From a writer who shares her experiences in the work place who goes by The Working Poor and her blog Grateful but Miserable at Work, found right here on ChicagoNow, is my second guest blogger for this month. Her honesty is refreshing and I admire her willingness to come and ask some difficult questions she struggles with. I know the questions she asks are not uncommon among those outside the trans community.
Help! There's a man in the ladies room! Those were the words that came out of my mouth when I first encountered the transgender person in our office. When I walked into the bathroom and saw him, I freaked! I quickly exited the ladies room and went up to the only other person in the hallway and said that there was a man in the ladies room and asked if I should call the police or not. The building wasn't open to the public, so I thought someone must have let him in here for a reason, but maybe calling the police might be a good idea just in case. Luckily, the person I was speaking with told me that a new person had recently been hired who happened to be transgender.
He (I want to point out here that I'm referring to her as "he" right now, because that's how I saw the person at the time) wasn't wearing clothing that was either feminine or masculine, but there was facial hair and very masculine features, clearly a man. Once I calmed down I realized that she had not exited the bathroom yet. I felt awful. I was thinking that maybe she was afraid to come out because of my reaction. I wanted to go back in to see if she was ok, but I was too afraid.
Over the next few months, I saw her a few times. I was still too embarrassed to say anything and to be honest, I still wasn't ok with having her in the bathroom with me. I wasn't really sure why, but I knew I didn't want to discuss it. However, I did want her to know that I meant no harm and didn't mean to make her feel uncomfortable.
Then I thought, should the company have said something? Would it have made things better or worse if the company made some sort of announcement? It could have saved me from, one being scared to death, and two, looking like a jerk! Did we need to be prepared beforehand? Would she have felt even more self-conscious if she knew that everyone had been sent some memo before her arrival advising us that a transgender person would be joining us and that there was no need for alarm?
I never did figure it out. I also never had an opportunity to talk with her and explain what happened that day in the ladies room or get to know who she was. She left the company not too long after joining. From what I heard, her time there had not been a great experience.
Fast forward more years than I'd ever admit to, and I find myself writing a blog for Chicago Now. I wanted to get to know who the other bloggers were and I found Meggan amongst the group. I immediately wanted to know more about her, remembering how awful my encounter was with the first transgender person I'd met. I was curious about her, confused about why people transition, and inspired by her willingness to put her experience in the public eye and not be afraid, or ashamed of who she is.
When I had an opportunity to speak with her in person, I had to tell her that she's one of the gutsiest people I've ever known! It made me feel like it is possible to be completely open about the things you'd rather keep secret and still survive! And, the chance at writing a guest blog for her gave me an opportunity to ask some questions about the things I didn't understand about transgender people.
There are still some things I don't get. Is it really worth all the hurt that’s sure to follow in changing sexes so that you can either sit or stand when you pee or to wear a bra or not? The inside remains the same no matter what you do with the outside. Maybe I will never truly understand, but I want to make sure that my ignorance about transgender people doesn't cause me to treat them in a way that I would otherwise consider unacceptable, like screaming at the site of a transgender person in a ladies room.
I’ve learned that the state of Illinois allows transgender women to use women’s bathrooms. Honestly, I'm still not excited about the idea, and I’d rather that they not. I know that probably sounds bad, but it's the truth. Still, I hope that I will never react the way I did the first time it happened.
From now on, if I have an opportunity to get to know someone who's different, or who lives their life in a way that is foreign to me, I'll make an effort to get to know who they are so that ignorance and fear doesn't continue to plague my life. After all, it’s the inside that really matters.
I want to thank Meggan for giving me an opportunity to share my thoughts on this topic. And If that woman I met in that ladies room so many years ago should happen to come across this blog, I want her to know that I am sorry.
If you would like to follow Grateful but Miserable at Work and hear more of her work place experiences and tips for survival - you can find her on twitter @ 1working poor