I recently sat down with someone that identifies as gender non-binary. Due to the delicate nature of our discussion, and for their own fear that they could risk losing their job if their employer knew, we are protecting their anonymity. I was curious to share the untold stories that exist everywhere – in our communities, in our workplaces, and in our families. Learn what it is like to keep a part of yourself hidden from others…
How would you describe your experience with the gender spectrum?
My experience is one that continues to evolve. I recognized from a very young age that I was somehow different than most people and didn’t really fit in with any particular binary group. At the same time I struggled because I knew that how I felt wasn’t something that was socially acceptable at the time. Today I have come more to grips with it than ever before and it is quite freeing and comforting to know how I finally feel at ease with who I am.
What does it feel like to “cover” your gender identity in the workplace?
Actually, now is one of the better times in my career. Having grown up in a very conservative corporate environment, and having chosen to leave that conservative corporate environment for the relative anonymity of a different company has helped because I can now express myself as I choose when I’m not traveling. Yet, at the same time I can’t fully express myself in person either so that’s still somewhat limiting. I very much enjoy the freedom that it has provided and look forward to the day when it’s fully acceptable to be who I am regardless of circumstance or profession or appearance. I am envious of “normal” people who don’t have to give a second thought to how they are presenting each day and can simply walk out in the world and not have to worry about social rejection or humiliation or worse.
Tell us about your career “pivot point” and why you made the recent shift.
I was at the point where I simply couldn’t put on the costume of being fully male anymore on a regular basis. It was actually a factor in why I decided to leave large corporate world and seek something different. It certainly wasn’t the only reason but it was definitely a catalyst.
What is it like for you to be your full self?
Very freeing. It’s incredible to be able to look in the mirror and say yes, that is me, as opposed to what I wish I could be.
What are times you felt you could be your full self in a professional setting?
I’ve had many opportunities. Whether it’s simply being myself on conference calls and knowing that no one can see me, or in the opportunities I’ve taken advantage of at LinkedIn local events over the past year. Also, I’ve made a point of meeting with people from my Alma mater to encourage them that everything is much better now than it was years ago and that we continue to make progress and that it’s OK to be yourself in the real world. There are no limits on our ability to succeed regardless of how we choose to present or who we love or any other attributes.
How could an ally better support you in the workplace?
An Ally can help to push for greater acceptance and to stand up when something is said that is not right. And when there is that subtle behind the back bullying or jokes being made to call people out and make sure they know that is not acceptable. I’ve had to do that myself on a couple of occasions and just say, “look folks this is not something that should be happening. This is not a locker room this is not the 1960s or earlier and this is not something that I’m going sit here and listen to.” An Ally also reaches back out to the person and says, “it’s OK I’ve got your back and I’m here if you need to talk.” That’s a crucial step that many of us really would welcome and desperately need.