Professionalism and Pronouns

By Alex Masse


I realized I was nonbinary earlier this year, after a lifetime of confusion and months of hardcore questioning. It’s one of those once-in-a-lifetime revelations that makes everything make sense—the kind where you can backtrack and recognize that the signs were always there like the foreshadowing of a plot twist.


While I’m fortunate to not need surgery or hormone treatment—my body’s already pretty androgynous and my dysphoria’s manageable—socially transitioning has been an entirely different matter. My friends and family are pretty accepting, and more than once, people have actually told me they thought I was already out. But this summer I took on an office job at a local nonprofit, and things became a little less clear.


Upon starting my job, I was called a girl, a lady, and a woman on the regular, but I never corrected anyone. I listed my pronouns as they/she in my email signature, but the majority of my coworkers never used they/them on me. None of that is great, I’ll admit, though I don’t blame my coworkers. I’d virtually re-closeted myself at work. I’d check “F” on every form asking for my sex, and I also knew that listing my pronouns as they/she in my email was a betrayal to myself (she/her pronouns made me uncomfortable). But for some reason, whenever I clocked in, I found that the fight was already drained out of me.


Some time has passed now, but this still nags at me—why did I feel humiliated by my own identity at work?


I think it’s because trans folks—especially those who don’t strive to “pass” as cis—have always been seen as inherently unprofessional.


One aspect of this is that there aren’t a lot of out trans folks in the workforce for people like me to look up to. Why? Being out is risky—trans folks have an unfair history of being seen as sick and perverted. After all, it took until 2019 for being trans to not be seen as a “disorder” in the eyes of the World Health Organization.


In fact, most of the out trans people I’ve enountered professionally have worked specifically for queer organizations. All of this has led me—and I can only imagine how many other trans folks—to mentally equate wanting our identities respected with being unprofessional.


That said, I’m optimistic about our future. We do have other role models: out cis queer folks. While I was the only trans person I knew of at my job, one of my superiors was an out, openly butch woman. It was reassuring that she was respected, looked up to, and treated as an equal, despite being visibly gender non-conforming.


I’m also optimistic that as the pandemic recedes and people re-enter the workforce, a lot of trans people are going to get jobs. You might even have us as employees or coworkers. We are everywhere, after all. And we’re overcoming our internalized transphobia. We’re realizing that we’re not the problem, because wanting to be referred to with gender-neutral language and a certain set of pronouns isn’t unprofessional. It’s correct.


As a nonbinary person, it’s virtually impossible for me to pass as my gender. I’ll always have “boy” or “girl” pushed on me, no matter how androgynously I present. That leaves me with two options: either I sit there and accept being misgendered, or I stand up for myself and the identity that I fought so hard to find.


I can, and will, be nonbinary and a successful professional. That’s not just a possible thing—it’s a beautiful thing and it deserves to be celebrated. I can, and will, introduce myself with my name and my gender-neutral pronouns. I can, and will, correct my coworkers when they misgender me without fearing judgement. I am capable of everything my cis coworkers are. I am nonbinary, I am successful, and this is what the future looks like.


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