Saturday, 28 Nov 2020

Gender neutral job titles are vital so non-binary people feel comfortable

While travelling across Vietnam in spring last year, I fully embraced the fact that I am a genderless person and came out as non-binary.

What finally triggered this enlightenment – after years of trying to come to terms with my identity – was the thought of introducing myself to other travellers as a man. It just didn’t sit right with me at all.

The summer that followed allowed me to really explore all the parts of myself that I had been repressing my whole life. It felt like an awakening.

Unfortunately, reality caught up with me when I had to find a job.

As I was trawling through online job ads, I came across a position working for Royal Mail. But when I looked at the job title, it said ‘Postman/woman’

They made sure to include the ‘or woman’ part of the job title in an obvious effort to be inclusive, yet this just highlighted how traditional the company is. They clearly believe ‘man’ and ‘woman’ is all grounds covered. 

I applied for it anyway because my non-binary identity shouldn’t stop me from getting the job I want. Plus, I was excited about the idea of being a postal worker.

I had my interview two weeks after applying and 10 days after that, I was offered the job, starting in September 2019.

On my very first day on the job, I was called ‘young man’ at least five times by the managers. Each time it stung, but I didn’t feel confident enough to go through the process of explaining that I don’t identify as a man.

Correcting people when they misgender you can be a huge struggle for non-binary people.

In my case – on the outside – I appear to most people as a cisgender man. So unless I want to drop myself into a painfully uncomfortable conversation full of either incessant apologising or total confusion, I choose to just stay quiet.

The amount of times I’ve tried to explain my gender to somebody, for them to not understand then awkwardly avoid eye contact with me, is staggering. Some people straight up deny its existence. 

On that same first day, a couple of colleagues even tried to welcome me into the group by telling me that it’s OK to direct gay jokes towards one guy because of the way he urinates. He wasn’t even gay, but apparently the sound of him urinating let them know something he didn’t.

How was I supposed to tell them I’m non-binary? In an office where gay jokes guaranteed a chorus of laughter, how could they understand something my closest friends are still coming to terms with?

Straight away I was one of the ‘lads’ and, honestly, the relief I felt from being integrated into such an intimidating environment trumped the bitter taste in my mouth I had whenever I was misgendered.

I mentioned that I was vegan to a colleague one time and by the end of the week that was my nickname. People I had never even met were shouting ‘vegan!’ across the office to get my attention.

It was the biggest news in the office for a few days and there were people who genuinely could not wrap their heads around the idea. Imagine trying to explain my non-binary identity.

Walking into an office with hundreds of mostly middle-aged white men as a young, mixed race, non-binary immigrant is overwhelming enough in itself.

I feel like Royal Mail is about as old-fashioned as it gets but perhaps if I was awarded the option of an ‘other’ gender on my application, I would have felt more encouraged to assert my identity. 

With my job, I knew that I had to cope with being misgendered for my time there, because the alternative would’ve been so much more punishing. If I stayed quiet, at least I knew the misgendering was unintentional. 

The job was busy enough to distract from the problem, and with most of my time being out of the actual office, I never really thought about giving up the job because of it.

Don’t get me wrong, these problems are not exclusive to this one job and for the most part, I did thoroughly enjoy my time there.

The problem lies in society itself. We simply are not equipped to accept the gender non-conforming community into our language.

We have a system for social communication founded on the male/female binary. We use certain words for men and others for women, like calling men ‘lad’ or ‘mate’, and women ‘darling’ or ‘sis’. We will greet a room as ‘ladies and gentlemen,’ or ‘boys and girls.’ 

Employers have a huge role in the future of inclusivity. I would have easily felt more comfortable to speak up if I knew the company I worked for recognised my identity. A simple ‘what are your pronouns?’ is enough to welcome anybody into a new environment. 

Job titles like ‘police officer’ and ‘firefighter’ have nailed it – these completely ungendered terms apply to absolutely anybody on the job. ‘Postman/woman’ is living in the past – in a time where it was believed that only men and women apply for jobs. 

The end goal, however, is much less straightforward. Unlearning the habits we’ve developed as a society is hard, and it’ll take time before we start to see real change. 

An eternally helpful rule is to never assume someone’s gender. Nobody should feel as if they have to present themselves a certain way to be treated appropriately. 

Ask yourself why your language changes depending on which gender you’re speaking to. The future of inclusivity all starts with the discovery of our own daily patterns. We all have a part to play in the beautiful, diverse world we’re building together. 

A Royal Mail spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘Royal Mail greatly values diversity and is committed to ensuring a workplace where all colleagues feel respected and able to thrive. We were sad to learn that a former colleague felt this way during their time at Royal Mail as this is not the experience shared by the vast majority of our LGBT+ colleagues.

However we never stop our commitment to listen and improve on what we do. Our Trans* Network which includes non-binary people seeks to mark and celebrate all key LGBT+ dates across the year including International Non-Binary Day earlier this year. 

We have changed our uniform ordering policy so that all our colleagues can order their uniform based on how they self-identify. We have also partnered with the trans-led charity Gendered Intelligence to provide dedicated workshops on how to be better allies to our Trans* and Non-binary colleagues. As well as only referring to the gender neutral title “postperson” in all job descriptions and advertising, we are also working on incorporating the gender-neutral Mx option across our business.

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