how to make your workplace more trans and non-binary affirming: an ally’s guide

hello, beloved ones. in a prior blog post, i detailed tips and tools for trans and/or non-binary people to use to make their workplaces more affirming. as a complement to that, i wanted to create something for cis folks out there. we need y’all to do the work too — both beside us and in spaces where you don’t know we’re present (but we probably are). you’ve got the privilege here, make it work for us. liberation’s gotta be collective, friends.

trans and/or non-binary folks, i hope this is a guide that you can give to your coworkers so that you don’t have to do all the work to educate them on how to help you as you move through your own process or hand off the process to them. if you think i’ve missed anything at the end of this, please please let me know in the comments.

understand what the ally/accomplice role is

you are not a savior. you aren’t coming in to save a population. you absolutely cannot view yourself this way — consciously or subconsciously — and be effective at the work i’m about to ask you to do. you are a disciple of trans and non-binary wisdom. humility and steadfastness are your greatest assets.

take time to imagine in detail what it looks like for you to be a humble and steadfast disciple as you work to make your workplace more affirming. imagine it until embodying it feels natural, but don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you’ve rooted out everything in you that wants to swoop in and be the big hero. that idea of yourself will sneak up on you if you aren’t vigilant, because we’ve been taught all our lives that justice is about individual acts of heroism. that isn’t true. it’s about community effort and collective care. you are a part of a whole — and trust me, once you truly live into that, it’s a much more fulfilling way to live than taking on injustice as a solo mission.

educate yourself

if you need help imagining humble and steadfast discipleship, start with positioning yourself as a learner in relation to trans and/or non-binary folks, particularly trans and/or non-binary people of color and deeply listening to what they ask of you. to do so, you may ask some trans and/or non-binary friends you have how you can be on their side or you may just go on twitter or facebook or elsewhere on the internet and see what’s being asked for publicly.

be mindful that asking trans and/or non-binary folks for their wisdom directly is asking them to do labor for you. offer to pay them for their time and expertise or to take them out to eat or to donate to a cause/person/organization that they request or offer to do labor for them. make the exchange mutual in whichever way works for you both/all.

here are a couple articles that delineate some of the basics of allyship and/or accompliceship:

for foundational educational materials about transness and trans people, check out the “for teaching trans 101 to cis folks” tab on the trans resources spreadsheet i curate. follow that up by going through the “resources for allies/accomplices” tab at the end.

get anti-racist training

cissexism (transphobia by a more apt name) is a product of white supremacy, of colonialism. indigenous cultures the world over had and have many varied gender paradigms that differ from the model of a gender binary that colonialism established as a hegemony. cissexism is racist; to rid a space of one of these axes of oppression, you must rid the space of both.

as i am a white person, i do not believe it is my place to speak to how people of color choose to engage in anti-racism work, so i’m going to speak to just my fellow white folks momentarily: if you’re white, you must demand that your organization perform an anti-racist audit of the organization, take the necessary steps to right the wrongs that audit reveals, and invest in continual agency-wide anti-racist training. in the seattle area, organizations like The Non-Profit Anti-Racism Coalition (for non-profits), Families of Color Seattle (for educational organizations), and The People’s Institute Northwest can help you with this.

(i have not personally worked with any of these organizations and would welcome any firsthand feedback about them. they are orgs i’ve learned about from an intensive but not exhaustive internet search.)

pursue anti-racism training and education individually as well. Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist is an excellent place to start.

assess your workplace for trans and non-binary friendliness

here are some quick questions to get you started on understanding what your workplace may lack when it comes to being affirming of trans and non-binary people:

  • are there easy to access gender-neutral bathrooms?
  • are folks encouraged to put their pronouns in their email signatures or on their name tags or in other relevant places? it’s not cool to make people display their pronouns publicly, because requiring it can put some trans folks at risk, but doing so should be an accepted part of organizational culture.
  • do your coworkers struggle to use the correct pronouns for someone? is anyone intentionally using the wrong pronouns for someone?
  • does your workplace hold regular cultural competency trainings on trans identity? are those trainings led by trans people? do the trainers include trans people of color?
  • does your workplace have a written policy for employees transitioning on the job?
  • does your employer health insurance cover medical transition costs?

i’m going to include here some common scenarios of where workplaces lack trans affirmation and ideas for what you’ll want to ask your employer to do to address them that i mentioned in my previous post. if you’re working with trans and/or non-binary folks as you move to improve your workplace, defer to their assessment of their needs and how they should be met.

if there isn’t an easy to access gender neutral bathroom, facility changes should be made. this can be as simple as changing the signs on the restrooms. (here’s an all-gender restroom sign that may serve you. do NOT spend your own money on it; it’s your employer’s responsibility. make them do it.)

is someone intentionally misgendering someone? that’s harassment. you’ll want to check in with the person being harassed about what you can do to help. they may be worried about retaliation, so please don’t act on what you’ve witnessed in a way that will put them at risk. if you’re in the seattle area, you can let them know that the lavender rights project is available as a legal resource for them. you can also craft a plan for going to HR about the harassment together. if your place of work is unionized, bring the union in on it as well.

if the misgendering is unintentional, your coworkers might just need more education. i created a guide to non-binary pronouns, with accompanying resources that might be useful to you. run it by any coworkers you have who use non-binary pronouns and if they find it suitable, ask your employer to pass that around. alternatively, ask your employer to set up a cultural competency training on pronouns. i’ll give you resources for cultural competency trainings below.

does your workplace lack a transition policy? tell them to craft one with the input of trans employees, if such employees are out as trans and are willing. if there aren’t any such employees, hire at least two trans people with this expertise to do this work with trans people of color making up half or more of the number of people you bring in. the procedure your workplace will use to work with employees who transition on the job must exist in writing. i’ll give you examples of such policies a couple steps below.

facility changes, cultural competency trainings, and written policies are the most common asks in my experience of trans justice issues in the workplace. while you may not be dealing with the issues specifically mentioned above, those are likely to be among your asks.

offer yourself as an ally

probably don’t come up to someone and say “i want to be an ally to you.” in addition to being pretentious, that puts the onus of figuring out how you can be helpful on the person you’re talking to. i promise that they’re already doing a ton of emotional labor that they shouldn’t have had to be responsible for in the first place — they don’t need to do yours, too.

instead, offer specific help. if you’ve noticed someone being misgendered, say so. ask if they want you to correct folks when that happens or if they’d like back up in going to management about dealing with it. if you know there is no gender neutral bathroom for your agender colleague, tell them you’re willing to push for that to change with them — or on your own so they aren’t unduly burdened. if a trans person at your workplace is fighting to get cultural competency trainings to happen at your workplace, support them vocally and persistently.

if you approach your trans and/or non-binary colleagues about these issues and they ask you not to move forward in dealing with them, do as asked. they may be worried about their safety if attention is brought to these issues. if you approach multiple folks and their responses are divided, use your best judgement while being sure to remember that you are a disciple, not a savior. you may still move forward with helping those who are seeking change, but do so with humility.

if you have coworkers who are trans and/or non-binary, but who do not wish to be burdened with this work, move forward only with their blessing. remember to stay open to their level of involvement changing over time. seek always to defer.

find allies

this section will describe what to do about increasing your leverage through use of more voices if you are given your trans and/or non-binary coworker’s blessing to move forward without them or if you don’t have any out trans and/or non-binary coworkers to partner with. to tweak these next steps to follow if you are partnered with trans and/or non-binary coworkers, simply remember to check in with them before taking any of these steps and to defer to then as you go.

if your place of work is unionized, go to your union delegate. your union has more power than you individually to force management to make change. the steps your workplace needs to take to become trans affirming can be made part of contract negotiations (suggest this to your union if your union doesn’t suggest it to you).

