News & Narrative is TransLash Media’s personal essay and journalism platform where you can find stories by transgender and gender non-conforming people that get to the heart of what what’s happening in our community⁠—and the world around us.

News & Narrative is TransLash Media’s personal essay and journalism platform where you can find stories by transgender and gender non-conforming people that get to the heart of what what’s happening in our community⁠—and the world around us.

The Joys of Having A Gender-Nonconforming Boss

For the first time ever in my professional life, I felt like I could exhale a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.

By Aeightch Frederick

Pronouns are one thing, but coming to terms with being trans is a whole other deal. I had been questioning my gender for at least four years, repeating the mantra, “these are not cis thoughts,” but I was discouraged by the first nonbinary co-worker I’d ever had. When I asked my former coworker about being enby, hir snarky reply gave me pause, “You better be ready to correct everyone all the time that your pronouns are they/them.” Zie wasn’t wrong, and correcting people who misgender me is still something I’m working on with my therapist, but in my genderqueer infancy I wasn’t ready to fight for myself. 

About a year later, while interviewing for a new role at a local LGBTQIA+ nonprofit organization, I asserted my pronouns as they/them, only, for the first time. Prior to the interview, the pair was optional along with the pronouns most people default to when they see me. Never before had I felt the right to say, unequivocally, “These are my pronouns, and if you want to be respectful of me, these are the pronouns you’ll use for me.” 

Knowing that the person interviewing me for the new role was trans gave me a sense of relief. For the first time ever in my professional life, I felt like I could exhale a breath I hadn’t realized I’d been holding.  I had no idea how much my new boss would change my life during that first interview on that chilly December day. 

Looking back, even the words they chose to use when offering me the position have stuck with me: “You’re by far the most qualified candidate for the job.” I guess that’s the gist of it—there’s a sense of joy that comes from being truly seen, recognized, and valued that is unmatched. In the months and years I spent with the org I gradually grew more and more comfortable with asserting my pronouns, labeling myself as genderqueer, and eventually, introducing myself with a name that challenges the false gender binary. In time I would find a home in calling myself agender, nonbinary, and trans, too. 

The defining moment for me, in accepting that I am transgender, came in the blink of an eye.

I don’t think anyone else at my new job noticed, but had I been the main character in a great Hollywood story, it would have been the scene where time slowed to a stop. The camera would have zoomed in on my expression, and when my smile broke, the background would be littered with sparkles and birdsong. In front of me, a trans man, and a nonbinary coworker, my supervisor made a joke about cis people not understanding something. Their knowing smile, the subtle tilt of their head, and the laughter filling the room shook me. It was at that exact moment I realized I belonged there, smiling and laughing in shared understanding with these trans folks, and I was one of them.  

For the first year or more that I knew my boss, I was under the impression they were a binary trans woman. Like a fragrance ad, their ferocious brand of badass femininity straddled the line between intimidating and enviable. They wore fabulous heels dressed down with jeans and a statement tee. Their outfits were punctuated by a gorgeous, color-coordinated head wrap. The striking visual statement they made entering any room though was always softened by their practical black glasses, and their gentle, often quiet voice. 

One of the most defining gifts this person brings, wherever they go, is a finely honed skill for making people feel appreciated. Somehow, and I’m sure it’s a combination of lots of practice and lots of therapy, they always seem to know just what to say. Are they articulate and well-reasoned? Sure, but it’s so much more than that. 

I always had the feeling, in conversation with them, of being held in a pair of cupped hands, as if I was a butterfly being appreciated by an expert gardener. Obviously, this is a ridiculously high standard for me to hold any future supervisors to. Still, there are some practical, less magical, ways they helped shape my expectations for a workplace. 

Firstly, I learned that my name and pronouns are non-negotiable. I recognize the enormous privilege my white skin affords me to be able to make this demand. And yes, I did totally panic that having my pronouns on my resume was the reason I hadn’t received a reply from any of the jobs I applied to for three weeks. However, because of the tremendous respect and support I had from my gender-nonconforming boss and my queer workplace, I now know how to assert this right. I don’t want to work anywhere I wouldn’t be treated with respect anyway.

My boss was also open about change. The day my boss showed up at work with heels swapped for cowboy boots, a binder on under a political Tee, and a head freshly shaved to the skin, I was shocked. In our staff meeting, they calmly stated that they’d be using a shortened, gender-non-indicative version of their name, and they/them pronouns. We had conversations before where they shared their identity as bigender, but still, this change felt like it was out of the blue. 

I shouldn’t have been shocked though. We’d talked about how hard names are to choose, about how much is left out about our identities with pronouns, about how ridiculous the gender binary is. And they’d supported me unconditionally when I started trying on a new name, experimented with mixing and matching masc and femme styles, and cycled through various labels. Now it was my turn to support them. They had already done so much of their own work with their therapist, so my job was easy: don’t fuck up their name or pronouns. 

Working with LGBTQIA+ youth we always stated that we would love and support our community exactly as they were, moment to moment, and here was my supervisor, giving all of the adults that we worked with an opportunity to put the theory into practice. No, your kiddo’s gender exploration probably isn’t just a phase, but so what if it is?! Isn’t it a better bet to love them through it, whether their understanding of themself changes in six months or 60 years? 

Being able to see my supervisor show up for themself unapologetically and live their authentic life was life-changing.

I realized I was under their spell during the years we worked closely together, and I strove to never take them for granted. Now that I no longer have the pleasure of working with them on a daily basis, I’m even more grateful for their ongoing mentorship, and I appreciate the random snippets of life we share via text. Their trust and faith in me, the autonomy they blessed me with, their honesty and vulnerability, and their sheer brilliance all culminated in motivating me to do my best every day, for them, for myself, and for our organization. 

Featured Image by Zackary Drucker from the Gender Spectrum Collection.

Aeightch Frederick (they/them) is a bisexual nonbinary writer, speaker, educator and activist. They have dedicated over 20 years to community organizing, spending the last decade of their career serving nonprofit organizations at the local, state, regional, and national levels. Frederick’s expertise comes at the intersection of domestic violence, reproductive justice, and LGBTQIA+ issues. Their education includes Bachelor of Arts degrees in Spanish, Women’s Studies, and Linguistics from San Diego State University, and a Master of Arts degree in Gender & Peacebuilding from the United Nations-Mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Frederick is passionate about accessibility and language justice and has dabbled in Arabic, Mandarin, Russian, Turkish, Polish, Dutch, Irish, Nahuatl, and Miwok, the language of the original people of the area of California where they were born and raised. When they’re not reading, writing, or studying languages, mindfulness, or anti-racism, Frederick loves to travel, eat, dance, admire trees, and spend time with lovely humans and animals. They consider themself a semi-professional booper of snoots, and yes, they absolutely want to see a picture of your furbaby. To book them check out www.nonbinaryconsulting.com.

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Arizona bill, SB1698, would ban "dressing in clothes other than your assigned gender" while "singing, dancing, and monologuing" in public.

15 year ...jail sentences and sex offender registry.

I sing, dance, and monologue to my kid all the time.

This would criminalize me.

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