Is this transphobic-filter Part II
September 6, 2019 12:41 AM   Subscribe

So my work is at it again, trying so hard that they’re going to break something. Help me reality check my reaction; I am looking for input from queer community members, ideally from trans and NB and NGC peeps. What do we think about outing?

Still working with young adults, not specifically a queer clientele. My colleagues are repeatedly outing trans youth to me before I meet them. I am consistently replying with “have you asked their permission to share that information with me?”. The answer is consistently no. The people involved are usually quite young, quite early in their processes and quite “fragile” for various reasons, so it’s coming from a place of care, they want to be sure the person is well received, gendered correctly, etc.

My opinion is that all they need to say is “I am coming in with a girl called Mary tomorrow”. They could add, as they might with others, “be chill she’s a bit shy, or be kind she’s having a hard time at the moment” or whatever. On the other hand I would hate to accidentally (or one of my other collages) hurt or damage someone, by for example assuming that the person in the waiting room wasn’t possibly Mary. So, do I need to know? Do they need to ask if they are going to tell me? What’s the best way to deal with this so I can train my colleagues.

Bonus question: triply wrong to be telling me the persons surgical status right? As in “I’m coming in tomorrow with a person who has had SRS”. I think they think they’re actually being more PC.
In some cases I think they may have gotten th info not from the young adult themselves but from a parent.
posted by Iteki to Human Relations (17 answers total)
I am trans. Frankly, it depends on the nature of your organization and the services you provide, but if you had to ask this question, the answer is bound to be that it's unacceptable. I'd consider the medical history stuff beyond the pale.

For me personally, I don't care that much if someone well-intentionedly outs me in the sort scenario you mention, but I'm not interested in stealth and have enough privilege on various axes that it's fairly unlikely to put me in danger. (I say that now. I have a friend who I told about being trans only after moving away because we had a mutual acquaintance who I categorically didn't feel safe having find out.) The latter may categorically be false for your clients, especially if they have yet to socially transition in all aspects of their lives.

However, speculating about or sharing knowledge about my body is absolutely unacceptable. In a scenario, for example, where you wanted to convey to someone that you could connect them with me to talk about top surgery (or any part of my transition experience, medical or not), I a) expect to be asked if I'm willing to talk and b) expect to remain unnamed until the moment the introduction is made. Also to be clear, "sharing knowledge about my body" covers things like the fact I'm on hormones, how long its been, anything you think might be related to having taken hormones, etc. It sounds like your colleagues may think "the surgery" is a thing, so they may literally not know hormones are a thing.
posted by hoyland at 1:15 AM on September 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

Yeah, I think this is a bad idea, doubly and trebly the medical piece. It puts the young person in a weird situation where they're not equal with their peers - their peers get gender and medical privacy until they choose to reveal stuff, but they don't.

Is there a formal policy in place about this? If your colleagues are coming from a place of care, would it reassure them to say, "when people are in the waiting area and we're expecting a girl named Clelia, we will [follow our lobby check-in process] when we're looking for her, so she will be able to identify herself to us" and "I will check in with my clients about their pronouns and any medical concerns so there is no need to provide information over and above [whatever the standard stuff is] for any client". I used to go to a therapist at a practice with many young queer and trans clients and while I have no idea how they handled giving intake information to staff, I do know that everyone seemed to get checked in with no problems in re gendering people - there were no mystery people sitting abandoned in the waiting room just because people had various gender presentations.

Should they be getting this info from parents (or clients) at their stage of the process? Is this some non-standard intake thing?

Would your colleagues understand this better as a question of equity, like "we need to treat all youth the same rather than having different privacy expectations for cis and trans clients"?
posted by Frowner at 2:12 AM on September 6, 2019 [10 favorites]

A way to do this would be to get everyone into the habit of saying things like "I'll be coming in with Mary tomorrow, she uses 'she/her' pronouns" and then doing that for pretty much everybody. Talking about hormones, surgery, or anything like that is beyond the pale rude, just completely unneeded and invasive. Like, even if you were a medical office of some sort, that's the kind of thing your client should bring up of their own volition and in confidence. Sharing pronouns, at least where I am, is a kind of social exercise that can read as performative among primarily cis folks but the more everyone does it the more normalized it becomes.
posted by Mizu at 2:16 AM on September 6, 2019 [26 favorites]

I had a thought just now. I was rather focused on my own experiences in my original answer as someone who was accessed services as trans youth, but after leaving home and didn't put enough emphasis on the safety issues when it comes to youth specifically. Because your organization appears to work with youth and their parents, your staff needs to be in the habit of not casually outing anyone to anyone, lest you out youth to their parents. If you never, ever out anyone, even to other staff members*, the likelihood that someone slips or word gets back to someone's parents dramatically decreases. That goes for queer youth as well as trans youth.

