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Friday, May 7, 2010

is my transgender coworker using the right bathroom?

A reader writes:

I have a question of how/if/when transgendered coworkers get to be treated as such in the workplace. Specifically, there is a man in our office (widely known as such) who wears women's clothing, hairstyles, shoes, makeup, etc. every day, and refers to himself as "she". Some women in the office have been claiming that his use of the women's restroom constitutes sexual harrassment. Employees of both sexes have claimed that if he is male, he's violating company conduct and dress codes by wearing women's clothing to work.

The problem is, we have no idea if he is fully transgendered, ie, with a legal right to be treated as female in the workplace, or if he's just a guy that likes to crossdress and use the wrong restroom. We have no way of knowing what his "legal" gender or even his name are; he goes by a female name but no one knows if that's what's on his official employee documentation. I'm sure HR would balk at being asking to reveal an employee's "real" gender, but how else can the rumors and dissent be calmed? 


It seems to me that if someone wants to be treated as transgender, they should get to be. I don't think there's a litmus test that involves coworkers making them "prove" anything.

But I also know very little about this issue, so I asked Dr. Jillian Weiss, who has researched and written extensively on transgender issues in the workplace, for her guidance on this situation. She says she's never heard of a situation where an employee just suddenly starts crossdressing and using the opposite sex bathroom; normally, there is a process, agreed to by the employer. She raised the possibility that this may not be a real situation, but we'll proceed as if it is, because either way, it's an interesting issue to explore.

Dr. Weiss explained that the answer to the question posed here depends greatly on the laws of the city and state where the situation occurs, but in jurisdictions that do have gender identity anti-discrimination statutes, none impose any medical or surgical requirements to qualify for workplace protection. In other words, when there are laws protecting trangender employees, what matters is how that person has decided to self-identify (male or female), not what their legal or biological gender status is.

Now, to the direct questions raised, she says (emphasis mine):
It is important to note that the situation presented is very unusual, because almost all employees who transition on the job notify their employer, which in turn notifies co-workers of the new gender, name and appropriate pronouns to be used in the future. Most employers have a meeting with co-workers to explain the company's non-discrimination policies and how they affect the workplace in the situation of gender transition on the job. It's extremely unusual to hear of a situation where a co-worker starts wearing clothing of the opposite sex and starts using the other restroom without any notice to employer or co-workers.  
More significant, then, is the legal principle that the law generally accords employers the right to set the terms and conditions of employment. In the two court cases that have addressed the question of bathroom use by transgender workers, both in Minnesota, the rulings have indicated that the employer has the right to set whatever policies it would like with regard to its transgender workers. The federal district court in Minnesota upheld the right of an employer to allow a transgender employee to use the bathroom of the new gender, and specifically noted that co-workers have no cause of action for sexual harassment. In a separate case, the Minnesota Supreme Court upheld the employer's right to deny the bathroom of the new gender to the transgender employee. Thus, it is usually up to the employer to decide what is best.
The key fact here is that employers usually do not know the medical history of their transgender employees, nor would such knowledge be helpful in determining the best policy for the organization. For those who have objections to transgender persons using public restroom, the problem usually lies in the fact that the person transitioned from one gender to another on the job, thus creating a situation of visible androgyny. The fact that the transgender worker had certain medical procedures usually does not alleviate the concerns of those who object and, as I pointed out, does not change their "legal" gender. 
What is much more important than questions of whether someone is "really" transgender is the attitude of the employer and co-workers. In thousands of companies where a person has transitioned on the job, a positive workplace environment has been preserved where people of good will work together. Discussion of company policies and a meeting with co-workers to discuss the new situation can be helpful in addressing questions and concerns that co-workers may have. The situation posed by our reader illustrates the types of problems that can occur in the absence of this forethought.
She also notes: "The question of whether someone is 'really' transgender, or what their 'legal' gender is, cannot be answered because our society has a patchwork quilt of social norms and legal regulations that make this area of the law fairly unintelligible ... It is worth noting that the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now pending in Congress and given a fair chance of passage, would aid in this because it would include definitions that would apply country-wide. That would be very helpful to hapless human resources managers across the country who often face these questions."

