How do I "come out" to my new office that my partner is trans?
April 10, 2015 2:03 PM   Subscribe

I (cis het male, 30YO) just joined a new company a month ago, and my partner has asked that I ask my coworkers use preferred pronouns when talking about them. I've not even done this with my closest friends - not sure how to proceed. What do I say? To who? How?

The company: This global company of tens of thousands is in a conservative town and has an older population. However, the company has LGBT-nondiscrimination policies in place, and funds gender reassignment surgery through their health benefits plan. I believe one person on my team is gay, but of course I've not approached them about it. I've got about 12 people on my team total.

My partner: I've known they were trans* and genderqueer since well before we were married. It's been slow and challenging for me to understand, but I totally support and respect them and want to help them have the life they want to have. But we never really talk about what that means for me - and I'm afraid to, because I feel like they are the one who is facing this challenge, and I'm here to support them. And, like I said, it's been a challenge for me and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing or not agreeing/accepting correctly.

But, this is a clear request and I see no reason to not follow it as best I can.

I'm not really sure how to proceed or what it means for me, so I'm hoping for some advice.

1) What do I even say? How does one announce such a thing to the team? I barely know them at all, and I'm afraid that if I went around to everyone 1-on-1 and said "By the way, my partner is trans so please don't talk about my 'wife' or use female pronouns" I would set a really strange first impression - instead of "Here's a guy who works hard" it would be "Here's a guy who's forcing his sex life into the office."

2) I have no idea what the responses will be, and I am afraid of what questions they might have. Specifically, I'm afraid that it would start some sort of conversation about my own sexual orientation which was straight, but obviously that isn't the case any more... i think.

3) I'm worried about what it means to correct people about this - how often? Should I correct VPs, or just my close team? And, what if in six months, they request male pronouns instead - I don't want to turn this into "a thing".

At this time, I do not have any close-enough colleagues I trust to have a private conversation about this.
posted by rebent to Work & Money (50 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Can you clarify what your co-workers know or think right now about your partner? I noticed that you are using "them" and "they" pronouns. Does your partner identify as non-binary? Is that something you would find difficult to explain? Also, how often does your partner interact with your co-workers? How does your partner know what goes on in your office?
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:07 PM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Just say "my partner's preferred pronoun is 'they'". Say it as an aside in whatever response you are making to the actual content of whatever they said. That way it won't sound like you mean it to be a big deal or you're annoyed that they used the wrong pronoun. You can also, when telling stories about your partner, use the pronoun "they" and as an aside when people look confused say, "that's my partners preferred pronoun." Then you're explaining your own words, not rebuking anyone else for theirs.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:07 PM on April 10, 2015 [13 favorites]

Also, you might want to stay away from the word "preferred." If your partner's pronoun is they, that's their pronoun. They don't prefer it, that's what it is.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 2:09 PM on April 10, 2015 [19 favorites]

Huh. How often are you talking about your spouse at work, exactly? With my coworkers I *might* have mentioned my spouse once a week. And if he wanted to go by another pronoun, I'd just start using it. If it confused people, I'd casually say "My spouse uses the pronoun [they] now." and leave it at that.

In other words, do NOT bring it up to your coworkers 1-on-1 or announce it in some way; that would be very strange and inappropriate for a work environment.

Different people will react in different ways. Just be brief and polite, and if you don't want to get into it with coworkers, simply say "I'm not up for discussing that right now." You don't have to explain anything, just start using your partner's preferred pronouns.
posted by Specklet at 2:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [31 favorites]

I would simply refer to your partner with the appropriate pronoun and that's that. Your coworkers don't know (or honestly care about) your partner except in a very specific context filtered through you. If they ask follow up questions, answer them or correct misused language, but really, it shouldn't require any sort of announcement.

And, BTW, aside from making sure they use the correct pronouns when talking to you or your partner (which would be at like office parties, I guess?), work is your environment. As you noted, this is complicated for you as well and I don't see any reason to introduce unnecessary stress and drama about it at work.
posted by maryr at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [20 favorites]

When you first bring your partner up in conversation maybe you could say, "My partner is meeting me for lunch today." Afterwards just refer to your partner by first name and use the partner's preferred pronoun when necessary. No polite person is going to call you on it or ask because that would be inappropriate for the office. I don't think you need to come right out and tell people your partner is trans. (There's nothing wrong with being trans, but specifically telling your coworkers might be seen as weird.)
posted by parakeetdog at 2:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

They hired you to do work, not to bring in your spouse to socialize with.

When people misidentify me as single or married, I let it go unless I end up chatting with them regularly. They're just trying to make small talk and not really get to know you. And later on I just update with "well, actually, I am/am not ..."
posted by flimflam at 2:27 PM on April 10, 2015 [16 favorites]

Why would you need to announce this at all? Just... refer to your spouse using the correct pronoun. "My partner Madeline, he's an amazing baker..." and let people sort it out for themselves. If they say "Wait, what, Madeline is a... he?" you just smile and say "Madeline is gender transitioning" and leave it at that.

My partner has asked that I ask my coworkers use preferred pronouns when talking about them. I've not even done this with my closest friends

But we never really talk about what that means for me - and I'm afraid to, because I feel like they are the one who is facing this challenge, and I'm here to support them. And, like I said, it's been a challenge for me and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing or not agreeing/accepting correctly.

Oh my God, what? What the actual... what? No. This is not a thing your partner is doing as a solo expedition; this is a transition for your whole family. You are utterly entitled to your own feelings, and absolutely need support. Ignoring that sets up a horrendous dynamic. If there are things you are not saying, that is toxic to your relationship and you guys are under enough stress (because all change is stress) without adding prevarication, lying by omission and isolation to the mix.