*Like I alluded to above, depending on the organization, there may be cases where it's useful to note in a file that someone's trans or otherwise communicate this information to staff members they interact with. It sounds like your organization probably doesn't have such situations, but, if they did, having a fixed protocol helps mitigate the risk.
posted by hoyland at 4:20 AM on September 6, 2019 [8 favorites]

Wow... so... that’s a whole thing.

They need to stop discussing clients’ medical transition details, like, yesterday. That’s never okay. And if they’re using “had SRS” to mean “is cis-passing” that’s astronomically more gross and fucked up.

Are these conversations along the lines of “hey, Mary is coming in tomorrow, she’s trans” with the unspoken “so you might think she’s [not a cis girl] when you see her” because yikes and nope.

As a queer, trans, non-cis-passing person who has been misgendered in a delightful and limitless variety of settings, I support what Mizu suggests - introduce folks via name and proper pronouns.

Everyone, cis or trans, gets pronouns in their introduction. This includes staff members introducing themselves to clients. Hell, put pronouns on your business cards.

But for the love of God, yes, please stop casually outing your clients.
posted by Bubblegum Maserati at 5:19 AM on September 6, 2019 [12 favorites]

I don't know if it's transphobic but I do know it's a HIPPA violation.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:38 AM on September 6, 2019 [9 favorites]

Yeah, no matter how much I appreciate that your colleagues want these young people treated respectfully, it's dangerous to out people, it's privacy invading, and it's removing the person's agency in choosing what or if they want which people to know. The surgical status outing is all kinds of surely well-intentioned hot garbage coming from all kinds of bad logic. Is there any way you could get a Policy made about how to refer to trans and cis clients that you can refer to for extra authority when a colleague does this?
posted by gaybobbie at 5:50 AM on September 6, 2019

Yeah, your policies need updating, and the information you give about clients should be uniform across the board. If medical information is a part of what you do, that's fine, of its not it isn't.

A great way to present people s NAME who is AGE who uses PRONOUN. Then other information like SCHOOL, REASON FOR COMING. There may need a need for other information for example if they have a allergy or if there is custody issues, whatever. But it should be focused on 1) providing the service and 2) safety. Basically the least amount of information to do your job well is the amount of information you should have.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:33 AM on September 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

Talk to your supervisor, this should be a policy issue. In a school or health care setting, FERPA applies, as well. There should be very clear rules about what is shared. If there are case notes that are shared, clients should know this and should have a chance to review the privacy policy. There is a privacy policy, right?
posted by theora55 at 7:56 AM on September 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

At a personal level, it’s 100% right to ask whether your coworker has permission to share what they’re sharing. Keep pushing back with a firm “Please don’t share that information with me, it’s a violation of his/her/hir/their privacy.”

At a workplace culture level, it sounds like your coworkers are doing the bad thing from a place of ~good intentions~ and would be open to learning to do better? If so, maybe a brief across-the-board training on not assuming someone’s gender/pronouns based on how they look is in order.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 8:26 AM on September 6, 2019

I think the most constructive way to approach it is probably something along the lines of "We should develop a policy about what is appropriate information to share in informal discussions and what should remain in official documentation", and I think Alexia Sky's suggestion of having a pretty short list of what that information should be is right on. Name, Age, Pronoun and maybe some sort of broad categorization about what they are coming for (like Mentoring, Counseling, Initial Meeting, etc).

You may want to advertise this policy to your clients and to related organizations, so that they understand that you may not know things about them that seem important. "Please know that when you come for your initial visit, the only things we will know about you are X, Y, and Z." This way they don't think that your organization has dropped the ball on knowing what might seem like important things to them. Does that make sense?
posted by Rock Steady at 8:55 AM on September 6, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm trans and I have some questions:

How do your colleagues know your clients' surgical status? (I'm not mad, I really want to know.) Is that status relevant to the work you do? Would you need to ask about it if you weren't informed in advance?