Her answer makes a lot of sense to me, and as is so often the case with workplace issues, it comes down to being open and straightforward. If we do have all the facts here, then the employer has mishandled this badly, by not addressing this or giving people any guidance and instead leaving it to be dealt with by "rumors and dissent." And the employees themselves aren't handling it well -- but it's hard to be surprised by that, because society really hasn't taught people how to respond to issues of transgender. Far from it.

I recommend that the letter-writer point out to her HR department that this needs to be handled more proactively and refer them to materials like the following to get them started:

- Human Rights Campaign's workplace gender transition guidelines (this page includes links to the gender transition policies of companies such as Ernst & Young, Chevron, and Boeing)
- Dr. Weiss's model letter from management
- More resources from Dr. Weiss for managers of transgender employees

47 comments:

jmkenrick said...

I just want to say that I feel that you did a great job of answering this question. This is a sensitive topic that many people feel strongly about, and I think this answer is both useful and respectful.

Anonymous said...

Why did Dr. Weiss question the authenticity of the situation?

Anonymous said...

This is definitely a tough situation. I'd say that if this person wore women's clothes consistently, and consistently referred to themselves as "she," that's a pretty good indicator. Someone who's messing around would probably slip up once in awhile.

Bad litmus test, but whatever.

Hard to strike a balance between making sure that people are treated fairly and making sure that opportunists don't try to use opposite gender restrooms for other reasons.

Unfortunately, as Ask A Manager said, usually the larger problem is that transgendered folks aren't treated fairly.

Anonymous said...

This letter is missing a lot of details, but if it is real, I have the sense that everyone in the office is a bit older. I'm 28 and have only had one direct experience with someone transgendered in a workplace. As pro-GLBT as I am, there's no way around the sheer newness of the situation. We don't really have any cultural/societal information on how to react (for instance, is it ok to ask the person about their transitioning? If you chat about fashion with them, will they think you're trying too hard or assuming they're "drag queens"? etc etc etc). At the time I was living in New York, and I took my cues from my colleagues who were the same age. But I could see this happening in, like, Ohio, and being incredibly awkward.

Ask a Manager said...

jmkenrick: Thank you! It was nice to have an opportunity to address something like this.

Anonymous 8:59: She said that she'd never heard of a situation where someone just start this randomly without there being a coordinated process with the employer, and that it seems unlikely that any sane transgender person would do what's described in the letter! That said, I know we don't always get all the relevant details from letter-writers (not because they have an agenda, particularly, but just because people don't always know what will and won't be important to include), and sometimes those inadvertent omissions can make something sound questionable.

Anonymous 10:09: Yeah, I think the big worry is how horribly people can be treated in these situations, way more than that someone might be dressing like a woman every day solely to get the titillating experience of using the women's bathroom.

Anonymous 10:12: I definitely think that demographics can play a role in how accepting or not accepting people can be in situations like this, although of course there are plenty of exceptions!

dustycrown said...

With all due respect to the transgendered co-worker, clothes aren't the determining factor. I'm female, but I don't use the men's room just because I'm wearing pants, and I would not want to share the women's restroom with a man in a dress. For the sake of clarification, maybe the restrooms should be marked "penis" and "vagina." (Wouldn't THAT create a fuss!)

Ask a Manager said...

dustycrown, the whole point of transgender is that penis/vagina is irrelevant because the person in question is identifying as the opposite gender he/she was biologically born as. You're right that clothes aren't relevant; it's the self-identity that is.

dustycrown said...

AAM, I recognize that "self-identity" is the issue here, but I still think that physical characteristics (penis/vagina) are the deciding factor in determining what restroom you use. I respect your freedom to self-identify and to express that identity, but (just like many other freedoms), it ends when it encounters my right to privacy.

Ask a Manager said...

My understanding is that the general recommendation is that employers with transgender employees set aside a separate bathroom for employees who are unwilling to share a bathroom with a transgender employee. The idea is that they're not requiring the transgender person to use a special bathroom, since that sends a message that there's something objectionable about his/her presence, but they're providing an alternative for other employees who may feel they need it.

