alter her name. Look, anyone can believe anything about everything- whatever. But people are entitled to be the arbiters of their own monikers. In almost every case where someone decides that “no, YOU don’t get to decide that, I do… because I know best…”- we call that bullying. The only exception is when someone does something weird that tanks the professional dynamic, like the story about the employee who wanted everyone to address her boyfriend as “master” or something similar. But if the hangup is just that someone feels that they get to step into another person’s private space with respect to health, gender identity or love life… nopety-nope-nope-nope on out of that. It’s surprising that this idiocy has gotten past Round One of being reported to HR AND the perpetrator’s boss. Make a stink. It’s worth it. Otherwise, she’ll decide next that “Cameron” is only for boys and “Stacey” is only for girls and “Julius” is too old fashioned and nobody professional would use a name like “Dick”, it must be “Richard” and so on forever…

  25. WellRed*

    Does Lizzy also call people born in other countries by an “easier” American name? Does she call out coworkers with prosthetic limbs every chance she gets?
    tell her to cut it out or be fired.

    1. WellRed*

      Sorry, just realized you are not her manager. but it sounds like you are higher than her in the general office chain and you may have more standing then you think to address this more forcefully then so far, because you’ve been wishy-washy on this. Lizzy is absolutely transphobic and your company–and you an her manager to an extent–is allowing it.

  26. Alex Beamish*

    Yeah .. in this case HR sucks, and have failed to do their job.

    A somewhat similar example from my own life: I go by Alex, which is short for Alexander. In the UK, where I was born, the diminutive of Alexander is Sandy, so of course that’s what my parents called me growing up. Sandy is a non-gendered name in the UK, like Adrian, Pat, Terry, etc.

    That’s not the case in Canada, where Sandy received a Barbie doll as a gift at a company Christmas party, because the organizers assumed Sandy was a girl. After that, I insisted being called Alex. Everyone got it.

    Elizabeth should get it too. John could also just ignore Lizzie when she uses the name Sally. “What? Oh, perhaps we haven’t met, my name is John.”

      1. Lady Heather*

        Or at all. Though there is a very handy flow chart to figure out what toys are appropriate for what gender; I’ll summarize it here below:

        “Do you operate this toy with the crotch area?”
        NO: this toy is for boys and girls.
        YES: this toy is not for children (and does not belong at work).

      2. Artemesia*

        In the 50s when I was a child and in the 70s and 80s when my children were kids, when they were doing a Christmas party gift thing at work, the parents filled out a form with the child’s name AND gender. Of course a tea set was the last thing I wanted or a doll — but at least Sandy wasn’t getting a Barbie Doll.

        1. Some Lady*

          One of my workplaces does a gift drive every Christmas, asking you to fill a stocking based on age range and gender. I always get a boy’s and a girl’s stocking and fill them with exactly the same things.

    1. ambivalent*

      Wah? Even if they thought Sandy was a woman, why is work giving Barbie dolls to their employees (without knowing the person and making sure they would appreciate such a strange gift)? I’m not sure it’s any sillier to give a grown man a Barbie than a grown woman. What did the men receive, anyway?

      1. Artemesia*

        Pretty sure this was a family Christmas party — we had those at my Dad’s huge company when I was a child. And we had them at church where all the kids got a gift.

    2. Jennifer*

      A barbie doll? For some reason this makes me laugh so hard. Did they think you had a child who would want it?

      1. curly sue*

        I’m assuming this is a Christmas party like the ones my parents would drag me to for IBM in the 1980s and 90s, where they had gifts for children of employees. The parties were so tedious, but I did get an awesome clock radio from it the year I was 12.

        1. TiffIf*

          That’s what I was assuming as well, though I have never actually been part of a company that did that. But even then, why in the world would you assume that every single female child of your employees would want a Barbie doll?

          1. Colette*

            When you’re doing a event for a bunch of children you don’t know, there is no gift that everyone will want, and you can’t personalize, so you play the odds. A lot of girls do like barbies – not all, but enough that it’s not a completely off the wall gift.

            1. Colette*

              To add more context: when I was a kid, we went to my dad’s company’s children’s Christmas parties. Every 5 year old girl got gift X, every 5 year old boy got gift Y.

              (When I was 10, both X and Y were sets of mint coins, which … is a very specific gift that wasn’t very popular. At least not with me.)

            2. Jennifer*

              Exactly. People aren’t really putting a lot of thought into these kinds of gifts for kids they probably have never met.

    3. Elbe*

      Someone is giving grown adults Barbie dolls at the company party?

      Maybe I just don’t know the context, but that sounds pretty crappy in itself. Did the men get equally as childish gifts?

    4. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I read Chariots of Fire in fifth grade. I was well into the book when I realized Sandy was a man. Just not the way things were in the States. My dad is an Alex, by the way…so I had definite ideas about that!

      1. allathian*

        The first time I read a book where there was a male Evelyn also threw me for a loop. For me, Evelyn has always been a female name.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Yes! Agatha Christie used that as a trick one time, in a Hercule Poirot. Threw me hard.

    5. not today*

      I’m a female canadian “Sandy Lastname”, the only other person in the world(*) who shares my name is a male american.
      (*) that I’ve been able to find.

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, this.
        Although if I see the name Alex, with no other info about the person, I tend to assume it refers to a man until I’m told otherwise. With Sandy, the reverse is true.

    6. Helena1*

      Yeah we have a similar issue with our son Sasha – not gendered in Europe, heavily gendered in Canada and the US.

      It did make him hugely popular with older Russian-Canadians though, who thought his name was adorable and made a massive fuss over him.

  27. C.*

    Im confused why the entire rest of the company hasnt already fully turned on Lizzy by now and ostracized and shamed her for her deliberate malicious insensitivity. Is it not widespread knowledge yet within the company what she’s doing? If I saw someone doing this I dont think I’d be able to control my anger. Lizzy would be getting an earful at full volume, consequences be damned.

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Judging by HR response, I’m not thinking the general population at this particular workforce are particularly progressive.

  28. HelloHello*

    Lizzy is being deeply, cruelly, intentionally transphobic and needs to be fired yesterday for it.

    1. HelloHello*

      And to add on to this, I would be SHOCKED if John weren’t already looking for a new job at this point. You’re going to lose him if you don’t do something very quickly about this transphobic harassment HR is letting happen under their nose.

      1. Tuckerman*

        Yes, and may justifiably post about his experience on Glassdoor or even just within his professional network.
        As far as what to do, if I was not permitted to fire her, I’d remind her that maintaining good relationships with colleagues is part of how her performance is evaluated, and that having “needs to improve” or “unacceptable” on her formal appraisal will impact her opportunities/pay/and reputation.

        1. allathian*

          OP is doing what she can to protect John, but she isn’t Lizzie’s manager, who’s conflict avoidant to the point of not managing Lizzie on this. It may be that Lizzie’s manager is also transphobic enough that they don’t necessarily see the need to step out of their comfort zone and actually manage Lizzie. That said, given the fact that being trans is now a protected class as per the recent Supreme Court decision, perhaps they could be persuaded to actually do something just to protect the company from litigation. Even so, it wouldn’t surprise me if John started looking for a company with a more supportive environment.

          1. Random IT person on the internet*

            Time to go higher up.
            Non confrontational could mean ‘enabling some random bigot to open up company to legal issues’.
            So higher management HAS to intervene and take action.
            (Exit lizzy and lazy HR and lazy manager)

          2. Anonymous Hippo*

            Conflict avoidant just means you need to be more difficult than the other party. Go over that manager’s head, make a stink to the higher ups. Heck, send the manager an email and CC HR and anybody else every single time she does this. Be as annoying as heck.

      2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        or hasn’t met with a lawyer and is waiting for a new job to have a letter sent…

      3. Forrest*

        John looking for another job is the best case scenario IMO. Dealing with this level of harassment and antagonism is exhausting and the kind of thing that leads to burnout and chronic illnesses that take years or decades to recover from. If you want to use “keep John because his work is good” and “remember our legal liability” to convince senior people on your organisation to act, fair enough, but you should act because Iran the only ethical course of action and nobody should be subjected to this.

    2. Remove the bias*

      John is amazing for that comeback! You state that lizzy hates and complains when John calls her Elizabeth. I am sure it won’t make a difference with her but I would be sure to point out at every complain that that’s her legal name and on her birth certificate just as she does to John. An eye for an eye! Make it clear if she wants it to stop so does John.

      1. Absurda*

        Yeah, it wouldn’t be so glorious if it didn’t bother Elizabeth so much.

        There’s something satisfying in bullies getting a taste of their own medicine. As long as it doesn’t go too far.

  29. Even In an Emergency*

    How is this not fireable. This is horrific behavior that she refuses to change, and she damn well knows what she’s doing. I hope John sues Elizabeth-Maiden-Name and the whole company.

  30. many bells down*

    I always ask people like this if they insist on calling Hulk Hogan and Sting “Terry Bollea” and “Gordon Sumner”. They always say “that’s different!” but can’t explain how.

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      LOL. “I went to see The Cider House Rules starring Maurice Micklewhite. Yes, I know he’s gone by the name Michael Caine professionally for over 50 years but I must show the proper respect to his mother!”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My mind screeched with a “his name is Steve Borden…” and then realized you were talking about singer-Sting, lmfao @ myself. You can’t jump from wrestler to singer like that on me :P :P :P

        1. Student*

          This is a burn-down-the-city-and-salt-the-ground situation. You need to call a meeting with Lizzy, her boss, and a rep from HR. Read the Bostock decision aloud. Identify it as federal law. Tell everyone in the room that deadnaming a trans employee creates a hostile work environment and corresponding legal liability for the company, and that you expect this situation to be resolved, now, today. Then walk out of the room and let them figure things out.

          There are lots of cute suggestions for shaming Lizzy, but this isn’t the time for them. Respond as if Lizzy had tried to grope a coworker or hung up a nudie calendar, because this is just as flagrant and unacceptable.

    3. TiffIf*

      And if I asked them what they thought of Frances Gumm’s version of “Over the Rainbow”, would they know it was Judy Garland?

    4. Lucy P*

      People legally change their names all the time because they don’t care for their given name.
      I worked with someone who changed their name when immigrating to the U.S. years ago. The chose a very Western name that sounded like a nickname that they were called in their native tongue.
      I’ve known people who thought their birth name was antiquated and legally changed it to an acceptable derivative (like Guenevere becoming Gwen) . Her mother considered a slap in the face, but most people didn’t deal with her mother on a daily basis.

      1. TiffIf*

        My younger sister just plain didn’t like her birth name and so legally changed it something like 7 years ago–there are still times when my brain jumps to her birth name first and I have to correct myself but I make the effort and most of the time get it right.

        1. TiffIf*

          My mother seems to have the most trouble with my younger sister’s name change and seems personally hurt by it, which I find pretty weird given that my mother has gone by a nickname her entire life, hated her given name and legally changed it a few years ago.

        2. fogharty*

          I have a cousin who, when he was five or so, had his mother changing his first name because his new stepfather demanded that Cousin be named after him.

          Many years later, after lots and lots of abuse and a bitter divorce, Cousin kept that name, but I still think of him as Cousin Original Name, but never call him that, of course.

          If I can make the effort, then Elizabeth MaidenName has no excuse.

          And in this case, the mother (my aunt) made some very questionable decisions, so “respecting her wishes” would not even be on the radar.

          1. EvilQueenRegina*

            Makes me think of my former coworker – when asked if her name was April because she was born on 1st April (not the real name/date but you get the idea) she said she was actually Philomena April, where Philomena was a relative on her father’s side. When she was quite young her parents separated and her mother decided “she wasn’t being named for any of that man’s relatives” so she’s been known as April ever since. She doesn’t actually like April, but never reverted to Philomena.

          2. Avi*

            He… insisted that his *stepson* be named after him?

            Good lord, that’s a red flag so large you could see it from space.

        3. Jackalope*

          The daughter of a friend of mine decided to go by her middle name recently. I am having a surprisingly difficult time remembering it, but I see a picture of said daughter regularly (say, my friend has her in her Facebook profile picture or something), and practice every time. I’m DETERMINED to have the new name down by the time COVID stops keeping us isolated from each other! (Which at least has given me a few months to practice so I can get it right when next we’re around each other….) One of the few perks of COVID, I guess.

        4. Elizabeth West*

          When I first went to college, I stopped using my first name and started going by my middle name. It took time for my family to call me that, but they did. A high school friend refused, and she later proved to be a huge transphobe; we’re no longer in touch. I would have cut off contact sooner if I’d realized that, but I should have done it when she wouldn’t call me what I wanted to be called. You’re not a friend if you don’t make the effort.

      2. Sled dog mama*

        When I taught high school I had a student who went by a name like “Kiwi” which was a nickname but she let everyone know that she fully intended to be at the court house making it her legal name the day she turned 18. She didn’t know that what she went by was a nickname until she started kindergarten and the teacher called her by her legal name.

        1. Trix*

          I didn’t know that the name my family used was my legal middle name until my first day of school.
          I never used my first name, but never bothered changing it until after 9/11. I returned home from living overseas for a number of years and went to reopen a bank account, in the name I used on it since I’d opened it 15 years previously. I presented my passport – containing my full legal name – as ID, and the bank teller insisted they “had” to change the name on the account. There is no such legal requirement at all, actually. Also, my tax ID was in the name I used, not my legal name.
          After going back and forth about it for a few minutes, I simply went to the bank a few doors down and opened a new account there using my driver’s license, which had always been in the name I used.
          After that hassle, though, I decided to change my legal name at age 35, literally only because of the passport. It was a little frustrating a few years later when they changed the law so that you could get a passport in your preferred name, but c’est la vie.
          Although, the bank I switched to had much better customer service in general than the original one I belonged to, so that was a good result.

      3. Accounting is fun*

        Back in the day, the immigration officer used to do that in some countries. Dirikja became Doris, etc. They struggled with Ooja-Rikus – he ended up with Bob (his nickname was little ball which sounds like Bob). Nobody but Bob liked the name given to them by the immigration officer….

    5. Chopsington*

      What the OP needs to do is write an email to both HR and the asshole’s boss as far as the OP’s understanding of harassment laws the company is very likely legally liable at this point for having allowed a sexual harassment to occur, and then continue after having been informed of it.

