I was freshly out as a trans woman—in the trans community, we call it baby trans. I was working in technology as a contractor and it was a good place. It was pretty small, but not tiny.
The Vancouver office was exciting, interesting work. I really needed the job because I hadn’t worked in some time and I needed to survive and provide meals and pay my children’s bills. Trans people know, and especially trans women know, that we’re a bad scene away from being fired for “non-discriminatory reasons.” As a contractor, I was really vulnerable.
There’s a certain aspect of the technology field where the guys are “guys being guys.” One of the ways that companies try to make young guys comfortable is to encourage drinking at work, especially on Fridays—there’s a lot of drinking. One day, one of my colleagues had too much beer. He kind of got loose with his tongue. He decided that that was the time that he should tell me how much of an ally he was to trans women.
In front of my entire department he went on this rant about my body. It was like 10 minutes, about my butt and my crotch. He started talking about dicks, about how much he didn’t care if I had one or not. I think he used the word “dick” around 25 or 30 times.
I was near customers and completely dismayed when this was happening. I didn’t really have a lot of experience with unwanted attention. While I was sitting down in the chair and he was towering over me, telling me these things, nobody did anything. I find it so appalling that they just allowed it to happen.
Then he kind of went off on his jolly way. My manager shows up after and says, “Well, that was really inappropriate, totally not okay.” The entire department asks me, “Do you want me to call HR? This looks like an HR issue.” On the one side, it was this guy who would not stop talking about my body and highlighting the one thing that I want nobody to ever talk about. On the other hand, this manager asks me really publicly if I want to take the steps that will get this guy fired.
Within a couple of weeks, I was gone from there. I couldn’t perform anymore, it was just terrible.
A couple of years go by and I find myself as a manager somewhere else. The same guy gets hired and now every time I see him, all I can think about is that day, that moment when I was younger.
I found myself unable to actually function in my work, because of something that happened a couple of years ago. My fear was that this person would drag me into a nightmare where I had to decide among causing harm to a worker if he said something inappropriate, or causing harm to my senior management because they allowed the situation to happen, or causing myself harm because I didn’t prevent it.
I think anyone who is a vulnerable minority has experienced the fear I have. In spite of all of the privileges I hold—my unearned privilege and my earned privilege—I still don’t trust my employer to have my back. Companies are creative when it comes to getting rid of you—they always get rid of trouble. It felt like if I made a fuss about this person, it would jeopardize my ability to climb the corporate ladder.
I feel pretty lucky, compared to other women who have experienced horrific situations. I’m also mindful that sexual harassment in the workplace, any kind of sexual harassment, only happens because it’s facilitated by the workplace. There are all kinds of power hierarchies.