Anonymous said...

dustrycrown, how would that work? would the employer require the employee to drop their pants so they could verify what genitalia they had? i hear you that a lot of people are still uncomfortable with this (although that's changing and our kids' generation are going to see this kind of attitude as being as abhorrent as anti-gay discrimination) but i don't see how your privacy, inside a locked stall, is an issue. but then I went to a college with coed bathrooms.

TheLabRat said...

Since many transgendered people decide not to have the "bottom" surgery for a variety of reasons, penis and vagina are not even the legal determining factor for transgender in many states. So a person may be considered the opposite gender they were born as for all legal purposes and still have their original equipment, as it were.

Aside from that, how does a person quietly minding their own business while they take a leak and wash their hands impact your privacy in any way shape or form? Having your privacy invaded in the bathroom is having someone talk to you (if that bugs you) or walk into the room with the actual toilet. Presumably that would be one stall of several in this case, because if this is a "one room and only one person at a time restroom" and people are still freaking out, then I feel the need to figuratively smack someone.

AAM, I'm glad the doc you spoke with brought up how unusual the situation was. That made me question the employee as well and I DO know a lot of trans folks. But self identity is a hard thing that people struggle with under more common circumstances, so it wouldn't surprise me for someone to go about it this way if they had no real support network and no access to guidance.

fposte said...

Since women generally have stalls, I wouldn't be particularly bothered by sharing with a MTF transperson I already know in the office. It's not like it's sanctified penis-free space that'd get polluted or anything, and if all this person is after is the sound of women peeing, well, that's a whole lot of trouble to go to for that.

I don't get why this person is "widely known as [a man]" if she is calling herself female and wearing women's clothes. I'm in agreement that something hasn't been handled well already if that's the case. (I don't think that's impossible, but I think the notion that the letter is a bit of a chain-yank isn't impossible either.)

Cynthia R. said...

I think that AAM did an excellent job of addressing this question from a business/HR standpoint.

My personal opinion is that individuals need to be more accepting of and open to things that they don't understand. Unless your coworker is in the stall with you (that would be frightening, regardless of gender), what's it to you? What privacy are you trying to protect that half of the office can see and the other half can't?

Even if it's confusing for you or goes against your personal beliefs, this is a perfect chance to apply some compassion and to treat someone as they wish to be treated. And if that makes you feel put out, just know that you probably do some things that other people don't approve of, but which they accept out of compassion for you. Make the world nicer by being nice.

Kim Stiens said...

The whole sex-segregated bathroom concept is something that is going to have to go the way of the dinosaurs soon, now that society is becoming more accepting of alternate genders and sexualities.

Basically, I feel that all bathrooms should have stalls, and be co-ed. This eliminates all problems. Why have men put up with having to whip it out in front of other people for so long?

Same thing with locker rooms: subjecting people to a lack of privacy is the problem... once you can pee or change in a locked room or stall, it really doesn't matter what the gender of the person in the next locked room or stall is.

I also really liked the comment above: What privacy are you protecting that half the office is allowed to see, and the other half not? The dividing line between men and women in these matters is pretty arbitrary, and based entirely on the idea that the whole world is straight, which we now know isn't the case. :)

Anonymous said...

This is OP again...I'm not sure why Dr. Weiss thought this person had "suddenly transitioned"...my original letter said nothing like that. This person applied for the job as a female, and has always dressed/acted as such; there was no sudden change. Nevertheless, somehow word has gotten out that she is actually a he, and that's when the complaints about dress code and restroom use began.

Anonymous said...

OP one more time.....some more details to clarify.....

Like I said, this person has always presented themselves as female. I'm not sure how the gossip got around that she was actually male (or used to be.) She may have actually told some people directly about her transition, or the information may have come out by accident, but it's one of those things that's become a backbone of the office gossip culture.

New employees have her pointed out in the cafeteria or something as part of their office tour...."just so you know....that's really a man". "Did you know Charlene is really a guy?"

