I'm jealous of a coworker in an unhealthy way. Tell me how to stop.
August 30, 2018 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm at my first white collar salaried job, ever. I find myself feeling jealous and angry towards a coworker for reasons I find unacceptable. I'm not used to this feeling, and don't know how to get rid of it.

I'm in my first serious salaried job. Last year, I graduated college late (I'm in my late 20s and flunked out the first time due to depression and took years to get better) and came out full time as a trans woman. I figured I wouldn't have an easy time getting hired, but managed to make it through the hiring process to my surprise. That's given me a bit of imposter syndrome. I've also tried to lean on the idea that gender dysphoria might have been the reason depression hit me so hard after puberty and sabotaged my first attempt at my career.

From experience, I know that I feel happiest and most like myself when I pass. In contexts where I've been outed or outed myself, I always feel like I'm on the periphery and that nobody takes my womanhood seriously, including myself.

In a separate wing of my department, there's a senior employee who's also trans. We don't work together very often, but we cross paths a good amount. She's shorter than me, probably better at passing, and has an easier time making friends. She's about two years older than me, crossdressed since she left college (whereas I was clueless until about two years ago), probably started hormones about the same age. She somehow has time for hobbies and a social life, while I just go home kind of drained (known issue, seeing psychiatrist about it). She's upbeat, positive, and very much out at work. She hangs a large trans pride flag over the side of her cubicle wall and came out two years ago in the company newsletter, and tries to work jokes about drag and having been male into conversations I've been in, which gets me pretty anxious. I know I don't pass as well as her, and even if my coworkers know, I don't want them acting like they can tell. I should look up to her. We probably could be friends.

Instead, my gut sees her as a foil showing how terrible I am at my job, at being trans, at accepting I'm trans, at having a life outside of work, and at being a well adjusted and happy human being. And I have some visceral fear she's a liability to the small amount of comfort I've found. This lead to some pretty bad impulses (I mentioned this discomfort to a guy I was casually dating for a few months, and he suggested I google her more so he could get an idea of what I was so worked up about, which lead to me straight up reading as much as I could, hence the details).

I know this stems from my insecurities, and I know that I'm angry at a person who absolutely has done nothing wrong. I've made small attempts at reaching out, like sending her texts asking stuff about work culture (like if I'll get laid off in a sneaky way if I take time off for surgery) and details about the work insurance plan. But in person, like in the breakroom, it's hard for me to keep it together enough to contribute to conversations we're in.

I've never had these feelings or impulses before. I'm scared that I'm having them. I wish I wasn't the type of person who did. I feel like I'm toxic. How do I get over this?
posted by MuppetNavy to Human Relations (16 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
tries to work jokes about drag and having been male into conversations I've been in

OK, I'm cis, so most of your post I don't feel able to speak to at all, but...if we're talking about conversations involving other people, this sounds like a form of aggression to me. You really don't want it to be a focus amongst your coworkers, yet she keeps drawing attention to it? Not right. Especially since well-meaning coworkers are likely to take their cues from her as to what's appropriate. No wonder you're having trouble maintaining conversations with her. If you haven't already told her explicitly (but privately) that you are not comfortable with those subjects of conversations, you really should. If she's not constantly flashing a light on a subject you find sensitive, I think you might find it easier to talk to her.

I should look up to her.

Oh, and this: just because someone else happens to be in the same minority group as you does not mean you're compatible. No "should."
posted by praemunire at 9:42 PM on August 30, 2018 [12 favorites]


Addressing just a little of the above- there are more intelligent/experienced people than me who can speak to the more specific issues.

Sometimes our brains lie to us and say that there is a fixed amount of something, so we should hoard it. I get the feeling that you are perhaps feeling that since this person is super successful, she has taken up all the air/resources- so you can't. Obviously this isn't true! Success is an infinite thing- it's open to everyone! Remember that your journey is yours.

Praemunire speaks truth about the "we should be friends" bit.
posted by freethefeet at 9:55 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Hi, I'm a cis het male - so I cannot identify much with your internal circumstances, other than to say this sounds very difficult and I hope you get some relief.

