Today I want to take a closer look at how we can work together to build gender-expansive workplaces and ensure trans and nonbinary siblings are safe, affirmed, and celebrated at work.
In my work, a deep anxiety emerges when leaders embark on the journey to build workplaces that embrace, honor and celebrate the humanity of folks who are gender-diverse. I use the term gender-diverse to encompass trans, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender-variant and intersex people but I acknowledge that labels and boxes within the conversation of gender is kinda sorta paradoxical. The truth about gender is that it represents a broad multi-verse of ways we know, feel, define and express ourselves combined with the ways that our knowings, feelings and definitions interact with and bounce off of our everyday experiences.
Ok but back to anxiety. It’s very easy to understand that individuals should be able to use a restroom that aligns with their gender or that normalizing pronoun use is a baseline act of respect and inclusion that should have been standardized a long time ago. On the other hand, we consciously and unconsciously realize that in the process of opening these conversations we are not only challenging and defying very deep and very serious societal rules but we are also challenging the people who knowingly and unknowingly wrote the rules, enforced the rules and benefited from the rules. There’s an entire concrete pillar in the foundation of our lives that has “GENDER NORMS” stamped into it and for many leaders, if you even take one swing at this pillar, the whole house might come crashing down.
To be more specific, gender has always been about social, political and economic control. White, European nations, in their quest to prove with a deadly certainty that the white race was superior to all other races, introduced a number of “scientific” theories claiming that concrete sex and gender differences were hallmarks of more developed races, having moved past their animiaistic and barbaric roots. Other races that celebrated and uplifted different ideas about gender were then of course subhuman and less evolved. In 1886, German sexologist Krafft-Ebbing wrote: “The higher the development of the race, the stronger the contrasts between man and woman.” And in 1897, William Thomas echoed: “the less civilized the race the less is the physical differences of the sexes.” In short, gender binary = good. Gender expansiveness = bad.
Do you think it’s a coincidence that numerous African and Indigenous acknowledged much more gender expansive truths? Or that many of these cultures honored and uplifted queer and two-spirit (the term most used by indigenous cultures to describe LGBTQ individuals) folks? The gender binary was inextricably tied to the framework of white supremacy that said white is good, pure, civilized and advanced and any other color was primitive, barbaric, subhuman and in need of correction. Under these rules, only white people–and white men, specifically–were deserving of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Everyone else was fair game for subjugation, slavery and genocide. These forces are alive and well today which brings me back to the anxiety…
Challenging an entire global power structure with your pronouns policy should feel a little scary! You are quite literally helping to chart a new path forward for humanity, or rather a return to truths about humanity that BIPOC cultures have been acknowledging since time immemorial.
Sheesh! So if you’re reading this you probably didn’t have much control over how we got here but you are wondering what your responsibility is moving forward. I am happy you are having these thoughts because the issue of developing gender expansive workplaces–where all people can be free of the limitations and subjugation of the gender binary–is incredibly urgent and important if we are to move society in a more just direction.
So here are that ways you can both honor your own gender diversity and promote a workplace where gender-diverse individuals can thrive:
All of this will first require that you and your organization ask the question: WTF Gender?
Acknowledging our current societal rules around gender, how they were adopted and how your organization reflects them is a key step before you move to policy and system change conversations. Most of us have never thought about our gender or how it formed in any serious way, and that’s ok. But your freedom, the freedom of gender diverse peoples and the vision we all share of a world where we can freely express and honor our own truth depends on us picking up the shovel, and starting to excavate four hundred years of a failed and deadly philosophy around gender.
Want more great facts, tips and strategies to become a super strong gender inclusion advocate? Check out these great leaders and resources!