Recently a young associate at work declared his choice to be gender neutral in a vanilla work space. Not sharing my own perspective with them I was a sympathetic listener. Yesterday the person in question showed up with blue nail polish and received a cackle from female associates. The anxiety of the moment led me to change the subject and move the associate along. Wondering how best to assure my own fears, and adapt to the situation. I have cross dressed many decades myself but remain closeted. Your thoughts?
There are always, always, always going to be those who mock people for just about any reason. People criticize others for their race, their sexuality, their gender identity, and just about anything else. This will not change anytime soon. And if I am feeling pessimistic, I don’t think it ever will. It’s painful to be reminded that there are others that we know, others that we work with, and even others that we are related to who will go out of their way to be cruel to someone. The associates you mention made a choice to be mean. They could have kept their comments to themselves but it sounds like they wanted to openly mock your co-worker. It sounds like you did your best to de-escalate the situation. Good for you! It is not an easy and comfortable position to be in.
Many of us are terrified of being outed. At the same time, part of some of us would like to be out to more people in our lives. We long for that for a variety of reasons, whether because we ourselves want to wear blue nail polish or because we are exhausted from keeping who we are a secret. We may wonder who it would be safe to come out to. Of course, there’s no way we can ever predict how someone else will react to this revelation, but sometimes people will show their true selves and will telegraph their thoughts and opinions to others. It sounds like that was what happened here. It shouldn’t be this way. We all should have the right to express our gender identity and wear what we want. It might be legal (from a human resources and legal perspective) for a non-cisgender person to wear blue nail polish but that may not stop others from mocking that person.
As for adapting, we live in a world where people are cruel to others regardless of the laws or the workplace protections that are in place. An office can implement policies banning discrimination (in all it’s forms) but that still isn’t enough to stop some people’s reactions. Sometimes I will hear one of my co-workers say something about someone who is LGBTQ+ and I will think to myself that I will have to be extra careful to not let myself slip up when it comes to my own gender identity. Of course, were I braver I would confront that person but I am not. Well, perhaps it’s not about courage but realizing that some people just cannot change.
Of course we don’t have to adapt. We can be the change. Talk to human resources if you feel that there are others who are creating a hostile or toxic work environment. This, like any effort to transform a culture, takes a tremendous amount of courage but change happens when one person speaks up. We live in a world where people are intentionally cruel to others, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
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