Yes, I know, appallingly immature. But what happens is someone has this pointed out to them and they start up with the "Omigod! I used the bathroom when he was in there! I'm suing". Men who object to the company's dress code wonder aloud why "he" gets to "get away with" wearing dresses.

HR to this point has not been involved. I don't know how much "Charlene" knows of this talk, and I don't know whether or not she's complained to HR about the gossip. I also don't know if any of the offended conservatives have taken the dress code or bathroom issues to HR; the dept. has issued no statements of any sort. HR in our company in general tends to be very passive.

My question was from the standpoint of a tolerant employee who likes "Charlene" and would like to tell the gossipers to just shut up. I was looking for some sort of ammunition where I (and others of similar mind) could point out "look, she can use the women's bathroom without having to prove anything to anyone and _you're_ the one guilty of harrassment." Dr. Weiss' information helps in this regard.

And, can I just add, WTF is up with people thinking I'm lying? What's that about?

Anonymous said...

I had a similar situation at my previous job. I was a recruiter supplying production employees at a company in the area. I registered someone I presumed to be a man - I'll call him "Chris" - he had a similar non-gender-specific name. He was dressed in a sweatshirt and jeans when I met him, and I didn't give it another thought. On his 2nd day of work, complaints started coming in about Chris using the ladies' room. Turns out, Chris identified as a woman. We had to basically let our female employees know that Chris was in fact allowed to use the ladies' room facilities. Awkward at first, but they gradually came around to it as Chris established herself as a great employee and developed workplace friendships.

On a side note, when the site supervisor first sat down with her about this, her initial response was a tired sigh, and then "Do I need to get my lawyer?" Sad, for that to be the automatic response.

idappaccayata said...

Look, it's easy: Did the TG employee obtain a name/gender marker change? If so, then let HER use the appropriate restroom (female). Unless she is skulking around the restroom, peeping under stalls (which is a rather silly idea), the sexual harassment charge runs contrary to caselaw. However, the employer may be open to sexual harassment clams if the TG employee is legally female gendered and the employer is forcing her to go into rooms where male employees are in a state of undress.

I agree that the case the reader wrote about is really strange. In my decade-long work with this population, I've not yet encountered a situation like that.

Lastly, Ask a Manager wrote a common sense response that's respectful of both employers and employees. Thanks!

KellyK said...

I like Kim Stiens, Anonymous 12:41 & The Lab Rat's comments. Women's restrooms have stalls, so you have plenty of privacy--the "equipment" or gender status of the person in the next stall should be pretty irrelevant to you.

dustycrown's comments about privacy strike me as kind of contradictory. How is it not a violation of privacy to expect someone to prove that they have the "equipment" to use a given bathroom?

Where's the violation of privacy for the non-transgender person? Someone with the wrong "equipment" might...what? See you washing your hands? Hear you going to the bathroom?

Unisex bathrooms with stalls would make this so much simpler. Failing that, people should get to use the bathroom that goes with their gender identity. People's body parts aren't any of their coworkers' business.

ariablue said...

The main problem seems to be the ambiguous definition of "transgender". Not all "transgenders" are dealing with the same condition. There is a lot of fighting going on over this topic in the GLBT because some of the people who have been forced into the "TG" part without our consent have decided to say enough is enough.

Transgender may be a politically correct term, but it is also a lie. Women have every right to worry about men in their restroom, and in fact many people who call themselves transgender really are men.

Not all transgender people are "transsexual". Which is to say, those who science are now coming to understand as being born with a biological variation have zero to do with crossdressing men. And that is exactly who the vast bulk of "transgender" people are, men who can't come to terms with their homosexuality and other sexual issues. This business about no-surgery gender change is simply a smokescreen. It's time to put an end to this nonsense.

Matt Ugray said...

It seems to me that the authenticity of the letter was questioned due to a misunderstanding. It seems clear to me that the woman in question arrived at her current job already transitioned from the part where the letter writer says "We have no way of knowing what [her] 'legal' gender or even [her birth] name are."

Had she transitioned on the job, everyone who knew her would be aware of her birth name.