I offer one observation from working with trans people in my job from my cis het viewpoint. I've hired and worked alongside trans employees many times - a couple times with the same person before and then after they transition. As soon as someone transitions - I basically lose any memory or reference to their earlier name or gender presentation. Like - I can tell you that Violet worked on a project last year and did a phenomenal job, but I have to seriously look on my computer at HR records to remind myself that Violet once identified as Richard several years ago when we worked together for nine months. Same with Ari - formerly Gregg. The time it took for the identity slot in my brain to be replaced was about ten seconds. All that to say - in the workplace, it's just easiest and most efficient to take someone as they are today.

I also would take trans positive items or messages as an expression of alignment - not identity. Like If I see a trans flag that doesn't mean that the person is trans - or maybe they are - but the statement of support is different from the identity.
posted by sol at 10:05 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


To get past this, I think you'll have to dig deep to figure out where these feelings come from. Maybe you feel like you already understand them, but keep digging deeper.

Do you feel like she "does trans" better than you do? Like, she's more passable (you feel) and she started her transition sooner and she conforms to what people seem to want from a trans person by being out and "fun" in ways you feel you can't be. Well, there are many, many ways to be trans, and there's no one right way. And you're still new to all this, give yourself time to finish cooking! Maybe this person seems to have everything you want, but you're only seeing her life from the outside. You weren't there when her parents disowned her, or when some transphobic asshole beat her up, or whatever other awful things she's been through. Try not to assume too much about her. Hell, maybe there are things she envies about you!

Do you resent how she makes her trans-ness a frequent topic of conversation, regularly drawing attention to it, when all you want is to just blend in a little and get on with your life? Even if she's found something that works for her, it's problematic that she's bringing up a lot of drag stuff while you're right there, potentially drawing unwanted attention to you. (Are you out at work? Could it be that she doesn't even know she's embarrassing you? Or could it be that she knows you're trans and is looking for some way to signal solidarity with you?) Trans or not, if you're an introverted type, a certain kind of extrovert can be torture to be around. You can envy the confident, noisy people at the same time you wish they'd just shut up. I'm getting the feeling there may be some of that happening here for you. You're both trans, but you may be very different people otherwise.

What you're feeling isn't so different from how a lot of genetic women feel about other women in the workplace. A lot of women sit in judgement of each other, resenting how their co-workers get ahead, envying them, all that stuff. As a trans person myself, I envy genetic women all the time, and I envy "passable" trans women so much it makes me sick. It does me no good to feel that way, but the feelings are there. This resentment you're feeling isn't weird and it doesn't make you bad, so long as you don't do bad things because of it. It's something a lot of people have to deal with.

Ask yourself if she's truly the kind of trans person you want to be. We can admire people without actually wanting to live like them. Do you want to be "out" the way she is, to have a pride flag at work and talk casually about the years you spent presenting as a male? If so, maybe try to get to know her and see if there are things you can learn from her. But if you want to be a different kind of trans person, try to accept that she's her and you're you. Why should you envy somebody, if you don't even really want to be like them?

We all have toxic stuff in our heads. As long as you don't let the toxins leak out all over other people, you're good.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:55 AM on August 31, 2018 [14 favorites]


I going to start by noting I am transmasculine, and I want to push back of the idea that she is obliged to edit her out-ness for the sake of your comfort that has cropped up in a couple answers. If she's needling you it's one thing and, if that's the case, ignore the rest of this sentence, but I'm reading your post to mean that either a) she's happy talking and joking about her experience of gender generally or b) she's thinking "Oh thank god, a trans person! I don't have to edit myself at work." (Or she doesn't know you're trans at all--I had a trans coworker (who sat less than ten feet from me) at my first job and we only discovered this when we ran into each other at a trans event.)

Cliche, but do you have a therapist? You're not inherently toxic and, at the risk of sounding condescending, I think you've hit the delightful cocktail of "transitioned but it maybe hasn't quite sunk in yet" and "first office job", especially if this is the first environment where you haven't been out by default (due to having transitioned there). I definitely had a phase where I both desperately wanted to connect with any trans person I came across and would think myself inadequate if we didn't actually get on.
posted by hoyland at 4:29 AM on August 31, 2018 [10 favorites]


my gut sees her as a foil showing how terrible I am at my job, at being trans, at accepting I'm trans, at having a life outside of work, and at being a well adjusted and happy human being.