And honestly, if your partner can't acknowledge that, you both need to re-evaluate what "partner" means.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:30 PM on April 10, 2015 [66 favorites]

Don't talk about your personal life more than necessary at work. I think that's a good rule for everyone regardless of your situation. There's no need for people at work to know anything about you outside of work. As you said, these people are virtual strangers. It's inappropriate to discuss such things with strangers, really. If you become close with some of them over time, then you may want to discuss it with them, but right now just keep quiet.
posted by dortmunder at 2:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Use the right pronoun. If someone says the wrong pronoun, just say the right pronoun. Like you would if they just mistook the dude named Shannon for a girl.

You are like 99% in charge of how big of a deal this is.

If they say "Wait, what, Madeline is a... he?" you just smile and say "Madeline is gender transitioning" and leave it at that.

See I would just say, "Yep" and leave it at that. Like said above, these are coworkers, not friends, they don't need an explanation for everything in your life.
posted by magnetsphere at 2:33 PM on April 10, 2015 [31 favorites]

Magnetsphere is right. Just say "Yup" and leave it.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:35 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

I know a cis woman who usually refers to her husband as her "spouse" (and, rarely, "husband"). As far as I can tell from photos, her husband is a cis man. This woman is pretty radical, so I assume she uses this language to challenge heteronormative assumptions. For a long time, I couldn't tell what flavor of relationship she was in, which was a good lesson--because why should it matter?

So I think you have the option of using entirely gender-neutral language if you wish. Although I think, if you want to reinforce the fact that your partner is trans*, you should simply use the language you wish others to use. "Living the change you wish to see" can make a bigger impact than you realize.
posted by the_blizz at 2:37 PM on April 10, 2015 [7 favorites]

What has your partner got to do with your job?
posted by tel3path at 2:46 PM on April 10, 2015 [21 favorites]

In your situation, I'm not sure I'd approach people, but if it came up in conversation (even with a VP) and the other person used the incorrect pronouns, I'd just say, "My partner prefers they" in a low-key, not-a-big deal way, and then just move on. Why, yes, we're going down to the shore this summer! We're getting be with their parents and my parents!

(And yeah, I get you on wanting to be prepared for conversations of private life coming up in the workplace. I work at a place where people are expected to make small talk at the beginning of conference calls or meetings when participants are still filtering in. Regular office kitchen conversations are, "Got plans for this weekend?" or "Going anyplace this _______?" It's viewed as team-building and a way for people to connect to each other and recognize that the other person has a life outside their brutal 70 hour workweeks/their ability to provide you with photocopies and accounting reports.)
posted by joyceanmachine at 3:19 PM on April 10, 2015

It sounds like you don't even completely know how you feel about this change and what it means to you, your family, your sexuality... Given that, it strikes me as the wrong time to bring strangers into the mix. I think you need time and room to figure out your own feelings before you are asked to invite your coworkers into the fray.

You sound like an extremely supportive guy. Don't forget that you need support in all of this too. I sincerely hope you are in therapy. This will be one of a hundred issues where you could benefit from wise counsel to help you sort through your feelings.
posted by cecic at 3:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [18 favorites]

You wouldn't go into work on the first day, have an individual conversation with each of your coworkers to let them know your spouse's name was David. (Or whatever.) No, you'd casually say "My spouse, David..." in coversations where it would make sense to say that, and let your coworkers fill in the gaps. So why would you think a pronoun should be any different than a proper noun?
posted by Brittanie at 3:36 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I totally get how, if you're a polite person who doesn't like to make waves, you might worry about over-correcting people. I am a polite person who doesn't like to make waves, and the thought of becoming known as that person who corrects everyone all the time is godawful.

That said, I really don't think it's going to be the big deal that you're worrying it will be. I go into new environments being very private. After a period of time, when I'm comfortable enough with people and we start to do the small talk thing regularly, I'll mention more about my life, and will use the words "my partner." It doesn't happen all that often anymore, but people sometimes assume that since I'm a woman, my partner must be a man. When they respond to something I say about my partner and use the wrong pronoun ("Oh, is he really into [generic hobby]?", for example) I simply say "she" and then answer the question.

It doesn't come off as a correction as in, say, correcting someone's grammar or telling them they're factually wrong about something, simply because most people feel bad for having made a false assumption in the first place.

I'll echo magnetsphere and say that you alone are in charge of how big of a deal this is. Don't make it a big deal.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:36 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I first want to express my compassion for you here. It sounds like you are trying really hard to be a supportive, caring, and fair partner while also being a polite, respectful, and good worker. Kudos for that! Technically, I absolutely agree with the people who've noted that your home life is your business and generally less information is better when it comes to talking about your home life at work.

However, our home lives peek into our work lives in little ways that may go unnoticed to straight, cisgendered folk with straight, cisgendered partners but that can cause minute-yet-miserable moments for those of us who aren't or have loved ones who aren't either. It's totally OK to be worried and not sure what to do; it's OK to take things as they come and update stuff later on. You can explain nothing, a lot or a little. Generally, being direct and low-key is most effective. Like others have said, "My partner is non-gender conforming so sometimes there is variance in the pronouns." And then maybe have a go-to handout or link for people should they want more information in a genuine way so you don't have to keep explaining things (unless you want to.)

The sad reality is that many people, including those who are otherwise liberal and well-educated, don't really understand the terminology or much other information about gender variance. However, this ignorance usually doesn't come from a bad place but rather not knowing much yet. People are using the terms they know and think are right; others are afraid to say anything because they are afraid of saying the wrong thing. Fortunately, celebrities like Laverne Cox are getting attention and a voice in mainstream media so people can learn more; generally, the more people know, the more supportive or at least tolerant they become. In fact, I think you'd find multiple people "coming out" to you about the people they know -- themselves, family, friends, celebrities even -- who are LGBT and grateful that you are an ally.

