Q&A from Supporting Trans Library Employees, Part 1
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
I did a webinar yesterday in which I didn't have time to answer all of the audience questions, so here are some of them (or variations).
Q&A, Part 1 (terminology and pronouns, resources, legal issues)
Q&A, Part 2 (names and such, trainings)
Q&A, Part 3 (employee support, management/HR/system buy-in)
Q&A, Part 4 (employee and patron interactions)
Terminology and pronouns
Q: What is the difference between folks and folx?
A: This isn’t something I know much about, but a few others from the audience weighed in:
“Folx comes out of the use of the gender neutral "X" in Spanish and as a form of solidarity with QPOC.”
“The general idea behind this is that the X represents those who aren't usually represented. (Coming from someone, me, who is trans.)”
Q: Is it better to use LGBTQQIA, or is it okay to use LGBT or LGBT+?
A: There are a lot of variations on this, so you’ll probably hear different answers based on who you ask. I don’t particularly care as long as the T is included, and preferably the Q+. At the moment I usually use LGBTQ+ for the umbrella term (or queer depending on the context), because it’s a compromise between length and excluding identities, but that’s certainly not a perfect solution. As with any terminology, if a person or group tells you what to use when describing them, go with that language.
Q: If someone prefers not to provide a pronoun, is it appropriate to use 'they/them?'
A: That is what I would do (or try to -- it takes practice to default to it). They can be used when someone’s pronouns are not known; it is also the personal pronoun of a lot of people. Do be aware that calling someone they if they have clearly specified other pronouns is misgendering and should not be done.
Q: What about people who use either she/her or he/him and they/their?
A: Some people, myself included, are comfortable with multiple pronoun sets for themselves. In that case, it’s fine to use anything they’ve specified; you can stick with one set of pronouns or switch back and forth when talking about them.
Q: Would it be ok to read up on materials and books about transitions in order to get a better understanding of what our co-worker is going through so we don't feel compelled to ask them about the transition? I'm naturally curious about everything but I don't want to appear disrespectful. And what books would you recommend to read?
A: Yes! Educating yourself is a great way to learn about different people’s experiences without demanding that they tell you about them. Do be careful about choosing materials; a lot of the published work about trans people is from a harmful perspective, whether that’s ignorance or active transphobia. Older materials can be fine, especially autobiographical ones, but take into account that there have been (and will continue to be) a lot of changes in things like terminology, medical options, legislation, and social acceptance. Personal experiences also vary enormously, so one trans memoir (or many) won’t necessarily tell you much about your coworker. I would recommend reading a range of trans autobiographies and other materials. And while it’s fine to educate yourself, please don’t get invested in wondering about your coworker’s transition details or assuming you understand them; the specifics are private and really none of your business unless they want to share.
Q: What are your thoughts about books with transgender characters that aren't actually written by transgender authors?
A: Depends on the book. It’s certainly not impossible for a cisgender author to write a trans character well, but I’d look more closely at it than if I knew the author were trans just because there are some pretty terrible examples out there. Goodreads reviews and other community spaces can be one way to get opinions and perspectives that don’t make into mainstream reviews, though obviously that can go both ways. Bear in mind that it’s not the author’s responsibility to share information about their gender, so don’t assume that an author is cis just because you don’t know otherwise. Trans people also don’t automatically know about anything more than their own experience, so that in itself isn’t a guarantee of accuracy or quality.
(not a) Q: Not a question but suggestion for resources for onboarding training: HR Downloads is an HRIS resources that has an online learning module related to gender diversity that is very good and we include this as part of our onboarding training modules and existing employees have been required to take the module as part of our annual performance development process.
(not an) A: Thank you! I’m not familiar with this; it looks to be a Canada-specific resource and it’s not free, but that’s great information for anyone whose organization has access. The existence of this type of resource is also excellent for demonstrating to HR and others that gender inclusion should be a standard part of workplace training.
(not a) Q: Legislators need to learn about restrooms!
(not an) A: Yup. Call them.
Q: Most states have NO trans-inclusive laws and the Federal has none. How can a trans person expect any accommodation at all especially in states with fire-at-will laws? It's not enough to rely on "good will."
A: This is unfortunately the case, yes. (Call your representatives, y’all, and for the love of everything, please vote.) Individual workplaces or organizations can implement their own systems and policies, such as including gender identity and gender expression in their nondiscrimination statement and putting resources and money towards gender inclusion and other EDI initiatives. But yeah, the lack of legal protections is really horrible, and a lot of cishet people don’t know it’s an issue.
Q: If an applicant asks for transition information covered by work insurance, could the applicant be turned down for the job?
A: I don’t actually know. Due to the aforementioned lack of legal protections for trans people in many places, and the difficulty of proving discrimination in a situation like this, I’d guess that it could happen in some workplaces, but I’m in no way a lawyer and so don’t quote me on that. In my own experience, I’ve asked about coverage of trans health care in interviews (usually to HR, not to the search committee), but I also make a point of being out during job hunts because I don’t want to accidentally end up somewhere that it will be a problem. If you’re more limited in options and can’t base a decision on that, it’s trickier. You could ask for documentation of their insurance plan without specifying what you’re looking for if you’re concerned about outing yourself. For anyone on the other side of this topic, please do include trans health care in your insurance coverage, and make that information readily available to potential and current employees so we don’t have to ask.