What it’s like: Nonbinary at Work

We've always been remarkably supportive of our LGBTQ+ staff (learn more about the history of our LGBT services committee!). So it’s been a while now that I’ve been out at work, and I’ve been joined by several other staff of various gender identities who prefer to use they/them/theirs pronouns, too!

As I leave PCPL for new adventures, I'd like to add my story of what it's like on a day-to-day basis to take this path, and what this kind of inclusion can look like for other individuals and workplaces in the community.

How did you come out?

I’ve been out as bi, or queer (meaning, I have dated people of various genders) at PCPL since I started the better part of a decade ago. As far as being out as genderqueer (my personal term of choice, somewhat interchangeable with the newer term nonbinary)...well, it’s not so much that I was “closeted” per se, but that I’ve had an evolving understanding of what that means both personally and socially. My understanding, I think, has evolved right along with society’s.

I had to know people using “they” pronouns before they seemed like an option I could try, too. I had to research about how trans and nonbinary people come out at work before I formally had those conversations with my boss (although it wasn’t really much of a surprise). And being a librarian, I have always been drawn to reading about a wide range of LGBTQ+ experiences: storytelling is a powerful tool for understanding yourself and learning to tell your own story, too.

How often does it come up on a daily basis?

Really not that much, after the first month or so! Because I work with the same people regularly, and I’m out to them, much like with my orientation (most of my colleagues have met my partner, too), it’s a pretty smooth process. 

What’s it like if people use the wrong pronouns?

It happens from time to time, especially with people who were used to my former name and pronouns (I changed my name at the same time, which was a bigger adjustment). 

I prefer when people either briefly acknowledge it (or not) and move on in the moment or with a brief follow-up note, and more importantly, try to get it right next time, rather than making a big deal out of it.

What about customers?

Since I currently work more behind the scenes on the website, and because I use a name that often reads as male, I am just as likely to be gendered as a guy over email, so that feels pretty balanced, I guess.

I don’t like when we have to share pronouns (e.g. meetings, email signatures). It feels like private information.

Well, whether or not Karen introduces herself with her pronouns at a meeting, your brain is kind of nodding along and going "ah, Karen, she/her/hers," on autopilot. Sharing pronouns is just a way to add on to or correct that automatic process.

However, I prefer things like email signatures, meeting introductions and so to include pronouns optionally, since you never know if someone may or may not feel comfortable sharing this information.

Some of the book recommendations I share at the end of the post, especially Beyond Trans and Troubling the Line, offer some interesting, practical ways of reframing these ideas and moving forward constructively.

Is it just about pronouns?

No, I wish! Just as being LGB, and so many other queer identities, isn't “just pronouns" either, but about the entire identity, history, appearance, behavior, and social fabric of a person. 

Realistically, I know that if I change my name again or use different pronouns, not all the problems, social awkwardness, and discrimination related to who I am would disappear. Various aspects would change, stay the same, get easier, and get harder. That's just how life works.

Regardless of what the future holds, I will always be grateful to everyone who has been kind, supportive, and accepting as I have experimented with seeing what works best in the present.

What about the name change? What was it like changing your name at work?

There were a lot of systems that had to get updated! There are still some where my old name still pops up from time to time, after several years. And of course, some coworkers took longer to get used to it than others.

This is a good thing to be conscious of when you have a coworker who is transitioning, that they’re going to be dealing with a lot of stressful bureaucratic stuff, so they’d appreciate your patience and support.

So it sounds like you’ve had a very supportive experience at PCPL. Does that mean it’s easy?

Well, that’s one reason I’ve stayed here so long, it's wonderful to find such a welcoming place.

I would also say, it has been far easier than I feared. When you base your expectations around worse case scenarios and what people say online, you aren't taking into account how accepting most people are in real life. Ultimately, your personal life often doesn't have much of an impact on your professional life day-to-day, yet feeling seen and accepted for who you are is such a relief, compared to the feeling of distance and secrets that comes with being closeted. 

However, like many colleagues in similar or equivalent situations, I’ve sometimes experienced microaggressions, and found myself wishing that I had known what support to ask for sooner (in some cases, months or years sooner!). Those tradeoffs have been worthwhile for me, but I couldn't have known that until I tried.

What advice would you give someone who's considering coming out?

Try to suss out your supervisors' and colleagues' attitudes towards other LGBTQ+ people at your work, test the waters with lower-stakes interactions, and research both your employer's and local jurisdiction's policies and protections.

Also, you have many options to consider, such as using a different name or pronouns professionally vs. personally, and finding other meaningful ways to support the LGBTQ+ community in your professional and volunteer time. Coming out and being out isn't a one-time or final state, more of a path that works individually and contextually.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know about being genderqueer at work?

I think that it’s a common misconception that these things are nothing but a hassle or a source of tension. But my identities, my ways of being in my body and being with the people I love, have brought a lot of joy and richness to my life, and so much life experience and empathy to draw on.

Read beyond the binary with these books!

Troubling the Line

Beyond Trans

The Barrow Will Send What It May

And some more great reads! (I can't promise everything on the list includes nonbinary or genderqueer characters, but many do.)

Great LGBTQIA+ characters in fiction

List created by PimaLib_JB

Meet a rainbow of queer, transgender, intersex, hijra, two-spirit, and nonbinary characters at PCPL.

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