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JEANNIE P. MUCKLESTONE, P.S.
PO BOX 565
Medina, Washington 98039
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But to many trans-people, that linkage is not in effect, and the idea that
our genitals define our gender may
be offensive. In my view, my gender
springs from how I identify, rather
than what’s under my skirt. And if
someone wouldn’t ask a genetically female person questions about her body,
it’s a good rule of thumb that they
shouldn’t ask me, either.
Similarly innocent but invisible assumptions may exist around gender
roles. One well-intentioned partner and
practice group leader advised all female
associates (and only female associates)
that they should be careful not to get
married and move away with a man.
Such comments can create the impression that a firm is not equally invested
in female employees because we might
leave to take care of our families. The
irony of the situation was compounded
by the fact that at our firm, it was male,
not female, attorneys who had been
moving away with their spouses.
Another potential area of unintentional harassment is stereotyping
around the proper ways for people
of a particular gender to present. In
my first two weeks at work, a partner
(who at the time did not know I was
transgender) told me that I should try
to talk in a more masculine way. While
the comment was intended to be helpful, I sincerely wondered whether that
meant he and other partners would
value me less as I transitioned into a
more feminine presentation.
The broader point is people can
easily make remarks that do not intend offense but can create significant
discomfort. This makes a sincere and
nonjudgmental inventory into our own
behaviors all the more important. As
long as harassment is viewed as something only “bad” people do, the natural
tendency will be to ignore the ways
our own behaviors may be causing discomfort in others.
Accommodating Needs for
Different Styles of Social
The firm I started at had an open-door
culture. It was common (and suggested
to new associates) that doors remain
open so partners could come in and
give us work. This would happen with
some degree of frequency.
There’s no harm itself in this social
norm. However, different people have
different life experiences and may
respond differently. People who have
been through violent or traumatic
events may go into fight-or-flight mode
more easily than people who have not.
For me, because of my life experiences
around violence, a man rapidly entering my space without asking permission or addressing me triggers such a
fight-or-flight response, which makes
it more difficult to collect my thoughts
and have the desired conversation.
When I asked for an accommodation
of men knocking before entering, a
head of our employment practice told
me this request wasn’t feasible. Other
work environments (particularly in
the nonprofit area) since then have
been more sensitive to these issues,
and I’ve been much happier and more
productive as a result.
The point here is not that any specific rule needs to be adopted for entering offices. Not all transgender people
experience violence, and the needs of
those who do vary widely. But people
with different life experiences may
have different needs. Given the prevalence of violence perpetrated against
transgender people, flexible norms
around preferred styles of interaction
can help more of us feel comfortable
and at ease. It would be a shame if we
had to limit ourselves to particular legal sectors to be accommodated.
It has been an exciting, wonderful few
years for transgender people and for me
personally. There seems to be a general
zeitgeist towards more openness, and
more legal protections are available for
trans-people than ever before.
However, trans-people still face
significant discrimination and systemic obstacles to our success. Many
transgender lawyers still do not feel
comfortable coming out and those who
do may face a set of obstacles in practicing law with the dignity and respect
we all desire. Following the law regarding transgender identity, eliminating
harassment based on sex and gender
identity, and accommodating different
needs can help show that our legal community is a safe one for transgender
lawyers to practice openly.