The great news is that your workplace has those LGBT non-discrimination policies in place so, should people give you flack or become seriously out-of-line, you can get support from HR (and, if not from the immediate HR people, then the people above them.) I really think that things will eventually work out OK, and ask that you give yourself, your partner, and your colleagues a chance and compassion. You're welcome to MeMail if you'd like to discuss this a bit more privately. My situation isn't exactly the same as yours but there are enough parallels for me to say I can identify with your concerns and fears. I wish you all luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 3:51 PM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

I think people who are saying that there's no reason your partner should come up at work are completely unrealistic and probably don't realize how often people's personal lives do come up at work. "My kids' school let's out early today, so I'm heading out now to pick them up." "My partner will/won't be coming to the company holiday bash this year." "I'm taking my vacation next week...yes, we're going to a resort to get away from this terrible winter." "Sorry, [yawn] my partner has a terrible cold and I can barely sleep with all the coughing." "I'm taking Friday off...haha...I wish it were a vacation; we're moving." "I was on bereavement leave. My partner's sister died." etc. etc.

Unless you make a point of being evasive, your family comes up from time to time. It doesn't mean everyone at work is sitting around talking about their personal lives constantly; it just means people assume and become aware of the ways in which their coworkers are actual human beings, not worker drones. Isn't the ability to speak about one's partner at work exactly one of things that was once pointed out to be hetero privilege?

But since most of the coming up is an aside, any talk of pronouns should also be an aside, not an announcement. Just speak correctly yourself, and if/where appropriate correct people who get it wrong: either by making a point of using the correct pronoun in your reply or by saying as an aside "]name] goes by they."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 3:54 PM on April 10, 2015 [17 favorites]

The main thing for you here is that now you find yourself, well, having to indirectly come out at work as "not in your typical type gender binary relationship" That doesn't mean that you are gay...yet? It really depends on your partner and how they identify and what they need in order to get their gender identity/presentation and all that sorted out for themselves and THAT process can take a while. It's complicated yes, uncomfortable yes, but not impossible and totally doable.

So, for now, just use their preferred pronouns. End of story. Use their chosen name, and words such as "partner" "they" "we" or whatever your partner has specified you to use. Your partner's trans status is none of the business of your peers and leadership until your partner says it is. I can easily imagine possible scenarios where this may need to be required to disclose to coworkers, but you need wait until your partner gives *explicit* consent and specific situations where it is okay to disclose their trans status. Until then, no one needs to know.

So you will have to navigate that. That will not be very comfortable I imagine, but since you only started this position a month ago I don't see how it will be *too* much of an issue to just start using the words your partner has asked you to use. Most likely your coworkers and leadership will just accept it and move on, unaware, without too much of a care. If they try to make some issue out of it reply "this is how we like it" and drop the subject.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:16 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some thoughts:

* hey, I don't blame you for feeling stressed— gender pronouns can be tricky for trans people as well, and we have more of a direct stake in the whole deal.

* it sounds like you are being supportive and invested in doing the work to understand what this means for you, your partner, your relationship, and job.

* the stress you're feeling is something that trans folks often feel a lot more. I say this not to undermine what you're feeling, but to offer a way to broach this topic with your partner and maybe deepen your relationship. Isn't it absurd that you can't even refer to them in a conversation about the company holiday party without risking a protracted discussion about gender identity? I think it's stupid, sad, and funny all at once.

* here is the canned explanation I use when someone asks me what it means:

Transgender just means that someone doesn't feel like they're totally a man or totally a woman. They might be neither, or both, or it might change from day to day.

* I don't know if you're seriously considering making some sort of announcement, but I would advise you strongly against it. What's the point? It will not stop people from being nosy— on the contrary, it would just give nosy people a platform to ask you anything and everything.

* Maybe discuss with your partner if you could gradually work up to correcting people? For example, maybe for the first three weeks, just refer to them as "they" and see if people catch on. And after that, correct only coworkers that you feel comfortable around. And finally correct everyone. For me, it was much easier to do non-normative things in a gradual fashion (and I think more effective in terms of changing peoples' attitudes).

Good luck.
posted by yaymukund at 4:31 PM on April 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

Different workplaces have different culture around revealing personal details. In my current workplace, and most of my past ones, people who were evasive and non-sharing about their personal lives had their careers definitely impacted because they didn't fit into the dominant culture.

I do not think you are "bringing your sex life" into the office any more than the heterosexual couples that talk about their partners. However, it IS very tiring to constantly be reminded you are "different". Personally, I have walked away from jobs with conservative culture.
posted by saucysault at 4:32 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

Also, your partner has lots of experience with this. Ask them for help! What do they find are good phrases, try some role modelling, what NOT to say etc., and since you haven't asked your friends to use the correct pronoun, that would be a great experience to get your initial nervousness/awkwardness over with by talking with people you feel "safe" with.
posted by saucysault at 4:39 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

And, like I said, it's been a challenge for me and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing or not agreeing/accepting correctly.

I think you need to take a more proactive role here in dealing with how this big transition is impacting your life. This is not just something impacting your partner.

But, this is a clear request and I see no reason to not follow it as best I can.
As others have advised, you can model what the correct pronoun is by using it and gently correct people when they use the wrong one. That's the most low-key, not a big deal way to do this and that's the best approach.

What do I even say? How does one announce such a thing to the team? I barely know them at all
Yeah, don't "announce" this to the team. Try to mention the correct pronoun initially in one-on-one situations rather than in a group setting. It is easier to work it from that angle. As others have said, keep it real low key.

Specifically, I'm afraid that it would start some sort of conversation about my own sexual orientation which was straight,
This is absolutely not their business. My rule of thumb is that no one needs this information about me unless they are considering sleeping with me and I am also potentially amenable to sleeping with them. If your relationship is not an open relationship, then you are in a committed relationship and this is a non-starter. In most work situations, sleeping with coworkers you directly work with is also a non-starter. So this is totally irrelevant.