Deanna said...

ariablue: the lie is that sex and gender are binary. In reality, sex is not binary, but instead a scatter diagram and gender is an even larger wscatter diagram. God our creator has provided us with a diversity, and transgender people are just one expression of his gift of diversity to us.

a. brown said...

The OP should definitely stand up for this employee. If not for her specifically, at least to let people know their gossip is incredibly hurtful and immature.

Anonymous said...

OP here....idappaccayata said...
"Look, it's easy: Did the TG employee obtain a name/gender marker change? If so, then let HER use the appropriate restroom (female)." But wasn't Dr. Weiss making the point that this sort of be-all/end-all marker of "real" gender doesn't exist?

That's what my whole question was about - is there a definitive point at which a transgendered person gets all the legal rights of a particular gender? If yes, and if Charlene had met these criteria, that would have been an easy way to stop the office gossip: for the company (or individual employees) to say "Look. She's a legal female as far as this company is concerned. She's in the right bathroom. She's appropriately dressed for work. STFU."

But unfortunately, Dr. Weiss states that there is no clear-cut point at which a person becomes fully legally male or female. Charlene does not have a "gender marker" or whatever it is you're referring to. Thus it becomes more complicated for her and her friends to fight the gossip and innuendo.

Ask a Manager said...

Hmmmm, I don't really see why it matters whether or not there's a definitive point at which a transgendered person is "truly" transgendered. The person in question is living as transgendered, and that should be good enough.

The coworkers who are gossiping about her need to grow up and develop some compassion, and hopefully the OP will do her part to push them in that direction. (And hopefully at some point the transgendered employee will enlist HR in addressing this and putting a stop to the coworkers' childish behavior.)

Anonymous said...

This sounds like what they (my co-workers and probably management too) have been doing to me for years.

I've been working for this major company for 10 years. When I was hired, I was already transitioned (post-op), had all my legal documentation (SSA, DMV records) changed but something happened along the way (maybe my co-workers figured it out, I don't know). Five or so years ago, I started to get some hairy looks from co-workers & even some members of the management team. They always look at my chest and probably think that my boobs are "fake". I've also been asked some very personal questions "are you married?" "do you have any kids?". It's been really hard, but I need my job; the pay is great and I'm not quitting. Thankfully, I live in one of the states that has employment/housing protections for transgender people, but sometimes I wonder if their (my employer's) bigotry & intolerance could eventually harm me in ways that I still don't know.

Sorry, I needed to get it off my chest. Sometimes I wonder if all these fights for "equality" are just an illusion. You would think that a former transsexual person who's now post-op, has all her documentation changed wouldn't have to go through all this BS, but here I am.

Anonymous said...

For those who seem hell bent on this requirement that surgery must be performed, get lost. Do you understand how expensive it is, and how many insurance plans do not cover it? Do you understand that not even federal HSA programs allow it to be reimbursed?

Forcing her to live as a man at work simply because she didn't fit your arbitrary "concerns" is cruel and bigoted.

I just cannot understand why so many of you are concerned with what people have or do not have under their clothes. You are not the final arbiter of someone's identity, the individual in question is.

Anonymous said...

"You are not the final arbiter of someone's identity, the individual in question is."

Don't waste your breath, Anonymous. You're talking to Aria Blue.

I should also point out to Dustycrown that if you try to assign bathrooms by what people have in their pants--assuming that you could even pull off such a scheme--you would leave a number of intersex people out in the cold and also have lots of very hairy trans men using the ladies'. I don't think that would fly!

--Arch

Abby said...

AAM, I appreciate your consulting Dr. Weiss on this issue. She has as much or more experience as anyone in the U.S. on helping employers design policies to handle transgender employees, whether they transitioned on the job or before being hired. I do have one criticism, however.

The word "transgender" is an adjective that describes a state of being and/or a personal identity. It is not a verb describing a process. Therefore, saying that someone is "transgendered", which implies that they have undergone some particular process to become who they are, is improper. For example, even though the doctor told my parents that I was a boy, I've identified as a girl and a woman since I was very young. Thus, I have always been transgender, specifically, a transgender woman, even though I didn't transition to living full time as the woman I am until a few years ago. In other words, a transgender person may or may not transition to living publicly consistent with her/his gender identity, but s/he is transgender either way.

