Transgenderedness: Destroyer of repressive workplace norms (?)

Thesis: To accept transgendered persons in the workplace will revolutionize the way corporate society functions. We will no longer be able to create castes based on the minutiae of style and manner. (Or will it be otherwise?)

We are a picky society, consumed with the frivolous
Work in America is not primarily about “performance.” In certain environments, performance is valued, but it is never a sufficient cause for success.

I sit down at my desk, ready to “perform.” I will perform all tasks well, even with unfeigned cheer. But if I wear a suit from 1977 and a big ol’ Wembley necktie, I am a fool, an outcast, an employee certain to be… fired!

This example is extreme, but who can disagree? Oh, sure, certain troglodytes, useful and unseen by clients, may get away with it (red Swingway, etc.). But as for those in “the game,” the standard is finely detailed. When I was at a major drug company, the boss would get uncomfortable if I wore wear my jacket; the way was not to do so. “Why not take off your jacket, get comfortable?”

In a word: Conformity. And it is not just clothes, makeup, the things of appearance. It is the way you talk, your manner, your manners. Mind them all, or be talked about when microwave popcorn is made.

Enter the transgendered
The transgendered person, if s/he is tolerated in his/her preferred form, upends the picky standard. Let him/her be a cross-dresser, let him/her be a transsexual–it matters not. If such gross differences with what is “normal” are to be tolerated, then what can be done with small deviations from the standard?

Consider the job interview. If Bob shows up in makeup and nice, female businessware, the how can Mr. Interviewer toss my resume simply because my tie is of a garish design? If Myrtle is in a suit and tie, then how can anyone giggle if I show up in jeans and a tee shirt? How can I be passed over for a promotion merely I’m a nerd with a pocket protector? To do so would be hypocrisy.

Homosexuals can nearly do it, but not quite
In the workplace, homosexuals are more and more out, and sometimes being out means being a little different. The homosexuality itself is “different.” Even so, a compromise is struck: Gays get their own category and a little leeway. So do women. But there are glass ceilings for them both and double standards to aid “us,” because

Hypocrisy is a survivor
We love our castes and will not let go of them easily. Double, triple, and quadruple standards will help us accomplish many things. The Sikh may wear his turban–that’s religion, and not something to be commented upon. But if someone wears a baseball hat with his suit–look out!

A lawsuit or a policy may allow Bob to wear a dress without harassment. Others will share a wink or a comment with those they can trust. Bob won’t be CEO any time soon. The gays will be partly out, not totally. “Business casual” will have its unspoken rules. We will play our frivolous games no matter what Life and Political Correctness throw at us, and those who play them best will be rewarded. The exploited remainder may lose with or without complaint, as they choose.

Er, Swingline.

Can you name me a society that isn’t? I’d say every culture has its own unique hangups.

I’m not really certain what you’re getting at here. Workplace norms will continue to evolve, I’m sure, and different things will be accepted. Will there be a day when nobody cares how anyone else dresses or what they look like? I doubt it.

I suppose it depends on what field of work we are talking about. I’ve seen folks dressed just like you are describing…and they were soon to be…engineers.

Well, I can disagree to a degree. Within some bounds I’ve always pretty much dressed as I wanted too…and even shaving was optional unless I was doing a presentation to the customer or out on a pre-sales engineering dog and pony show. Even then, again within some fairly reasonable limits, I could dress the way I wanted too. I’ve seen folks in my line of work that wear suits…and some that wear jeans and a tee shirt. Myself I’m a ‘casual dress’ kind of guy. Ability always counted for a hell of a lot more than appearence…least in my line of work and in my experience.

Again, I’d say it depends on your line of work. There are all kinds of different ‘corporate cultures’ out there. Certainly some demand or require conformity. Others do not. Different strokes for different folks and all that. I’ve certainly worked for companies in the past that demanded comformity…for very short periods. Then I left as that gig wasn’t for me and found places more to my style.

At any rate, I’m not seeing the point. If you like comformity, work somewhere that has that ‘corporate culture’. If you want laid back and you have the options to pick your work, then look for a place that has no ‘corporate culture’…or one that best suits you. No need to be either gay or a transgender. :slight_smile:


XT, I will grant you that conformity is less in certain lines of work. In others it is great, and it is hard to find “another gig” without it. I left the corporate world because I was sick of the conformity.

My vision is this: A very diverse society where anyone can do his/her thing so long as it is not evil (i.e., hurtful to others). OK, maybe we’ll have some nudity limits, but otherwise the more diverse the better.

Aeschines, you would like the book Gender Outlaw by Kate Bornstein. Her whole point is not about changing from one gender to another (although she did). It isn’t about male and female. It’s about demolishing the whole system of gender that keeps people locked into fixed categories. It’s ultimately about power and who wields power over you… or how you can break out of that system and find your own power to be as you want to be. In Bornstein’s view, “male” and “female” don’t have to be fixed reference points either. There are innumerable varieties of how people can pair up into couples on the basis of butch/femme, top/bottom, dom/sub, etc., without even necessarily any need to reference male or female. Once the rigid male/female binary system is broken up, everyone will gain in personal freedom.