It does suggest some unresolved questions in your own mind. I will suggest you consider speaking with a therapist or keeping a journal and trying to sort that out privately, for your own benefit.

I have a medical condition that impacts me in ways that cannot be completely hidden. Sometimes, it causes some social friction -- people feeling a need to say something, sometimes nicely, sometimes not. My willingness to be chatty about it depends a lot on the circumstances and how they approach it.

Example: I am a woman and I shaved my head for medical reasons a week ago. One woman saw me entering the ladies room and called after me "Sir! That's the ladies room!" I advised her "I know. I'm a woman." She fell all over herself to explain that she had only seen the back of my head and blah blah blah. I wasn't ugly about it, but I felt she was kind of being a jerk, so other than clarifying that I was in the right bathroom, I mostly ignored her.

A cashier at a place I frequent commented hesitantly on my shaved head. She seemed weirded out by it and I kind of felt her inquiry was mildly inappropriate, but I don't think she really intended disrespect. I let her know "Yeah, I shaved it for health reasons. I have a medical condition." So my goal was to try to put her at ease. I don't know what she thought my bald head signaled, but whatever her guess was, it seemed to make her uncomfortable and me being slightly chatty and giving a little info helped her be more at ease. I dealt with her today and she seems fine with me.

Another cashier who sees me less often more smoothly said "Didn't you have curls the other day?" I was a bit chattier with her. I said "Yup. They tell me I'm still cute for my age when I have hair." I let her know it was shaved because of a medical condition. I made some comment about "It will grow back" and another about "I'm just glad to be off medication."

So the degree to which I engage these people varies. As a rule of thumb, if they are being respectful but seem to have a need to process, I will give them some info so they feel more comfortable. But people who are being jerks to me only get as much info as is necessary to reduce conflict. I don't get all chatty with them.

Any time you are dealing with other people, it is a social situation. When you have something about your life that is really weird to most people and also cannot be completely hidden, it will come up. As much as possible, act normal and downplay it. But if people aren't being horrible, it's okay to engage them a bit on the subject. That can be useful to you as well. But you don't owe people explanations about things like your sexual preferences. And I think the correct answer on that is that if someone is uncomfortable with the implications, well, you are in a committed relationship and they are off limits because of being coworkers and nothing else really matters.
posted by Michele in California at 4:47 PM on April 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think a maybe more important thing to piece out - your partner asked you to let your co-workers know the correct pronoun, when you haven't even told close friends they are transitioning. Why? How did this come up in your relationship? It's hard to know how to advise without knowing what's laden on it.
posted by corb at 4:59 PM on April 10, 2015 [9 favorites]

I've dated more than one trans person and I have ZERO idea what the hell you are getting at. Your spouse's request (at least as you presented it) confuses me.

As a trans-accepting person, if you approached me about this in any way, I would be very annoyed. I'd feel labeled myself as being some sort of non-decent human being.

I think you should not bring this up to people because it has nothing to do with them or your job. If you talk about your spouse, talk about them as you normally would. People aren't dumb, they'll take your lead.
posted by jbenben at 5:19 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

This strikes me as a really strange request for your partner to make. This is your workplace, and your negotiation of it. They should respect that. If they don't trust you enough to negotiate your workplace in a way that fundamentally respects them, they should leave you. This request makes me feel like they are asking you to fight their battles, which is fine if it's clear that it is a battle, but seems like a strange and manipulative preemptive request.

I would just go about your regular business at work.
posted by OmieWise at 5:20 PM on April 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

I hesitated to bring up my wife's pregnancy at work out of fear of oversharing, and that will actually affect my doing my job, since I'll take time off. I've read your post twice, and I can't find anything in it that seems relevant to your job or your coworkers.

This is not a discussion that's appropriate for the workplace. Friends you make at work, fine, but that's not (at all) what your question is getting at.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:25 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

I hesitated to bring up my wife's pregnancy at work out of fear of oversharing,

I think what those who say "don't bring it up" fail to realize is that this less akin to not brining up a wife's pregnancy and more akin to not letting anyone know that you have a wife and that she's a woman. Do your coworkers not know that you have a wife and that she's a woman? It's not relevant to your job, but they know, right? Hiding this is on par with hiding that, (In fact, it's exactly the same thing as hiding that you have a wife and she's a woman.) not on par with hiding a pregnancy or details of your sex life.

But you probably didn't hold a meeting to announce you have a wife who is a woman. It just came up organically at some point, I'm sure. This should be the same.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 5:41 PM on April 10, 2015 [11 favorites]

I'm also confused by your partner's request. If they are joining you at social functions then I can see this being an issue. But otherwise - I don't even get how this is an issue. It's 100% your choice on how 'out' to be at work. Your partner can certainly voice their opinion, but in the end it's your choice.

If someone uses gender-neutral pronouns to refer to their partner at work I'm going to assume they're gay. That's just the way the world is.
posted by kanewai at 5:45 PM on April 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

It sounds to me like you and your partner need to improve the communication inside your own relationship more than that you need to communicate anything about them to your new co-workers.

I hope very much that what they meant was, "when you speak of me, don't mislead folks into thinking I'm female, lest this become an issue at the Christmas party 8 months from now." I hope that they did NOT mean "prove you support me by evangelizing trans acceptance at your new job, to people you barely know."

You mention you haven't been voicing your own needs much because you feel they are outweighed by your partner's. I understand why you'd feel that way; but this isn't the same thing as "they're the one with the cancer so I won't dump my stress about that to them." You are half of your romantic relationship, and it is changing fundamentally, and your feelings need to be taken into account just as much as things develop.