      With this put in writing on legally discoverable record I can’t think of any non-idiotic HR org that wouldn’t take action simply to CYA. It also has the effect that if the OP also ends up being retaliated against, there’s a paper trail protecting the OP and John.

    6. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

      In all fairness, I live in Clearwater and once worked for the attorneys who handled his son’s accident where he turned his best friend into a freaking artichoke.

      Based on what I read in the depositions for that case, I will always refer to Hulk/Terry as “asshole.”

      But that’s me……

  31. A trans person*

    I quit a job over many months of repeated deadnaming when it was just buggy computer systems doing it and not humans. I would absolutely rage quit and be getting legal advice over this. Trans people experience HUGE amounts of employment and economic discrimination and this is a textbook example.

    1. I was never given a name*

      This. And to reframe this whole letter in terms management may find more actionable, by not maintaining a work environment where John feels welcome, the company is going to lose out on the talent and brilliance of people who don’t feel comfortable there and who decide to take their smarts elsewhere. And while this situation takes direct aim at trans people, it also sends a signal to all current and prospective employees that they are not safe bringing their whole selves to work.

  32. Jennifer*

    Good for John! Keep calling her Elizabeth Maiden-Name.

    I know of a similar situation involving a black woman at a corporate office where one of her white male coworkers refused to learn how to pronounce her name because he “didn’t know anything about black girl names.” So for six months, she called him by “white boy names.” Steve, Josh, Jack, Matt, Henry, Ed, Chad, etc. And she got the entire office to join in. Finally, he apologized and agreed to pronounce her name correctly if she stopped.

    When management and a useless HR dept won’t do their jobs, people do what they have to do.

    1. Them Boots*

      Her coworkers rule & need to take over leadership & give their HR seminars on Sensitivity Training! BRAVO!! Now THAT’S called Effective Pushing Back As A Group

    2. Elbe*

      I heard about that online! Chad was a massive jerk, but the way she handled it was so funny and perfect.

      1. Idril Celebrindal*

        Oh yeah, I remember that too! Iirc, her name wasn’t even one that was strongly associated with black culture, something like Tabitha that was pronounced exactly the way it was spelled.

  33. Jp*

    Tell him to stop and document that you did. Then when he sues the shit out of this crap company you helped set up his case even better than what it is for. Absolutely ridiculous and go John. I laughed hard at his comeback though it’s sad he has to have one.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I know what you’re saying but the OP should NOT do this. By upholding discrimination, the manager themselves will be named and attached to the lawsuit as well. It won’t just be the company, it’s the managers involved in perpetrating it. “I was just doing what I was told” isn’t an excuse that most judges accept.

  34. mdv*

    What I’m curious about … why did she go digging for past information in the first place? Was there some relevant reason for her to go looking for previous articles, or was she intentionally finding the information in order to be such a horrible b*tch to her coworker. I seriously question her value to the company as a whole and motives in general, based on what I now know about Elizabeth Maiden Name.

    1. Pennyworth*

      I’d be tempted to mess with her head by telling her that I had changed my own name, when I hadn’t, and let her go hunting for information that doesn’t exist.

    2. Max's Manager*

      Exactly. She sensed info that was none of her business was not shared with her, so she went looking I’ll wager.

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    In addition to everything Alison said, I would go to Lizzy’s grand boss if her boss isn’t addressing this. Lizzy’s boss should be held accountable as well.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      Yes, this. Escalate wherever possible – in the HR chain of command, the OP’s boss, Lizzy’s grandboss, etc.

    2. Elbe*

      This is an excellent point. Elizabeth Maiden Name is directly harassing John, but there are so many more people (including HR) that are complicit in allowing that harassment to continue over time.

    3. beanie gee*

      That is absolutely true. If her boss did nothing, they are legally liable for not reporting the harassment and doing something about it. Of course, if reporting the harassment just goes to this worthless HR department, it makes the whole damn company very very liable.

  36. MJ*

    Not that he should have to, but perhaps John could tell Elizabeth that his mother approves of the name John? It removes her “logic”.

    1. nm*

      You have a point. I highly doubt logic has anything to do with her behavior, but taking away that fake facade feels right.

  37. Kanon*

    I’m so loving this. I exclusively use my maiden name and all legal paperwork has it. I was actually daydreaming yesterday about what to call the teacher that can’t be bothered to look at the paperwork and insists on using Mrs. Kiddo’s lastname.

    1. Not Australian*

      I had a similar problem; divorced and remarried, but was unable to change my son’s surname for reasons. Tore the school a collective new one when they insisted on calling me ‘Mrs Son’s Surname’; “I got rid of Mr Son’s Surname – that’s the whole point of divorce!” Still angry decades later, grrr.

    2. Artemesia*

      Our kids were hyphenated but my husband and I kept our own names. The only place we had a hassle was the pediatrician’s office — they kept addressing him by his Dad’s last name e.g. when calling him back. I corrected it but they said well his records are in his father’s name for bill paying. So I said — then put the folder in his last name; we want his name being used properly; we will pay the bill however it arrives. The accountant then said ‘but the E folders are yellow and the W folders are purple so how would that work. From the depths of the office came the pediatrician’s voice — she said ‘Make a new damn folder.’

      1. EchoGirl*

        I have a hyphenated last name too, and you don’t even have to create a new folder, just alphabetize by whatever comes first, since that’s still the first letter of the (compound) last name. So John Evans-Wallace would be under E and have a yellow folder, but Jane Wallace-Evans would be under W and purple. It really is that easy, until people try to make it complicated.

        1. EchoGirl*

          To be clear — I’m not saying YOU were trying to make it complicated. The receptionist was the one making it complicated.

  38. nm*

    I agree it makes sense to go higher up in HR and keep badgering Elizabeth’s boss. If he fears confrontation he doesn’t want to have to confront you either!

    Until these solutions take effect, I support John continuing calling her Elizabeth Maidenname.

  39. Archie Goodwin*

    I, too, quite like John’s response of choice – any chance of getting Elizabeth’s middle name in there, too? I mean…when one is respecting parents, one must do one’s utmost.

  40. Director of Alpaca Exams*

    Everyone else is saying to fire Lizzy, which, agreed! But also, please do whatever you can to support John while trying to get Lizzy to face appropriate consequences for her harassing behavior. That might include not just support at work—doing whatever you can to keep him and Lizzy from working closely together, offering to arrange a transfer to another team as long as you know that team’s manager would also be supportive, keeping him up to date on your efforts to get HR and upper management to address this, generally supporting him in his work—but offering to be a positive reference if he decides to look for a job at someplace that isn’t Transphobic Harassment Inc.

    And do make sure your top HR executive is aware that this employee is exposing the company to significant legal liability.

    1. Director of Alpaca Exams*

      Also, I’m going to suggest advising John to drop the petty counterattack, as deeply satisfying as it is… because if HR is also transphobic, they might fire him on grounds of harassment, while finding some excuse to keep Lizzy on.

      I hope you and John can both find work at some other company that doesn’t tolerate this stuff.

      1. juliebulie*

        What kind of harassment do you think they can fire him for? John is in a position to sue the company.

        1. Uranus Wars*

          Yes, but they don’t seem to be aware of that. I would not trust this HR to do the right thing or use good judgment when making any kind of decision.

    2. beanie gee*

      This is a great point. Let John know exactly what you are doing to get the behavior to stop. And then do all of those things.

    3. mreasy*

      I would go further than this and say that as John’s manager, it is OP’s responsibility to do everything possible to make this harassment stop. If Lizzy’s manager is passive, go to their manager. If HR continues with their inactivity, go to their manager, go to the COO, the CEO, the board members. It is your job to fix this for John. As his manager, you are his advocate.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Looks like Lizzy needs to be fired for harassment and her manager for failing to manage and for contributing to a hostile working environment for a member of a protected class, and the entire HR department sent to retraining so they know what the recent Supreme Court decision means for LGBT+ people.

  41. CatWoman*

    I cannot think of a single reason to accept Lizzy’s lame “rationale” for continuing to do this, other than sheer ignorance. She needs to be stopped, hard.

    1. CatWoman*

      LW, you could say something along the lines of, “Lizzy, you do not know John’s mother, so why would you even come up with that as an excuse not to call him by his current name?”

      1. Absurda*

        Or perhaps more to the point, “why would you show respect to a woman you’ve never met while disrespecting the man in front of you?”

  42. A Poster Has No Name*

    OK, wow. I was expecting this to be “Lizzy has worked for years with “Sally” and is having trouble/being a jerk about changing to “John.” but this is infinitely worse. Nosy Nellie went to the trouble to dig around and find his deadname just so she can call him that? “Doesn’t have a problem with trans people”, my shiny hiney.

    John’s solution is brilliant, and it takes a special type of clueless jerk to not get the parallels and at least fell ashamed of herself.

  43. notacompetition*

    I LOVE the advice offered for this stupid stupid coworker and this obvious case of clear harassment. There is NO reason to be polite to Lizzy about her continued harassment of John. She is clearly not being polite.
    Reading this made me feel unwell. John has to take this home with him every day. He does not get to leave it at work. He knows that every time he goes into his place of work, he will be antagonized repeatedly about his transition. That is absolutely harassment.

  44. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

    Good for John! I love that he’s giving Elizabeth a taste of her own medicine, since nobody has been stopping Elizabeth from harassing him.

    But WTF about Elizabeth and her audacity to complain about it??? And also “out of respect for his mother”??? Elizabeth sounds very…odd.

    Elizabeth’s manager needs to grow a pair and not be so afraid of her domineering personality. People with domineering personalities get away with too much because people are too afraid to call them out on their crap. So what if they get angry or forceful or whatever? A manager has every right to tell their employee to stop harassing their coworker. And a manager also has every right to enforce consequences of that employee does not cooperate.

    I don’t think OP should tell John to stop calling his awful coworker Elizabeth and using her maiden name. John should only stop when Elizabeth stops calling him Sally. I am rooting for John!

  45. Cheesehead*

    As an aside, I would like someone to make a list of all of the people who go by another name than the one they were given at birth. I’m one of them (it’s a common nickname for my legal name, but frankly makes no sense). Then when Elizabeth doesn’t call all of THEM by their legal, birth names–you know, to honor THEIR mothers–then you have a good basis to make her explain why she’s only interested in honoring John’s mother.

    Of course, the best way to deal with this is to have a come to Jesus talk with her, but if people won’t do that, then this might be something to try to shred her veil of innocence. Bonus points if you can do it publicly.

    And I’d love to know if there are any other people who are annoyed about this on John’s behalf. It would be great to get support from them. “Elizabeth, my mother named me Katherine, not Kay. You’re not honoring her.” Throw her flimsy excuse right back at her.

  46. Cynical B*****

    I think any time she said ‘Sally’ I’d say, “Who are you talking about? There’s no Sally on this team.” Another option would be, “You know it’s really rude and disrespectful to deadname someone, right? Why do you keep doing it?”

    Out of respect for his mother? Jeez, woman, get back in your own lane.

    Note: I changed my name over a decade ago. My mother’s comment? “I will call you what I named you.”

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      I would specifically call it out as transphobic too. Something like, “It doesn’t matter your rational, calling John by his deadname is deeply transphobic and you need to stop immediately.” Every single time she does it. And not quietly. Basically the same way you would act if someone called one of your employees the n-work in front of you.

  47. Laura H.*

    I’m not even LGBT Savvy and I know that this is not okay. At all. I mean I get mortified when I use the wrong pronouns for strangers I don’t know- I can’t imagine using a name they aren’t going by anymore!

    LW, if you can’t get Lizzy to stop, just make sure you support John as best you can. He needs it.

    Excuse me while I go seethe.

    1. Not Australian*

      All you need to be ‘LGBT Savvy’ is a desire not to inflict pain on other people. The rest is details.

    2. allathian*

      Sometimes I’m really happy there are no gendered pronouns in my first language, Finnish. This doesn’t guarantee an easy life for trans people (the biggest issue is that trans people have to consent to sterilization before they’re allowed to transition although there are plans to change the law), but at least that’s one way of harassing a trans person that isn’t an issue.

    3. Random IT person on the internet*

      It is so simple.
      If honest mistake – person tells me ‘hey, i`m actually called… ‘- and after i`m done feeling embarrassed – it does not happen again (except Monday morning before coffee perhaps).

      But this- it`s the same as calling someone with a darker skin ‘Hey N*****, could you get that file for the Teapot Client please’. Would bitchy becky do it that way – you bet HR and all management wouldn`t know how fast to apply duct tape to her mouth..

    4. Trix*

      No “savviness” needed for the common courtesy of addressing people with the name they wish to be addressed.
      That’s really all there is to it. People like to complain about “old-fashioned” things sometimes, including me, but in this instance, old-fashioned politeness wins over this willful rudeness.
      And that’s true of pretty much anything related to an identity or culture you’re not too familiar with – be POLITE. Genuinely so. It’s all you need.

  48. Vox Experientia*

    john is awesome. and your company hr sucks, and of course Elizabeth sucks more than anything. what you should do is immediately begin calling her “Elizabeth MaidenName” and encouraging everyone else in your department to do so until HR or Elizabeth relents and apologizes to John. anything less than full support of John in this situation means you suck too.

  49. Kelly White*

    Could you call her out every time she does it? Like- abruptly- “Lizzie, that behavior is not acceptable.” And maybe walk her to HR.

    I feel badly for John- but he is brilliant!

    And also throwing my mom hat in the ring if he needs mom back-up!

    But seriously- she should be fired.

  50. Dagny*

    “but she keeps saying that it’s disrespectful to his mother to use a name she didn’t choose for him”

    Here’s your script: “Lizzy, that is not relevant to what you should call someone in the workplace. We have employees who go by their married names, their maiden names even when they legally changed their married names, their middle names, nicknames, and even nicknames that have nothing to do with their given names. ‘What someone’s mother wanted’ is not the standard we use here and bringing someone’s mother into the equation is not appropriate in a professional environment.”

    1. Robin Ellacott*

      Exactly! I’d add “We need you to respect your colleagues, and refusing to use his name is extremely disrespectful to John.”