You will do the trans community, and your readership, a great service by correcting this error and educating them and yourself on the proper terminology when discussing these issues. (If you review Dr. Weiss' comments, you'll see that she always uses "transgender," never "transgendered.")

Ask a Manager said...

Abby, thanks for clarifying that; I hadn't known that. I changed the word in the post.

Anonymous said...

With Surgeries costing around $20,000 alone.
And discrimination rampant hormones are usually all many Trans woman can afford.
Being in a locked stall I've never had any problems with any other woman. Then I'm to busy trying earn comfort from my bladder than worryin or even thinking about anyone else.
Crista
If you so scared of a Trans person then befriend one. I can garauntee you in time they will most likeley be the MOST loyal friend you can ever wish too have.

GIJane73 said...

If this person is actually undergoing transition and is under the care of medical and mental health care then SHE will have paperwork to support the fact on the lines of that she is undergoing treatment as a male to female transsexual. That this is to be a permanent change and this is a note from her doctor to to support this .

Your HR department will be aware of this persons change and they should've informed the female members of staff prior to this person returning to work in her new gender role.

Your employer can only ask this person to use the disabled facilities for a short period of time until it becomes discrimination as being a transsexual is not a disability it is a birth defect that is corrected with medical treatment, counselling and ultimately corrective surgery .

I personally do not see what your problem is , if He or She whatever you wish to refer to her as (be aware if she is in transition and living legally as a female it actually becomes illegal to use male pronouns on this person and she can take you to HR and Equal Ops boards with a complaint if you do.) The female facilities are all cubicles you do not sit there with the door open with your bits on show and I'm sure this person will sit to pee along with the rest of you. She will close her door and if she really is a transsexual will not want anyone to see her existing male genitals and even once she has her surgery will not want you to see her new bits any more than you would flash your genitals to all and sundry.

Put yourself in her position, shes not going to go into the gents, hitch up her skirt, whip her boy bits out and use a urinal is she when all day long she presents as a female ? What would the point in that be ?

This person is probably going thru one of the biggest life changing events you can imagine and you are going out of your way to make life even more difficult. Chances are she has lost friends over this and maybe family have disowned her too, she is probably going thru her 2nd puberty, remember how bad it was in your teens? imagine all that again as an adult!

Grow up and accept it. There are human rights documents in place for the protection for transsexuals in the work place and any discrimination against them you could find yourself on the receiving end of litigation and not this poor person regardless whether she looks like a man in a dress or not. Not all trans people look like the lady boys of south east asia, they have grown up as men and their bodies wont change over night or much at all sometimes, so cut her some slack .

I myself work for the British Army and have encountered a girl in my own corps who went thru this and it was bad enough the guys giving her grief without so the girls stood by her and now she is intergrated as one of us and you wouldn't know to look at her that she had been born any other way.

Give it time !

Anonymous said...

OP here...."For those who seem hell bent on this requirement that surgery must be performed, get lost."

No one is hell bent on anything like that!!! What I'm looking for is a quick and easy way to shut up the bigots. I'm not sure how I can explain it any clearer.

Because HR can't/won't make a statement that "Charlene" is to be treated as a woman in the workplace, her more tolerant coworkers are looking for a precedent or legal policy or something to tell gossipmongers that she meets all the criteria to wear dresses and use the ladies' room.

If that criteria was simply self-identification (which it should be, but isn't always) then great. If her gender on her job application is female, and that's the criteria, also good. If the criteria is to have a complete set of girly whoo-has and she's got 'em, then great. What we're looking for is just a way to say "Look. These are the criteria for being female in the workplace. She meets those. Your gossip is groundless".

So the point of my original question is to find out, what exactly, on the spectrum from "self-identification" to "having a particular set of genitals" is the commonly used criteria in the workplace. This could be used to Charlene's advantage if we can illustrate to the muckrakers that she fulfills these criteria.

