I work in geriatric healthcare with a personal speciality of dementia – which, all in all, means I spend 40 hours each week hanging out with people who are living in the 40s as literally as one can in 2015. I live in a conservative state with people who are living in the 40s. This is … not conducive to being out at work in any sort of to-the-patients sense. I’ve talked about this before, and largely my feelings on the matter haven’t changed, but there’s a new dimension I never thought about before: coworkers.
Now, in most jobs, I wouldn’t be out to my boss or my boss’s boss or the person with more experience who has the boss’s ear, just because there are no protections for me if that’s why I’m tossed out of a job. It doesn’t matter how cool a boss seems about things; you pretty much don’t know until it’s too late to back out if you can safely come out or not. This also means I’m wary about being out to coworkers – who would tell the boss without thinking, who would tell the boss with the intent of getting me fired?
But there were two people at work who I trusted a lot – let’s call them T and E. I told T once when I was in her car for a 30-minute drive and very drunk. T was incredibly amused by my drunk self’s need to talk about everything, especially compared to my sober, early-morning, don’t-know-how-to-make-words self. The next day, T asked how much of the night I remembered – all of it – and if I had been serious about what I said about gender. I rambled a bit about how all of my gender theory is very wibbly-wobbly and I don’t always believe the same thing for more than an hour and I can believe totally contradictory things at the same time and yes, I am transqueer. T said, “Okay. I’m going to keep calling you ‘she’ to the patients because I don’t know what else to say and they definitely won’t. Let me know if I need to change anything like that, or if you tell someone else.” (The only change I told T was to never gender me before a patient did and to never disagree with that gender, whatever it is.) Nothing else changed in the slightest. If you’re wondering how to be a good ally – here’s your example.
Now, if you’re wondering how to be a bad ally, let’s talk about E. When I told her, she nodded and put on a very obvious “whatever you say, drunk person” face. When I confirmed the following day, she laughed. And then she started to make fun of my gender. And then she started to make fun of my gender in front of coworkers. And then she started to make fun of my gender in front of patients. I asked T what to do; T eventually stepped in and said “this is completely inappropriate but especially in front of patients.” (which, yes, it definitely was, and while me saying things had no effect on E, T at least got the mocking-in-front-of-patients to stop.)
E hasn’t said anything to the boss, per her own report, and I haven’t either, because I don’t know where the boss would fall on this. E’s side, against the queer? My side, against the blatant mockery? Other coworkers are largely staying out of it, which to me says that they are choosing not to join the mockery OR haven’t figured out what the mockery is about. T is staying out of it on my request – neither of us are sure where the boss would fall, and I can deal with E’s shit better if I’m not wondering “have I just signed my own pink slip or brought in another ally?”
I shouldn’t have to wonder that, though. It should be as clear-cut as when one coworker started badgering another about marriage – you’ve been dating for ten years, why aren’t you married, I’m getting married after dating for 3 years, why aren’t you getting married, being single is ridiculous – and the boss stepped down with a polite but firm smackdown of “her personal life isn’t yours to interrogate” and “how would you like it if she were acting like this to you, saying that getting married is ridiculous?” It stopped. Immediately. I should be confident that if I went to the boss with E’s badgering, the same thing would happen, but I could be fired instead.
And that needs to change.