Transgender Day of Visibility is an opportunity for anyone to show support for the transgender community. This year’s theme is “surviving, thriving”, so we wanted to spotlight a few Yelp employees sharing their story on #Transthriving. Meet our Yelp Transgender employees looking to spread awareness and empowerment of trans people around the world.
What does Trans Day of Visibility (TDOV) mean to you?
Chase: To me, TDOV represents a day to bring awareness to the accomplishments of the trans & non-binary community along with the discrimination we are still facing in public and political spaces.
Duncan: For me, it’s a day to celebrate. So much has been accomplished that people are finally able to start being themselves and not hide anymore. There’s still work to be done, but being visible makes it clear that we exist and are here to stay.
Nell: A lot of the time, harmful narratives about transgender people are able to spread in ignorance. Transgender Day of Visibility is a chance for all of us to share our stories and have people listen. It’s a chance to counter the lies with our personal truth.
Ari: To me, TDOV is a day to remember that I am lucky and privileged to be able to live my authentic life and that not everyone gets to. So it’s really important to make sure for the people who aren’t able to live their truths at work, school, or life, to see people who are so they know that it’s possible.
Leigh: To me, TDOV is an opportunity to educate and bring awareness to the life and daily struggles of trans folks of the past, present and future. It’s an amazing opportunity to help mainstream culture understand how to be better allies and also empower closeted trans individuals to take the step to leading a rich and fulfilling life that is true to themselves.
How much does you identifying as Transgender or Gender-Queer influence your day-to-day life at the office?
Chase: Being only two years into my transition, being a transman influences much of my day-to-day. I am always aware of it from going to the bathroom to meeting new employees to interacting with employees from other departments all on top of doing my job. I am also constantly figuring out ways I can educate the leadership team on how they can better support their trans and gender-queer employees.
Duncan: Almost none at all. On the days I present as female, everyone treats me exactly the same as the days that I present male (which is most of the time). As scared as I was to start presenting as female at work, it was obviously a non-event to everyone else from day 1, which was basically my dream come true.
Nell: I’ve been out in one form or another for the better part of seven years and at work for most of that. Nowadays it’s not much of an issue, but it was intimidating at first. As long as people respect my pronouns and accept me however I want to express my gender on a day-to-day basis, I’m personally happy. Beyond that it’s important to me that Yelp as an organization work to further the cause of transgender acceptance more broadly, and I try to push for that at work whenever I can.
Ari: I spend most of my time on the phone talking to people who I’ve never met. I never know if the person I’m speaking with might have any negative feelings towards transpeople so I generally just allow them to think I’m female based off of how my voice sounds. I will sometimes change stories I tell on the phone so that my girlfriend becomes my boyfriend or my roomate. I technically don’t have to do any of that but I’m trying to avoid creating obstacles to success. My coworkers are all great about respecting my pronouns and treating me like one of the guys on the team. They’re always surprised when I remind them that if they happen to pick up my phone they need to say Ari instead of “he” because most likely the other person thinks I’m a “she”.
Leigh: I am 8 months into my transition so I would have to say that it plays a huge part in my day-to-day life in the office. With so many changes happening physically and mentally, every day is a learning experience for both me and my colleagues as they continue to support me on my journey.
When you first started working at Yelp, did you “come out” and how? What was that like?
Chase: two years into my time here at Yelp, I came out as transgender and was the first employee at the company to transition. As terrifying as it was, I learned that Yelp had Gender Transition Guidelines already in place and together with HR and my leadership team, I gave six presentations to the departments I interacted most with at the time to help educate people on my story and my new name and pronouns. The response from my colleagues was overwhelmingly positive and supported.
Duncan: I’d presented as female at a few work events, which probably put into people’s heads that this was a thing. I opened up about it on Facebook a little while later, which made it clearer that this wasn’t just a fun thing, or a thing I did at costume parties, but was an intrinsic part of who I am. After that, and the supportive reactions I got from friends and coworkers, I decided to approach my manager about it. He was amazingly supportive about the whole thing, and since then I’ve presented as female whenever I’ve felt the need.
Nell: For me, coming out was mostly a matter of getting people to adopt my chosen name and pronouns, as well as feeling more free expressing my gender at work. I came out mostly by sending an email and updating a bunch of internal stuff to reflect my new name and pronouns. It was kind of terrifying, but people were accepting. One of the things I’m happy has changed recently at Yelp is that when people join they can self-identify and choose the pronouns that suit them, that way people know how to address you from day one.
Ari: Day one orientation in a room of about 50 people we went around saying our names and a little something about ourselves. I stood up and mentioned that my preferred pronouns were he/him and that if anyone had any questions about what that meant to please let me know. We happened to have a HR Recruiter in that class with us because she was trying to get a better understanding of training so that she could recruit better. A few months later she came up to me to say that it had really stuck with her that I had to stand up and say that and from then on out, the name tags given to new hires would also include preferred pronouns. Felt pretty cool to know that Yelp was looking to make it easier for the next trans-person.
Leigh: I decided when I started the application process for Yelp that I would be doing a disservice to myself and the company if I was not open and out about who I am and what my needs are. I speak openly about who I am and the journey I am on and have been met with nothing but support from my department and supervisors.
In a perfect world, how do you envision an inclusion workplace specifically for employees on the Trans Gender Nonconforming (TGNC) spectrum?
Duncan: Bathrooms are always a struggle when I present as female. Gender-neutral bathrooms everywhere all of the time would be awesome. Explicit celebration of diversity! (Hey, cool – check out this blog post!)
