When employers are transphobic: the enemy within

Due to the content of this post, the writer has request anonymity to be able to safely reveal the struggle of working for an organisation that aids transphobia.


I’ve worked at the same company for almost a decade now. It’s the longest I’ve ever stayed in one job, though the previous job came close. In that sense, I suppose I might say I’m quite a loyal employee: unless the place looked like it was about to close up for good, or unless I was made redundant, I’ve always stayed. Another way of saying this is that I’m a coward, and that I suck at knowing when’s the right time to leave a job.

I came out and transitioned at my current employer, in the same team that I still work in now. That stability really helped my transition; in fact, before I came out, I’d already seen other trans people here come out and transition, and it had gone well for them, so I had reason to suspect that it could probably go well for me too. I was nervous as hell, of course; but it did go well. I was accepted, respected, included. Any problems I had were dealt with, any grievances were taken seriously.

Any problems I had were dealt with, any grievances were taken seriously.

In the years since coming out, my employer has been there for me, supported me. They handled my name and gender change well, and they’ve been hugely accommodating with my transition: allowing time off for numerous medical appointments; understanding when, from time to time, I was just having a really fucking bad day and just had to take time out; and more recently, thirteen weeks fully paid sick leave for surgery.

That’s a pretty damn supportive employer.

That thirteen weeks was by far the longest time that I’ve ever not worked, since first entering employment. Plenty of time to rest and heal, but also to pause, to reflect, to contemplate. To consider what I enjoy about my job … and of course what I don’t. As the return-to-work date approached, I found myself looking forward to getting back to work. Rejoin the team, see what’s going on, get cracking, make a difference, contribute, add value in the best way that I can. Make, talk, teach, lead, guide.

But there was, and still is, a nagging doubt. A bad smell that won’t go away, a bitter aftertaste. As an employer, the company I work for is very supportive of me; I could barely ask for anything more. But the company doesn’t just exist to employ people; its purpose is to be a media company: and the content that this company helps to create, shape, and disseminate is consumed by millions. Therefore, the message that they choose to promote affects millions of people.

But the company doesn’t just exist to employ people; its purpose is to be a media company: and the content that this company helps to create, shape, and disseminate is consumed by millions.

That content, those messages, are not always supportive of trans people. Sometimes, the message is attack, question, debate, doubt. Trans people are lying, we’re told; or the question is simply “raised”: Should the NHS help people transition? Should trans people be allowed to use whichever toilets they want? Should trans people be allowed to change their gender? (eye roll). Should parents be allowed to make their boys be girls, when they’re too young to know? (oh, for crying out loud …). “Hey, we’re just asking the question”, they say when challenged, “We think it’s a valid question”.

So in the context of the employer / employee relationship, the company is very supportive of me; but that exact same company then chooses to create a message, published to millions of people, which says that I’m a liar, that I have less worth than cis people, that I don’t belong.

It’s tiring.

On a good day, if my company attacks me, I’ll multitask doing my job and taking action from within the company to try to get these attacks to stop: educate and persuade, activism from within these four walls. On a more normal day, it’s the same, but without the multitasking: I take action to try to get the attacks to stop, for which I have to put my actual job on hold. And on a bad day, the attacks are so distracting, make me feel so degraded and devalued and worn down, so othered, so lessened, that I can neither fight back, nor do my job.

So yeah, that’s why the doubt.

During the time I was away from work, the attacks continued, of course. But I wasn’t at work, so fighting back as an employee wasn’t an option. On my return to work, what was I to do? I could attempt to “catch up” on all of those attacks that I’d missed, educating and persuading on each point in turn – all instead of doing my actual job, of course. Or maybe I could just let it all slide: don’t fight those fights, say nothing, let it go, and instead resume with a clean slate (just like my actual job).

On my return to work, what was I to do? I could attempt to “catch up” on all of those attacks that I’d missed, educating and persuading on each point in turn – all instead of doing my actual job, of course.

Because every time the media company does something notably transphobic, my employer loses out; I can’t do my actual job properly, because while the left hand gives me a job to do at which I could excel, the right hand is holding a megaphone and shouting transphobia to millions. And it Wears. Me. Down.

I struggle with the duality: on the one hand, all employers are legally bound by the Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against any of the nine protected characteristics, which includes gender reassignment; but on the other hand, that exact same company seems to be able, and all too often to want, to create and spread attacks against trans folk. I have trouble understanding how they can think that that’s the right thing to do, when in other contexts, it’s not even legal. One employee says something transphobic in the workplace to a dozen people, and you can bet that HR would come down on them like a ton of bricks, sending them on diversity training faster than you can say “discrimination hearing”. But broadcast it to millions, and it’s just fine: it gets views, listens, and clicks, and that equals money.

One day, I’ll leave this place. And I’m realistic: I very much doubt that I’ll win this fight before I move on. Sadly, I fully expect the attacks to continue, long after I’ve left. But maybe, when I’m working for my next employer, I won’t have to keep taking time out from my job to fight back against the enemy within.

One thought on “When employers are transphobic: the enemy within

  1. Like you my employer has been very good. But I share your frustration at those messages about “discussing” the issues in articles that really question some of the most important aspects of trans acceptance.

    Like

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