    2. Not So NewReader*

      “Part of holding down any job is the willingness to get along with others. You seem unwilling to use John’s name as requested. This shows an unwillingness to get along with others. Over time it will, indeed, damage your reputation as an employee.”

  51. Potatoes gonna potate*

    Lizzy calls John “Sally” out of respect for John’s mother.

    John calls Lizzy “Lizzy maden name” out of respect for Lizzy’s mother.

    Lizzy gets upset.

    I can’t wrap my head around the lack of logic and frankly brainpower being used here. No one is this stupid, she’s clearly an asshole.

    1. Anon for this*

      Bullies have two modes –
      1) Can dish it out, and don’t notice or refuse acknowledge if it’s given back to them
      2) Can dish it out, but CAN’T take it — and like to play the victim card. Oh boo hoo.

  52. admin Amber*

    Escalate this up as high as it has to go. Lizzy is wrong, inappropriate and unprofessional.

  53. WantonSeedStitch*

    Oh, this put me in froth-at-the-mouth mode. If Lizzy doesn’t stop this, she should be fired. She is opening the company up to legal liability for creating a hostile work environment. If the OP hasn’t yet said that to Lizzie’s manager, they should.

    I have to admit, it would CRACK ME UP TO NO END if John got his mom to write the following note to give to Lizzy:

    “Dear Elizabeth Maidenname,
    I do not have a daughter named Sally. I have a son named John. If, as you claim, you have any respect for me, I insist that you stop calling my son by any name other than John.
    John’s Mom”

  54. Jade*

    As a trans person, I am so glad to see so many allies on here. Remember: hire trans people, respect us for the professionals we are, and pay us an equitable salary. If you’re not sure whether your organization does these things, please make sure trans people are included in the larger conversations about racial and gender equity that are happening right now. These issues often intersect.

  55. Eberronguy*

    To be honest my best advice is to just keep pushing harder on management and HR to quit being cowards and shut down Lizzie. Point out the very real legal liability being created thanks to the SCOTUS decision.

    And if that doesn’t work you play hardball with Lizzie about deadnaming and actively make her the pariah until either she improves or an EEOC claim forces management to finally act.

  56. nnn*

    Add my applause to the standing ovation for John calling Lizzy by her maiden name!

    Wish fulfillment fanfiction: the department hires an actual Sally, who (fully apprised of the situation) goes in boldly and confidently assuming that any reference to Sally is for her.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      ha. You are making me think. So my fantasy is that everyone decides they want to be called Sally. So whenever she says “Sally” they all answer her, except John, of course.. I would almost be tempted to start this one if I were John’s peer.

      1. LPUK*

        Or suggest that since there’s no ‘Sally’ in the office, Lizzie must be talking to her imaginary friend again? And, very kindly, that perhaps she should talk to her doctor about this issue? Just to be Safe?

  57. Youngin*

    I think that OP should directly call out her action for what it is, which is bigotry. You guys are allowing her to be anti-trans by letting her re-frame it as “respect for Johns mother” (who hopefully calls her son John btw). Obviously anyone knows that what it is, is bigotry, but her dancing around it is a way for her to save face. She shouldnt be allowed to do that. ”Ask her if she refers to everyone by their given name. Matthew, not Matt. Robert not Bob. Maiden names (genius btw, genius). Shes awful and I really hope you push the issue.

    I will also need an update on this one!

  58. voyager1*

    I would start my issues not with Elizabeth’s boss or the HR person’s boss, I would start at the highest rung on the ladder and make my way down. I would turn this into a shitshow of epic proportions.

    I really feel for you LW, this situation really sucks.

    1. Anna*

      Maybe ask for a meeting with HR and the CEO/ED of the organization? Start there. Explain that you’re requesting the meeting to discuss the need to protect the company and you personally from ongoing gender discrimination that a member of the company’s staff is continually displaying against a member of your team, and that you need to talk through the liability implications of HR’s decision to permit the discrimination and harassment to persist.

      1. Specks*

        Also, look up pertinent examples of trans discrimination from legal websites, so you can clearly show whomever you escalate to that your HR is incompetent and wrong. You don’t want HR confidently stating that this isn’t harassment and that firing that bigot would be “illegal” or whatever other BS incompetent HR dreams up sometimes, and the higher-up buying it. Sucks that you have to do their job, but in this case that’s what’s required to be a decent manager to John.

  59. LeisureSuitLarry*

    I find it… irritating? aggravating? enraging? – I don’t know the right word for it – that “Lizzy” is refusing to call “John” John out of respect for his mother, whom she has never met, and not seeing how it’s disrespecting his identity. John’s mother might be bothered by it, who knows, but when John selected a new name he basically selected a new identity and said to the world “this is who I am.” I wonder if Lizzy is married and changed her last name to her husband’s. With her logic, wouldn’t that be the same as disrespecting her own father by giving up the name she was given at birth?

    1. Sylvan*

      I think she’s seeing how it’s disrespecting his identity and that’s why she’s doing it. She doesn’t know his mom, she’s just coming up with an excuse. Wonder what other weird workplace behavior she can come up with an excuse for.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The question that nails this one shut for me is why-oh-why would anyone want to be aggravating like this? Why the high desire to tick people off? This is counter-productive to company activities and messing up one’s company is a bad plan. That’s her paycheck. You don’t poop where you eat, even animals understand this one.

    3. EchoGirl*

      According to OP, she is and she did. “John has now started exclusively calling Lizzy “Elizabeth”; there is another Elizabeth in the office, and if there’s any confusion over which Elizabeth he’s talking about, John uses Lizzy’s maiden name, rather than her married name.”

  60. char*

    Flames. Flames on the side of my face.

    I guarantee you that if Lizzie had a coworker who’d changed his name from “Robert” to “Jack”, she wouldn’t insist on calling him “Robert”. This is absolutely transphobic harassment.

    1. Elbe*

      Yeah, if he wanted to sue, it sounds like he’d have a pretty solid case. This is so blatant, and so many people are aware and have done nothing.

  61. Stl-hou*

    What tf is his name Elizabeth Maidenname’s business? By telling she is using the birth name, she really means his birth gender. How is this even remotely ok? Why isn’t HR or her boss doing anything? I hope the coworkers are supportive of John!

  62. Drtheliz*

    OP should also tell John explicitly that they’re pursuing this as hard as they can – they’ve spoken to Elizabeth’s manager, they’re pushing it up the chain with HR etc. If I were John, I’d feel a lot more comfortable knowing my manager was “going to bat” for me.

    1. irene adler*

      Yeah-even if requests for change are denied. Don’t want John to get the impression that nothing is being done about Elizabeth.

    2. OlympiaEpiriot*

      Yes. And, then, if the company doesn’t do anything about it, go back to John and tell him that, too, so he has that information and isn’t left guessing.

      I’d assume that would mean the OP would lose him to a more respectful firm.

  63. Student*

    I want to specifically call out the emotional hand grenade that Lizzy is repeatedly throwing at John.

    That comment about his mother is specifically designed to hurt John deeply. Lizzy is making an assumption that John’s mother is not fully supportive of his transition, and using that to both wound John more deeply and as a fig leaf for her anti-trans harassment of John. I assure you that this part of the barb is not lost on John; depending on his relationship with his mother, it could be worse than the dead-naming in terms of insult. Being rejected (entirely or partly) by birth parents was an extremely common occurrence for trans people when I was growing up.

    I am speaking as a person whose parents will not use her legal name. I’m not in the same situation as John on the details, but I can assure you that I notice every single time my mother opts to call me by the incorrect name. My parents do it on purpose to show that they reject my lifestyle and personal decisions. They refuse to accept that I control my life, so I had to cut them out of it through estrangement. I cope with it well now, but it’s a lifelong sore spot. I would be in an absolute rage at Lizzy if she was bringing up my parents’ rejection of me constantly and casually in this veiled, cruel way, by using it as cover for why she could also reject my life choices.

    1. tinybutfierce*

      Aggressively seconding this. She’s absolutely being knowingly, deliberately cruel with that comment.

    2. Kelly White*

      I am so very sorry that your parents won’t use your name. That is so hurtful.

      I’m a mom with a gay dad, a bi niece, a gay nephew, a trans niece, and a “trying to figure it all out” daughter. If you need a supportive mom figure I would love to have you in my fold!

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        I can take on a big sister role. I’m probably a few years older, given the username, so perfect age range.

          1. Daffy Duck*

            You got an Aunt here too. Hang in there, family are those who love and support each other.

    3. Specks*

      Wow, thank you so much for pointing this out, I didn’t even think of that aspect of it… Adds a whole level of awfulness to Sally’s behavior.

      And that is absolutely horrible. I’m so sorry that your parents are doing that to you.

  64. Susan*

    I’m conservative, and I think what Petty Betty Maidenname is doing is wrong! You do not have to agree with how other people live to know that they deserve simple human kindness and respect. Also, she is doing this at work; there is a certain level of, for lack of a better phraseology, a “leave your personal opinions of your colleagues at the door” that is expected of employees. It’s harassment, it’s illegal, and it’s wrong.

    1. Laura H.*

      Exactly! I may not understand this stuff, but absolutely do no harm and don’t be a JERK. How I treat others reflects on me, and I’m not gonna add to the ick that folks face everyday.

      All the hugs to John and a Gorgon stare for Lizzy.

    2. Middle Manager*

      I genuinely appreciate a principled conservative these days who cares about human decency as a hopeless liberal who at heart just wants to see people be decent to each other.

      1. Archie Goodwin*

        I, too, am a conservative. And I can tell you that I don’t know any trans people, but if I DID, I would do my damnedest to call them what THEY want to be called. It’s not my choice; it’s theirs. And I respect that.

        And I can’t stand people like Lizzy – I’ve known many younger conservatives of one stripe or another who don’t think, or act, like she does, and she’s the type (one of many, I’m afraid) that gives us all a bad name.

        1. OlympiaEpiriot*

          Slightly OT: You only think you don’t know anyone who is transgender. I assure you, lots and lots of people are and all over the place geographically and most aren’t about to tell anyone they aren’t close to.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        There is always varying factors and a spectrum involved. But don’t forget there were also “benevolent” slave owners. You don’t have to be radically brazen about something to still be part of a problem.

        Instead they keep it inside and still unconsciously reek havoc on someone’s life, just they aren’t mean-girl Lizzy’ing.

    3. Third or Nothing!*

      MMHM!!!! I’m leaning much more independent these days, but honestly political affiliation should have absolutely nothing to do with how you treat others around you. Each and every human being on this planet is deserving of a basic level of respect and decency simply by the fact that they are human. IDC if you agree with how they live their life, you treat them as fellow human beings.

  65. Nicole*

    I would get everyone to ignore her or stare blankly and keep asking who she is talking about any time she says Sally. Even if she goes to great lengths to explain exactly who she means just keep acting like you have no clue.

  66. Coder von Frankenstein*

    Not that it should matter, but I’m real curious what John’s mother would have to say about this.

    1. That's not acceptable*

      Anytime the name Sally comes out if her mouth:
      “His name is John and you will call him John, or I’ll be reporting you to HR for harrassment based on sexual identity.” (loudly)
      Then follow through. In writing. Every time. Repeatedly.

      While John calling her Elizabeth is hilarious, you taking that up isn’t going to help. Keep pushing HR to acknowledge that this isn’t acceptable and to do something about it.

    2. Batgirl*

      It doesnt matter. The reason this approach is taken by transphobes is because many are pushy parents, who are against free will. If they can put everyone in a position where they need a note from their mother; then their kids are safe from ‘mutilation’.

  67. Natalie*

    John should contact an employment lawyer, The department of labor, The ACLU. He should also refuse to enter into a tit for tat with lizzy as it can be brought up if this goes to litigation. He needs to document the harrassment and his reporting to thr and management. How did lizzy find these articles unless she was deliberately snooping. Sounds like blatant bullying and harrassment.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think that John is going to have to bring in outsiders for OP to gain any traction. The whole company seems pretty dense… okay they seem like ostriches.

    2. Observer*

      Eh. If his “retaliation” gets brought up, any halfway competent lawyer is going to use it as proof that John was clearly ticked, and that his harasser knew perfectly well how annoying it was.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      Unfortunately, I don’t think LW has the power to do that. Lizzie reports to a different manager.

      1. Observer*

        Also, HR says that her behavior is OK.

        “We can’t do anything” is one of the lamest excuses in the book. It’s almost never true. The one exception being that you want HR to “do something” that amounts to illegal discrimination.

  68. Cruella Priestly*

    A manager’s role is to look out for the people who report to them even when it’s uncomfortable.

    LW, don’t be the reason John leaves the company. It may not be over this thing, but if something unrelated also occurs down the line, then he’ll have a list of ways you haven’t had his back – at least, not enough. You’ve been good to try but need to push harder. Letting this go is setting a terrible precedent and example for others. Don’t let one weak manager ruin things for the rest of you.

    As for HR, the idea that “the law isn’t making us do it so we don’t see a problem” is worst kind of HR response – why many of us see them as ineffective and even lazy. I hope they’re not touting diversity initiatives.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      LW, why don’t you gear up AS IF you also will be getting a lawyer. Document conversations, put things in email and keep hard copies at home, etc. Key part: Tell them you are doing this because you do not want to be named as complacent if there is a lawsuit over this because the whole thing seems to be headed to court.

  69. bluephone*

    “but Lizzy has a very domineering personality and her manager avoids confrontation”

    Heh, I’d like to see how well her manager avoids the confrontation of a lawsuit, or how fast Lizzy’s “domineering” personality folds when John’s lawyer gets her on the stand or cancel culture finds out where this company is and makes everyone’s lives a living hell
    Why does Lizzy have a job if she’s too dumb to remember very basic information, like a coworker’s name?????

    1. Dust Bunny*

      “Avoids confrontation” is pretty much shorthand for “should not be a manager”. This person isn’t doing his or her job.

    2. Random IT person on the internet*

      off topic – but what do you mean ‘cancel culture’?
      That`s usually a term racists and homophobes / transphobes use when they get called out – and seems to translate to “i want to abuse/be racist/be discriminating and no one is allowed to call out my bigotry”.

      If this company does not act – nothing is cancelled – they are experiencing consequences of their actions. Or lack of actions in this case.