But what Dr. Weiss points out is that there is no clear legal definition or precedent. So it's harder for TG folks and their friends to stop the gossip, particularly when HR does not get involved.

Ask a Manager said...

OP, with all due respect, I think you're missing the point. There's no need for some official criteria in order for people to be told to treat this person with compassion. You should stand up for this person. Tell the gossiping coworkers that they're being petty and cruel about something that's none of their business, and that you don't want to hear it anymore.

Anonymous said...

OP here...AAM writes, "There's no need for some official criteria in order for people to be told to treat this person with compassion."

Um, yeah, there are - have you ever dealt with really bigoted people? The reason this whole thing is an issue is because simple requests for coworkers to mind their own business and treat everyone with respect _have not worked_. The reason legal criteria need to be brought up at all is because your naive admonitions to Play Nice are not effective.

Do you think just telling someone they're being "petty and cruel" will get people of color jobs they're denied due to racism, will get women wages equal to men, or will stop gays from being beaten? The whole reason we're looking for legal precedent for Charlene is because commonsense notions of dignity and respect mean nothing to a lot of people. Her adversaries will not stop because we ask for "compassion". I give up on you.

Ask a Manager said...

Well, then go to HR and tell them they need to intervene. You're insisting on a legal standard that doesn't exist, so you need other solutions. A legal standard is not the only solution; ethical people standing up for what's right has actually driven progress for years, in all kinds of situations.

For what it's worth, you say now that you're on the side of the employee in question, but your original question very much didn't come across that way. Reading the original question makes it very hard not to question your motivations. Perhaps that was just due to poor wording choices, but I'm skeptical.

Anonymous said...

I agree. The original letter sounded like it was written from someone who was trying to stir up trouble for this person, definitely not by someone concerned with TG rights.

Rebecca said...

"The reason legal criteria need to be brought up at all is because your naive admonitions to Play Nice are not effective."

The post and comments did bring them up, multiple times, and if you'd been paying attention you'd have noticed that in most states there aren't any solid legal criteria.

Calling AAM naive won't change that.

Veracity said...

The writer of the question didn't say the person was in a process of transitioning, but simply that the person was "widely known as male" (whatever that means), which makes me think this employee could be a new hire and the employees are simply gossipping and being mean spirited. Since the woman identifies as female, she gets to use the female toilets AND be referred to by the pronoun of her choice. It sounds like HR need some diversity education here.

Anonymous said...

This type of gossip was like the "Who in the workplace is homosexual" gossip was 10-20 years ago and still is in some workplaces. It is a GTFUA (Grow the Fuck up Already) issue employees need to learn to deal with. If they still have questions, the internet has answers. These kind of employees need to put their gossip energy into research like a socially responsible citizen does on any issue in general and they won't have these problems.

I don't blame HR one bit in this situation. A wise HR manager does not want to resort to making patronizing lectures to their employees if they can reasonably avoid doing so since they usually diminish morale and self-esteem.

Social maturity is a must for success in most businesses. Not very many HR personnel want to think that they overestimated the maturity of the employees they hired as it reflects badly on them.

Perhaps personality tests that already determine things like potential theft and insubordination risks of potential hirees can also cover gossip, judgementalism and immaturity risks as well.

Kim Stiens said...

At the above anonymous:

I disagree completely. If there are personnel issues, it is ALWAYS the place of HR to step in, that's their job. Not understanding or being sympathetic toward transgender issues is not necessarily a matter of maturity. Society is only starting to accept people of alternate sexualities, and that's much easier to understand than alternate genders. HR at this company would do well to include in their diversity training discussion of these issues.

Anonymous said...

We just has a sexual harassment class last week and were informed that transgender was a protected class here in California...

Angel said...

In reading this post and all of the comments, I found one thing conspicuously missing... any sort of evidence that the coworker is trans-anything. It's all just speculation!

Face it, not every woman fits neatly into the stereotype of what a woman "should" look like. For some people, just being very tall is sufficient "evidence" that a woman is "really a man". That's just plain dumb.

OP, you seem to work with lots of immature people.

Gina9223 said...

