Lately, I've been meeting more transgendered (TG) or transsexual people in the workplace– three in the past year, in big-name corporations.
I attended a three-day business meeting recently and met a woman I'll call "Karine". Though she did not acknowledge her transition, a 6 foot 2 inch (190cm) woman with hands the size of table tennis paddles, shoulders like an open car door and a voice unusually baritone suggested I'd just met another.
Over the three days, I made my own transition:
1. Day one: I couldn't stop looking at her, which I noticed and tried to control. Karine was a beauty on a grand scale. How had she achieved that flawless skin, and had she always had full, feminine lips? I thought, If I made the transition to a man, could I do it successfully (in terms of physical presentation)?
2. Day two: I got over my fascination. Karine just became a person. A relaxed, warm, articulate person. As part of a group, we dug into the assigned work; any difference simply evaporated. Well, until she stood up, when I was still awed by her stature.
3. Day three: By the end of the meeting, everything began to blur, gender-wise. I began to see feminine aspects in some of the men. If we tweaked this and that, many women could look quite masculine.
I wondered, are the two labels–male and female– adequate? The more I looked, the more people seem to be on a continuum, the gender-assignment version of the Kinsey Scale. I thought of George Carlin once saying, "It took two people to make me, a male and a female. The male is just the part that shows."
The last frontier: No gender
Some people challenge what they consider the limiting concept of a binary classification, identifying as bi-gender or genderqueer. OK, I get it, but corporate life does not. They are just coming to terms with TG, let alone No-G.
At one office, we worked with an employee who was displeased by the requirement to identify as male or female, and would answer the direct inquiry, "Are you a guy or a girl?" with a surly "Yes" or "Why does it matter?"
Colleagues tried to accommodate, leading to odd exchanges like:
"You can give that FedEx delivery to the person in the blue shirt."
"You mean the guy over there?"
"Yes. I mean no. Uh, yes."
The person allowed colleagues to call him (I use 'him' because of the attire and
bathroom choice) "Dude", which I guess is gender-neutral, because my sons call me that.
Ultimately the HR department assigned Dude to the pile of employees they privately called "problem children", along with the conspiracy theorist who refused to provide his bank account information and a man who was in some sort of witness protection program. Career advancement is not in the cards if you make life miserable for the system.
For TGs, the way is being paved by employees like Karine. For now, bi-gendered people will have an easier time by presenting as one gender or another in the corporate world. Pick one, I don't care. The culture might shift faster than I think, though.
After the meeting wrapped, I hit the health club– you sit so long at these events– and lo, on the treadmill watching Oprah, saw Kimberly Reed, who had been male from birth through college, is now female, and has written and directed an acclaimed documentary about her experience, Prodigal Sons. I can't wait to see it.
I'm grateful that people can live as the person they deeply believe themselves to be.
I'd like to say to Karine, my interest carries no judgment. Sorry if I stare. And could you tell me where you got those fabulous burgundy boots?