New Identities in Familiar Spaces as Transgender Community Works From Home

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday January 14, 2021

The ability to work remotely has — at least temporarily — lessened some of the challenges some transgender and non-binary people may encounter — such as using restrooms according to their gender identity and contending with transphobic co-workers, among others, according to a feature by The Wall Street Journal.

The multi-faceted profile explores the experiences of three specific people — River Bailey, a 41-year-old software developer who identifies as a trans woman; Fen Slattery, a 31-year-old website consultant who identifies as non-binary; and Kiri Stewart, a 39-year-old graphic designer who identifies as a trans woman. Their experiences are only but a few of the many examples that can probe levels of acceptance and change in the workplace, highlighting the issues trans and non-binary workers continue to face while coming out professionally.

If she hadn't been able to work from her Texas home, Bailey said she wasn't sure she would have come out to her colleagues. Working from home, she says, "gave me the freedom to just be able to exist." Before coming out to co-workers in her software-consulting company in a 2019 Slack message, Bailey reviewed workplace policy on codes of conduct "to make sure that identity and gender expression and things like that were covered."

Bailey said that though human resources tweaked some guidelines based on her feedback, she was still nervous about coming out. However, it helped that she and her colleagues were all working remotely. "I could make a statement that was vulnerable and uncomfortable in the safety of my office here at home, and then I could step away from the computer for a little bit and calm down," Bailey said, adding that her coming out was met with widespread support.

Slattery points to their specific experience of starting testosterone therapy and the anxiety of how co-workers might receive them, saying, "If I had to describe it, imagine going to work when having people hearing you talk and seeing you is immensely painful." As a website consultant, the ability to work from home made it easier on Slattery as they proceeded with transitioning — not only in terms of the physical changes to their body but also scheduling appointments at the courthouse to legally change their name and doctor visits. By interacting with co-workers via Slack, Slattery says, everyone was able to focus on work.

Though she came out as transgender years ago, Stewart says working from her Michigan home has given her the opportunity to learn more about her own identity as a non-binary trans woman. In March, at the start of the pandemic, she continued her work as a graphic designer for a United Methodist church from home. Hired by the church several years ago, Stewart began identifying as a woman in her private life, and five months later came out to co-workers. While her transition generally went well, she had to contend with colleagues' inquiries as to how her androgynous appearance might shift and, if so, how she might dress. Stewart says she didn't know how to respond.

"If you try to be very feminine as a trans woman, you're often seen as a caricature or stereotype, but if you don't try, then you're just seen as a man or as a trans person who isn't trying hard enough," Stewart says. "Working from home lets you remove yourself from the constant struggle of trying to meet those standards and focus on who you are."

Approximately 1.4 million adults in the U.S. adults — about 0.6% of the population — identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute. According to the institute's most recent survey, before the pandemic, transgender adults were more likely than the general U.S. population to be unemployed or have poverty-level income. According to the study, between 2016-2018, "the annual unemployment rate for transgender adults averaged 12.8 percent, whereas the unemployment rate for the U.S. population ranged from 3.9 to 4.9 percent."

The National Center for Transgender Equality reports that bias has resulted in "more than one in four" transgender people losing their jobs, and "more than three-fourths have experienced some form of workplace discrimination." Transgender people such as Aveda Adara have reported being "laughed out of interviews" and intentionally "misgendered by managers, supervisors and employees." To make matters worse, legal rights and protections for the transgender community vary from state to state.

Despite the Trump administration's rolling back of LGBTQ rights and protections — particularly where the transgender community is concerned — there is hope for 2021. President-elect Biden's push toward greater equality, more than 220 LGBTQ candidates celebrating election wins, and greater visibility in Hollywood including recent documentaries such as "Disclosure" and "Transhood," all point toward a promising future for the trans community.

Carol Cochran, a vice president at FlexJobs, says remote working is conducive to more success for underrepresented workers — including LGBTQ, non-white and disabled employees — saying it "gives them at the very least a running chance to let their talent speak first."

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.