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Every job, a different gender
Morris McLennan shares the day-to-day reality of being misgendered at work — and how he makes a game of it to get by.
About the author: Morris McLennan is a writer from Chicago, Illinois. He interns for Fruit Bat Press while working on his upcoming play, debut novel and his Chicago restaurant review zine series.
Lately I’ve been playing a game I call “phone roulette.”
Someone calls the place where I work. I pick up the phone. I have less than a second to decide whether I answer in my woman voice or my man voice.
The woman voice isn’t just higher pitched. The woman voice is more emotional, more accommodating. I play into the secretary fantasy. “How are you today? I am just so happy to help you with that. Oh absolutely! Now you have a fantastic rest of your day.”
The man voice is allowed to speak without performing emotion. There’s no added fake joy, fake excitement, fake compassion. The male voice is allowed to ask, “How can I help?” and resolve the issue. “Thanks, have a good one.”
The other people in the office probably think I’m completely insane.
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I’m not the only trans or gender-nonconforming employee here, but at $20 per hour, I am the highest-paid one. All of our salaried employees are cisgender, while all the gender nonconforming employees work hourly. This isn’t uncommon — a recent study by McKinsey & Company found that cisgender workers earn on average 32% more than transgender workers.
That same study found that transgender adults are twice as likely to be unemployed as cisgender adults, and over half of transgender people are not comfortable being out at work. So I joke and I jest, but in all seriousness, every employer in America should be carefully considering how to improve their workplace for gender-diverse individuals.
At the office, I get a mixed bag of coworkers and managers thinking I’m a man or thinking I’m a woman. I don’t want to correct everyone. I don’t have that kind of energy. I’d rather make a little game out of it.
Asserting my identity at work is just extra labor that wasn’t in the job description.
It’s not all bad. Some people try their best, even if their best is goofy. One former boss was convinced the best way to treat me was as just one of the guys. He would greet me with a “hey bro,” and talk to me often about how much he thought his wife was hot. He talked about his wife to just about any man who would listen. That workplace had locker-room vibes, and I thought it was hilarious that squishy five-foot-four me was allowed in on the bro talk.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, I sometimes have managers who ask me to fit a more feminine role at work. They’re usually less direct about it. I can tell someone wants me to be a Woman Worker because of their veiled comments and unwillingness to treat me as an equal. Once I was informed I could “dress more formally at work,” even though I wore the same business casual suit pants/dress shoes/button-up combo as every other man in the office. What is that supposed to mean, other than that they found it unprofessional that I couldn’t simply be a woman when I was on the clock?
I think it’s unpopular to claim most people still treat women and men differently in the workplace. Many people would like to believe we live in a post-feminist liberal utopia. But because I’m perceived as both a man and a woman — depending on the job and the day — I can tell you that we haven’t reached the utopia just yet.
I also know my response is unpopular. I probably ought to correct everyone who misgenders me. I probably ought to wear a pronoun pin to work. Yes, I know I should just be myself, whatever that means. But at this point, asserting my identity at work is just extra labor that wasn’t in the job description.
I’d rather make a game out of it. I’d rather do silly voices on the office phone.
And hopefully one day, the managers at my future jobs will all be informed enough to create a workplace where gender doesn’t matter as much as it does these days. In my utopian job, everyone introduces themselves with their pronouns and we move on, do our jobs and treat everyone as equals.
Oh, and in my utopian job, I will earn as much money as my cisgender colleagues, too.
Image by Moose Photos via Pexels