Q&A from Supporting Trans Library Employees, Part 2
Updated: Jun 18, 2020
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)
Names and such
Q: I'm a nonbinary librarian applying for jobs. My name of use differs from my legal name. Is it okay to send materials with my name of use & not my legal name? What is the best practice around this for applying to jobs?
A: Yes! This is something I was also unsure about, but you can put whatever name you want on most of your materials and share your legal name only if they need it for a background check and/or when you get hired (and only then for payroll and insurance). If you’re worried about it, you might put a note with your application (probably not actually in a cover letter or anything, but in an email if you send materials that way) mentioning that they should let you know if they need your legal name at some point.
(not A) Q: The HR person at my library was very kind and thoughtful about how she handled it with me. We have stickies with our remaining PTO on our pay envelopes and she put it ON TOP of the plastic window instead of in a corner. It was super nice! <3
(not an) A: I love this. It’s a really good example of ways that individuals can support and protect trans employees even if the systems aren’t in place to do so.
Q: In Canada the name on the Social Insurance Card is the legal name employers must use for payroll and T4 (tax), so we cannot set them up using preferred name - this is similar to other legal name changes such as marriage or divorce. How do we navigate this with the employee?
A: Have two name fields for employees: legal name (to be used only when absolutely necessary, e.g. payroll) and name of use (to be used everywhere else). Just because you need the legal name in some places does not mean you have to use it for everything.
Q: This may or may not be applicable to libraries, but what is a respectful way to request to see someone's government issued ID if it is required for them to prove their identity for whatever reason?
A: Make sure to only ask when you absolutely need it. In those cases, be clear about why you are asking, how the information will be used, and who will see it. If the name and/or gender marker is different from what the person goes by, don’t comment. If it’s someone you don’t know, do not call them by the name on the ID unless they have confirmed that they go by it (I’ve seen this happen a lot in some service positions, where I think some people are trained to call people by the name on the ID because it’s assumed to be polite). Be aware that you may be forcing them to out themself to you and that is often a horrible thing to have to go through (especially if they don't know how you'll react, because many people are awful); they’ll understand that you have to ask, but make it as painless as possible.
Q: What is the best way to address a business letter so as not to assume gender identity? Use first and last name or M. instead of Ms. or Mr.? For example, Dear John Jones or Dear M. Jones.
A: Some people use Mx. as a gender neutral variant, but in general, don’t use Mr./Ms./etc. at all unless you know that someone prefers that. First and last name is okay; first initial and last name is better because it’s less jarring to people if the name isn’t one they use. So “Dear S. Krueger,” or just omit the name completely and use a generic greeting (I like “Salutations!” myself).
Q: I'm trans, and a manager -- do you have tips for navigating bringing up the importance of this training, if others aren't doing it, without resorting to doing all of the work alone?
A: Oh, friend. This is a shining example of how important it is for cis folks to do this work -- we end up doing it because taking on the labor is less bad than not having it done at all, and that’s not an okay situation to force someone into. I don’t have great answers (if anybody has found a successful method, please let me know), but a few ideas: 1. Build on existing broader EDI initiatives, if there are any; reach out to the people leading them and suggest trans-specific content, or find out how they are set up/staffed/funded. 2. If you have a person or resource list or something devoted to staff development, suggest materials about this topic (this may be especially relevant now, when a lot of places are looking for development that people can do from home). 3. For demonstrating importance, point to nondiscrimination statements/policies/professional guidelines that can be used to show that this is part of library work. Know that I’m not actually very satisfied with any of these suggestions; the real answer is that it shouldn’t be your job to make this happen, and I hope anyone else reading this takes that to heart.
Q: You mention making trans inclusion trainings mandatory. Could this be uncomfortable for trans workers to attend these workshops where coworkers may be learning and making mistakes? Is there any way to balance that for trans folks? Anything others can do to help?