Every workplace has folks who refer to their partner as their partner or their "better half" or some genderless pronoun. When I hear it I usually assume they're gay; and furthermore that it is none of my business, because otherwise they'd say husband or boyfriend or whatever. Do that for now. And talk more about your relationship at home, and don't worry about doing it at work.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:15 PM on April 10, 2015 [10 favorites]

I'm afraid that it would start some sort of conversation about my own sexual orientation which was straight, but obviously that isn't the case any more... i think.

This sentence is utterly emotionally exhausting. You need help. I don't mean 'what's wrong with you: you need help' I mean, jeez, this is a really big deal. You need someone to talk to. You're mentioning this as a stray sentence on a website in a question ostensibly about office protocol about gender pronouns but what all of this means for you, your identity, how you see yourself, relate to your friends, function in your office--you need true support for you, because of you, as a person who exists entirely outside of your partner. I feel like you are not getting that support and that support would help you get some clarity on these communications.

we never really talk about what that means for me - and I'm afraid to, because I feel like they are the one who is facing this challenge

Come on. No. This is your life, too.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2015 [51 favorites]

I think that's it great that you want to be a supportive and loving partner to your partner, especially as they are going through the difficult process of gender transitioning. that said, I think you're making a slightly bigger deal of this than it really is. This is not to say that there's no value in recognizing gender neutral pronouns and the importance of it to transgender individuals. However in this situation your coworkers are guaranteed to make the mistakes most cis people do. I would simply correct them by just using the right pronoun when it comes up and not even to make a big deal about it. Eventally they'll follow suit.
posted by CosmicSeeker42 at 6:31 PM on April 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Hey, there's a lot of good advice here. In particular, I encourage you to try to be very nonchalant about pronouns and project an air of "It's they, actually, now about those TPS reports" if and when it becomes necessary to correct people. I also encourage you to have serious and detailed conversations with your partner about exactly what it is that they would like you to do, and maybe talk about how they would like you to talk about them at work specifically. (I, as with many other people in this thread, kind of doubt that they want you to take aside all your coworkers and tell them that your partner identifies as nonbinary now and they should all use this specific pronoun at all times. That seems... difficult to negotiate and much more of a pain than a lighthearted "They, actually!" response to a mispronouning would be.)

I also second everyone telling you to find someone to process your feelings about all of this with. That might be your partner, and it might not--depends how stressed your partner is about their gender identity and how much emotional processing they're doing right now. It sounds like they're mostly done with the identity processing and are now in the midst of figuring out how to negotiate their presentation. You should probably get to have some input about that, even if you don't get a veto. And you definitely need to have someone to talk to and help you process your feelings about what all this means for you. I get your (praiseworthy!) desire to have your partner's back in all of this, and maybe your partner isn't or shouldn't be the only person you talk to about this, but I think that you do need to have a talk with them about what this means for you instead of worrying in silence about what you should do. Express your nervousness about work and then ask your partner how they would like you to respond in light of things like power hierarchies and clueless coworkers.

My partner's nonbinary, too, and we have had a lot of conversations about how I refer to their gender in public. We have something workable, but it's very much something that I check in on now and again. One thing that works for us right now is that I don't use gender-neutral pronouns full time--at work, and with my fairly conservative family, we use female pronouns on the grounds that pushing for gender neutral would be more trouble than it's worth for both of us. (My partner, not me, gets final input on that. But I get to voice worries, too.) In my experience that is pretty common for a lot of nonbinary people, particularly in situations where the stakes of someone getting pissy about the concept of a person being nonbinary are high. Of course, it's not common of all nonbinary people, so again you'll need to talk to your partner about more specific things they want.

Anyway, feel free to MeMail me if you'd like someone to talk to in this particular situation. I get the social weirdnesses that come with this, and again I think you could use someone to help you figure this stuff out. I'm not straight but I have watched other people who fell in love with nonbinary partners have to sit down and figure out what that meant for their orientational identity, and I've seen people process that in different ways. Sometimes people re-evaluate and go "well, I think I am a subset of pan/bi now, not straight/gay as I was before." Sometimes people go "I'm still straight/gay, but I have this particular kind of exception I don't have good words for." Sometimes people break up. (This does not sound like an option you want to consider, or frankly even one you necessarily should consider! I only mention it because I've seen that happen as a consequence of re-evaluating sexuality like this.)

Any answer you come up with is okay. You can even decide that labels aren't useful for you and that you don't want to identify as anything right now because your partner is your focus. You can decide you're straight except Partner. You can decide you're pan or bi or come up with a complicated slew of labels just for you. But you might want to sit and think about it and consider what sorts of labels you'd like to use for yourself, too. This is big, heavy stuff and it's worth taking the space to let yourself process it as the Big Deal it is. The only people for whom this is not a big deal, in my experience, are the ones who don't fully respect their partners' gender identity. Put like that, maybe you can see why it's worth being kind to yourself about this as you and your partner both try to negotiate social situations.
posted by sciatrix at 7:05 PM on April 10, 2015 [12 favorites]

Thinking about this a little more:

If you and your partner are not going to a gender counselor I would advise doing so.

One thing that I did early in transition was to go places where I was anonymous in my ideal gender mode, the park, a grocery store where I would not know anyone, etc. It was a way to practice being myself without the pressure of prior knowledge of my assigned gender getting in the way of being "me". So I have a feeling that your partner's request that you use their preferred pronouns at work might be similar to the practice I went through, but instead they are hoping you can practice in a place without the pressure of having a bunch of people you have known for years going "huh?" at the sudden change.

About you: This transition will involve your orientation and identity *a lot*. I made some really bad mistakes along my own path that contributed to me not being married anymore and it is a big source of sadness and regret for me personally. If I've learned anything from the perspective of being the transgender partner, it's that *your* orientation and desires and what you are attracted to counts also and needs to be given ample compassion and consideration as well across the change.