There are essentially two ways for a human being to feel terrible. One of them is to be directly threatened by a genuinely threatening thing: this is "bottom-up" terrible-feeling and it's usually useful (see also: The Gift Of Fear). The other is to tell ourselves stories that leave us feeling threatened: this is "top-down" terrible-feeling, and whether it's useful depends mostly on whether the stories are accurate reflections of the real world or not.

It sounds to me like the stories you're telling yourself about your position relative to this other employee are not accurate reflections of the real world, and that switching them out for other stories would do you more good than harm.

The good part about "top-down" terrible-feeling is that we're completely capable of replacing the stories that left us feeling terrible with other stories that don't. In order to do that, we need to practise three skills: (1) noticing that we're feeling terrible; (2) inquiring whether or not we've just been telling ourself a story to bring that on; (3) if so, switching from telling the story to paying attention to our bodies until the terrible-feeling chemistry clears out.

So you find your attention drawn to this other employee, and you start feeling terrible. First step is to notice that you're feeling terrible; training yourself to do this as quickly as you can, before the terrible has had time to get well entrenched, is helpful.

Second step is to remember the story you were telling yourself right at the point when the terrible feeling came on (I am terrible at my job/I am terrible at being trans/I am terrible at accepting that I'm trans/I'm terrible at having a life outside work/I'm terrible at being a well adjusted human being/I'm not happy but happiness is mandatory/whatever it may be).

Third step is to remind yourself that it's that story rather than your co-worker that has left you feeling terrible, and that feeling terrible is the immediate problem you need to solve rather than whatever the story happened to be about. Having done that, pull over to the side of your life for the minute and a half it will take your body to clear out all the threat chemistry, and pay close attention to the processes it goes through as it settles down: breathing and heart rate slowing, guts unclenching, shoulders loosening or however it works for you.

Things that won't help include formulating elaborate theories about why you tell yourself these stories. It's enough to notice that you do, and to practise dealing with them when it happens, quickly enough that your bodymind is diverted from practising the currently customary death spiral instead. If you stick at that, you should find that unwarranted self-criticism fairly quickly loses the malignant power it currently exerts over your life.
posted by flabdablet at 4:55 AM on August 31, 2018 [26 favorites]


In addition to being jealous because you see someone who is like you in some ways but appears to have it all together, it seems like a significant part of the issue is anxiety that she will make your office life more difficult/ less comfortable. Does it help to keep in mind that even if that worse-case-scenario occurs, you're not stuck there forever? Now that you have a good job on your resume, getting hired someplace new will be even easier. If you can stay put you should, but it won't be the end of the world even if your fears come true.
posted by metasarah at 8:30 AM on August 31, 2018


There's a lot to think about here, but just to pick one - It seems like you feel pretty ashamed that you are having these toxic feelings and I hope you can let that go.

So, look, you kind of can't stand her and she takes up much more brain space than you want her to (right now). But you don't feel that way about her because you're bigoted, or stuck up, or just plain mean. You feel that way about her because her presence reminds you of deep pains in your life and deep injustices in the world. AND, even though her presence is painful, you have not allowed yourself to treat her badly - you're civil and even make friendly overtures. That's not the behavior of a toxic person. That's the behavior of a principled and kind person.

So, while you work through all the many other aspects of this, I hope at the very least you can pivot away from shaming yourself for feeling these painful feelings.
posted by Ausamor at 8:34 AM on August 31, 2018 [7 favorites]


[...] I want to push back of the idea that she is obliged to edit her out-ness for the sake of your comfort that has cropped up in a couple answers. If she's needling you it's one thing and, if that's the case, ignore the rest of this sentence, but I'm reading your post to mean that either a) she's happy talking and joking about her experience of gender generally or b) she's thinking "Oh thank god, a trans person! I don't have to edit myself at work." (Or she doesn't know you're trans at all--I had a trans coworker (who sat less than ten feet from me) at my first job and we only discovered this when we ran into each other at a trans event.)