    3. A Poster Has No Name*

      Yeah, a good question for manager-hates-confrontation would be to ask her how she’d feel about a deposition or being questioned on the stand.

  70. Red5*

    I’d just like to emphasize something Alison said in her response: definitely stop giving Lizzie the cover of plausible deniability over her transphobic actions. I’d go even farther than Alison suggested: ““Lizzy, you’ve been told repeatedly to stop calling John that. Why are you continuing to do it?” I’d go so far as to also say, “Using John’s deadname is transphobic. You are creating a hostile work environment and you need to stop immediately.” Let’s call bigots bigots rather than continuing to give them cover to act. Also, if you can go back to someone higher up in HR, use those words: “Lizzie is creating a hostile work environment (in the legal sense) for John and she is opening the organization up for legal liability if we don’t address and correct this immediately.” Good luck!

    1. Batgirl*

      Yep, this coyness is begging for some blunt tools.
      “Elizabeth, this tired bigotry is getting hard to watch without gagging”
      “We aren’t stupid Elizabeth and I get really offended when you hide behind John’s mother. You’re calling her a bigot and either calling us timid or stupid or hoping that we are bigots too.”
      “My mother named me ‘Dont try to lie to me’ ”
      “Really, could you have respect for basic manners too?”
      “Elizabeth, we’ve talked about this. Stop”
      “Not his name, take that petty fight elsewhere”
      “This focus on people performing gender for you is incredibly sexist” (the feminist brand of transphobe really hate this one)
      “Elizabeth if you’re hoping I’ve gotten bored of reminding you not to be rude, I haven’t ”
      “Rude and disrespectful. Try again”
      “If you want people to respect chosen names you have to start by example. John is currently just following your guidance.”

  71. Lady Heather*

    You need to stop legitimizing her by casually correcting her in the moment. Either ask a steady string of “Who? Who? Who?” or say harshly, immediately, none too quietly, “You’re engaging in transphobic behaviour and you need to stop doing that”.

    (I learned the “you’re engaging in x behaviour” or “this is x behaviour” a long time ago while writing an angry letter to a teacher at my school (who had forced me to apologize to a bully when I stood up to the bullying) – saying “This is hypocritical/You are a hypocrite” is rude, but “This is hypcritical behaviour” is polite and to the point, and doesn’t raise as many defenses because you’re calling out behaviour rather than a person.)

  72. Jaybeetee*

    Knowing nothing else about Elizabeth, I want to punch him in the throat (oh, did I just use the wrong pronoun there?). If LW can’t fire Elizabeth or get him fired, is LW at least able to arrange it so John doesn’t have to work or interact with him? John deserves a workplace where he doesn’t have to deal with this kind of horse sheet. Elizabeth deserves itchy pyjamas for the rest of his life.

    1. Grand Mouse*

      Hey, I get where you’re coming from but I don’t agree with misgendering Lizzie. She’s awful but misgendering shouldn’t be used as a punishment yanno? It just shows that being gendered correctly is something you earn

      1. fhgwhgads*

        Plus Lizzy’s already shown that she’s too much of a hypocrite/ not capable of comprehending the concept of “I don’t like it when you do it to me, therefore I should not do it to you either”. As soon as John started calling her Elizabeth Maidenname and she got huffy, we knew she was beyond comprehending the point. Misgendering her would be just another stab at “see? it hurts” which she’s proven will not work on her.

  73. Lurks@Work*

    This letter needs an update like whoa. I hope the next changes after Lizzys correction is that her boss is transitioned out and the HR department is turned over.

  74. Kara S*

    Yikes x 1000. Lizzy is doing all kinds of backflips and cartwheels to land to land on her explanation as to why she thinks this is okay. It’s clearly harassment and transphobia. Even if it were not the latter, it is harassment (and rude) to call someone by a name they have not requested.

    OP, I’d recommend being very direct like many others suggested. When you hear Lizzy making these comments, call her out in the moment and don’t soften it. “Lizzy, it’s really rude that you keep using the wrong name for John. Stop it.” “Why do you keep calling John the wrong name? What about this are you not understanding?” “Lizzy, I don’t care for your explanation. You need to call John by his name. This is an order, not a request.” It sounds like you have enough standing over her that this is more than reasonable. You could also talk to your reports and make it clear that they are not to deadname John or respond to Lizzy when she does this. I’d also recommend you pull John aside and let him know you’re his side and are working to escalate this beyond what HR has currently offered, that way he knows this isn’t something you will put up with.

    Please update us!

    1. Kara S*

      To clarify, when I said “even if this were not transphobia”, I meant that this would still be harassment if John was not trans and was requesting to be called a name that he was not born with. Ex he was born Jack but goes by John.

  75. lafcolleen*

    please put all this in emails with John. cc’d. help a lawyer win his case with easy discovery!

  76. Morning Flowers*

    This is a beautiful reaction on John’s part. My first name forms a common nickname that I *deeply* despise, that a few family members tried to use when I was little. To this day, this nickname gets my goat up like nothing else. You call people what they want to be called. I think I’d earnestly call someone by a swear word if that was honestly, truly, sincerely what they wanted to be called. (And before anyone says “no you wouldn’t” — I know of a guy who goes by “Beej,” because his intials are B.J., and all association with certain sexual acts vanishes after like the third mention because it’s just a name and everyone treats it that way.) It’s basic respect.

      1. Office Grunt*

        This was my first thought, glad I wasn’t the only one.

        Have yet to play Beejlander though :-/

    1. Lizzo*

      Same here with the common nickname that makes my skin crawl (because it’s diminutive and condescending AF). The people who continue to use that nickname with me despite my explicit request not to, and saying, “That’s not my name,” is met with laughter and a doubling-down on the usage. It’s a power trip for them. And them = exclusively white men. It’s gross.

  77. Anon4this*

    This doesn’t really make any sense. Lizzie doesn’t know if John’s mother named him. She could’ve died during childbirth, who knows?!
    Lizzie also her goes by a nickname…not even her full name. This is too bananas.

    John should absolutely ignore or refuse to answer to the name “Sally”. Under all circumstances.
    HR should have Sally on probation, as John has reported the sexist harassment he is receiving, with a warning that next time will be immediate termination.

    Op, the fact that your company is not taking any action is callous and bizarre. Are they anti- LBTQ or just oblivious?

    Sounds like a terrible place to work, where the transphobic workers get free reign to be a nightmare.

  78. RollerGirl09*

    I guess Lizzy is signing up for my Garbage People of 2020 competition. This is absolutely transphobic harassment. She needs to be fired yesterday. My company is very vocally LGBTQ friendly and would bounce someone so fast for this.

  79. Beatrice*

    In addition to the strategies you’re already using, if there’s any point where you can remove Lizzie’s access to John and force her to go through you or another employer instead, do that. I wouldn’t do it if it impedes your team and their work or success significantly, but I’d be absolutely apathetic about whether it affects Lizzie and her team. I’d also be insistent about Lizzie’s manager substituting another member of his team in Lizzie’s place if that is possible.

    (I had a situation months ago where a member of another team got enthusiastic about potentially handing off a process to a member of my team. She was really rude and antagonistic about it – nothing hate-based, just a jerk – and I wound up a) delaying accepting the work longer than I otherwise would have, and b) decreeing that she would not be allowed to deliver ANY of the relevant training to my team. That was inconvenient to her team, but she has a history of rude behavior, and her manager has refused to discipline or fire her because she is “too good” at the heads-down solo work part of her job and she’s the only person who knows how to do so many things that she can’t afford to lose her…I can’t exert any more influence there than I already am, so the best I can do is try to insulate my team from being exposed to it. They still have to interact with her some, but they also know they have my ear/support if they encounter any issues.

    1. Anna*

      I would do it even if it impedes the team. And every time I do it, I’d copy my own boss and HR, and I’d explain why I’m doing it, and explain how it impedes the work, and that you’re doing it anyway to avoid liability for gender discrimination claims that John clearly has grounds for.

  80. Van Wilder*

    Wow. To add on to Alison’s excellent advice, I would keep making it as difficult for Lizzy’s manager as possible. Including refusing to work with Lizzy and insisting on another team member or Manager herself. Obviously don’t know what’s possible at your organization but make it as painful as possible.

  81. tinybutfierce*

    John’s response deserves a damn medal and I’m seriously APPALLED by this company’s HR. If I worked somewhere that tolerated an employee regularly being subjected to bigoted abuse from a peer, I’d be job-searching for myself ASAP (and helping the employee with their legal case in any way possible on the way out).

  82. Anna*

    If I were John’s manager, I’d refuse to allow Lizzie to work with him. Every time she is assigned to something involving your department, email her manager and copy HR, indicating that someone else needs to be assigned to the project because Lizzie refuses to stop sexually harassing John, and you will not be a party to it. Put in the email that you do not want to incur legal liability for yourself personally or for the company by exposing John to repeated gender-based harassment, and that any time Lizzie is assigned to work with your department, you’ll be sending the work back. Tell HR that if they are requiring you to put John and Lizzie on projects together, you require from them a release of liability indicating that they will indemnify you against legal claims for harassment that could be brought against you. But until you get that, just refuse to allow Lizzie to work with John. Part of your job as his manager is to protect him from retaliation while he’s doing his job. Please do that.

    1. yala*

      This too! It’s just a bandaid, but for now it’s absolutely something the manager should be doing. Ms. MaidenName can’t be a decent person while working with John? Then don’t make John have to deal with her. At all. That much should at least be OP’s call.

  83. nott the brave*

    My parents named me with intent to call me by my initials from the very start. The names that make up those initials are names I’m never called by, they’re just excuses to give me my “real” name, the one I always introduce and think of myself as. I’d never really minded telling people what the initials stand for when I was younger, but I had this traditional pastor friend-of-the-family who insisted on using my “first” name with me, even though my own parents use my actual name and it was utterly alienating and patronizing.

    Now that I’ve grown up and done a lot of self-exploration and realized I’m trans (agender specifically), it rankles even more. It’s infuriating. People who don’t accept your name and insist on knowing what your “real” name is, as if they know better than you, are horrible. People who use that as a weapon to deny your very existence are hateful. Elizabeth Maidenname needs to feel the full force of how much her actions are Not Okay.

    Push back harder, OP. I’m begging you.

  84. Consulting Consultant*

    This is disgustingly bigoted behavior. OP, imagine Lizzy was calling a minority employee a slur. How would you react then? Your reaction needs to be comparable here.
    I’d be even more forceful with Lizzy and her manager than Alison suggested. If you can, ban her from your department immediately, and let them know she won’t be welcome back until she apologizes to John and commits to not deadnaming or misgendering him moving forward.
    If that’s not feasible, commit to supervising Lizzy’s interactions with John. The minute she deadnames or misgenders him, walk her back to her department and immediately find her manager (Pull her out of a meeting if you have to. Too bad, Lizzy’s manager. Do your job). Ask how she’s going to hold Lizzy accountable to not harassing your employees. Do not relent until a plan is outlined. Do this multiple times if necessary.
    Do not leave this to your employees to manage and do not stop advocating for your staff member, who you will lose, and who will hopefully sue the pants off your company, if this is not strongly addressed.

  85. Mystery Lady*

    It sound like you’ve been communicating verbally with hr and Elizabeth’s manager. I recommend switching to email and repeatedly documenting her inappropriate behavior. If you don’t get action, you can go to Elizabeth’s manager’s boss with a detailed history.
    Sometimes copying a boss’s boss with the subject “third request” can get results.

  86. Elsewhere*

    Is John’s mother around? Is she supportive? If so, I’d bring her into the office and introduce her to Elizabeth Maidenname so she could tell Ms. Maidenname if she fails to respect her son’s wishes that she, as both a non-employee and John’s mother, will make her life miserable.

    1. Dahlia*

      The thing is, John does not need his mother’s support to change his name, and that is teaching Elizabeth that people do. It’s fun to think about, but it’s not actually appropriate.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      John’s mother is only the excuse. Lizzy will ignore John’s mother, just like she ignores John and his manager. The only thing that will stop Lizzy is if her job becomes in danger. Which it should.

    3. TimeTravl_R*

      Not John’s mom but the mom of a transgender person here. I’d gladly fight John’s battles and my child’s but I know that’s not the best route in this case (although I hear what you’re saying). People like ELIZABETH MAIDENNAME really piss me off though.

  87. A Lizzie Ashamed of that Lizzy*

    OP, you’ve gotten some great advice here, but I want to throw this out as well:

    Do everything in your power to help John keep his cool. I sense Lizzy’s endgame here – make John crack and say something nasty to her in an attempt to get him fired, or at least given a stern warning. If you don’t have HR’s support (even after presenting the legal ramifications of what they’re allowing), document EVERY time you hear Lizzy deadnaming John. Every. Time. Bring it to the attention of HR and upper management monthly, ie “Lizzy deadnamed John 24 times this month, that I personally heard.” Record those meeting date and times as well. If/ when something comes up against John (like Lizzy filing a harassment complaint that he called her her maiden name), you can present this entire document as reasonable distress and hostile working conditions. If John were to get fired because of this, give him that stack of date and times and advise him to get an attorney.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Yes document, but no, do not wait a month (or more!) to take this up the chain. Once. She gets ONE more time, with a clear, ‘don’t do that’ from OP. Heck, OP, you don’t have to wait! Call her up and give her a clear directive today! She’s harassing your employee, you have standing to direct her not to do so.

      After that, OP needs to nuke Lizzy from orbit. In a professional manner, of course.

      1. TTDH*

        I agree, there’s no need to “wait for reocurrence” with this kind of behavior because it’s not a mistake that’s being made, it’s intentional.

  88. Michael Jackson's Nose*

    “John complained to HR, but they said that because she is not explicitly harassing him for being trans, they can’t do anything.”

    This is outrageous to the point of being insulting. It’s not that they can’t — they just won’t.

    I’d fire both Lizzy and HR.

    1. Daffy Duck*

      I agree. They both need to go. If HR isn’t transphobic they don’t have the basic job skills.

  89. The Kerosene Kid*

    I don’t normally comment here often, despite the fact that I read regularly, recommend AAM often, and stan Alison and her excellent work pretty hard. As a trans guy who is in the midst of a gender and name change at my somewhat conservative workplace, please let me offer my deepest gratitude to this manager advocating for John, to Alison for addressing the issue realistically and compassionately, and to all of you wonderful, thoughtful, and hilarious commenters. I needed a big boost today, and this was it. Thank you times a million, all of y’all.

