If you want your colleague to feel supported, it’s always nice to verbally affirm them of your support. Something like, “Thank you for sharing that information with me! How can I support you?” can go a long way. At the same time, your colleague is also at work to do their job and may not want a lot of attention drawn to their identity. The best thing to do is to treat your colleague like you always have and move forward with the rest of your day.
There are two things you should strive to achieve when a colleague comes out as trans: address them by their chosen name and pronouns. Names and pronouns are not a preference like blue or green or coffee or tea; it’s an identity. This will take some time in cases where you have already worked with a colleague who had another identity. In order to avoid any awkward communication, it is okay to politely ask your colleague what their name and pronouns are. You can state, “I realize we’ve never talked about pronouns before,” then share yours and ask for theirs. If someone in your office refers to someone who’s transitioning in the workplace with the incorrect name and pronouns, politely correct them using the correct name and pronouns.
If you hear somebody say something you know to be inappropriate, say something. It is not the responsibility of your colleague to raise consciousness and awareness for others on your team. If you set the expectation that inappropriate behavior around trans identity will not be accepted, then people are much more likely to change their behaviors.
All trans people do not have the same experience. Your colleague may not have the same comfort level in talking about their experience with others as they do with their friends, especially in the workplace. Keep this in mind as you follow the aforementioned practices in ensuring an atmosphere of safety and inclusion in your workplace at Cornell.
Practices to Avoid
Mistakes will occur. In cases where you do use the incorrect name, pronoun, or gender identity, simply acknowledge the mistake, correct yourself, and move on. However, it will seem disingenuous if you consistently use the wrong name, pronoun, or gender identity for your colleague so do make an effort.
Unless your colleague specifically said it is okay to tell others, never disclose their trans status to other colleagues. The best thing to do is to let your colleague make the decision on when and how they tell other colleagues whenever they are ready and comfortable.
Your colleague is an expert on their lived experience as a trans person, but they do not speak for the entire community. This is where doing research plays a key role in challenging the assumption that your colleague can speak on all things related to trans identity.
In keeping with the University’s policy of nondiscrimination and the commitment to inclusion, the University allows students, staff, faculty, and visitors to use the restroom or facility that corresponds to their gender identity. While some people in your office may feel uncomfortable about your colleague using a particular bathroom, it is ultimately the decision of your colleague to use the restroom that corresponds with their own gender identity. This is not only a matter of comfort, but a matter of personal safety.
It is important to note that not everyone who identifies as trans will medically transition in their lifetime. Therefore, it is never appropriate to ask about someone’s transition in the workplace. If you have a close personal relationship to your colleague, please take caution as to how and where you ask about their transition. A simple “Do you mind if I ask you a question about your transition?” gives your colleague the opportunity to not answer if they choose not to.