A: While I see the concern, I don’t think it should change anything for a number of reasons. For one thing, trans people aren’t automatically experts on gender identity/best practices/all genders, so a trans employee might need the training just as much as anyone else. We make mistakes too! Conversely, plenty of cisgender people are very knowledgable about all of this, so a Trans 101 training would be review for them. For my part, I would much rather see coworkers making mistakes and learning than not having any opportunities or encouragement to learn at all. You can help by making sure that trans employees aren’t pressured to share their own thoughts or experiences during or after trainings.
Q: I know that trans employees are in my library - I work with several of them! I like the idea of some kind of mandatory inclusion training - but given limited resources and funding, we may not be able to do it. But we could combine trans inclusion with a more general approach to inclusion and make that mandatory. But will that dilute the content too much, in your opinion?
A: I think that’s a great place to start, especially if you can’t do trans-specific training right now. Any content is better than none, and you can always expand to cover more specific in-depth information if the resources become available later. I wouldn’t worry about diluting the content; you won’t go as in-depth about specific identities, but just introducing the concepts is progress for a lot of people.
Q: What if a trans person volunteers to educate others?
A: As long as they are actually volunteering, that’s completely fine. Plenty of us do find this work interesting and enjoyable. I personally wouldn’t want to lead a training for my coworkers, but other people might be perfectly comfortable with that. Just make sure that other options are provided, so that the person isn’t volunteering because the work won’t happen at all if they don’t take it on (see the first question in this section). For example, if an employee offers to lead a Trans 101 workshop for their coworkers, ask if they’d prefer you to look into bringing someone in; that way they can choose to do it if they want but will know that it’s happening either way.
Q: Have you done trans trainings in your own institutions? If so, how has it gone?
A: I haven’t done any at my own workplaces. Usually I’m the only trans person I know about in the workplace, and there’s no way to make it not feel like I’m asking them to learn about my own identity. I could also envision people hesitating to ask a coworker questions that expose ignorance or seem sensitive. I think that sometimes people take external speakers more seriously, as they’re not used to hearing the person talk about the content regularly as they might be with a coworker. I have gone to other institutions and done trans inclusion workshops for their library staff, which has gone very well; I really enjoy tailoring the content to a specific place so we can go into relevant details about their systems and spaces.
Q: I struggle with the idea of wanting to educate my staff, but also not wanting to speak for a group of people I am not part of. Any suggestions for walking that fine line of educating staff without potentially making any transgender or nonbinary staff feel like I am trying to speak for/over them?
A: There are two parts to this one. First, concerning cisgender people educating about trans identities, that’s not a dealbreaker; if you know about the content, there is nothing wrong with a cis person leading a trans inclusion training, especially something as basic as Trans 101 (and if you don’t have that knowledge, you shouldn’t be taking the lead on the content anyway). This isn’t speaking over trans people (unless there is someone else there who is qualified and wants to deliver the material); on the contrary, your trans employees shouldn’t be expected to educate their coworkers about their identities. The other part of this question is educating your own staff, which can be tricky for some of the reasons in the previous question (people may not feel comfortable exposing ignorance or asking sensitive questions to a coworker the way they might to an external speaker). This might work for you anyway, but think carefully about the dynamics. You can definitely take the lead on setting up workshops, or organize viewings and discussion of existing resources like Reimagining Transgender 'Inclusion' for Libraries or Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Inclusion in Libraries.
Q: Should cis educators run the content by trans coworkers before presenting?
A: I’m assuming this question is about trans inclusion content. With just the information here, please do not do this. Asking people for feedback purely because they’re the only trans people you know (or the only ones you think you know) is really problematic because it puts the labor on them. As previously mentioned, they may not have the knowledge you need anyway. When looking for expertise, go by work/experience/scholarship rather than identity. If your trans coworker is also head of your EDI committee, or if you know that they have interest and knowledge about the topic and are comfortable talking about it at work, go for it, but you should be approaching them for those reasons and not just because they are trans. And always lead by asking someone if they are willing and comfortable helping so that they can opt out if they don’t want to (or just don’t have time).