if your place of work is not unionized or if your union is unsupportive, find coworkers who you believe will be supportive individually. is there someone with a trans and/or non-binary loved one who they speak about with respect and deference to their wisdom? someone who understands trans justice issues? someone who understands other justice issues who you believe can be educated in trans justice?

approach these folks. start with the person who you trust the most. explain what needs are going unmet in the workplace. ask if they’re willing to come together with you to seek trans and non-binary wisdom in figuring out how to address those needs and then to come forward to management with you to address those unmet needs in the ways you’ve learned about.

if you can find an ally in the management staff, all the better for you, but be cautious in approaching management for this purpose. hierarchical structures are not built with the humanity of those in the lowest tiers in mind.

two things to remember about these conversations:

  • they can take place over the course of days or weeks. you don’t need to try to fit this all into one convo. you can move at the speed of trust, as adrienne maree brown says. if you’re new to your workplace, you probably need to get a feel for where your coworkers are at on these issues over the course of time. if you’ve been at your workplace for a while, you may know exactly who is willing to fight for what.
  • you should be actively listening to and intentionally asking about the needs of your coworkers’ that are going unmet in the workplace as you converse. you should be on each other’s teams on these issues; mutuality is important morally and tactically.

get info

our culture is big on precedent. this is obnoxious because change by nature demands a lack of precedence and because the precedent for how trans and non-binary people are treated in our culture is shitty. i have many angry words to say about how evil perpetuates itself in this paradigm, but i don’t have the emotional capacity to write it all for you. the long and short of it is that your workplace will want to follow in the footsteps of something else. it’s your task at this stage to give them the footsteps to follow.

i have given a workplace the following footsteps regarding policy changes:

always keep in mind that none of those guides are perfect and that our understanding of trans justice is ever-evolving. you have to remain dedicated to discipleship and open to new information.

i’ve collected some other guides as well over the months i’ve been doing this and they’re all listed on the trans resource spreadsheet i curate. i especially encourage you to study and utilize the one that is non-binary specific as many guides fall shortest when it comes to handling non-binary identities.

if you are working with trans and/or non-binary coworkers, accept the resources they present to you or, if they desire your help in attaining resources, present these resources to them and allow them to tell you which resources they want to use moving forward. in fact, in addition to presenting these guides to them, please share with them my blog post written for trans and non-binary folks on this topic — again, if they’re open to receiving resources from you.

insist to your employer that trans folks be a part of crafting whatever policies you are asking your employer to create, reminding them that it would be immoral and ineffectual to not center trans voices. if those voices can’t be found from within — either because there are no out trans people employed in your workplace or because those folks do not want to take on this burden — hire at least two trans and/or non-binary people to partner in this work, making sure that at least one of them is a person of color and that both of them have expertise in this area. truly, a panel of trans and/or non-binary folks with a majority of people of color on it works best. you want to be sure that you are especially centering the wisdom and experience of Black trans and/or non-binary folks.

if cultural competency trainings are what your workplace needs and you are in the seattle area, ingersoll gender center provides them. if you’re outside of the seattle area, prompt your workplace to approach sylveon, a company co-founded by Tuck Woodstock, the host of the podcast gender reveal (which happens to be an extremely useful tool for educating yourself as a disciple of trans and non-binary wisdom). explicitly state to your employer that cultural competency trainings must take place periodically: they are not a one-and-done deal. in addition to being held organization-wide periodically, they should be a part of the onboarding process for all new employees.

present your info to management

if you’re working with a union, they’ll be able to tell you the most effective venue for approaching management. they should be able to back you up in your requests in some way, either by including them in contract negotiations or by making them a part of regular dealings they have with management. follow their lead when it seems right to do so, but remember to defer to the judgement of any trans and/or non-binary coworkers you’re working with if they disagree with the union’s tactics or suggest others.