Agreed. I can't know if she just does it around me or if she does it with everyone. She knows I'm trans. The two other trans women (one's normally out in the field rather than at our office) clocked me immediately, took me out to lunch. It's not something I'm used to. If it happens again, I might just send her a brief text letting me know I'm uncomfortable but don't want her to censor herself, either. I figure if she's mindful and not a jerk, she'll dial it back around me. But the moment's passed to do it out of the blue.

Cliche, but do you have a therapist? You're not inherently toxic and, at the risk of sounding condescending, I think you've hit the delightful cocktail of "transitioned but it maybe hasn't quite sunk in yet" and "first office job", especially if this is the first environment where you haven't been out by default (due to having transitioned there)

I have a therapist, I think she takes my concerns seriously, but not with much tangible advice? Like her advice on the jealousy was "we all get feelings we don't expect, it's about what we do with them." And I've certainly not ever wanted to act on these feelings, but I still have to deal with them.

And IDK, I felt pretty established before I moved to this job. I've had two other jobs after I had transitioned. I was in a more suburban area where people weren't as quick to clock people. I worked in retail, and was never clocked. My coworkers thought I was cis (I could tell from certain questions from female coworkers), I felt included and accepted in a way I never felt before or since. It wasn't all great, since customers and coworkers were casually sexist, and the money was terrible. But I felt like myself and alive.

In this place, I had a cis guy coworker I thought was flirting with me (complimenting my appearance, wanting to spend time with me, etc) turn out to just be building up to saying he knows I'm trans and wants to be supportive and that his roommate from college transitioned. He asked me why I wasn't being more honest at work and just out. I believe he also cited the other trans woman? And then kind of asked how I dealt with how society saw me, since he felt a bit uncomfortable being an attractive non-white guy in a city that's not too diverse. It was kind of heartbreaking, because I really liked him and thought I could no longer meet people organically as a trans woman and in the post-tinder age. The dynamic of our relationship changed, I could tell I was now a queer friend and leaned in, describing my vaginoplasty prep electrolysis in WAY too much detail. Cis people like hearing salacious details. Made me feel gross, but I'm lonely.

I definitely had a phase where I both desperately wanted to connect with any trans person I came across and would think myself inadequate if we didn't actually get on

I tend to feel a bit drained by trans spaces. I don't have a lot of trans friends and mostly chat with other trans women on Discords or whatever. I am so prone to comparing myself and wondering if I made the right choices. Like, when I was doing support group on Saturdays, that would be my whole day. I'd just be emotionally drained. Part of it could well be imposter syndrome, since I seem to have dysphoria and some inkling I wasn't a guy when I was a teenager, but the dysphoria never stopped me from doing anything. Like, I've always peed standing up, and while I wanted vaginoplasty once I heard of it in middle school, I didn't obsessively research it. I never even wanted to crossdress. So while I have goals in my transition I'm working towards (GRS soon, FFS if it turns out I really can't pass in an urban environment), I have a lot of doubts.
posted by MuppetNavy at 8:42 AM on August 31, 2018


Do you resent how she makes her trans-ness a frequent topic of conversation, regularly drawing attention to it, when all you want is to just blend in a little and get on with your life? Even if she's found something that works for her, it's problematic that she's bringing up a lot of drag stuff while you're right there, potentially drawing unwanted attention to you. (Are you out at work? Could it be that she doesn't even know she's embarrassing you? Or could it be that she knows you're trans and is looking for some way to signal solidarity with you?) Trans or not, if you're an introverted type, a certain kind of extrovert can be torture to be around. You can envy the confident, noisy people at the same time you wish they'd just shut up. I'm getting the feeling there may be some of that happening here for you. You're both trans, but you may be very different people otherwise.
I'm not out, but she and another trans coworker clocked me early. One online friend theorized maybe she's doing it to try to say I could be out and safe (it's not about safety, it's about feeling half-okay). It's hard for me to tolerate being introverted, because I'm kind of a lonely person and wish I could just fix it and have friends and things to do other than "work, get tired and anxious about work, eat, go for a run, sleep." I've tried powering through my impulses to isolate myself, but it takes work. I'll often just end up ruminating about what I said and how I acted.

My mom raised me in an early-intervention autism therapy program, so I have a rather scripted idea of how people talk to each other and was frequently lectured about how to act normal. It made it more stressful to talk to people than to avoid them. When I was doing poorly, my mom would get mad and say how I'd end up alienating bosses, wives, friends, and so on and end up impoverished and lonely. Parents can really catastrophize when they're anxious.