I wish you all the best. Me mail if you want to.
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:12 PM on April 10, 2015 [8 favorites]

I agree with those who have mentioned counseling for you. This is (almost as) big of a change for you as it is for your partner - most people are pretty sure whether they're straight, gay, bi, etc. and this part of your identity has been challenged. I'm sure you feel there is absolutely nothing wrong with being gay or bi, and yet it probably feels incorrect if others think of you that way. In the same vein, your partner feels it's incorrect to use she/her pronouns when referring to them. Both your identities need to be honored, and if/when you use they/them pronouns at work, you're prioritizing your partner's identity over yours. Which is laudable, but does not solve the essential problem that is incorrect to identify you as gay or bi if you do not feel that is what you are. I don't have a pat answer but I feel like it merits more discussion with your partner and/or a counselor.
posted by desjardins at 8:40 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Firstly, I want to commend you on being so supportive of your partner and the difficult transition you're both going through. I'm a transman with a long-term partner who, before me, had only ever identified as a cis het male. Though I had transitioned many years prior to my partner and I meeting, a few parallels to your situation made me want to add my thoughts here.

1) What do I even say? How does one announce such a thing to the team? I barely know them at all, and I'm afraid that if I went around to everyone 1-on-1 and said "By the way, my partner is trans so please don't talk about my 'wife' or use female pronouns" I would set a really strange first impression - instead of "Here's a guy who works hard" it would be "Here's a guy who's forcing his sex life into the office."

You don't say anything. Don't announce. This is not information that is immediately (if ever) relevant to the work place or the ability for you to become part of a cohesive team and do your job. Of course, this doesn't mean you should feel the need to keep your partner a secret, but as others have suggested, simply refer to them as you normally would -- using the pronouns your partner wishes others to use. Refer to them as your partner or spouse -- not wife. People may assume you're gay -- but IME this is preferable. You can either choose to engage and have a conversation about your sexual orientation (if you feel comfortable doing so -- definitely feel your coworkers out for tolerance/open-mindedness first) or simply respond with a variation on your love being based on individuals, not reproductive parts. A simple 'I'm bisexual' may be enough to end the conversation (or steer it elsewhere) since no further explanation is needed -- most people will know what that means (compared to identifying as pansexual, for example).

2) I have no idea what the responses will be, and I am afraid of what questions they might have. Specifically, I'm afraid that it would start some sort of conversation about my own sexual orientation which was straight, but obviously that isn't the case any more... i think.

I'm sorry, but a conversation about your own sexual orientation is probably inevitable if you ever discuss your personal life at work (which seems very likely -- as it has been a part of every work place I've ever been in). If you are a cis het man and refer to your partner as anything other than a woman (ie: she, her, etc.), most of society will not see you as a het man -- you will probably be seen as a gay man. This is something that my partner, who had always identified as a cis het male, didn't seem to expect. He had never been treated or perceived as a gay man and he now has to deal with the discomfort of how 'out' to be and how it all may affect his job, his family and his future. He has also now been exposed to other het men being wary of him, other gay men objectifying him, and het women treating him as though he were sexless. Society will assume you are having a relationship with another cis man.

There may be a similar struggle for you. I'd highly suggest therapy alongside your partner. How your partner identifies will impact how society views and treats you as an individual and as a couple. Though progress is being made, LBGTQ couples are still discriminated against (in subtle and not-so-subtle ways) and that's something therapy may help you prepare for and deal with.

3) I'm worried about what it means to correct people about this - how often? Should I correct VPs, or just my close team? And, what if in six months, they request male pronouns instead - I don't want to turn this into "a thing".

Personally, I wouldn't correct -- but I'm also a pretty non-confrontational person and IME, correcting generally couldn't be done without also having the gender identity and/or sexual orientation discussion -- both of which can 'other' you in a conservative or professional environment. If someone says 'wife' and you correct by saying 'partner/spouse', the follow-up question is usually those about your sexual orientation -- and/or the assumption you're gay and in a relationship with another cis man. If someone says 'she' and you correct by saying 'them' or 'he', again, people will assume you're covering your relationship with another cis man. If your partners' name is one commonly used by women (and rarely, if ever, by men), then this will inevitably lead to confusion about your partners' gender -- and most people will be curious/want clarification.

Being non-chalant/casual has always resulted in the best reactions when I've gone as far as to correct others. Often times, if I was diligent about using the correct pronouns in my own speech and looked a little hurt (yet didn't make it a big deal) if others didn't, many people began to self-correct -- they notice their slip-up right away and are comfortable admitting their mistake. The more adamant/corrective you are, the more defensive it tends to make people -- after all, you're asking them to rethink their preconceived ideas about gender identity, gender roles, and sexual orientation when you ask them to think of a person with female secondary sex characteristics as someone other than a female.
posted by stubbehtail at 9:26 PM on April 10, 2015 [4 favorites]

Is this a reasonable request from your partner? It doesn't sound that way. Why would you partner care what your co-workers are saying in an office where your partner doesn't work? How much is your partner even coming up in conversation? This sounds like none of your co-workers' business, and I doubt they actually want to be talking about your partner in the office unless you bring him or her up, so what exactly is the problem? This request seems to reek of your partner expecting you to make some sort of announcement on his or her behalf, one that you haven't even made to close friends. Your co-workers are not your friends and I think your partner is being weird about this. The thing is, I have a lot of personal shit going on in my life that I would never voluntarily announce or bring up to my co-workers -- not because I am ashamed or it's a secret, but because it's not appropriate to announce to co-workers.