  90. PennyLane*

    Please take all of the steps Allison suggested, but particularly, don’t be nice anymore when she calls him Sally in front of other people and make it clear she’s been told to stop many times before. Be very serious, matter of fact and offended that she won’t cut this crap. Hopefully there will be other people around when you do it so they can see that’s clearly being disrespectful to John. With the way you’ve been speaking to Lizzy, they might also think she’s forgetting or something and be forgiving of it; by stating out loud that she’s been told to stop and is ignoring you, others in the office will see that she’s discriminating against John.

    Also, is there anyone else in the company that goes by a nickname (ya know, other than Lizzy?)? If she calls them by their nickname, but refuses to call John by his name, then she clearly is targeting him because he’s trans. Otherwise she wouldn’t use nicknames because that would be disrespectful to all their moms. Which by the way is such a stupid excuse; how about what’s disrespectful to John? Why is it ok to disrespect him and not his mom? Ugh, by the way, I’m in HR and just because something isn’t against the law, doesn’t mean you can’t address it an with employee, particularly when it’s creating conflict in the workplace. Your HR is terrible.

    Also, that’s really funny how John turned the tables on Lizzy. I agree you shouldn’t jump in as a manager, but it doesn’t mean John needs to stop.

    1. EnfysNest*

      Yep. Seriously, the OP needs to make this their number one priority at work. Nothing else matters as much right now. They need to be at HR’s door first thing in the morning demanding that actions be taken against Lizzie to get her to stop. They need to sharply rebuke Lizzie any time they hear her use John’s deadname, not soften the message or beat around the bush. John gets to do the “Elizabeth” thing as a coping method because he doesn’t have the power to do anything else, but OP should not do that because OP does have power and should be using it, not playing games or trying to get Lizzie to change her mind by this example (changing Lizzie’s behavior immediately is what matters most right now, not being gentle and trying to change her mind).

      My instinct would also be for OP to offer to put themself between Lizzie and John for any processes that they have to interact at work for the time being – Lizzie can’t be trusted not to deadname John, so don’t let her get close enough to John for him to hear it. If Lizzie needs information from John, for example, she has to ask the OP (who will insist on Lizzie using John’s correct name in order to pass that question on to him). But this should be an option offered to John – if he thinks it would make it harder for him to do his work and doesn’t want that, then of course defer to his preference. Also, of course, ask John what other actions could be taken immediately to protect him from Lizzie. OP needs to make it very clear to John that they are taking this seriously and that they are going to fight to make things right.

      But this shouldn’t be a side project or a “if it comes up again” sort of thing – especially given how long this has already gone on, it needs to become OP’s absolute top priority. Inaction is complicity in this situation and OP needs to use every ounce of their position to insist that this harassment is stopped immediately and Lizzie held accountable.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Agreed. OP’s got standing to stop any employee from harassing her reports. For documentation, she can go back to prior times, pull emails. Then tomorrow, Friday, call Lizzie and tell her she has to behave professionally and call John by his name, and cease all harassment. Then cc Lizzie’s boss with a follow-up email, saying ‘I am officially telling Lizzy to treat my report, John, with respect, cease her harassment, and to use his proper name, which is John.’

        Then forward *that* to HR and Lizzy’s manager’s manager with the intro ‘Lizzy is harassing John, which opens us up to legal action. I have taken this action to stop it, but if it continues or shifts to a different form, we all need to be on the same page about next actions and consequences to Lizzy. To minimize our company’s legal liability , I recommend [thing].’

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Alternatively, OP could consider having Lizzie’s manager inform OP of what Lizzie needs to communicate to John.

        John could forward OP any inappropriately addressed emails that he receives from Lizzie.

  91. Quill*

    John is a badass and you should both 1) continue helping him make this point, and 2) shake HR until some of their neurons connect and they realize that what Elizabeth Maidenname is doing is NOT ok.

  92. Johanna*

    Elizabeth is a horrible person. You definitely need to stay on her manager who is being almost as bad by not stopping it. (I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from calling her Elisheba—you know—out of respect to God…)

  93. soon to be former fed really*

    OP Lizzie is low-key harrassing John for being trans! I added an “e” to the end of my birth name, would this obnoxious person refuse to spell my name correctly because it’s not the one my mother gave me? People should be called by whatever they want to, full-stop. Don’t say anything to John. And advise Lizzie she is being discourteous and disrespectful, both of which are unacceptable. Furthermore, she is causing unecessary confusion and distraction, and both of these are unacceptable also. John is better than me because I would have cursed her out. The nerve of some people.

    1. soon to be former fed really*

      OP I see that you are not Lizzie’s manager. I think your strategy should be to go up the chain of command until action is taken to make Lizzie stop her terrible behavior. That, or rearrange workflow so that John no longer has to interact with her. He deserves some relief and you should not stop until he gets it.

      1. soon to be former fed really*

        Last edit…put all of this in writing. Sometimes it’s the only way to get action.

  94. Laney Boggs*

    “John’s name is not up to you. You are being disrespectful and embarrassing yourself, and you need to stop.”

    That’s brutal. I love it!

    1. Elbe*

      I loved the script Alison provided, too! The “you’re embarrassing yourself” part is particularly useful because she’s probably more concerned about her reputation more than about just being a decent person.

      Honestly, though, I hope someone with a high position and some sense can let Elizabeth Maiden Name go. Even if she stops this horrid behavior, I still feel bad that John has to work with her. Clearly, she doesn’t respect him at all. Even if she’s forced to call him by his name, I’m sure she’ll be nasty to him in other ways and learn how to hide it better.

    1. miro*

      My understanding is that that extension makes it so that the person using it doesn’t have to see their deadname, but doesn’t actually change the site content.

  95. Jules the 3rd*

    I think using any reason to discipline Lizzy other than ‘this is harassment and we will not tolerate it’ would send a bad signal to John and anyone else who’s got a problem.

    LW can maybe *mention* it’s messing up workflows, but the basis of the disciplinary action has to be ‘Lizzy is harassing John, and we don’t tolerate harassment here.’ Use the ‘Illegal!’ explanation to get buy-in from the mgmt chain, but I wouldn’t even include it in the disciplinary doc. A hard line against harassment, not because of legal repercussions but because it’s the right thing, will go a long way towards making your employees feel safer.

    1. boo bot*

      Yes. Another problem I could foresee is that, “Lizzie’s harassment is interfering with workflows” gets translated into “John’s refusal to cheerfully tolerate Lizzie’s harassment is interfering with workflows.” It wouldn’t be the first time.

      I think the LW can make changes to the workflow to stop Lizzie from having access to John, but still stand firm on, “This is because of her harassment. I’m not going to tolerate harassment.”

      1. Observer*

        Yes. Another problem I could foresee is that, “Lizzie’s harassment is interfering with workflows” gets translated into “John’s refusal to cheerfully tolerate Lizzie’s harassment is interfering with workflows.” It wouldn’t be the first time.

        The good news is that in this case it wouldn’t work, because the “problem” is not that John is ignoring her, but that OTHER PEOPLE have no idea who she is talking about. You can’t blame that on John.

        I do think that this is not the fundamental problem, but I do think that it’s worth bringing up.

  96. Erin*

    Why doesn’t John simply ignore Lizzy when she deadnames him? After all, Lizzy isn’t communicating with John at that point, and he can feel free to simply ignore her/keep on doing whatever he is doing without Lizzy interrupting him.

    Also, Lizzy is clearly harassing John and should be fired. She is seriously ruining her reputation as well, but, she doesn’t seem to care about that.

    1. Sylvan*

      He’s already ignoring her, and other people are reacting as if they don’t know who she’s talking about (because they don’t know who she’s talking about, as OP said).

  97. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

    I work in a male dominated industry, I’ve been misgendered more than once and it’s infuriating, I can’t imagine what John is going through.

  98. Amtelope*

    This is terrible, Lizzy needs to be told explicitly “What you are doing is transphobic harassment, and if you call John by the incorrect name again you will be fired,” and it’s likely that Lizzy does in fact need to be fired. Keep escalating this to management until someone is willing to take it seriously; if you don’t, it’s probably time to find a new place to work.

    1. Amtelope*

      … “if they don’t, it’s probably time to find a new place to work,” is what I mean.

  99. TimeTravl_R*

    I am the mother of a transgender person. How dare you do this “out of respect” for me. It is incredibly disrespectful. I support my children 100% and you are the one sorely lacking respect, ELIZABETH (MAIDEN NAME)!

  100. valprehension*

    Honestly, John should get his mother (or someone posing as her, if necessary) to call Lizzie and tell her to call him John out of respect for her love and support of her trans son.

    Really though, Lizzie should get one warning and be fired if she doesn’t stop immediately. Up herein Ontario this is a straight up human rights violation.

    1. miro*

      I definitely had a whole fantasy of John’s mom coming into the office and taking Lizzy to task…

  101. Wendy Darling*

    My teenage stepson is trans. His mom is not on board at all which is sad and she refuses to call him by his chosen name. He doesn’t speak to her for obv reasons. However, the joy of my life is listening to his two younger siblings field questions from their mother about it.

    Mom to one of the younger siblings: “How’s ‘deadname’ doing?”
    Younger Sibling to Mom: “Who’s ‘deadname’? There’s no one here by that name.”

    It so wonderful, loving, and fabulous to watch them both roll with what their brother wants and has asked for as well as defend him without question.

    I do hope LW is able to push this harder with HR, the person’s manager, and even to Elizabeth Maidenname herself. Honestly, I’d take a tactic from my kiddos and pretend not to know who she’s referring to. Although, one commenter mentioned getting all the employees to circle around her and start chanting…”His name is John, His name is John” sounds absolutely delightful and dramatic.

    1. TimeTravl_R*

      Good for them for having your stepson’s back. His mom is being an ass. I know from experience that it is hard to hear, but I also know from experience that my transgender child suffered greatly until they came to the realization of who they are and they have never been happier. And THAT is all I care about.

      1. jenkins*

        Yes – as a parent I’ve never understood anyone thinking they have the right to control their children to this extent. I can imagine I’d be shaken to find out that the person I thought was my daughter was actually my son, especially to find out that my ideas of who they were had been hurting them – and of course I have an emotional attachment to the names I chose. Naming my kids meant a lot. But I have an infinitely stronger attachment to MY ACTUAL KIDS. If I can’t manage to love another living being while also accepting their right to define themselves, I should’ve just got a dog.

    2. Pennyworth*

      Good on them. In our family my parents took exception to the name given to of one of their granddaughters and decided to use her middle name. The rest of the family just ignored them and kept using her first name and eventually they switched.

    3. WantonSeedStitch*

      I’m glad your stepson at least has a stepmom and siblings who support him, even if his own mom doesn’t!

  102. some dude*

    Why do we allow a$$holes to take up so much space? The fact that HR/management won’t dress Liz down because she is an a$$hole and will be an a$$hole about it really stinks.

    Also, “I totally respect trans people I just refuse to acknowledge they exist” is really something.

    And finally, just call people whatever the hell they want to be called. If your colleague Namitra wants to be called Namitra, call them Namitra. If they want to be called Nickie, call them Nickie. If Gabrielle goes by her middle name Lauren, call her Lauren. If someone born Sally wants to be called John, call them John. Why the eff do you care!!!????

    Great advice as always Allison.

    1. EnfysNest*

      For real! In addition to more common nicknames and middle or last names used as first names, I’ve also known and worked with people who go by Goose, Bug, Gunny, Tree, Junior, and plenty of other chosen names and it is 100% not any kind of an issue at all. Heck, my brother was just 5 years old when he declared he wanted to go by his full name instead of the nickname everyone (our parents included) had been using for him and we immediately all respected his choice and changed what we called him, and he was a preschooler! When someone tells you what to call them, that’s what you call them! It’s not actually a hard concept!

  103. 2horseygirls*

    Whilst Lizzy may not be directly in LW’s chain of command, LW is still at a managerial level in the company, and being disrespected on a direct order. (My military family history is coming out here a bit . . . )

    If I were the LW, I would be willing to spend a little capital on this. I would start formally documenting each and every instance of this occurrence, walk into Lizzy’s manager’s office with a folder the size of the Manhattan telephone directory, and say, “Your choice. either we bring Lizzy in here and address this right now, or I copy these to VP of HR, CEO, and your boss. Your choice.” And proceed to get comfy in a chair — and wait.

    I fail to see how this is any different (other than with the harassment sprinkles on top) than previous AAM letters regarding:
    – asking someone to use a less-ethnic-sounding name
    – an email address displaying a name the employee does go by
    – having coworkers with names I feel uncomfortable about saying, such as Princess, Honey, Sir, King
    – asking a new hire to go by her last name
    – my employees refuse to call their coworker by her real name
    – or really, any of these >

  104. Colorado*

    Lizzie is an asshole, your HR sucks, and I would die on this hill to protect my employee. I would out right lose my shit on Lizzie one day.

  105. redwinemom*

    I suggest that the OP should contact the boss of Lizzy’s boss (Lizzie’s boss’s boss) to intervene. That person needs to be aware that her immediate report is failing to do his job, and is setting the company up for a law suit.
    That person needs to immediately act, and do her job of managing her managers! This must stop!

  106. ...*

    Maybe ask John how he prefers you handle it too? Like does he want you to always call it out, would he rather do that himself? I guess ask him how he’d like you to help the situation (privately)

  107. Xavier Desmond*

    So much of the internet is an absolute cesspit. The comments on the post is a great reminder that Alison has cultivated a corner of the web filled with great people.

  108. Usernames are hard*

    “First names are sacred and must be used in order to respect your mother”
    –someone who doesn’t use her full first name and presumably disrespected BOTH her parents when she got married and changed her name.

    Why hasn’t she been fired?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      s/”John’s mom called and said we have to fire you. So out of respect for John’s mom, this is Good Bye!”/s

  109. windsofwintergreen*

    It is blatantly false that Lizzy is not harassing John for being trans, because I am certain without even needing to ask that she uses married names, middle names, and nicknames for other people. OP, please find instances of her doing this to point out the disparate treatment to her manager and HR.