So, it's a known issue.
posted by MuppetNavy at 8:52 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]


In addition to being jealous because you see someone who is like you in some ways but appears to have it all together, it seems like a significant part of the issue is anxiety that she will make your office life more difficult/ less comfortable. Does it help to keep in mind that even if that worse-case-scenario occurs, you're not stuck there forever? Now that you have a good job on your resume, getting hired someplace new will be even easier. If you can stay put you should, but it won't be the end of the world even if your fears come true.
It's become a minor fantasy to imagine leaving for a job in a smaller city, perhaps where I'd blend in better like I did at my previous job. Or maybe a city where queer people are common enough we're not treated as a novelty or a chance to prove you're woke, but rather just individuals. I felt a lot more accepted and normal when I spend a few months in NYC, although I doubt I passed to everyone I saw. My field tends to be based out of big cities or at least cities with a younger, well educated population, though. So that tends to attract the types of well-meaning people who remind me I don't pass.

Either way, I'm saving up for GRS next year and want some stability after recovery, so I can't quit within a year, realistically.
posted by MuppetNavy at 9:06 AM on August 31, 2018


When I was doing poorly, my mom would get mad and say how I'd end up alienating bosses, wives, friends, and so on and end up impoverished and lonely.

Chances are you're still telling yourself those same stories whenever you feel a bit down. That shit sticks when you learn it as a kid.

But stories like that really are shit. They're completely non-actionable and completely useless. All they ever do is make feeling terrible last much longer, so we're better off training up to notice them and shut them down than habitually repeating them ad nauseam.

Again, the existence of those stories, and their status as our default stories, is much more important than the way they arrived inside our heads in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 9:12 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]


Not trans. But I identify so much about parents indoctrinating "if you behave like yourself, you will never be loved or have a job". And yes, it gets in so deep.

To me, it reads like she's trying to offer an olive branch, but has such a different relationship to her transness that it's not connecting. She seems focused on not being treated poorly because she's different, while you're focused on not being seen as different.

But it doesn't sound like you've made that explicit to her. All your conversations with her have been about your transness and not your womanhood. And that's understandable if you're uncomfortable with small talk.

I'd ask her out for a quick coffee. Something out of the office for a smidge of privacy. You've been meaning to thank her for answering your questions or you want some company while you wait in line. Complement the hell out of her for everything that makes you jealous. That she transitioned earlier than you, that she's comfortable being visible. That gives you an opening to explain that you're not interested in visibility. If that seems too bold, you can soft peddle it as something you hope will change with time, or after GRS.

Complain about your attractive co-worker! I think that story does such a great job capturing the sort of exoticism that makes you hate visibility. Maybe she'll have thicker skin than you. But that gives you another opportunity to highlight that you're not looking for permission to be out at work. You want to be seen as a woman without anyone's curiosity about your bits.
posted by politikitty at 1:58 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


The two other trans women (one's normally out in the field rather than at our office) clocked me immediately, took me out to lunch. It's not something I'm used to.

FWIW, I'm nonbinary but get read as my assigned gender (and for now find that level of chafing something I can live with), so I don't have experience with transitioning or passing in that regard (I do have other experience in passing or masking). I've been finding that with this, as with some other axes of identity, there is a 'dar (gaydar, transdar, autdar, otheridentitydar) that's an in-group recognition thing. It's not that I'm clocking someone to try to nail them down or categorize them or out them or anything, it's more like an inner chime of recognition and a feeling of are you like me? I think we have something in common. Since these folks are your coworkers, they might have felt motivated to engage more directly than they would have if they'd met you in a one-off context.

If it feels like a useful approach, maybe think about shifting your mental narrative away from "they spotted me" and toward "we recognized each other"?
posted by Lexica at 3:08 PM on August 31, 2018 [2 favorites]


To me, it reads like she's trying to offer an olive branch, but has such a different relationship to her transness that it's not connecting. She seems focused on not being treated poorly because she's different, while you're focused on not being seen as different.