You should ask why he or she cares about this and expects you to do this, and talk about the position it could put you in to be constantly policing and correcting your co-workers. (I know some people are going to say the co-workers should be using the correct pronouns and not being dicks about it, and that may be true, but regardless, they will probably be annoyed if OP is constantly correcting them and pushing this particular issue.) Keep in mind, just as this is about your partner "coming out" as trans, this is also about you coming out. I don't know how anyone would define your sexuality -- you self identify as cis and hetero, but if you're married to a trans person, some people will not see you that way. I would talk to your partner about this because I don't think it's a fair request.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:30 PM on April 10, 2015 [3 favorites]

I shouldn't comment further, but I will, just in terms of what you need.

A very wise friend once said to me in the midst of discussing my relationship, "Well of course it's taxing on you! In a sense, you're dating two people in one body!"

I was taken aback by the comment because I wasn't complaining!! But you know what? My wise friend was correct, it was a lot to deal with. Further compounding this was that (understandable to me!) my partner was was myopically focused on themself and their transition. Honestly? I was like support staff.

Now. I'm a strong person and I was in love, so I did not see it that way at the time. But that's how it was.

Try to maintain a balance in your relationship, otherwise, you'll get burned out. Had I known there was couples counseling for gender transitioning at the time, we woulda been there in a heart beat.

Take the relationship positive step and seek counseling. You won't regret getting support for both of you. Best of luck!
posted by jbenben at 12:05 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This does not seem a fair request from your partner when it comes to your work environment.. With close friends, yes, but constantly correcting people at work about something in your personal life which should be none of their business will not go over well and could impact on your job performance and how you are seen as an employee. I'd say keep it casual, if you have to refer to your partner in a work conversation, just say "my partner". People might assume that you are gay, but that is not the end of the world either.
posted by mermayd at 5:06 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I used to know a couple going through this type of slow transition, and the non-transitioning partner said one of the best things they did was to take turns on whose day it was to be the focus.

It's a transition for everyone. What does this mean about your gender? About your sexuality? What kinds of questions will you get and how do you want to handle them? There is joy at the new and grief at letting go of the old, and vice versa.

If there isn't a safe space for you to grapple with your half of this transition -- individually and as a couple -- then this is going to be much rougher than necessary. Couples need to be able to transition together, to influence each other and move in tandem.

If you're not ready to tell your close friends, there are some conversations to be had yet with your partner and a therapist. Doing the work on your side is part of being a good partner too. Just gritting your teeth and going along to get along is not a sustainable pattern with this type of major overhaul.

If you're in it for the long haul, if they're in it for the long haul, then there needs to be time where you share and they listen too.
posted by heatherann at 5:20 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Regarding the fairness of the request--I mentioned this to my partner last night, who pointed out that it might have more to do with the workplace being new than it being work. Sometimes it really is easier to go "actually, pronoun is they" or "actually, not into dudes" or whatever with new people than it is with people you've known for a while, because new people are more likely to just respond to your tone and body language and not challenge you on it. People you've known for a long time are more likely to go "Wait, what?!?" and require a more in-depth conversation and discussion of the change, which can be really scary if you are new to publicly discussing some aspect of being out.

Of course, the question of whether you could find a different, non-professional source of new people to practice being open with is still open! But I thought that perspective made a lot of sense, and I thought it might be worth sharing with the thread. One possible compromise might be "Well, I am not comfortable drawing attention to you identifying as nonbinary at work, so I'm going to try to avoid pronouns as much as possible and use gender-neutral language like "partner" and let people think as they please. However, I respect your identity and want to practice being open and nonchalant about it, so I'm going to join this new group of people doing X hobby I enjoy and make friends with them. In that non-work social group, I will be open about you identifying as non-binary when my relationship with you comes up in conversation, and I'll practice talking about that so it's not so scary to talk to my old friends about it."

You are basically practicing coming out here, and as stubbehtail and others point out, you are going to be perceived as "basically some flavor of queer" pretty much no matter what you do. That's going to take some adjustment, and it really is much easier to practice being open with new people than people you have known for a long time. My identity is also considerably more complicated than "straight" or "gay," and I have found it helpful to view coming out as being kind of like answering "where are you from?" while traveling. To someone who lives in a different country, I might answer "Ah, I'm American!" To another American from another state, I might say "I live in Georgia!" or "I live near Atlanta" or "I live in Milton, near what used to be Alpharetta--you know, that bit with all the horse farms?" depending on what they have the context for. You do not have to provide all the details to someone about your sexuality or your partner's gender when you meet them, in the same way as you don't have to answer with your address when someone asks where you're from. Use the context of the conversation to figure out how you want to answer.
posted by sciatrix at 5:24 AM on April 11, 2015 [7 favorites]

I'm gay, so I've had to deal with somewhat-related-but-obviously-not-the-same pronoun issues in the workplace. Mostly I handle it by modeling my language--speaking of my partner, for example. When people have asked me about my girlfriend, I've said (depending on appropriateness for the situation) either "my boyfriend" or "I don't have one of those" or "my boyfriend would be upset if I had a girlfriend" or similar. So if someone misgenders your partner, you can say so.

Really, though, your partner can't dictate what other people at your workplace can say. So probably the best bet is for you to model your language as the two of you prefer, and make gentle corrections--"we prefer the word _____ actually, by the way do you have the new TPS reports?"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:34 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: thanks everyone for all the great responses. You've definitely helped me feel more confident and more cautious.