Nell: In my ideal world, the little name cards next to people’s desks have their preferred pronouns written on them and introducing and asking for pronouns is a common part of the company culture. There are gender neutral restrooms on every floor. The products we build are designed with inclusion in mind. And employees collaborate to donate time and resources towards charity causes to support marginalized people. Even if things are good in the Bay Area and at Yelp, these are fraught times for transgender people and we have the power as employees and as an organization to make a big difference for these people.
Ari: More gender neutral bathrooms would be great. I use the men’s room too though I have had someone think they were in the wrong restroom when they saw me and I had to reassure him he was in the correct place. My team, group, and training class know I prefer “he/him” but it would be helpful to have ways to let people who you don’t interact with as often know as well. I’m not sure exactly how we accomplish that without just having to wear a sticker every day that says what my preferred pronouns are. Celebrating and highlighting trans people as part of TDOV is certainly a good start to helping get the word out to the entire office.
Leigh: Bathrooms are a huge thing so having gender neutral restrooms are HUGE. Also, respecting pronouns and preferred names/not requiring trans employees to use their dead names at work. At the end of the day just being treated like everyone else.
What question should I ask (and not ask) to a TGNC colleague? – i.e. How can we move beyond asking about “what’s in your pants”?
Chase: If you just met someone who is trans or gender-queer, start by asking us what our hobbies are, what music we like, what are favorite places are to eat at, just like you would with any other stranger. Get to know us as a human first before asking about our experience as a trans or gender-queer individual. If we do feel comfortable with you, we will share our experience. Never ask what our previous name was, what surgeries we have gotten or want to get or other personal questions you wouldn’t ask a cisgender individual.
Duncan: Ask about my makeup routine! Ask about where I get my clothes from. Ask about how long it takes to get ready. Ask about my son! Ask where I get my nails or my eyebrows done. Ask me about my favourite movies/books/TV shows. Ask me where I can possibly find heels in a women’s size 12. Honestly, I’m happy to be asked basically anything. That said, definitely don’t ask to feel my breastforms, and please don’t just grab them without warning – not only is that a bit weird, but I also paid good money for them!
Nell: Just be sensitive! Most transgender people deal with gender dysphoria. They’re either uncomfortable with their bodies or uncomfortable with the way other people see them. Don’t say “sup dude” or “nice jawline” and you should be fine. Most of all, don’t freak out. We can tell when people feel awkward around us and it makes us feel awkward. It’s no big deal. We don’t bite. You’ll be okay.
Ari: Just know that it’s sometimes hard even for us to ask other trans people if they’re trans. There is someone that I suspected was trans but didn’t quite know how to ask. In general as long as you are respectful and come from a place of wanting to “get it right”, most people I think will appreciate the effort you’re making to get to know us better.
Leigh: DO – Get to know our hobbies, likes, history, fav foods. Just like you would get to know any other human. DON’T- ask super personal questions like surgery plans, dead names and other questions that are not needed to be general knowledge. This being said some of us are an open book! I welcome any and all questions as long as they are respectful in nature. Best thing to do is get to know a person and in time it will be clear what they wish to make public or not.
In the workplace (or even outside of it), when should I ask you about your pronouns? Or should I even do that?
Chase: Just ask! If you are unsure, I rather you ask than assume. And if you misgender someone unintentionally, simply apologize, self-correct and move on.
Duncan: Asking is great. 🙂 I’m pretty happy to talk about anything.
Nell: Definitely ask! I’d rather you ask nicely and address me correctly, than assume and misgender me. And incorporate them after you learn them, even if they’re something you’re not used to like they/them. It’s okay to make mistakes, but self-correct. Otherwise, I will correct you literally every time you get it wrong, and it starts to get weird for you the fourth or fifth time it happens in a conversation.
Ari: Just ask what is your preferred pronoun. I know it may seem awkward to you to ask, but it shows us that you’re caring and respectful of us. What’s awkward to us is when we have to correct someone because they didn’t ask.
How can cisgender people be better allies?
Chase: Educate yourself outside of what the media tells you. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the mainstream depictions of transness and queer identity, but recognize that every person’s story is vastly different. Listening and seeking other stories (via YouTube, Instagram, queer blogs, etc.) will help you become more aware.
Duncan: Hear us. Acknowledge us. Support us. Hang out with us! A lot of us write, so read about us. 🙂
Nell: Understand the issues. Transgender and gender non-conforming people face disproportionate harassment, violence, discrimination, and poverty (link here). If you can afford to donate money or time to charity, the community is in need. Beyond that, stand up for the transgender people in your life, educate the people around you, and work on building a freer world for all of us — yourself included — where we are not limited to the restrictive stereotypes of our assigned genders.
Ari:Get to know us. Ask questions. Don’t assume that just because something applies to one trans person you know that it will hold true for every trans person. Each trans person’s experience is unique and none of us can speak for the entire community.
Leigh: Get involved in your local activist circles for LGBTQIA community. Take time to listen to our stories. If you see someone discriminating or saying offensive things, say something – don’t let that behavior slide. Educate yourself by attending community events or online. Respect us and treat us the same you would anyone else.
What are some books/movies/TV shows that depict trans/gender-queer people that are genuine to you?
Nell: The music video for Break Free by Ruby Rose does a great job of capturing the catharsis of being authentic to your gender. The recent book Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie won like every award in the sci-fi genre and explores a society where people don’t believe in gender. It’s eye opening and I recommend it.
Ari:Unfortunately Boys Don’t Cry. I remember having to explain to my upset mom that I wasn’t going to end up murdered for being openly trans.