if you’re not working with a union, this is the time when any trans and/or non-binary folks you’re working with will put their presentation of needs and their solutions to meeting those needs in writing. defer to their judgement on how you should help them do this. they may want you to handle it. they may want you to read it over for them. they may want you to sign off on it.

if you aren’t working with any trans and/or non-binary folks, you must put a presentation of needs you see going unmet and the solutions to those needs that you’ve crafted with trans and non-binary wisdom guiding you. it is always good practice to have a paper trail. my suggestion is to send an email outlining the issues and the solutions with links and attachments to the relevant info.

this email is probably best sent to HR, but don’t be afraid to hold HR accountable by sending it to others in leadership as well. your direct supervisor might also be someone you want to send it to and if you have any allies in management, definitely include them on the email. ask your non-management allies if they want/are willing to be included in this email in any way. you can cc folks or bcc them as appropriate.

this will likely progress to a face-to-face conversation with management, probably HR. do your best to not have those conversations alone. bring a union rep or another ally along with you. take notes — paper trails remain important, so be sure to date your notes and jot down who you’re speaking with. bring printed versions of the resources you sent if you are able.

make change

it’s likely that these conversations with management persist over the course of your employment. monitor the work they do to make sure it’s truly meeting the needs you or your coworkers have identified. if what they’re doing isn’t working, prompt them to iterate. keep a paper trail throughout the process, saving emails and notes. remember to continually seek out and defer to trans and non-binary wisdom on these matters as you go through the process. let any new trans and/or non-binary employees who come onboard during this process in on what’s going on and defer to their judgement if they offer it. center their voices and their needs.

(if you are trans and/or non-binary and you see something i’ve missed in this guide, please let me know in the comments! or email me at kymagdalene@gmail.com.)

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.

tips and tools for making your workplace affirming of your trans and/or non-binary identity

hey loved ones. being employed sucks and it sucks worse now and it sucks even worse when your employer isn’t trans and/or non-binary affirming like they should be. i want all the spaces in your life to be safe and affirming, especially now, so i’ve put together some tips and resources from my own experience in moving employers towards being trans and non-binary affirming and inclusive.

i want to acknowledge here that people of marginalized identities are never under any obligation to educate the people of identities that are privileged over their own. i in no way mean to imply otherwise and i don’t want anyone to read this and feel burdened by it. you are free to take or leave these tools as you see fit. i just want to make sure you have them.

i’ve broken the process down in the chronological order i would use moving forward with what i’ve learned from doing this. you may find that a different order works for you and that’s totally valid.

this post has been updated with an anti-racism section. i have learned a lot in the past month about anti-racism and hope to move forward on this blog with an ever-better anti-racism lens.

know that this can be a large and long task

it’s been really important in my life to manage my expectations before beginning a project. working to make your employer more trans affirming may take months, even though you know it should take days. don’t get me wrong — you are absolutely right; it should take days. and it could: all the bureaucratic reasons your workplace is going to give you about how it will take time are bullshit. some of the people giving you those reasons will know it’s bullshit. i want you to know that going in.

i encourage you to sit with this knowledge for a time before moving forward. here are some things i suggest thinking over during this process:

  • assess your capacity:
    • do you have the mental and emotional bandwidth to do this? maybe you just came out to unaffirming family members and you’re busy grieving or working to educate them. maybe you’re dealing with other workplace stress. maybe it’s a pandemic. these things might drive you to do this work, but they might also mean you need to put it off for your well-being.
    • do you have the time to educate your coworkers? do you have the time to educate your managers (they’re likely to be much harder to educate)? i urge you to do this labor on company time. do your research on company time — read this blog post on company time. you’re working to improve your workplace in ways your higher-ups should have already done and it is morally wrong for you not to get paid for that. i understand if you don’t feel that you can, but please if you can, do.
  • make a plan for how you’ll take care of yourself as you do work that is highly personal and closely tied to your well-being over an extended period of time:
    • set boundaries. this can include that you’ll only work on this during work hours (that’s what i do). it can include a point at which you’ll no longer do this work. it can include a rule that you’ll only work on this on a specific day or for a set number of hours per week. remember: boundaries are allowed to change over time. feel into what you need as you go.
    • prioritize rest. you will need time to decompress from this and to refortify yourself for continuing. remember: rest is multi-faceted. it includes sleep, time spent with others socially, time spent venting about this to someone who supports you, time spent doing something you enjoy, and other things that you either already know you need or will learn as you go.