Just to clarify one point - my partner did not say "BTW: at your new job, nobody better misgender me". Rather it was more like this:

me: "it's strange at the new job for everyone to ask 'what's your wife do' 'hows your wife' 'wife wife wife' questions. it feels strange for me because of obvious reasons."
partner: "I don't like to hear about people misgendering me"
me: "im happy to correct them if that's what you want"
partner: "yes, please"

So, a lot of you have already touched on the "this is a transition for you both and you both need support" topic, for which I am grateful. This is not a case of my partner wanting me to prove anything. Maybe i bit off more than I could chew in trying to be ultra supportive... but it's a bite i hope to be able to chew eventually, and I think it's the right thing to do. Counseling is probably a good idea.
posted by rebent at 7:13 AM on April 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Yeah, thought it might be something like that--I say that as someone who also makes it a point to check in about what my partner wants re: pronouns and how I should be acting so I've got their back, but who also tends to be a little more... hrm, sometimes I get a vibe that I expect more out of myself than they do on that front. That has sometimes landed me in a place of a lot of anxiety trying to get things Right when what my partner really cares about is that I respect their identity, have their back when they need support, and listen to them and let them take the lead on this. Negotiating that is, as with everything, a learning process.

Like I said, be nice to yourself. You clearly care a lot about getting this right and being a Good Partner, and that's awesome! Just... give yourself room to not get everything right immediately, and understand that anxiety is something a lot of people go through. It sounds like you got this. You're doing good. Give yourself time to process stuff before you expect yourself to be perfect, yeah?
posted by sciatrix at 7:34 AM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

People: 'what's your wife do' 'hows your wife' 'wife wife wife' questions.

You: My partner is a brain surgeon. He's fine, thanks for asking!
posted by DarlingBri at 8:52 AM on April 11, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yes, yes, yes to all the simple, gentle corrections. A general announcement is not at all necessary. Some people will just accept it, some will need correction A LOT, and some will ask questions. Answer as desired--or not. Plenty of good scripts in the above comments.

Also, it's okay if people get told or corrected at different times. I work in a pretty custumer service heavy place, so my coworkers and regulars all got told within the first two months, but for people I don't see often, I tell them 'I'm going by CarrionComfort now and am using male pronouns' when the opportunity comes up. 90% of folks are great about it (I'm in a really liberal area with a pretty large trans community, so that helps). Every now and again, I get one who has a wounded 'no one told me!' type of comment or a million questions. Casual responses and gentle brush-offs are totally your friend. 'I've been working on this for a while,' 'It's a gradual change,' etc.

And if your partner decides to change pronouns or names again in the future, use the same scripts. 'Partner is going by X, now.' 'Partner is using Y, now.' Super simple, super chill. I changed names . . . 3 times? Four? with my various friends groups. People roll with it, especially when you don't make it A THING.

Nthing counseling. I'm transgender and am about 6 months into socially transitioning (work, extended family; my wife & close friends have known for probably longer than I have). I have a therapist. My wife has a therapist. Also, we go to a group therapy for couples where one partner is trans and the other is cis. THERE ARE OTHERS OUT THERE LIKE YOU. And that support is so, so good. If at all possible, find a therapy group or support group. That connection to others who are going through the same thing or have gone through it is awesome.

they are the one who is facing this challenge, and I'm here to support them.

This is half true. You are facing this challenge, too. You are awesome to be a supportive partner. That is fantastic. Rock on, supportive partner! But you are dealing with challenges, too. Those are absolutely real and you absolutely get to feel them and discuss them and deal with them. Some (most, I'd say), you should be able to hash out with your partner. Some, it might be best to discuss with a therapist or someone who groks this stuff.
posted by carrioncomfort at 9:56 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is not a case of my partner wanting me to prove anything. Maybe i bit off more than I could chew in trying to be ultra supportive...

Oh, yeah, I think absolutely.

With your update, it sounds like you were trying to talk to your partner your experience with feeling funny around how people gender them at work. But they have Feels about that, because to them, while they want to be supportive, that's a lot of hearing about how people are misgendering them, which is a thing they may already be sensitive to.

You both need someone other than each other to talk to about this. Therapists are great for this!

I'd start with simply not talking to your partner about your feels about people misgendering them rather than starting with aggressively correcting people. Just use 'they' and 'my partner' at work.
posted by corb at 10:58 AM on April 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "I don't like to hear about people misgendering me"

To me this is a dual request

1. Partner would like to be appropriately gendered when you are speaking to your coworkers about them generally. This does not mean an announcement but this means moving forward with their preferred pronouns (correcting people if necessary) with people even if that is a little awkward for you.

However, I suspect it also means

2. Partner would like you to manage your own feelings about this a a bit more and not tell them stories about other people misgndering them.

This is me projecting a little, but one of the usual concerns of people transitioning is that parts of their life are going to be filled with this misgendering BS every damned day forever (and a lot of things that go along with that). Up close and personal this is how their partner manages it, more remotely is the day to day interactions with random strangers who may not know better. So for you, part of your partner job is to make that part of this process go more easily both by #1 but also by not dumping more fodder on the "Am I going to be misgendered forever?" bandwagon. You telling stories of them being misgendered is (not intentionally) sort of continuing that issue.

So, in my life this was my partner's ex saying bad things about me. Ultimately I didn't have jealousy issues but she is my partner's son's mom and will be part of our life whether I like that or not. So we need to get along. So every time he'd say "My ex said this SUPER SHITTY THING ABOUT YOU" I'd be like "I sort of need you, in the interests of our continued life together, to just keep that stuff to yourself because it's perpetuating the bad mojo between us"

Obviously these are not parallel situations but there is a sense in which you reporting on misgendering is a thing you could stop doing, separately from managing pronoun usage with other people at your workplace. Both are important, but the second thing may be something you can do immediately as you work on the first thing.
posted by jessamyn at 1:03 PM on April 11, 2015 [12 favorites]

Honestly, after your update, it still sounds like your partner is making this all about himself. This isn't all about him and his feelings -- this affects both of you in significant ways. It seems like this is a really tough, weird situation for you too but both of you (you and your spouse) are only focusing on the transitioning person's needs. Quite frankly, based on what you've said here, it sounds like you are getting zero support and haven't really even processed your feelings about this. Nthing counseling.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:54 PM on April 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

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