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08 December 2020

Gender: Beyond the binary

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Let's talk about gender identity

Transgender Awareness Week is an annual event and this year ran from the 13th — 19th November. It’s an international event to help raise the profile and visibility of issues faced by members of the transgender and gender non-conforming communities.

Why do we need an awareness week? In some respects, it’s quite simple. Our understanding of gender identity has evolved in our society as we’ve started to ask deeper questions on what gender is all about. Most of us grew up understanding the world in two genders, and we’re having to unlearn those old ideas and think outside of a binary world (by which I mean the two genders of man and woman). To do this, we need to stop assuming that biological sex and gender are the same thing.

Transgender Awareness Week helps us to focus on re-educating ourselves and seeing the world from different perspectives. During the week, the TUC premiered a new video which reflects the voices of transgender union members, about the things that can make an enormous difference at work — particularly using someone’s preferred name and their correct pronouns.

Trade unions have a key role to play in supporting trans people to be their authentic selves at work, as well as combating discrimination and hate. We know that hate crime is on the rise, but better reporting within the police makes it harder to understand the true picture. What we do know is that hate crimes are still under reported.

The TUC has put together aguide to support victims of hate incidents, including actions you can take if you witness something. We can all be trans allies by using our voices to take a stand against oppression, bullying and harassment. We call this ‘using your privilege’, by which we mean using the advantages you may have in society that other groups of people may not have. For example, a man may use his position to challenge and take a stand against everyday sexism in an open meeting, or a cisgender person might speak out in support of a trans or gender non-conforming colleague.


Going back to the topic of gender, let’s start to break down our understanding of what gender is all about

Both these aspects can be quite complex, and there’s much more to gender than our biological make-up. For many people, the binary concepts of man or woman don’t account for how they experience their identities in the real world. People can be treated in certain favourable or unfavourable ways because of how they have presented or expressed their gender — for example, someone who appears more feminine may be on the receiving end of sexism, even if they don’t identify as a woman.

What does non-binary mean?

When we start breaking away from the binary view of gender, we start to find that how people see themselves is more of a spectrum than just two choices. Some people describe themselves as non-binary. This means they don’t identify exactly as 100% male or female, but somewhere in-between. Or they may identify as an entirely separate third gender that’s neither female nor male.

Increasingly, non-binary people are demanding equality and freedom of self-identity (passports, driving licences etc). They want to be treated with respect in their workplace, and they want unions and union reps to be there to support them in achieving this.

To help with this conversation, the TUC has created some guidance on supporting non-binary workers in the workplace. It’s aimed at union reps, but it helps raise people’s understanding of wider gender issues.

Let's talk about pronouns

There are some simple ways that we can create more inclusive workplaces such as removing gender divisions in communications. For example, instead of saying ‘good morning ladies and gentlemen’ you could instead say ‘good morning everyone’. It’s a simple change, and by thinking a little differently, we become implicitly more inclusive.

Many non-binary people prefer to use non-gendered pronouns like they instead of he or she. It’s increasingly common and acceptable to ask people what their preferred pronouns are when first meeting them, and to use them consistently when dealing with them in social and working life. You can help create an inclusive workplace by telling people what your pronouns are — in just a few short clicks you can add this to your name in your email signature, for example.

The most important thing is to not misgender someone — if someone has told you they’d like to be referred to in a certain way, then do so. If you forget or make a mistake, just apologise, correct yourself, and move on. Deliberate misgendering of trans or non-binary people is a deeply hurtful form of discrimination.

An update on equality monitoring

Back in 2018, I wrote about some of the terminology we’d used in relation to equality monitoring as we refreshed our membership system and forms. We’ve come a long way since then to make sure we have an accurate picture of our membership which helps us to check that we’re doing the right things and being a supportive an inclusive union. We’ll cover in a future blog how we’re doing against our objectives.

For the moment though, I wanted to focus on how we’re being inclusive in our membership database and application process.

We follow industry and union best practices in the questions that we ask and how we present this information. We have separated questions about gender and transgender into two sections — because someone can identify as a woman and also be transgender. It’s also important to note as we’ve discussed earlier in this article that how someone presents themselves may determine whether they could be subjected to detrimental treatment, so we don’t need to know someone’s biological sex as this may be irrelevant to their experience of the world.

To ensure we support non-binary people, we use the Mx title alongside Mr, Miss, Mrs etc, and we always provide an option of ‘prefer not to disclose’. It’s vitally important that we have this option because people must feel comfortable disclosing information to us or choosing not to. For many transgender and non-binary people, that level of trust may not exist because of the high level of prejudice and discrimination against these communities — being gay for example is seen as more acceptable societally, but huge stigmas continue to exist around transgender identities.

Want to know more?

Visit the TUC's campaign

"Well publicised campaigns have sought to break our solidarity in recent years by introducing mistrust and fear against transgender communities. Myths and discriminatory tropes have been used to undermine attempts to ensure that trans identities are fully respected and accepted as valid. As a union movement we stand together to ensure that all genders are treated with dignity, respect and free from harassment." - Chris Rimell

About the Accord ED&I group

The Accord Equality Diversity & Inclusion group aims to ensure every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to maximise their potential, regardless of background, and to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a place where diversity is celebrated, and all contributions are welcomed and cherished without prejudice or judgement. It’s also a chance to collectively learn from our experiences, allowing us to remove barriers and enrich each other’s lives.

If you’ve experienced any issues surrounding transphobia at work, or you want to know more about what Accord’s approach to equality, diversity & inclusion, get in touch at [email protected]

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