  110. Artctic*

    Didn’t Harry Potter bring in like a billion dollars? Why is JK Rowling even working in HR?

  111. miro*

    “Lizzy, I take it that your relationship with your mother is very rocky, but I think you should know that many, many people use names and nicknames and *don’t* mean it as an offense to their parents, so I would urge you to not project your own struggles onto other people”

    “I can only imagine what sorts of terrible things could have happened that make you see using your nickname as having such a dark meaning, but please understand that family dynamics don’t have to be that way”

    And so on and so forth, said of course with wide-eyed sincerity

  112. Akcipitrokulo*

    Also tell Johnn he does not need to respond to her if she deadnames him…

    “Sally, do you have the report?”
    “Sally, I’m talking to you?”
    OP: “Sorry, Elizabeth, you must have wrong department. There is no-one of that name here.”

  113. Openly Trans in the Office*

    I am out as a transgender man in the office a lot like John is.

    I have had a Lizzy in my work life before, and while like John, I have handled it with humor, it does take a toll. I mean, I can plaster a smile on my face and work my day and deal with it, but in my last job, it contributed to my leaving. HR did not have my back so I got a job where they did. It’s just not worth the toxic work environment where a staff member was absolutely allowed to harass me.

    And let’s make no mistake, this is a method of harassment. I have a beard, and heavily tattooed, and nobody would guess I was transgender at all. I am moving towards a decade post transition, but there are people that learn I am transgender that will suddenly decide to call me she, or try to dead name me. It is disrespectful.

    It is also exhausting. Sometimes the best thing an ally can do, is put an end to behavior like this because there is only so much someone in John, or my, position can do to stop it.

    If it’s not stopped, John may decided, like I did, to leave rather than continue to deal with the toxic disrespect.

    1. allathian*

      I’m so sorry you had to deal with crap like that. At least, one would hope that things for trans people in the workplace in the US will improve now with the recent Supreme Court decision.

  114. Lucien Nova*

    Lizzy sucks. She absolutely sucks. So does HR – “not explicitly harassing him for being trans”?!?! What?!

    I very much like John.

    OP, please keep trying to push back on this. As others have said, Lizzy needs to be bluntly told this is absolutely not on and she will not be allowed to deadname John any more, and this absolutely needs to be escalated to someone who will give a rat’s patoot about it if at all possible. She is being very transphobic and harassing the hell out of John and any company even a bit worth their salt would realise this is opening them up to A LOT of liability.

  115. Bob*

    “John has now started exclusively calling Lizzy “Elizabeth”; there is another Elizabeth in the office, and if there’s any confusion over which Elizabeth he’s talking about, John uses Lizzy’s maiden name, rather than her married name. Lizzy HATES this and has complained to him, me, and half the office, but he says that it’s out of respect for her mother.”
    This guy is a genius!

  116. It's Me*

    I understand professional respect for other managers and not crossing lines of authority etc. etc. but I don’t wholly understand why OP, as *a* manager or even just as an employee can’t just flat out say, “That’s enough.” No hedging, no softening, just directly and plainly say “No. Stop.”

  117. pcake*

    Since John’s name is presumably John on his drivers license, Lizzy’s horribleness is even more BS. Does she misname everyone who legally changed their names out of respect for their mothers? I’d bet not, but even if she doesn’t, I hope the OP tells her firmly with no bones about to it call John by his name.

    Heck, at this point since she’s showed such blatant disrespect, she should be addressing him as Mr. Lastname. She’s burned her right to be on first-name casual basis with him.

      1. pcake*

        Oh, I totally agree, but I suspect that she wouldn’t do this to a cis man or cis woman who had legally changed their name.

  118. Lilyp*

    You’re moving in the right direction OP but it sounds like you’re seeing this as an inconvenience or even a bit of a joke when it’s actually a serious problem that needs to be resolved pronto. I think it’s very possible that John is actually very upset by this but is keeping a tight lid on it because he’s not sure how supportive his workplace would really be if push comes to shove and doesn’t want to risk being labeled a troublemaker (during a pandemic/economic crisis no less). What would you do if Lizzy was using a slur or a well-known racist slight, like calling a black co-worker “boy”? This really does rise to that level.
    Ultimately, it’s your responsibility as a manager to do everything in your power to ensure a safe and inclusive environment for your team and I don’t think you’re feeling enough urgency here.

  119. Mad mad me*

    I would have a hard time just keeping my fist away from this creep’s face! This is utterly unacceptable. I would complain as loud and as long as necessary until these HR fools address this–by rights she should be fired for harassment. Where the hell is this horrible company?

  120. OP (John's Boss)*

    Thank you Alison for your advice and thank you to all of the wonderful commenters. Trans commenters, thank you especially for sharing your experiences and perspectives. You’ve all given me some things to think about.

    Several of you have said that I need to be more aggressive about supporting John and telling Lizzy off, and you’re absolutely right. Reading through the comments is making me realize that I may have been underestimating how egregious Lizzy’s behavior has been. Of course, I knew she was being rude and transphobic, but truthfully, I’m not very familiar with trans issues, and I didn’t quite realize how terribly beyond rude she’s been. John is the only trans person that I know (at least, the only person I know whom I know is trans), and he’s generally pretty laidback and blasé, so I think I’ve been subconsciously thinking that because he hasn’t been that openly upset, it wasn’t that big a transgression, at least not one comparable to using a racial slur for a minority coworker.

    I’m definitely going push back with Lizzy’s manager, like Alison described, so hopefully he’ll see that he can’t just not say anything and hope the situation goes away. I’m also going to stop giving Lizzy plausible deniability by acting like she’s just making a simple mistake. Obviously, I knew the line about respecting John’s mother was nonsense, but I have to a certain extent been going along with it in that I’ve been a bit gentle about telling Lizzy off. I’ve also been a bit thrown off in that Lizzy does use he/him pronouns for John, even while calling him Sally, which has made me give her a bit more benefit of the doubt about whether or not she really is transphobic. That said, it doesn’t matter what’s in her heart, so first thing tomorrow, I’m going to tell her that I don’t care if her intentions are transphobic or not, calling John by his deadname is a transphobic action, and calling him by his name is not optional. (For the record, I go by an androgynous nickname, rather than my clearly gendered first name (think Alex/Alexandra) and Lizzy has never had a problem calling me by my nickname.)

    I’m also going to talk to John about exactly how he wants to me to support him. I’ve been a bit hesitant to bring this up the ladder because I’m not sure how comfortable John would be with that, but I see that this is an issue that should be brought up the ladder. I also want to check in with him to see how respectful the company has been to him in general–I haven’t noticed any problems before, and he’s never complained about anyone being transphobic, but given how badly HR has failed here, the company may not have been as accepting towards him as I’d thought. As a manager, it’s part of my job to advocate for my employees, and that means I have to be proactive. At least he needs to know that I have his back, that I will advocate for him, that I know this is unacceptable, and that worse comes to worst and he does feel he needs a new job, I’ll be a glowing reference.

    Formally disciplining John for calling her Elizabeth Maidenname was never on the table, I was only considering telling him to stop. I do generally think that it’s a bad idea in the workplace to be petty to someone even if they started it and they deserve it, but given how badly Lizzy has been behaving, I really can’t justify telling John to respect her preferences (especially since they are just preferences, unlike with his name).

    Again, thank you so much to all of you, and especially to those of you who are trans. Hopefully I’ll be able to give you a positive update soon.

    1. Campfire Raccoon*

      Thank you for this. Good luck, and keep us updated.

      We’re here for you and John if you need us.

    2. RJ*

      My total respect to you for supporting John through this. Elizabeth Maidenname is harassing him and he’s handling it with as much grace as he can. It’s important to have managers who can support their trans employees as you are doing and it’s not easy with laissez-fair HR practices. Good luck to you both!

    3. beanie gee*

      Thank you for your compassion OP!

      Just a few things to add if it’s helpful:
      1. Someone can absolutely appear to be laid back and outwardly fine and may not complain as a coping mechanism when internally or outside of work they are on fire (or about to quit or about to sue the company). I think your approach to ask John exactly how he wants support would be great. Even if he IS laid back about it, I think you showing that you’re standing up for him and doing something to stop the behavior will be meaningful.
      2. I think even if John doesn’t have complaints about how the company as a whole treats me, this is still worth addressing with higher ups at HR due the huge liability. They need to know they are at risk for being sued as a result of how they responded. They need to change how they address things like this in the future (not just if/when people complain). Also, in cases of harassment, if a report brings cases of harassment to their supervisor, the supervisor has to report it.
      3. I like your “this is not optional” language. If it helps, don’t think of it as “telling off,” think of it as putting an end to behavior that has to stop.

      Thank you for being a good human being.

      1. Grand Mouse*

        Echoing your first point so hard. I’ve had it drilled into me to never bring personal stuff into work, so I never show if something bothering me (as a result of work or outside of it). I overheard someone say how chill I was and I appreciate it, I just wish I could show a sliver of myself and have some support. Anyway! Best of luck to you both. And thank you for taking it seriously. Even if she uses his correct pronouns, if his deadname was something gendered which I assume it is by using “Sally” it’s still misgendering.

      2. Quandong*

        These are great points.

        OP if you’re still reading, I will add that it seems like your company (and HR especially) is in great need of updated training around harassment and how to stop it.

        If the company is conservative and people in authority may be uninformed and hesitant about how to handle issues relating to trans employees, extra attention to trans rights and the rights of LGBTIAQ+ people more broadly seems very important.

      3. lazy intellectual*

        This. Marginalized people put a lot of effort and energy into not seeming bothered by oppression, because acting disagreeable might further lead to them being marginalized and oppressed. John’s reality is constantly putting up with people denying his reality and similar bullshit. His manager standing up for him in the workplace is crucial.

      4. Akcipitrokulo*

        All of this – and bear in mind you may have someone who is trans but not open yet watching how this is handled. You need to send the message to all your staff.

      5. Observer*

        I think even if John doesn’t have complaints about how the company as a whole treats me, this is still worth addressing with higher ups at HR due the huge liability. They need to know they are at risk for being sued as a result of how they responde

        Yes. This also opens them to liability because it can affect other cases.

        For instance, one common defense in these cases is “we have strict policies against harassment, and we have this reporting mechanism to deal with any incidents. Plaintiff chose not to report the problem.” When that is true, companies generally win. BUT. If the plaintiff can show a pattern that would lead a reasonable person to believe that nothing will happen anyway, the case goes to trial – and more often than not, the company will lose. Your employee is being harassed, HR has been notified and they chose to wave it away. How is the next victim going to read that?

    4. Elbereth Gilthoniel*

      Thanks for writing in with your response! Hopefully you know you have the support of all of the AAM readers behind you. Please send in an update when you have one. I would be interested in hearing how your company and Lizzy’s manager respond.

    5. Transparent*

      One of our kids is trans.

      My current company is the most inclusive work environment I’ve experienced in 3 decades of working. Our president normalizes publishing his pronouns. One of our VPs is trans. We explicitly call out how to work with trans co-workers in our sexual harassment policy.

      Think I have my foot out the door, looking for other opportunities? Or am I especially committed to doing what I can to help my company prosper?

      If I witnessed as something as horrible as you described–there’s a reason the trans community calls it a dead name–I would be looking to exit ASAP. And I’d have no respect for the leadership team that allowed that atmosphere to fester.

      If you can’t fix this, ask yourself are your fellow leaders people with whom you want to be associated?

      I believe you want to do the right thing. Kudos to you!!

    6. Lucien Nova*

      I’ve also been a bit thrown off in that Lizzy does use he/him pronouns for John

      Ooooof. Honestly, as a trans man myself, I think that makes it even worse (though I can also see how this would not occur to most anyone) – from that you know for certain she is capable of not being a transphobe, and it smacks to me of a bit of…performatism, I suppose it would be? As if she thinks using the proper pronouns will make it all right to deadname John, because look, she didn’t use the wrong pronouns! See! She was careful to use the correct ones! So clearly you’re all being mean and accusing her of things she never intended if you say she’s being a transphobe, because she used the right pronouns! (Why yes, I have known people who have said exactly that, while doing exactly that sort of thing…)

      I’m glad you’ve realised this is a bigger problem than you’d thought and I’m very glad you’re going to take a harder line on dealing with it. Best of luck, OP!

      1. Zweisatz*

        It honestly feels like the time-honored “I’m not touching/hitting you” between children, only adult transphobe edition. This lady knows what she is doing and is doing it anyway and that is bad.

    7. Vax is my disaster bicon*

      Thank you for taking the time to write in, and to read and take Allison’s and the comment section’s advice on board. As a trans person, it would be beyond demoralizing to deal with someone who maliciously insisted on using my old name like that. It’s the kind of thing that wears at you, even if you’re able to keep a serene demeanor in the moment. I appreciate your commitment to prioritizing John’s comfort as you figure out next steps. Please keep us updated!

    8. Hapax Legomenon*

      Thank you, thank you, thank you OP. It is so good to hear you’ve taken the message to heart and are going to do everything in your power to end this harassment and protect your employee.

    9. Akcipitrokulo*

      Thank you for listening and really understanding!

      You’re right that it’s an easy error to make that not outwardly upset = not upset … and awesome you’re re-evaluating that.

      I hope you will update us again with some positive news!

      Also, even if HR/Lizzie’s manager are recalcitrant, *you* have a lot of power here to insist that John’s name is used. You can tell her “when speaking to my staff, you must use their preferred names”. You can back John up if he refuses to acknowledge her if she deadnames him. You could even tell John, in front of Lizzie, that you, as his manager, are instructing him to ignore any communications directed to “Sally”.

      (I’d check in with John about the last one ;) )

    10. Sarana*

      Thank you for this! My daughter is trans and I feel cold rage just thinking about someone doing this to her – at all, but especially while claiming to do it out of respect for me. They’re sure as hell not respecting me by harassing my daughter!

      1. Jo*

        Good point Sarana – would John’s mum be happy about what Lizzy is doing and claiming it’s out of respect for her? It might be worth someone telling Lizzy – ‘you’re not respecting John’s mother by harassing her son – just the opposite!’ Not that it’s about whether she’s respecting his mother or not, as she’s clearly not respecting John.