get anti-racist training

cissexism (transphobia by a more apt name) is a product of white supremacy, of colonialism. indigenous cultures the world over had and have many varied gender paradigms that differ from the model of a gender binary that colonialism established as a hegemony. cissexism is racist; to rid a space of one of these axes of oppression, you must rid the space of both.

as i am a white person, i do not believe it is my place to speak to how people of color choose to engage in anti-racism work, so i’m going to speak to just my fellow white folks momentarily: if you’re white, you must demand that your organization perform an anti-racist audit of the organization, take the necessary steps to right the wrongs that audit reveals, and invest in continual agency-wide anti-racist training. in the seattle area, organizations like The Non-Profit Anti-Racism Coalition (for non-profits), Families of Color Seattle (for educational organizations), and The People’s Institute Northwest can help you with this.

(i have not personally worked with any of these organizations and would welcome any firsthand feedback about them. they are orgs i’ve learned about from an intensive but not exhaustive internet search.)

pursue anti-racism training and education individually as well. Ibram X. Kendi’s book How to Be an Anti-Racist is an excellent place to start.

assess your needs

what needs of yours are going unmet in your workplace? what you’ll ask your employer to do depends on the answers to this question. i’ll pose some potential problems and ideas about what to ask your employer to do to remedy them below:

do you have a bathroom to use that you feel comfortable in and which matches your gender identity or lack thereof? if not, facility changes need to be made. this can be as simple as changing the signs on the restrooms. (here’s an all-gender restroom sign that may serve you. do NOT spend your own money on it; it’s your employer’s responsibility. make them do it.)

are people getting your pronouns right? if not, is it intentional? if it is intentional, that’s harassment. you may need legal help (in seattle, try the lavender rights project for such help). if it is unintentional, your team might just need more education. i created a guide to non-binary pronouns, with accompanying resources that might be useful to you. you may ask your employer to pass that around or to set up a cultural competency training. i’ll give you resources for cultural competency trainings below.

does your workplace lack a transition policy? tell them to craft one with your input and that of other trans employees, if they exist and are willing. the procedure your workplace will use to work with employees who transition on the job should exist in writing. i’ll give you examples of such policies a couple steps below.

facility changes, cultural competency trainings, and written policies are the most common asks in my experience of trans justice issues in the workplace. while you may not be dealing with the issues specifically mentioned above, those are likely to be among your asks.

find allies

allies increase your bandwidth and give you more leverage. if your place of work is unionized, go to your union delegate. your union has more power than you individually to force management to make change. the steps your workplace needs to take to become trans affirming can be made part of contract negotiations (suggest this to your union if your union doesn’t suggest it to you).

if your place of work is not unionized or if your union is unsupportive, find coworkers who’ve been supportive individually. is there someone who’s always gotten your pronouns right or who is genuinely trying really hard to? someone who understands trans justice issues? someone who is trans and/or non-binary themself?

approach these folks. start with the person who you trust the most. explain what needs of yours are going unmet in the workplace. ask if they’re willing to come forward to management with you to address those unmet needs in the ways you specify.

if you can find an ally in the management staff, all the better for you, but be cautious in approaching management. hierarchical structures are not built with the humanity of those in the lowest tiers in mind.

two things to remember about these conversations:

  • they can take place over the course of days or weeks. you don’t need to try to fit this all into one convo. you can move at the speed of trust, as adrienne maree brown says. if you’re new to your workplace, you probably need to get a feel for where your coworkers are at on these issues over the course of time. if you’ve been at your workplace for a while, you may know exactly who is willing to fight for what.
  • you should be actively listening to and intentionally asking about the needs of your cowokers’ that are going unmet in the workplace as you converse. you should be on each other’s teams on these issues; mutuality is important morally and tactically.

get info

our culture is big on precedent. this is obnoxious because change by nature demands a lack of precedence and because the precedent for how trans and non-binary people are treated in our culture is shitty. i have many angry words to say about how evil perpetuates itself in this paradigm, but you get it. the long and short of it is that your workplace will want to follow in the footsteps of something else. it’s your task at this stage to give them the footsteps to follow.

i have given a workplace the following footsteps regarding policy changes:

none of those guides are perfect. i wish they were and have considered making such a guide myself. (if you’d like me to, let me know in the comments!) you’ll want to insist to your employer than trans folks be a part of crafting whatever policies you are asking them to create, reminding them that it would be immoral and ineffectual to not center trans voices.

i’ve collected some other guides as well over the months i’ve been doing this and they’re all listed on the trans resource spreadsheet i curate. you might find the one which is non-binary specific to be useful as many guides fall shortest when it comes to handling non-binary identities.

if cultural competency trainings are what your workplace needs and you are in the seattle area, ingersoll gender center provides them. if you’re outside of the seattle area, prompt your workplace to approach sylveon, a company co-founded by the host of the podcast gender reveal that i talk about non-stop. i highly suggest explicitly stating to your employer that cultural competency trainings should take place periodically: they are not a one-and-done deal. they should also be a part of the onboarding process for all new employees.

if you find yourself in a position to do the training yourself (which you should never be or feel obligated to do, but which i support you in if that decision is right for you), check out the teaching transgender toolkit. it’s the tool i’ve been using to train myself in training others. it has detailed walk-throughs and accompanying resources for holding specific trainings and is addressed to folks with no prior facilitating experience.

if you need other educational materials, try the “for teaching trans 101 to cis folks” tab on the trans resources spreadsheet.

present your info to management

if you’re working with a union, they’ll be able to tell you the most effective venue for approaching management. they should be able to back you up in your asks in some way, either by including them in contract negotiations or by making them a part of regular dealings they have with management. follow their lead when it seems right to do so, but don’t be afraid to suggest other tactics.

if you’re not working with a union, put your presentation of needs and your solutions to meeting those needs in writing. it is always good practice to have a paper trail. my suggestion is to send an email outlining the issues and the solutions with links and attachments to the relevant info. this email is probably best sent to HR, but don’t be afraid to hold HR accountable by sending it to others in leadership as well. your direct supervisor might also be someone you want to send it to and if you have any allies in management, definitely include them on the email. ask your non-management allies if they want/are willing to be included in this email in any way. you can cc folks or bcc them as appropriate.

this will likely progress to a face-to-face conversation with management, probably HR. do your best to not have those conversations alone. bring a union rep or another ally along with you. take notes — paper trails remain important, so be sure to date your notes and jot down who you’re speaking with. bring printed versions of the resources you sent if you are able.

make change

it’s likely that these conversations with management persist over the course of your employment. monitor the work they do to make sure it’s truly meeting your needs. if what they’re doing isn’t working, prompt them to iterate. keep a paper trail throughout the process, saving emails and notes.

remember always that your needs are valid and important and should be attended to as such. you are always right to advocate for yourself.

if you have any other tips about how to go through the process of making your workplace trans and non-binary affirming or if you have resources regarding doing so, please leave them in the comments!

want to support this project? become a patron at patreon.com/kymagdalene. or toss me money for a thai tea on venmo, @Ky-Magdalene.