9

I work with a group of developers in a company having about 1000 employees. A transgender person who identifies herself as a woman has joined our team.

  • She gets upset when we use masculine pronouns (such as "he") to address her, which we obviously do out of habit.
  • She also insists on using the ladies toilet, which makes our female coworker uncomfortable.

Taking this to HR is extremely delicate, as they might think we just don't like LGBT people. While we don't want to discriminate against a transgender person, her needs cause issues for us.

How should we handle this situation?

  • 1
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 12 '18 at 13:50
  • 1
    Location? In the USA it looks like it won't be an issue soon, as there legally won't be any trans-people, so presumably your colleague will simply vanish in a puff of smoke, thus resolving any issues. – Mawg Oct 26 '18 at 6:26
66

If a person changes their name from "Jake" to "Richard" then they expect to be called "Richard" from then on. If you insist on calling this person "Jake" because he's just "a Jake pretending to be a Richard" then that would be considered quite rude.

You may not understand the reasons for the name change or think they're silly, but it's their name. Not yours. You don't need to understand it.

Of course, few people will get angry if you accidentally call them "Jake" out of habit, especially not if you appear to be making an effort in calling them "Richard", but the language of your original posts (before it was edited) suggests you're not making much of an effort: you use "he" consistently, and you say this is "a man who pretends to be a woman".

I'll be clear, I don't fully understand transgender people either, but that doesn't mean I won't accept them as the person they are. Sometimes you just need to shrug it off.

Clearly there is already an adversarial situation. My suggestion would be for you and your team to take a deep breath, accept that this person is different from you in ways you don't understand (or even like), and simply use "her" consistently. It's the polite and professional thing to do.

It would also help if you would actually talk to this person – possible with someone from HR present – about how she feels about this. It can be easy to forget other people's emotions when you're involved in a conflict.

As for the other issues (bathroom, "unnatural chitchat"), talk to her. Talk to HR. Find a solution you can both live with.

46

(For clarity, the question has been significantly edited from its original version, both before and after I wrote the reply below.)

We've been assigned to work with a man who considers themselves to be a woman.

Polite terminology here is "a transgender woman".

She's making some weird demands, such as getting upset whenever we use the pronoun "he" (which we obviously do out of habit, I mean, what are we supposed to do, change our instincts over night?)

Speaking from experience (plenty of trans friends, have screwed up their pronouns more than once): trans people are usually understanding of and patient with people who are making a bona fide effort to adapt to a change in pronouns. I've never had anybody jump down my throat for accidentally using the wrong pronouns.

The key words there are "make an effort" and "accidentally". If it looks like you're not trying, that's a whole different interaction, and getting people's pronouns wrong will give offense.

From the original version of your post, it's very clear that you do not respect your transgender co-worker, you do not accept her as female, and that calling her "he" is not an accidental slip but a deliberate choice. Claiming it simply as a matter of "habit" is disingenuous; small wonder that she isn't buying it.

and she also demands to use the ladies toilet, which makes our only female coworker quite uncomfortable. She makes weird noises in the bathroom, she says, and insists on making weird, unnatural chitchat with her about "the boys" (i.e., us...).

How to deal with this situation? We do not want to be discriminatory against an LGBT person,

For the sake of discussion, I will suppose that you are genuine in this last statement. So...

If you had a female co-worker who was not transgender, and another woman complained that she was making "weird noises in the bathroom" and "weird, unnatural chitchat", how would you handle that situation? There are several possible answers, but I doubt anybody would suggest "stop her from using from the ladies' room".

Small-talk is a very cultural thing - e.g. Germany and USA have very different norms about chit-chat, and what's normal to a talkative American might feel "weird and unnatural" to a German. (Or indeed to an autistic person like myself.) But it would be ludicrous to escalate those cultural differences to "ban Chad from the bathroom" levels of drama.

If it's helpful to your other female co-worker, she might think of her transgender colleague as somebody who has been raised and socialised in one culture, has moved to another culture with quite different norms, and is doing her best to fit in but is still learning the ropes. She is probably aware that women tend to talk more in bathrooms than men do, and not yet sure on the difference between "normal female level" and "too much".

(Trans women invariably get slammed either for "not behaving like a real woman", or for "behaving like an exaggerated female stereotype"; there's no middle ground.)

So, handle the situation in the same way you would if it was any other cultural difference. If you choose to handle it differently and more harshly because she's transgender, well, that's pretty much the definition of "discriminatory against a LGBT person".

Obviously taking this to HR is extremely delicate, as their first impression may very well be that we just don't like LGBT people.

That is... certainly a possibility.

I do agree with other posters that HR should, if nothing else, establish clear policies on who gets to use which bathrooms. But you are probably not the appropriate person to be raising that issue with HR. At most, you could let them know that there is an issue - "hi, we have a transgender employee, it would be helpful if you could give some guidance around bathroom use". Anything beyond that is likely to be unhelpful for all concerned.

Beyond that, leave the women's bathroom to those who use it, and address all your co-workers by the name and pronouns they've requested, both in their presence and behind their backs.