Similarly, how and why do they know your clients' trans status?

Do your clients know that your colleagues know these things about them? Do you think your clients have been told that that information might be passed on?

Depending on the answers, I could see my response ranging from "Your colleagues are doing the right thing" to "Oh god, you owe your clients a huge apology and an explanation of the ways their rights have been violated." Because, like, the situation is not "Mentioning someone's trans status is always wrong" or "Admitting you know someone is trans is always wrong." It's about how the information is used, and whether your clients have given fully informed consent for it to be used that way, or can reasonably expect that it will be.
posted by nebulawindphone at 9:16 AM on September 6, 2019 [7 favorites]

A few years ago, went to a non-profit, hospital chain affiliated Doc-In-A-Box. I had to sign something that said I'd been offered the privacy policy. The office could not locate a privacy policy and served up so much BS. Complained to the chain and it was addressed. Privacy policy matters; another provider's policy said they could use my (details omitted) story in PR. Fuck No. Thank you for raising the issue, it should result in positive change.
posted by theora55 at 9:18 AM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Just a note, Iteki (OP), is in Sweden according to their profile, so references to United States privacy legislation are probably not helpful.

I do agree with the general sentiment that you (as in, the organization) needs to hire a lawyer to get everyone on the same page in terms of what's legally right and wrong, rather than what just feels "off."

After you get the basic legal/policy framework in place, you can start standardizing your process.
posted by cranberrymonger at 10:09 AM on September 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

Can you call in a consultant to help update your policies and give the staff a brief training?

“Hey Manager, the population we serve has shifted and now with a higher number of LGBTQ2+ clients, I I’ve noticed some of our institutional habits are not in line with the privacy policies used in similar orgs. Could we call in a consultant to help update our policies and give the staff a brief training, to make sure our clients’ legal rights and personal information are being treated appropriately and we can properly serve this demographic?”
posted by nouvelle-personne at 10:37 AM on September 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much for all the input, this has been very helpful. I don't have a wide queer context IRL to bounce this stuff with, so I wanted to ensure it wasn't just me being oversensitive, an oft-levelled accusation. I'm going to address it with the next level up on a more generalised basis (this latest incident is one of a decent handful).

There are no healthcare, hippa, education etc issues involved, in terms of pure legality the clients have signed privacy waivers that allow us to exchange information between staff members, but this feels closer to gossip than salient information. We're closer to a citizens advice bureau than anything I guess. Younger clients may have help of their parents to get in touch with us, or the parents may have contacted us first to ask us to reach out to their kid.

nebulawindphone, to address your questions. In this specific case my colleague was, I believe, told by the prospective clients mother (I don't think they are even a client yet). The kid may or may not know that the mother told my colleague but not knowing I exist is unlikely to know that I know this about them. I don't know whether my colleague has even met the kid, so I have no idea if the "heads up" is regards to the person passing or not (god I fucking hate this whole question). The information is not necessary to me in doing my job other than to let me know a little more about what the person is dealing with in their life, their risk for discrimination, etc. The Swedish systems means I can see people's assigned sex from their ID number, but I would not be thrown by that. We have decent guidelines in place (thinks I who made them) regarding official documentation for people whose legal information as it comes up in our systems doesn't match the names they've given us etc, but where we may still need to use those names to access services for them elsewhere, and the guidelines also cover informing people in that position about what information we are providing to whom and why.

A blanket policy of working with pronouns etc is made more difficult in that we are also serving groups who could be bitterly offended by the question to the extent of alienating the groups (or inciting violence towards staff), alternatively where language skills could get in the way, we're not here to educate people. With regards to accessing more training, we have all had access to the highest level of specifically LGBT-focussed training available nationally. It unfortunately didn't go into any of these finer points of interaction or issues of intersectionality, but instead was practically "what is a bisexual".
posted by Iteki at 5:45 AM on September 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are no healthcare, hippa, education etc issues involved, in terms of pure legality the clients have signed privacy waivers that allow us to exchange information between staff members, but this feels closer to gossip than salient information.

Sorry, the bolded info seems critical and was left out of the OP and I'm reversing my position. If the clients have specifically opted in to having their personal information shared between staff members, and the staff members are not sharing this information outside of the organisation, then I think you are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.

And in the specific case of young people, parents are allowed to consent for their children.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:38 AM on September 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

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