    11. Observer*

      That said, it doesn’t matter what’s in her heart, so first thing tomorrow, I’m going to tell her that I don’t care if her intentions are transphobic or not, calling John by his deadname is a transphobic action, and calling him by his name is not optional.


      Let us know what happens.

    12. Anonymous Hippo*

      I’m so glad you have John’s back in this.

      I will say that Lizzie using he/him while calling him Sally actually is worse in my mind…because she has always known him as a man, she defaults to the correct pronouns, while purposely and hatefully calling him by the wrong name. It’s really quite ugly.

      1. Anonymous Hippo*

        I wouldn’t tell John to stop, but I might suggest it, but only if I could be darn sure he wouldn’t take it as a veiled order. I think it is probably better in the long run that he doesn’t get down in the mud on this, I certainly wouldn’t want to be the one that makes him feel even less powerless in this situation.

    13. File Herder*

      OP, you may find some of the material in a recent Employment Tribunal decision useful for background reading, even if it’s UK law and doesn’t directly apply to the US. An Employment Judge set out in 26 pages of careful reasoning why an anti-trans activist’s right to swing her fist stopped at the end of somebody else’s nose. ( It includes 2 pages of “physical gender is more complicated than you were apparently taught in high school biology”.) It’s long and chewy, but might give you some ideas on how to frame this as Lizzie’s right to express her deeply held philosophical beliefs does not override John’s right to not be harassed.

    14. virago*

      OP has weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss) — and has said that she is not going to discipline John.

      She has also said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him. (I believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Allison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)

  121. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Yes John’s comeback is epic but handling this shouldn’t be on him.

    OP, go back to her manager, go to his manager, go to the head of HR and notify the head of your company that this is a lawsuit waiting to happen.

    This POS needs to be fired pronto. No training, no reprimand. FIRED. Fire the moron in HR who doesn’t think this tides to the level of sexual harassment too.

    It is beyond the pale that HR is not stepping up. I hope John gets a great lawyer.

  122. Beth*

    OP, I don’t want to be too harsh on you here since it’s clear your heart is in the right place, but I have to say, your company is failing John at all levels. Including your level. You’re giving up way too easily on getting this handled! Your team member is being targeted based on their gender and harassed by a coworker. You should be raising holy hell until it actually stops. Asking Lizzy’s manager to intervene and alerting HR are good first steps, but absolutely not sufficient; you should be routinely looping back, probably every single time you hear Lizzy do this and every single time John reports Lizzy doing this (you should be encouraging John to keep a record of this harassment and document each instance), to pressure both Lizzy’s manager and HR to take action. Doing anything less is a failure to do your job. It fails John, your team member, who is being subjected to routine harassment, AND it fails your company, which in failing to act on obvious harassment is opening itself up to legal action.

    In the meantime, while you are working on getting it stopped, you absolutely should not discipline John for his clever venting method. He’s not doing anything wrong. I’m betting your thought process here is “I can’t ask for Lizzy to be disciplined for using the wrong name for John when John is doing the same thing to Lizzy,” but they’re not the same thing at all. What John is doing is not misgendering Lizzy, and it’s not targeting her based on a protected class. He’s not doing her any material harm or putting the company at risk for legal action; he’s just being intentionally annoying, and while that kind of behavior towards a coworker could often be viewed as a performance issue, under these circumstances, disciplining him for pushing back on his harasser is not a good move for you.

    1. Pennyworth*

      What John is doing is giving Lizzy a living demonstration of what it is like to be deliberately mis-named, and she dislikes it. The fact that she knows it is unpleasant but still persists show a pretty high level of malicious intent.

    2. Observer*

      I wouldn’t even get into the breakdown of the differences. My thinking here is that you cannot tell someone that they can’t defend themselves when they are being hung out to dry.

    3. virago*


      About an hour and a half before you wrote your comment, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss) — and said that she is not going to discipline John.

      She has also said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him. (I believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Allison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)

    1. virago*

      About an hour and a half before you wrote your comment, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss) — and said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him.

      (I believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Allison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)

  123. Always Learning*

    Lizzy sounds like an absolute monster. I always call people by what they introduce themselves to me as, end of story. And avoiding conflict because someone is a “strong personality” is a cop out. It’s bullying, it needs to be stopped, period.

  124. Daffy Duck*

    If I was John I would be looking hard for a new job. He is being harrassed, management treats it like a joke (from what he sees), and nothing is being done. Some of my coworkers may back me up, but nothing really happens to my harrasser.
    If I was one of John’s coworkers I would start looking too. So far, the management response is that bullies can do what they want without serious repercussions. Lizzy likely does similar things to others, or will pick another victim when John moves on.
    LW you need to push this up the ladder and do it NOW. Show John you have his back and let upper management know they will loose good employees, reputation, and possibly their profits if they don’t shut it down fast.

  125. Daffy Duck*

    If I was John I would be looking hard for a new job. He is being harrassed, management treats it like a joke (from what he sees), and nothing is being done. Some of my coworkers may back me up, but nothing really happens to my harrasser.
    If I was one of John’s coworkers I would start looking too. So far, the management response is that bullies can do what they want without serious repercussions. Lizzy likely does similar things to others, or will pick another victim when John moves on.
    LW you need to push this up the ladder and do it NOW. Show John you have his back and let upper management know they will loose good employees, reputation, and possibly their profits if they don’t shut it down fast.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yes, so not only do you have harassment but you also have a workplace bully. It might be wise to see what else is going on with Lizzie also. Meanness like this very seldom happens in isolation, there are usually other things happening also.

  126. Raven*

    The name on my driver’s license is not the same one my parents gave me either. (I changed the spelling — my parents were being cute) This is not uncommon. And I’d be pretty peeved if someone found one of my old publications and insisted on addressing things to me under the old spelling of my name.

    It’s nobody’s @#$% business but mine. Or, in this case, John’s.

  127. lazy intellectual*

    “out of respect for his mother” WTF???????

    I understand that the LW has limited control over this person, but as a starting point, LW needs to start framing this as an actual harassment/discrimination issue, rather than just a Lizzy-being-a-jerk issue. Deadnaming is transphobic harassment, plain and simple. I second Alison’s advice of going to HR and Lizzy’s manager to further press on the issue.

  128. wee beastie*

    Points to John for seeing a clever retort in “Elizabeth Maidenname.” But this makes me so angry. He shouldn’t have to defend himself. I have spent the last hour washing up the dinner dishes imagining the lecture I would give this woman. It’s discrimination. It’s bullying. Every time she does it, she draws public attention to something about John’s personal life that has nothing to do with his work and is meant to make everyone pause and think about the fact that he’s “different,” (eyeroll. I mean, seriously, all he is is just…not what she expected. Not that his private self is any of her business!). She is actively marginalizing him every time she does it. If he wasn’t in a protected class, it would still be bullying and profoundly disrespectful and rude. If she’s claiming she doesn’t feel hostility towards him for being trans, then she’s either a liar or she is profoundly lacking in self awareness and emotional intelligence. (Like the former manager who raised his voice and berated me for 15 min solid and then insisted he wasn’t mad. Sure, dude. Eyeroll.) I think she thinks if she says it sweetly, people won’t take it for disrespect. But dressing a wolf in a sheep costume doesn’t fool anyone. We all know it’s a wolf.
    I’m grateful the Supreme Court finally recognized that this is against our laws. Now everyone in OP’s company needs to get together and put a stop to Lizzie’s behavior. I’m grateful OP recognizes it for what it is. I stand by them as they go raise a ruckus and get that company back on track. Bystanders unite and make things right!

  129. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

    Not sure if you are reading this far into the comments, OP but when you ask “Why are you continuing to do it?” let that sentence stretch out and relax. Let the silence sit there and marinate. Let her flail about in words. Do not give her out in any way. Just stare at her with a neutral face.

  130. Tinker*


    So, as it happens, my mother has done things roughly on the order of this behavior (not with regard to being trans specifically, but at times pretty much about things that are related without having the name for it) and has repeatedly justified other people doing that to me. Her position on the matter seems to be that teasing and bullying serve a corrective function — you are not fitting in and following the proper norms, so teasing calls attention to your transgression and provides an incentive to correct it. So she teased me herself, pointedly refused to respect my boundaries with regard to badgering me about things she didn’t like about me, and on the occasions (very uncommon at work; a significant problem when I was a young child) that people mistreated me, she was always ready to ask me what I had done to bring it on myself.

    The thing is, that is not behavior that merits respect. That is behavior that has consequences. My mother, so far as I know, wants a social relationship with me but has alienated the only person who can provide that. Result, no relationship. This person here presumably wants to continue to be employed, but is acting in a way that makes firing them essentially obligatory. Maternal endorsement or not, the proper result of that is no job.

    1. Tinker*

      Oh, and my snarky ass loves all of the various indirect ways to return awkward to sender and these are good ways of responding in certain circumstances, but at this point I think the “there’s nobody here by that name” type indirect bit is consenting to play a part in the game she is defining when what is needed is to upend the table — her sudden devotion to the archetype of motherhood when a trans guy appears on the scene is a lie, she needs to decide whether she wants to call John by his name or she wants to find another job, and if (okay, let’s be real, when) she chooses door #2 it needs to be promptly shown to her.

      1. Grey Coder*

        Thanks for the perspective. I was thinking about the “there’s nobody here by that name” route and the logical conclusion — ignoring John’s personal history, if Lizzy came in an insisted on misgendering/misnaming him, you’d eventually conclude Lizzy was delusional and unfit for work. But as it stands, John’s personal history is on the table because of Lizzy’s transphobia, and that requires an immediate and forceful response — i.e. she needs to be fired.

    2. Luna*

      What a victim blamer your mother is. I bet she also thinks that anyone getting raped ‘brought it on themselves’ by wearing something, saying something, standing some way, or just breathing.

      Good for you that you refuse contact with someone like that. You have something that causes you problems? Cut it out of your life. Such people do not deserve respect, since they can’t give it themselves.

  131. azvlr*

    Did anyone else pick up on that this is really a “next-level” question?! OP has already clearly followed much of Alison’s standard advice. I have seen a general trend in the questions lately along the lines of: I’ve already followed X, Y and Z, now what to do?
    To me this is evidence that Alison is really doing a world of good. I know I myself have navigated many situations better and differently as a result of regular reading. Thank you, Alison!
    Good luck OP, and go John!

  132. MBK*

    Alison’s advice about dealing with Lizzy’s manager is spot on: One very effective way to deal with someone who isn’t doing the right thing because they dislike confrontation is to become an even more persistent and unpleasant confrontation than the one they’re avoiding.

  133. Minkbat*

    I was really hoping that someone would matter-of-factly inform Elizabet Maidenname that John was named and raised by his two dads.

  134. Sarah*

    You should basically treat this the way you would treat this if an employee were repeatedly sexually harassing or using slurs against your employee. Shut it down in the moment. Clearly, every time. Talk to this person’s manager again. Talk to your manager. Go up the chain. Talk to HR about how you’re worried this will end in a lawsuit. Change your policy so that all requests for any of your employees have to go through you first. Rather than ask her to stop, tell her to stop. But you probably need to go up the chain of command. I’d also make sure to put things in writing. Send another email to HR documenting what has happened, the impact on everyone’s work, the discrimination and lawsuit considerations, etc. Say that you wanted to raise this again because you realized this is sex discrimination and you could all get in big trouble for allowing this. I’d loop in someone who has the power to fire the perpetrator, though.

    1. virago*

      On Aug. 27 at 6:34 pm, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss).

      She said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him.

      (I also believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Alison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)

  135. embertine*

    This is horrendous. Not only is it absolutely harassment, but it risks Elizabeth Maidenname outing John to everyone in the company who doesn’t already know. She is putting him directly in danger, and she needs to be fired right now. Also, she needs to be fired because she’s a delusional, arrogant, transphobic asshat and her breathtaking cruelty would be grounds for security escorting her off the premises even if there weren’t serious potential consequences for her actions.

    1. Old Admin*

      “This is horrendous. Not only is it absolutely harassment, but it risks Elizabeth Maidenname outing John to everyone in the company who doesn’t already know. She is putting him directly in danger”
      This. Many times this.
      The incident of violence towards trans people worldwide is much higher than the statistical norm, so the danger is real.
      Add to that the increased suicide rates (fueled by harassment/discrimination/lower income/depression), legal discrimination (bathroom laws in some US states!), and the overall lower life expectancy (in part driven by poorer medical support) of trans people through no fault of their own, and you realize John really, really does not need this BS at work.
      This needs to be shut down – it might save a life.

  136. Jo*

    WTF? What is the line about respecting John’s mother all about? What about respect for John? People are allowed to change their name, and it’s their own choice as to what their name is. I don’t get Lizzy’s reasoning at all. Or should I say Elizabeth MaidenLastName.

  137. Luna*

    I’ll admit I’m always a bit iffy on transgender issues, simply because there seem to be so many nuanced rules; I don’t know much about it, but I do try to accommodate where possible, including calling them by their preferred name and/or pronoun.

    And I am absolutely okay with John calling Lizzy by a name she hates. Call it petty, perhaps, but it’s merely a case of displaying to her the ‘respect’ she is showing him.

    It’s really not that big of a deal to ask to be called something specific, and what’s with saying it’s in honor of John’s mom? It isn’t even clear if John’s mom was the one to originally decide on the name Sally. Depending on how John’s mom feels about her son, I would either want her to come down on Lizzy and tell her to back off, her son is John and that’s what you’ll call him, or, if John’s mom was not supportive and horrible about this, John should tell Lizzy to back off and pound sand, there is no reason to respect that woman.

    1. embertine*

      I’d prefer not to put the burden on John or any member of his family to deal with this, as this is a management failing just like any other form of bullying or harassment that is reported and goes unpunished. John’s already had to deal with this 100% more than he should have had to (and has done so brilliantly!), but the responsibility is the management’s/HR’s.

    2. Beth*

      For the record, in most cases, calling someone by their name and using their pronouns is really all that’s needed! Any other ‘rule’ I’d put in place regarding trans people is really just a “trans people are not exceptions to usual manners” deal–don’t ask about the shape of someone’s genitals unless you’re having sex with them, don’t ask about their private medical history unless they volunteer info, don’t stare, etc. It sounds like you’re mostly doing fine on trans issues!