  • 11
    +1 for "If you had a female co-worker who was not transgender..." and the following how-to-handle-it argument. – TripeHound May 18 '18 at 15:27
23

How to deal with this situation?

First, you should try your best to address this person with the pronouns they prefer. I know that this may be hard, especially for people that are not used to working with LGBTX people.

Now, regarding the bathroom, I think that this is something that has to be sorted out with management or HR, as you and your coworkers are not in a position to determine how company members should use the bathroom.

The ideal thing would be to have a gender-neutral bathroom, so this person can use it freely and comfortably. But, in case you don't have one, I feel that this situation has to be taken to HR or someone in position of deciding these things.

No need to "be perceived as discriminatory", as this is a valid concern. This situation has to be phrased something like "We need to define the use of our bathrooms for any gender identity" so it is not perceived that way.

  • 2
    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about designated restrooms has been moved to chat. – Monica Cellio May 18 '18 at 19:01
21

How to deal with this situation?

People get to self identify, you get to respect that and act professionally and that's it.

People are tied to their identity. It's literally how they define themselves and it's important to them. Imagine it were their religion or political views if that makes things easier for you.

such as getting upset whenever we use the pronoun "he"

I recommend you apologise for referring to a person in a way they found offensive and to correct yourself, as well as make an effort to improve.

also demands to use the ladies toilet, which makes our only female coworker quite uncomfortable

If your female co-worker is not feeling comfortable or safe in her work environment that's something she should bring up to your HR department since that's something that a company should decide and not you.


As a kind reminder, you don't have to be friends with everyone at your job - if you don't like that person the best thing to do would be to act professionally and also minimize non-professional interaction.

3

There are a few "simple" things at play here.

Professional behavior, inter personal etiquette / relationships and legal framework depending on the country this takes place in.

There is nothing you personally should do, except to - out of personal courtesy - make an honest effort to use the female pronouns.

The female co-worker may have a chat with her about not being as comfortable to have chit chats in the restroom or to talk about the boys in general.

Depending on her personality, this in fact may be true.

In many countries the employer may be obligated to allow a transgender person to use the toilet of their choosing or decides to allow it to avoid appearing discriminatory.

So escalating it to HR would indeed not make sense and create a more unwelcoming work environment.

On a personal level there is someones behavior towards you and others, their interests and opinions and of course the chemistry as they say.

It is perfectly fine if you end up not socializing with each other. Don't blow things out of proportion, these things tend to sort themselves out.

Oh, btw. many people make weird noises on the toilet. As long as it doesn't sound like someone is in actual pain or seems unwell I see no reason to raise a concern.

In professional relationships race, gender, sexuality etc. are of no concern and have no place in becoming issues. What do they bring to the table and how can that support the team or may damage the work are valid professional evaluations of individuals.

In private you may not agree with their personal choices or lifestyle but in free western societies you have no authority to question them. It might not be your cup o' tea and doesn't have to be, said free society allows you to live your life the way you want it as well...so, yay to freedom and personal liberties I guess (8

-3

I think this should be dealt with lightly. This person is going through a difficult period in her life. I would ignore anything you think of as unreasonable, as any difficulty you have adjusting to her, she is having as well, and moreso because she is getting used to the changes in her body, the changes on how people view her and the changes in interpersonal relationships. Please take all of this into account and show some patience when dealing with her.

  • 1
    "This person is going through a difficult period in her life" - That's a broad assumption in my opinion. There are trans people who are living happy and relaxed lives. OP hasn't indicated that there are any changes on the new coworker's behalf in that regard - just that they've been assigned to work with her. – Benjamin Gruenbaum May 18 '18 at 16:03
  • @BenjaminGruenbaum does this person sound happy? You know anyone who went through this? – Tina_Sea May 18 '18 at 17:01
  • I might suggest just saying these are sensitive topics, and a difficult situation. She may not be happy at work, because her coworkers are apparently treating her badly, but who can say about the rest of her life. And as Benjamin noted, there's actually nothing to suggest she's transitioning; all we know is that she wasn't working with the OP and now is, and she probably doesn't "pass" as a woman from the OP's point of view. She may not actually have any changes going on at this point beyond the change of coworkers. – Cascabel May 18 '18 at 18:18
  • 12
    I tend to disagree with "this should be dealt with lightly". HR should have a very, very serious talk with the poster about their attitudes. Things like deliberately using wrong pronouns. "A man who believes he's a woman" is a stone age attitude. – gnasher729 May 19 '18 at 7:52
  • 1
    @gnasher729 Well it's not a stone age attitude though, is it? It's a '90s attitude perhaps, but it's certainly not someone who's stuck centuries in the past. Let's be fair here - the speed with which society is changing is not easy to keep up with. As a parallel: my cannot unlearn the imperial system, and can struggle with the metric system. Equally, I would not expect her to know all the new pronouns and politically correct terminology we've taken on in the last 15 years. – Tim Jun 3 '18 at 15:36

protected by DarkCygnus May 21 '18 at 4:29

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.