So far, from reading the message traffic;
‘Charlene’ is a new employee.
Someone has started a rumor that ‘Charlene’ is a MtF Transgendered individual.
The rumor is rampant. ‘OP’ is trying to figure out;
1] What is a ‘Transgendered’,
2] What are everyone’s rights in this situation,
3] Why hasn’t the company HR stepped in and done something,
4] What can ‘OP’ do to help the situation.

1] ‘Transgendered’ is an umbrella term typically considered a transitional gender identity. Its mainly applicable when a person is moving from the gender assigned at birth to the opposite gender. But, it also includes the entire ‘Transgendered Spectrum’. For this, we’ll stay with the classical meaning of Transgendered. Once a person has ‘transitioned’ that person has legal documentation that reflects the gender opposite the birth gender. It does not mean that they have had ‘bottom surgery’. There are many reasons for not having ‘bottom surgery’, too many to list here.

2] Everyone’s rights would be a whole lot more clear if ENDA was passed. Like Dr. Weiss said it varies. It varies widely. Right now, from the message traffic here, the only one who could file any Workplace Harassment would be ‘Charlene’ because the work place does sound like it has become hostile towards her working there.

3] HR doesn’t have cameras and microphones in the potted plants. They can only respond when someone comes to them and tells them about a situation.

4] OP can only help by notifying the HR department and explaining everything fully. HR needs to move in to do damage control and sit everyone down and explain the company’s EEO and Workplace Harassment Policies. HR should interview ‘Charlene’ and her coworkers and determine if any violations of the company EEO or Workplace Harassment has occurred.

Notes:
It may be impossible for HR to determine a gender change. Even in a company that requires a Federal Security Clearance, the Clearance itself would disclose a gender change but that information would be classified as part of the clearance and not discloseable to HR itself.
And then there’s just plain manners. You do not ask a cis-gender person (someone who’s natally male or female) what gender they were born or are. Its considered bad manners to ask a Transgender person, or an Intersexed person or a Gender Fluid person what gender they are. Its akin to asking a man how small his penis is or a woman if her breasts are really real, fake or just falsies. See? Crass.
‘Charlene’ may be Intersexed or one of hundreds of other medical conditions. Questioning her gender in that case would be very damaging to her psyche and I would expect major fall out if that’s the case.
She may also just have a very masculine female lineage. I’d introduce you to my Aunt the truck driver. She’s 6’1”, smokes like a chimney, swears like a sailor and she has a bit of a fuzzy face. She gets the ‘dirty tranny’ thing all the time. Like I said, she swears like a sailor.

Equal Clothing Co. said...

Come on...if this person goes to WORK every day dressed as a female, and has people refer to HER as a female, then SHE IS FEMALE. Its her place of employment, not some grocery store or club. Gees. Obviously he identifies as a woman, and lives daily as one.

What, do these people think that she is tricking you all by secretly being a he? Who would do that? Think about it, what benefit does she get by acting that way at WORK. Just to be able to use the Womens room? Surely you aren't bringing the ladies home from work with that method, so there is no real justification for their arguments about sexual harassment. If anything they are harassing her.

Anonymous said...

We just had a guy at work that says he is surgically becoming a girl, become allowed to go into the womens bathroom. This makes me extremely uncomfortable. My ex-husband of 10 years w/ 2 kids told me he is gay-for 7 years I had if shoved down my throat-I had to move to another state to get away from it. i don't think it is right to have it happen at wk too!

Anonymous said...

anonymous, I am sorry about your husband. I really am. I can't imagine how you must feel. But you are going to have to learn how to deal with GLBT people if you are going to live on this Earth because they have always existed and they will always exist. Educate yourself about GLBT stuff (the American Psychological Association has good info), be understanding and open-minded, and remember to treat people the way you want to be treated. (Remember that like you, GLBT people are human beings who just want to be accepted)

Over time, you will get "used" to GLBT people and you might become friends with some GLBT people (yes, really!). You will also be a good role model for your kids because they too must learn how to live with GLBT people. And if one or both of your children turn out to be GLBT (very possible), you will be able to easily accept your child(ren). Good luck.