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        And actually, both of those rules are *also* simply a matter of “trans people are not exceptions to usual manners.” It’s the right thing to call anyone — no matter what their gender or how/when they discovered it — by the name and pronouns they tell you are correct for them.

        It’s really pretty much that simple. Be polite the way you’d be to anyone else… including calling them what they tell you to call them, the way you would for anyone else.

  138. IrishEm*

    Out of curiosity, I wonder would HR’s reaction be different if John was cisgendered and Elizabeth Maidenname was misgendering him and using the wrong name for poops and giggles. As opposed to for transphobic reasons couched in a thin veneer of no-I-don’t-hate-the-trans-man-I-just-adore-his-dear-mama-whom-I-have-never-met.

    1. virago*

      You mean a scenario in which Elizabeth repeatedly called a cisgender man by a name that is commonly given to women?

      I can see it between two friends as a joke between them, but if those two people worked together, it would be mighty confusing to anyone who wasn’t in on the joke — that is, everyone else in the office.

      FYI: It’s just “cisgender” and “transgender,” without the “-ed” suffix. A person isn’t “transgendered,” which suggests that being transgender is something that happens to someone rather than something that one is born with. (You wouldn’t say that someone was “gayed.”) Also, the suffix makes the adjective “transgender” unnecessarily long.

  139. Bow Tie*

    I used to work in a hospital and every newborn baby’s name was listed as “, baby of “. Try calling Elizabeth Maidenname that.

    1. Bow Tie*

      It deleted part of my comment. It was “mother’s last name, baby of mother’s first name”. As in “Smith, baby of Mary”.

  140. EGA*

    As the child of a transgender person this is frankly difficult to read. I hope Lizzy gets what is coming to her.

    1. Copier Company Admin Girl*

      I’m sorry for the distress reading this has caused. I hope your parent has a large network of loving and supportive people in their life! My best to you both. <3

  141. CommanderBanana*

    Your organization is failing John, and you need to do everything you can to fix it, like, yesterday. Lizzy is an ass and I don’t understand why she’s still employed there.

    1. virago*

      On Aug. 27 at 6:34 pm, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss).

      She said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him.

      (Also, OP should take this up the ladder until, as Alison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)


  142. Perpal*

    Sorry LW sucks you and John are going through this.
    As Johns manager I think it is your duty to do what you can to protect him from harassment / hostile working environment. You have somewhat limited power over Lizzy but at the least you can
    1) clearly support and stand up for John EVERY TIME Lizzy does it. You’ve already tried polite informative “you must be confused it’s this” route, now it’s time for explicit “Stop harassing my staff. Stop calling John other names.” If Lizzy tries to claim it is “respectful to his mother” then respond “you are being disrespectful to John by calling him inappropriate names. Stop.”
    2) Similarly, if Lizzy’s manager is afraid to manage lizzy because lizzy is pushier, then be just as pushy as lizzy (or more so!) in advocating manager needs to make lizzy stop.
    3) and of course as Allison advises continuing to try to see if there is a higher up who will acknowledge what a problem this is and make lizzy choose between treating coworkers respectfully or losing their job, if that is Lizzy’s hill to fire on.

  143. yala*

    As the great Madeline Kahn onces said: “Flames. Flames on the side of my face.”

    (shoot nevermind that for all she knows, John’s mother could be FINE with the name John. Heck, some trans folks even ask their parents what their other name would have been and go with that. Not saying that either are the case, just that it’s such a THIN veneer of an excuse and I hate her so much)

    The HR person you spoke to was absurd (and, wild guess here, but probably pretty transphobic themselves). Deliberately deadnaming someone against their express wishes IS harassment for being trans. I hope someone higher up the chain can and will put a definitive end to this. Does John have legal recourse at this point? Elizabeth Maidenname is deliberately making a hostile work environment for him.

    Aside from some severe crackdown corrections, I also hope you and John (and anyone else) start to deliberately refer to her as Ms. MaidenName.

  144. Slow Gin Lizz*

    As an Elizabeth myself, I LOVE John’s solution to this problem. Brilliant, just brilliant!

  145. Personal Friend of Lucky's*

    What sucks for me personally are the jerks that are offended that I am married and still go by my Maiden name.

    They just cannot bring themselves to address me as my legal name of Ms. Abomination.

    Like, there has to be a philosophical discussion (Every. Single. Time. we meet!) in which I am told must accept my Bible – intended name of Mrs. B. T. Ingu.

    It gets old. Especially since the passages they quote are tangental at best. Also the subject is instantly dropped whenever Mr B. T. Ingu walks in the room.

    Yeah, they’re all cowards, and they know it.

  146. Lorlye*

    One thing I haven’t seen in this conversation is if John has legally changed his name to no longer be deadname. If he has, Lizzy has even less standing to use this name. If not, the horrible HR might use this as another excuse to not intervene. (This then leads to John opening himself up to problems by not using Lizzy’s legal name if she’s using his.)
    This being said, I love John’s response! Especially as a parent of someone currently transitioning. Give her hell that won’t bounce back on you!

    1. Dahlia*

      That’s because it’s not relevant. That’s not is name. I’m not going to call you Bob because that (probably) not your name. It doesn’t matter if he’s gone through the (sometimes expensive, complicated – seriously my friend had to go to court and pay a lawyer to change theirs – emotionally difficult) process.

      His name is John. Elizabeth needs to call him John. Period.

      John is not “opening himself up to problems” because Elizabeth is illegally harassing him based on his gender as a trans man. He is the victim.

  147. LCH*

    continue to try to get to her stop (more forcefully), but also just advise John to sue. SUE! eff this company.

  148. Dancing Otter*

    I know that generally a manager doesn’t chastise another manager’s people, but in this case I think it’s fair to do so.
    Lizzy’s manager is too conflict avoidant to discipline his direct report? What’s he going to do to OP, who is his equal?
    Everyone has the right to speak up in the face of blatant bigotry, be they manager or peer or innocent bystander.
    And if the other manager does complain, OP can say they were (a) trying to mitigate the risk of a hostile work environment claim against the company, and (b) protecting their own employee, both of which would be downright laudable in a nontoxic workplace.

    1. virago*

      Good news! It sounds like OP plans to chastise Elizabeth.

      On Aug. 27 at 6:34 pm, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss).

      She said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him.

      (I also believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Alison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)


  149. Rectilinear Propagation*

    I would pay money to scream directly in HR’s face.

    LW, when HR inevitably tries to tell John he has to call Elizabeth Lizzy, because they will, please do be loud and persistent about their hypocrisy.

  150. CommanderBanana*

    Also? The next time I see another letter about a “nonconfrontational” manager I am going to scream. Don’t accept the promotion to manager if you don’t want to manage,, and this isn’t about confrontation, it’s about doing the right and legal thing.

  151. I need to find this cartoon again*

    It’s time for Ms. Bitch to lose this project and for someone else from her department to be the contact with your department. Letter Writer, if you had to deal with outside vendors, and someone in that company was incredibly rude to you, you would be well within your rights to demand a different contact person. Do the same thing here. Lizzy is incredibly rude to your employee and your team (not just John!) shouldn’t have to deal with her anymore.

  152. inoffensive nickname*

    The parents of the trans man I work with were actually very cool with his transition. He chose a name to honor his father, which honored his father, and when he legally changed his name, he changed it with our employer. Coworkers have been very positive, but I’m in education, where thoughts and ideas are much more liberal. I slip up with pronouns every once in a while and apologize immediately, and I’m two offices down if anyone gives him grief. I would not hesitate to run down and help correct someone or call the cops if they are being disrespectful. Elizabeth von Picklepuss needs to zip it and she’s lucky she’s not my coworker, or she’d get a completely unprofessional (but completely founded) ear full of what kind of horrible and demeaning person she is.

  153. Cringing 24/7*

    Ooh, this got my. blood. BOILING. I would be calling HR and her manager *daily* until this issue was fixed. You’re right in thinking that this is ultra transphobic, disgusting, and terrible. I feel so sorry for John, and I think his handling of it is *chef’s kiss*.

  154. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    I haven’t seen this yet: OP, please let John know what you’re doing to support him while the company and Elizabeth MaidenName’s manager is failing. There is a line of what is and isn’t appropriate to share (e.g. if you’re told Elizabeth MaidenName goes onto a PIP, do NOT share that), but reinforce that you are doing what you can to support him.

    Also, in addition to AAM’s advice to go up the chain in HR, escalate to both your manager and Elizabeth MaidenName’s manager’s manager.

    1. virago*

      On Aug. 27 at 6:34 pm, OP weighed in — as OP (John’s Boss).

      She said that the comments have given her a better understanding of the seriousness of Elizabeth’s transgression — that deadnaming John is openly bigoted — and that she is going to a) tell Elizabeth that her conduct is transphobic and to stop it yesterday and b) check in with John to see how he wants OP to support him.

      (I also believe that OP should take this up the ladder until, as Alison said, it’s easier for them to discipline Elizabeth than to ignore OP because OP is justifiably in their face all the time.)

  155. WindmillArms*

    I’m a trans man, and the new name I chose is my grandfather’s. I wonder what Elizabeth would do when it came to a competition between respecting my mother and respecting my grandfather? (Obviously I know that’s a fig leaf! She doesn’t even actually believe this “reason” for deadnaming John herself.)

  156. Penny*

    I would also encourage John and others to call Lizzy out on the hypocrisy when it comes to other names. Almost every office has a Kate, Mike or Rob, or Jim who’s birth name is Katherine, Michael, Robert or James. I am willing to bet that Lizzy calls them by their nickname with no questions asked. I would loudly and publicly ask the little bigot why Jim is not disrespecting his mother by going by a nickname.

  157. DollarStoreParty*

    There’s no mention of how John’s mother feels about his transgender status, but if I were her I’d be calling Lizzy up and telling her to stop making assumptions about my relationship with my son. God help Lizzy’s children.

  158. mgguy*

    The bottom line for me is that you should address someone by their preferred name regardless of how that name came about.

    I’m someone who goes by a shortened form of my middle name. The middle name shortening that I use is common(enough that it’s often assumed that I do use the shortened form) and often I get addressed by it without telling anyone that I use it. In an case, I don’t MIND being called by my first name, but it’s something that usually catches me off guard unless I expect it. That’s no way comparable to the OP’s situation, however.

    I teach college. My school has a “preferred name” block that students can add themselves and it shows up in my rosters, but this is recent. Most semesters, I have at least one transgendered student where the name they now use is different from their “official” name in the roster. Of course, this is NOT something I know unless I’m informed of it by the student. Students have handled it several ways in the past. I usually call roll on the first day of class(never again after that) so I can match up face/name. Many times the students for which their roster name doesn’t match their now used name, they will email me ahead of class. Other times, it may be pulling me aside before/after class on the first day. As long as I’m told of it, I will make a note in my roster both so I can match the name they use with record keeping, and also so that I can be sure I address them properly. Other than POSSIBLY calling a student by their “dead name” on the first day because I don’t know any different, once I’m informed I never address them by their roster name again.

    Regardless of your personal feelings on anything, just address people as they want to be addressed. It’s not complicated.

  159. Jenn Pantera*

    As a mom to a ftm transgendered person, I gave him his name. He decided to use a masculine form of his middle name. I cannot fathom how Lizzie is willing to die on the hill of disrespecting a mom she has never met.

  160. Geralt of HRivia*

    John is BRILLIANT. SERIOUSLY. I would hope more people will start going Elizabeth MaidenName to her. Man, that’s just so so so classy. CLASSY. I would absolutely do so at EVERY chance I got. Just MAN. I’m that’s satisfying to read. I would note, that however-much I would love to chime in if I was a manager, I wouldn’t.

    Keep banging on HR too. That’s as upsetting as John is amazing.

    I’d love an update when one’s available.

  161. RWM*

    This is outrageous and your HR person and Lizzie’s manager suck. Also, even if they don’t think it’s discrimination related to his being trans (which it…is), I can’t imagine a world in which a coworker repeatedly referring to a man as “Sally” (or any female name) would be, like…… Even if he weren’t trans, it would come across as a misogynistic move/a dig at his masculinity.

    I’m so mad on John’s behalf!! I hope you’re able to get this resolved for him.

  162. Anonymouse*

    I think here are three possible solutions/coping mechanisms:
    1) As Johns manager you can work to make sure him and Lizzie are not paired together on projects. If you have the authority to delegate what John works on you can do your best to keep them apart as much as possible.
    2) This solution is unlikely given how your HR is handling things, but maybe find a way to teach Lizzie why what she is doing is offensive and hurtful. It sounds like you’re not going to get any sort of company wide training but maybe supplying Lizzie with some literature as an FYI. This may be something that would best come from John and not you as a manger. You don’t want her coming at you saying you’re now harassing her or her liberties or some other lameness like that.
    3) This is the least realistic and also something that shouldn’t even need to be done but given the state of things and people’s attitudes … If John has a good relationship with his mother he can call his mother while you, Lizzie and him are meeting. If he can tell “her my coworker would like to call me by my old name to honor you” (or something along those lines) then the mom can respond with “oh well that’s not very nice, and I like your new name” (or something along the lines with I’m okay with your new name). Then Lizzie has no weight to her argument and John can tell her I will start calling you Lizzie instead of Elizabeth Maidenname if you call me John. It is definitely lame to have to call in the “mom card” when you’re dealing with a grownup coworker dispute but hey in this situation it might be just what you need.

  163. Essess*

    At this point, your company is not stopping discrimination that the Supreme Court has ruled as illegal even though it has been reported several times. I would strongly encourage John to file an EEOC complaint since the company is not protecting him.

  164. Quite Banshee*

    I agree with stopping Lizzy on the spot when she deadnames John, but don’t use the line ‘John’s name is not up to you”. Petty Betty will probably reply that LW is correct and it was up to his mother. Instead I would say something more along the last part of Allison’s statement ‘your childish insistence on doing so only is only further embarrassing you.’
    Also, while we would all love to see John’s mother step in, that may not be possible for many reasons. But a simple retort from LW such as “Have you spoken to John’s mother?’ Well then don’t presume you can speak for her now as that is quite disrespectful to her.”

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