This gets way beyond the scope of your little take on office politics, though it is directly relevant to the OP. Bornstein became a “gender outlaw” when she reflected that while she isn’t male any more, she isn’t exactly female either. She then felt free to drop any need to determine exactly where she fit on the gender spectrum.

In my case, funny you should mention it. When I first went trans, I developed three gender modes. I kept my male look, more or less as it had been, for work. I used dresses, makeup, and everything else for my totally femme look. I also developed a sort of Gothy androgynous look that was easier to put together and maintain.

Lately, though, I’ve gotten better at the female mode and have pretty well dropped my androgynous look in favor of going female whenever possible. At work, my “male” look has already slipped well into the androgynous zone. I got my hair styled, I’ve shapedmy nails and eyebrows, and I wore a purple blouse to work the other day. All I would need to add would be a skirt to be fully femme at work. If my transition proceeds smoothly, my office look will gradually merge all the way into femaleness over time. No one has minded or commented or said anything in the least about my evolving look. I turn in good work and that’s what they care about.

I know one other trans lady who works in a similar setting, and she’s been merging slowly gradually into female too. We started this independently of each other and then found out we’d been paralleling each other. She hasn’t had any hassles either.

In my workplace, BTW, I have not observed any of the pettiness over conformity you described. I’m fortunate to work in a place where brains, know-how, and work ethic are what count. Variety of human types is pretty well taken for granted. I’m sorry if your workplace has such “repressive norms,” or were you just being satirical?

If so, your piece might work simply as satire rather than a debate, and would fit better in MPSIMS.

Personally, it’s getting almost useless to keep up the pretense of being “male” any longer. Even my supposedly male guise is queer enough to get me beat up and murdered by strangers if I happen to wander into the wrong bar. It’s society at large I want to lose all this repression-by-gender.

Yes, I think this is the way of the future.

I think the male/female archetype is too deep to dismantle–the human mind loves nothing more than to flow in deep channel category–but perhaps we can increase our sophistication that we transcend these categories for the benefit and enlightenment of the species.

That is a cool approach.

I am happy for you in that positive situation. What kind of work do you do, and where, roughly, are you at?

Nope, no satire. I’m pretty cynical about the corporate world.

I’m on your side, friend. And I hope nothing bad happens to you.

It depends where you work and what industry you are in. Engineers and tech people in my experience can get away with a lot more sartorially then say lawyers. Most lawyers live in conservative suits. It also depends on what city you work in. I find that DC is a lot more conservative than other places I’ve been to.

Thanks for your concern, Aeschines. I don’t actually go to bars at all, so not to worry much. I read how other trans people got murdered, and I try to learn from their example what not to do. I’m a federal government contractor near Washington, DC. I work as a linguist, in effect a counterterrorism analyst. I’m not with the Defense Department any more, fortunately for my gender identity. So my office is like a blend of corporate and government work environment. I’m grateful to be in a workplace that values smarts over mindless conformity.

Some states and municipalities have laws against gender identity discrimination. That makes it possible for transgendered people to transition safely on the job, and in a corporate environment such as you describe, I think it would be really interesting to see if your predictions would come to pass. How would you measure TG’s effectiveness in destroying repressive workplace norms? To verify that your prediction was coming true?

Humans are extremely snobbish over how others look. This is true even in the Cross-Dressing (not the same as Transgendered but somewhat related) communties of San Francisco, such people are amongst the most repressive against those who don’t dress right of any groups I have interacted with. In fact I avoid them because of their repressive norms. I feel people should be able to wear whatever they want whenever they want without discrimination, but I doubt trans gendered people are the source for this change, after all most transgendered people seem to be very strongly gendered and often dress very much as their gender.

Why stop with nudity limits? It’s not like running around with your jingle bells jingling is harmful to anybody else.

What’s worse is when nudity is allowed and no-one takes advantage of it! It has been legal for both women and men to go topless in the streets of Ontario for quite a while, but I never see bare-breasted women during the summer here*.

I’ve been to nudist events. I’ve seen what real people look like. My theory is that the fasion industry is unconsciously enforcing clothedness so that no-one realises how far their style norms are from the vast majority of the population.

[sub]*Except during the Pride Parade. And then only on the floats.[/sub]

Personally, I fear for the future of the SDMB if workplace norms become any looser. As it is, half the bandwidth is taken up with gripes over the foibles and follies of coworkers. If people really start dressing and acting as they please, the mods will have to start a new board just for “idiot coworker” rants.

One may draw an analogy with the presence of foreigners in a workplace. In my field, engineering, I’ve worked in offices that are anywhere from 10% to 90% foreign. It goes without saying that people from different cultures have different ideas about acceptable levels of personal space, hygiene, loudness, nosiness, diligence, etc. Without making any foolish judgments about which culture is better or worse, it has been my experience that when there is a critical mass of foreigners in a workplace, standards of behavior become much laxer, because (especially in big-city America) the worst thing that can happen is for you to question someone’s behavior, only to be told, in so many words, “That behavior is acceptable in his culture - by complaining about it, you have revealed yourself to be a philistine, and probably a white supremacist.” What you end up with is everyone acting like an a-hole and nobody having the guts to say something about it.

