Staff meetings. Although I’ve heard them referred to as “staff infections” or “stiff meetings” by my friends, I don’t mind them. Our amazing administrative assistant brings in a homemade coffee cake and our department of eight fun females and two token males go around the table and often get sidetracked with one of us sharing a story from the weekend such as walking into a new sex shop unknowingly because it had a fabulous window display, the affordability of massage treatments in Thailand and the current bath salts phenomenon that has us all afraid we will be eaten by a person who is under the influence. Our fearless leader tries to keep us on track, but it’s no easy task.
As we went around the conference room reporting our various works in progress we got off topic (per the usual) and started talking about the guy who works on our floor in another division of the company who yells at himself (or some figment of his imagination) during the breaks he takes in the back parking lot. Everybody laughed. I’ve never seen him; I’m not full-time, so I miss a lot of the good stuff, like employee appreciation breakfasts, white elephant gift exchanges and, apparently, solo tirades that are growing increasingly alarming.
“Oh, and what about the she/he?!” someone said.
My heart got hot. I held my breath. I knew who they were talking about. I didn’t say anything.
“Oh my god. I know!!!! A year or so ago “it” was using the women’s restroom and washing “her” or “his” or “whatever” hands next to me, and the other day I saw “it” using the men’s room! I wonder if “their” boss knows about that?” a co-worker said.
“What’s the deal with that?! Did she/he get permission to switch bathrooms?” someone else asked.
“Ewwww, that is so wrong. Just pick one, man, are you a guy or a girl?!” said one of the men in our department.
A co-worker who knows more about C.J. than most people looked at me in alarmed sympathy. I felt like everyone in the room was talking about my son. I felt the need to speak up for the, what I’m educated-guessing to be, female to male transgender person down the hall. But part of me wanted to say nothing. It used to be easier to say nothing, now it’s not.
I looked at my grossed-out coworker guy. At the last staff meeting, he showed us pictures of himself holding his newborn son. He has no idea if that sweet baby in his arms’ gender and sex align. He could be holding a gender nonconforming child or a transgender or transsexual little being. He has no idea what he could be in for. No new parents do.
“HE appears to be a female to male transgender person,” I said, my heart racing as every eye turned to look at me. I’m usually light-hearted at work, the person to crack jokes while working my ass off. I’m serious about my work, but not my demeanor. I caught most of the people in the room off guard with my serious tone.
“What does that mean?” someone asked.
“Transgender means that a person’s sex, what’s in their pants, and their gender, what’s in their brain, don’t match up. It happens during the person’s creation. He is actually brave for transitioning from presenting as a female to presenting as a male,” I said.
Crickets. All eyes on me. I’ve never been that serious with this group in my life. The grossed-out coworker guy with the newborn gave me a disgusted look.
Then the person next up to report on their workload broke the silence with a list of assignments. I wanted to leave the room. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything.
“That was so awkward!” I said to my C.J.-loving department friend later in the day.
“I know. I’m sorry,” she said sympathetically.
“It’s just hard. I feel like I have to educate people and stick up for people like C.J. I can’t just sit back,” I said.
Sometimes I feel safe in certain places. Like they are separate from my family life of gender issues. I felt that way at work. Few know about C.J.’s creativeness with gender. Work was a place where I could let it all go the most. When my two worlds collided it felt overwhelming. I went home and told C.J.’s Dad about the staff meeting. It was still really bothering me. My grossed-out coworker guy with the newborn was still bothering me.
“You know, you don’t always have to be an advocate. People say shit about gays and lesbians and trans people all the time at my work, I just have to ignore them because I’m not going to get into it. I’m not going to let them know about my son. They don’t deserve to,” C.J.’s Dad said.
I can’t do that. I wish it were that easy. I never thought I’d be an advocate for anything. It seemed exhausting. Now I know that I was wrong and right. I was wrong. I would become an advocate. I was right. It is exhausting.