Last Tuesday, Katie had one of those days at work that can only happen when you’re a transgender person and new at your job. You know those? No? Well, you probably know what it feels like to be new at your job and have something escalated you don’t know how to fix therefore causing a stress spiral. That’s what happened to Katie. Something broke during an update on one of the tablets she recommended using at work and she spent most of the day fielding calls and trying to fix it, only to leave frustrated and unable to fix anything. As she told me about it, I could see the panic in her eyes that can only happen when you’re new in role, the kind of stress I’ve seen when you need help but don’t even know what questions to ask. The day before, she had been dead-named on the phone in a voicemail. She returned the offenders call leaving a message informing the person to update their contact information, but never heard a response. Then, on the day everything at work was going wrong, she was dead-named and misgendered at least 4 times.
Now, we all have bad days at work. We all know what feeling out of our depth feels like, the feeling of inadequacy when you don’t know who to ask what questions. What most of us don’t know is being in the midst of coming out at work and having people address you by your old name and gender you by a gender you never were to begin with. As someone watching what happens to my wife after an onslaught of this in a 2-day span, I’m not totally sure Katie knows the feeling either. She can always tell me in transactional detail what happened, outlining the facts, who, and when. She can always explain that she knows the other person didn’t mean it, that they corrected themselves, that the intentions were not ill-willed. There is a kindness in her for this understanding that I find so admirable. Where Katie falls short is in telling anyone what she actually feels as a result of these incidents. This is something she is working on in therapy. It’s as if the decades of hiding her own identity from herself have perfectly curated a Cryptex for Katie to figure out how to decipher so she can see the message inside. “How do I feel today?” Answer TBD based upon 20 riddles and perfect knowledge of scripture. Thanks, Dan Brown for the summer-read that led to this reference.
I was home from a massage and on the phone with my mom at about the same time Katie got home from therapy. She came in and laid almost immediately on the couch, barely saying hello, barely making eye contact. I ended the conversation with my mom and sat next to her. She couldn’t tell me what she discussed in therapy. I asked her if she was okay, but she wasn’t. She could barely speak, the words coming out of her mouth forming 2 to 3-word sentences in a barely audible volume. I knew what it was. I’d seen this before, although I haven’t really seen this version of Katie in a long time, several months. Katie was in the middle of what I can only describe as a shut-down, her body physically manifesting the trauma her brain cannot carry under the immense emotional weight of pain. I was in the midst of making 2 meals for Lambert House and now also looking at preparing our dinner since Katie was not in a state to do anything. In a moment of selfish frustration at the timing of this episode, I asked Katie to lay down in the bedroom so I could focus on what needed to be done. She obliged.
As a reminder, Katie works in construction. In October last year, she got placed in an office position. This was a complete relief to both of us. She came out in December, notifying her Union, company HR, and eventually the entire team that her name is Katie, and her pronouns are she/her. The process was incredibly smooth, easing the anxiety of the “what ifs?” we had been pondering since Katie came out to me in the beginning. That said, the safety of being in an office environment also assuaged our concerns. Her team is great, and aside from the occasionally visual gender mishap, which was often quickly corrected, everyone adhered very quickly to the “new-for-them” name and pronouns.
On Thursday, Katie was notified that work had slowed down in the office and she needed to be put back into the field. On Monday this week, she rode Cher (the vespa) to a jobsite in Bothell. She was dead-named and misgendered more times than could be counted. It’s not that we don’t know the options available to us for support on this matter. Her union and company have proven to be very helpful. It’s this time in-between while Katie grapples with what all of this means to her that is the most difficult. The balance of understanding other’s human error and responding with compassion while also fighting for her right to not be re-traumatized is delicate and unclear to me. This time watching Katie fight against her body’s inherent response to shut-down is heartbreaking. I don’t want to see the inevitable toll this will take on her as she attempts to correct and/or brush off the number of times she is called the wrong name. I’m starting to see why others are sensitive on this topic, so quick to jump to anger. The lack of control is about all anyone can handle.
In what I find to be a quick-witted response, Katie wrote her name on her helmet with the hope this will create a visual queue for her peers. That picture is below. Outcome to be determined.