Don’t you think that workplace dress code is more based on client expectation than anything else? Positions where client contact is pivotal to the life of the business (lawyers, marketting, sales, etc.) are often dressier than ‘back of the house’ employees. This is, in my experience, driven by what customers want to see.

I agree with Stonebow.

In my experience, office dress code mores are driven almost entirely by customer expectation.

I currently work in a large corporate law office, where “business casual” is the theoretical norm and flat out buisness attire is the actual norm. This is because that is what our clients expect. It’s dreadfully oppressive of them, but clients don’t seem to have confidence in a corporate attorney who wears tie-dye and believes firmly that haircuts and shoes happen to other people.

Before this, I worked as a computer person for a smaller firm. I regularly wore my PJ pants and slippers to work. This was perfectly acceptable, as my clients never saw me in person and cared not at all what I was wearing - only that their data was clean as the proverbial whistle.

Obviously, as other posters said, dress codes will vary depending where you are, what sort of work you do, and how conservative your industry is. But, that being said, I don’t think that full acceptance of transgendered people would change anything on the dress code front. Even if MTF transsexuals are fully accepted as women and FTM transsexuals are fully accepted as men, all that would happen is that MTF transsexuals would be held to the same dress standards as other women, and FTM transsexuals the same dress standards as other men.

Ah, but Cap’n, don’t forget that transvestites count as transgendered people too!

Drag queens wear exaggerated parodies of female dress that real women ordinarily would never think of wearing. I mean, 12-inch platform heels? In chartreuse? Really, now.

Transsexuals like me don’t want to parody women, we simply want to be women. You wouldn’t believe the pressure on me when I hang with my TG homies, to blend in with all the other women in the shopping malls by wearing pants. They think I’m a little odd because I prefer wearing long skirts and dresses everywhere. I point out that lots of women wear long skirts to the mall these days. But there is a school of orthodoxy in the TG world that insists “real women wear pants” and you have to blend in, not call attention to yourself.

I say there ought to be a middle area between drag queen and frump queen where you can wear nice neat feminine clothes, even when casual, without being ostentatious. I’m fully aware of the irony that my style choices conform to the usual gender binary, even though I want to demolish that boundary. I guess the fact that I’m trans is sufficient gender-ph*ck. My personal style is feminine but modest and realistic, not drag queeny. I’m still new at this and I want to establish my femme self. Others, who have been at it longer, deliberately subvert the gender system and I cheer them on.

Kate Bornstein rejected the system that said a transsexual had to hide her past as another gender and disappear completely into the new gender, conform exactly to established expectations and blend in so you can’t be read as trans. Bornstein sees that as merely reinforcing the unequal power roles determined by the conventional gender system, so in her theatrical productions she deliberately crosses back and forth over the gender line until nothing is definite any more and all is in flux every which way. That’s important for helping people’s gender awareness to get free of the binary and liberate human gender expression from rigidly fixed categories. But my style would suit a librarian. (I am, in fact, a librarian by profession.) My heels have never gone over one inch in height, I wear mostly long skirts in basic black, and my theme song is “Just Like a Woman.”

To summarize why I think the OP is interesting and where it went wrong:

Transgender itself does not solve any of the social problems attacked in the OP. On the contrary, transgender itself can be the victim of them. For example, according to Bornstein transsexuals used to be told to conform strictly to their new gender and eradicate any trace of once having lived as a different gender. You had to be all one or all the other. This was just a reinforcement of the traditional binary gender barrier.

But if trans bursts these boundaries and reinvents itself to be free of any such boundaries, then where such a principle held, society could free itself of the rigidity criticized in the OP. Bornstein advocates the cross-fertilization of transgender with the S&M scene. According to her, each helps to liberate the other. I can’t speak to that personally, never having had any experience with the S&M scene. Just wanted to give a shout out for a trans thinker who is unafraid to walk on the wild side and unafraid to criticize trans theory by openly saying what she thinks.

The real issue you want to get at is how to dismantle repressive social norms. I guess you focused on the workplace, because there is where economic necessity forces you to get along with people who would repress the likes of you sorry lot if only they could get some power over you. To remove that attitude from society is a worthy, laudable goal… But… There is no direct connection from this to transgender. TG, when locked into a gender system that is inherently power-over, is just another victim. It would take people who are not afraid of standing up to the norm and deliberately flaunting it to show how silly it is to continue it. Such a stand doesn’t happen automatically because you belong to a repressed group. It comes from making a conscious decision to struggle to overthrow the repressive system, <clenched fist salute> baby.

Whoops, I meant deliberately flouting the norm, not flaunting. What an embarrassing language mistake!