Exactly, yeah. Part of the reason why I brought up introverts and extroverts is because in my experience extroverts sometimes literally don't understand how introversion works. Like, it would somehow never occur to them that some behaviors would make a person uncomfortable. I've compared it to cats and dogs, with introverts as the cats and extroverts as the dogs. We have very different signal systems. They want to jump all around and wag their tails and get in our faces, and we're just like, "Stop making all that weird, scary noise!" But extroverts can be wonderful people, even if we struggle to communicate with them sometimes.

Of course, her extroversion may be a cultivated thing. Maybe she decided that this is how she wants to present, or she feels like this is how she has to present, and every day she squares her shoulders and puts on a confident persona. We don't know. But the way she's being trans isn't wrong, and neither is yours. The only problem is that your ways of being trans are different enough to clash, and you have to share an office. I think you might have to be fairly direct with her, because otherwise she might not get it. It isn't that she's stupid, she's just wired differently than you. (Or, maybe she's actually a jerk and she likes making you uncomfortable. There are all sorts of possibilities here and you won't know what's going on until you sit down and talk with her.)

MuppetNavy, have you sought out other trans people who are on the autism spectrum? (It seems there are a lot of them.) They might have some similar experiences and they could offer advice.

A lot of trans people who struggle with social interaction never transition because coping with social stuff AND being out is just too much for them to face. A big part of the reason why I never went full-time was because I'm enormously tall and conspicuous but I'm also very shy and introverted, and I knew I could never live with all the attention I'd get as an out trans woman. I can handle getting dolled up and going out for events, where it's all on my own terms, but I couldn't be out 24/7. Given your history, I know transitioning must have been really daunting. Don't be beat yourself up for not transitioning sooner! Be proud of yourself for doing this NOW.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:09 PM on August 31, 2018 [4 favorites]


First, my sympathy and empathy to you! I am not trans but do identify as a queer woman who has been more out, then less out, and now super out in various work and life situations. Like you, I don't often feel jealous but there are times in the recent past when I was coming out more and found myself so envious of people who were further in their journey. I didn't like the feeling and certainly didn't want to feel that way but it was what it was. With time it got better, and I saw how part of it was me and part of it was the other person rubbing it in my face and getting a kick out of my insecurities. I'm doing great now!

If it's any consolation, you already are someone to look up to and there are surely many people who admire you privately. One day you will be in her position of being out and comfortable and confident, although I'm sure she has her days, too. If you ever get the chance to sit down for a friendly chat outside of work, I'm sure she would tell you more about her journey and you'd feel less jealous or at least see more of her challenges. As for the colleague whom you thought had a crush, it's very possible that he actually did but realized that dating co-workers is complicated and often doesn't work out. Please don't see that as a sign of anything you did wrong or that's wrong about you but simply is life.

When I've gone through hard times recently, I found a low-dose of an anti-depressant to work wonders to help me get over the hump. I also switched therapists: your current therapist may have been perfect for the most recent part of your journey but now you would best benefit from someone else giving you professional support and guidance. You can start asking around or even talk to your therapist and ask for recommendations. It felt awkward at first to switch but I'm so glad I did!

Finally, I'd start exploring your more parts of your identity and interests, especially old hobbies that you feel good about and confident in! For example, I always feel at home at the swimming pool -- the smell of chlorine and the feeling of peace I get underwater makes me almost forget how awkward I can feel in my swimsuit and swim cap lol! Where is a place that you feel most comfortable and you? Spending more time and energy there will make you feel better, reconnect with yourself and connect with people whom you like and feel good around. Also, while you may not feel up for ever having a giant trans flag over your desk -- I'm all about Pride flags but would never display a huge one at work it's not my aesthetic, you can claim all parts of your identity that you want to share. A few months ago I updated my social media profiles to reflect the (non-LGBTQ+ related) identity I aspired to but did not quite feel could own yet. Now I feel fully confident and get lots of good feedback. I had to push myself out of my comfort zone but it paid off. (I can share it with you via MeMail if you're interested!)

Again, I'm sorry you're struggling with this. It sounds like you are very self-aware and working your hardest to deal with it. I know a lot of good things are coming your way and that it will eventually all work out!
posted by smorgasbord at 10:51 AM on September 1, 2018


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