Bigotry and transphobia in the workplace

Content warning: This post talks extensively about transphobia.

So far, I have only ever had 3 jobs and I have never been out as transgender at these jobs. Despite not being out as trans, I have encountered significant bigotry and transphobia in the workplace. I apparently have one of those faces where random people feel the need to share their most bigoted opinions because it happens all the time. I have rarely been the direct target of this bigotry, mostly because I am still present as a cis man in my day-to-day life (the direct bigotry I receive is mostly homophobia). Instead, I experience it second hand, most often in the form of unprompted bigoted opinions from coworkers or rarely in comments directed at others. The prevalence of transphobia in the workplace is stifling and is a constant burden.

The most common variety of transphobia that I have experienced while working is derogatory “jokes”. I cannot recount how many times I have heard the stupid “attack helicopter joke” while working. For example, I have only been at my current job for a little over 2 weeks and I have already sat in a room where people laughed at an attack helicopter joke. I have heard so many variations of this dumb meme in situations ranging from water cooler conversations to in the middle of important meetings. And worse of all, it always gets a positive reaction. I have never seen anyone push back at these derogatory jokes or even imply that they were inappropriate in the workplace. Most of the time, the people around me join in on the transphobia which always makes me uncomfortable. Having people join in on even mild transphobia makes me feel incredibly unsafe in the workplace and leads me to worry about coming out.

While I have experienced mild transphobia at every job I have ever worked, I experienced far worse transphobia at my last job. At that job, I worked on a team of 7 other people with a manager. Of those 7, 4 of them shared their dislike of trans people openly (all LGBT people, really). One of them went so far as to interrupt if anyone used the word transition to ask that a different word be used because it reminded him of trans people. While the bigotry from my coworkers was bad, my manager’s was even worse. Less than a month after starting there, she went on an incredibly transphobic rant in the middle of a meeting with some clients. Completely unprompted, she shared her view that trans people should be prohibited from ever being around children, especially her own kids. She even had the gall to close this rant by saying that she had no ill will towards trans people. Advocating vanishing trans people from public spaces is the definition of ill will! That was not a fun job to be transgender at.

It really does amaze me just how ubiquitous and tolerated bigotry towards trans people is in the workplace. Transphobia seems to be deeply entrenched in American office culture. Bigotry against trans people is accepted as orthodoxy and those who push back against it are seen as sensitive and troublemakers. Having to constantly deal with prejudice and intolerance while working is unsettling. It reminds me of how vulnerable I am and how I have very little protection if I experience discrimination in the workplace. I worry constantly that I will have to suffer through another transphobic conversation and the negative effects that it has on my mental health. Nobody should have to put up with that just to make a living.

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