How to come out at work, about anything | The Way We Work, a TED series

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2020-11-30・ 1170    301


When TED media coordinator Micah Eames came out as trans at work, he quickly realized he'd need to start having tricky conversations with coworkers. Here's his advice for how you can open up about your identity at work and what your colleagues can do to help. The Way We Work is a TED original video series where leaders and thinkers offer practical wisdom and insight into how we can adapt and thrive amid changing workplace conventions. (Made possible with the support of Dropbox) Visit https://go.ted.com/thewaywework for more!

Instruction

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Transcriber: TED Translators Admin Reviewer: Ivana Korom
00:00
Coming out.
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Typically we think of this
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as being an experience specific to the queer community.
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But we all have things that we're keeping in our closets.
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It could be something about our home and family life,
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about our mental or physical health.
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Maybe you're not allergic to cats, you just don't like them.
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I feel you on that one.
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Whatever it is that you're keeping in your closet,
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it shapes the way you navigate the world.
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That can include your work life.
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So how do we go about disclosing these important,
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but sometimes difficult to talk about aspects of who we are?
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And when someone comes out to us,
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what can we best do to listen and support them?
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[The Way We Work]
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[Made possible with the support of Dropbox]
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Hi, my name's Micah.
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But it hasn't always been.
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After a year at my current place of work,
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I started the process of coming out as trans.
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When I sat down with human resources to talk
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about how to reintroduce myself to everybody,
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neither of us had answers.
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Nobody at my place of work had come out as trans before,
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but that's what I'm here to offer you.
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Three tips on how to talk
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about things that are hard to talk about.
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And for those of you on the other side of the conversation,
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I have some advice for you too, on how you can best listen,
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respond and be an active ally for your colleague.
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I can't give you the exact words to say,
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because they should be your own.
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After all I don't know what you're keeping in your closet.
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But whatever it might be,
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I hope these tips will provide you with a framework
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that's going to help you decide exactly what you want to say
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and how you want to say it.
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Know what you want and don't want out of the conversation.
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To know this, ask yourself questions like,
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do I need anything
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from the person that I'm disclosing this to?
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Where do I want the conversation to go from here,
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if anywhere at all?
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And how do I want this person
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to understand my own relationship with this aspect of who I am?
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So, in my case, I knew I wanted people to call me
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by my new name and pronouns.
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But I also didn't want them to avoid me
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out of fear of messing them up.
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This was going to take time.
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And I wanted this to feel like any other ordinary fact
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about who I am.
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So now we know what we want to communicate.
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Let's talk about how we're going to say it.
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By setting the tone.
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You're going to want to present the information
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in the same way you want people to respond to it.
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They're going to be looking and listening for cues
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on what the appropriate response is.
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Is this something that you want to be celebrated?
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I'm trans!
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Or do you want to just address it and move on with your life?
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Oh, by the way, I'm trans.
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There's no one right way to say it for everybody.
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What's most important here is what's right for you.
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Another note,
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we're not going to be able to control the way
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in which everybody responds to this.
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But what we do have control over
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is how they understand our own relationship
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with this part of who we are.
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So now that we know what we want to say
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and how we want to say it,
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where do we want the conversation to go from here?
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Well, my advice is to give an action item.
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This will help you keep control of the conversation
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by giving people direction
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on what they're supposed to do or say next.
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I knew I wanted this to feel like any other ordinary fact about who I am.
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So I decided I was going to use my coming out
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to solve an ordinary problem.
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And I sent the following email.
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"Hello all, I need your help.
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I am in the market for a moisturizer to help with my dry skin.
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I'm also in the process of out as trans.
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I'm changing my name to Micah
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and my pronouns are he, him, his.
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If you have any questions about my change in pronouns
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or my skin care needs,
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feel free to send an email
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to my updated contact information.
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And I'd also like to note that while my skin is dry,
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it is not too sensitive.
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We're all going to mess up my name and my pronouns,
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myself included.
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So when this happens, don't panic or cringe!
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Please be kind to yourself
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as we stumble through these growing pains together.
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I'm fortunate and grateful to work in a place
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where I feel embraced in any form,
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be it as a transgender man or a person with dry skin
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or in this case, both."
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Now, I'm going to be honest,
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I haven't made many changes to my skin-care routine
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since sending this email.
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But I will say that I am feeling much more comfortable
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in my own skin.
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And that's what thanks to responses like these.
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[You have all the love and support, Micah!
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And please know that I highly rec Clinique products.]
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[You are the best.
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You are and will always be one of my favorite people (at work).
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Even if you do have terribly dry skin.]
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[Thank you for being you,
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however much or little you want to talk about dry skin, genders, bodies, etc.
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I will be here for you.]
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[Thank you for giving us permission to mess up ...]
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Now you might be wondering,
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if I'm the listener in this conversation,
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what can I best do to support my colleague
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other than maybe referring them to my dermatologist?
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Well, for starters, listen
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with an open heart and an empathetic ear.
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You're especially going to want to listen here
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for the specific language the person is using
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to describe themself and their experience
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because that's the same language
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you're going to want to use back to them.
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You might be tempted to ask your coworkers some questions
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about their identity.
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Before you ask them a question,
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ask yourself,
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can I find the answer to this in a search engine?
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Chances are the answer is yes.
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And if the answer is no, ask yourself,
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is this too personal of a question
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for me to be asking my colleague.
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One question that is okay to ask though,
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is there anything I can do to support you at this time?
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This is a note for if you're responding in the moment and in person.
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But if you want to be an active ally,
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the conversation doesn't end here,
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it picks up again with your colleagues and human resources
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on how you can make your workplace more inclusive
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of this person's identity.
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Chances are it's not just going to help them
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but maybe someone else down the line.
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Now, in my case,
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it would be adding pronouns to your email signature
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and asking your coworkers to do the same
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in order to help normalize it across the org.
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It could also be talking to HR
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about having more trans-inclusive health care policies.
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And my last piece of advice is for both the listener
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and the leader in the conversation.
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Remember that they're the same person
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you've always known them to be.
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It's the weight of stereotypes and stigmas
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that often keep our closet doors shut.
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We're afraid people are now going to see us as this thing
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instead of seeing this thing as an aspect of who we are,
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of we've always been.
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I know that was the case for me too,
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but it got easier for me to say, my name is Micah
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because of the way I saw it not only accepted,
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but enthusiastically embraced by all of my coworkers.
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So whatever it is you're keeping in your closet,
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I hope these tips empower you
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to bring your authentic self into your workplace
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and hopefully feel more comfortable in your own skin.
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