Like most of the folks on this blog, I am someone that lives outside of the binary. I am also a therapist-in-training, and even more unusual, I am a state employee…hired mid-transition. I am a social worker for child welfare services. Which state? Not saying…but it is one that my trans status was not a deterrent to hire. (Also, my office focuses on Indian Child Welfare Act cases, and traditionally, Native societies are often more accepting to those of us outside the gender binary.) I am also open about who and what I am.

Within the office, I am called a range of pronouns: she, he, ze…if we have a guest in the office (interns, social workers from other offices), I have noticed that my co-workers enjoy watching the guest do a double take if I am unshaven and binding and I am referred to as “she” or if I am unbound and clean shaven, and referred to as “he.” Social workers typically have a wicked sense of humor…and I am old enough (and comfortable enough with who I am) to find it funny, too. It is not mean-spirited—I have had enough experience with that type of treatment to know the difference…teasing is part of many cultures and it is something I grew up with, so in this context, it is something that makes me feel accepted. When referring to my gender identity, they usually say I am “two-spirit.”

Outside the office or in front of clients, my coworkers refer to me as “he” (or try). This is by agreement, as my supervisor has told me she feels that the gender fluidity does pose a safety risk (and she is right) with some of our clients. I have had some clients ask “are you a boy or a girl?” My response is either “my name is Luis,” or “what would make you more comfortable with me?” This depends on several factors: age, gender identity or sexual orientation, and their comfort level with me as a person. I find that I am not as rigid with my gender identity as the media says I should be. Strangely—or maybe not so strange—a few of my female clients like me because I “think like a guy” but they have figured out I used to be female, and so I am “safe”…and easier to talk to.

However, there are times I have to appear in court. Some judges have rudely asked me if I am “male or female” (a small minority) and others have chastised defense attorneys for being disrespectful to me, telling them that the only confusion is in “your mind, not his (me).” Still, court remains a bit hard for me. I tend not to use the bathrooms. Which one can I use? Like every transperson under the sun, I have a potty dilemma. In court, it is even worse…either one I use, I could be hauled out and arrested! (I look male, my ID is still female.)

Since I have a goatee, generally bind, and have a low tenor/high baritone voice, being a “he” in the courthouse and meeting with clients makes my life easier…and really, theirs. I know that living outside the gender binary is where I belong, but the power dynamic in my relationship with my clients is NOT where I force my worldview or my ideas on my gender identity. I figure they are not there to have to skip around the question, and I am not there to inflict myself upon them. Do I broaden their worldview? Maybe. Do I want to make a big deal about it? No. My colleagues: attorneys, judges, other social workers…I expect a certain level respect from them. The quality of work alone should get it…but it doesn’t always. I generally laugh at them, and move on. In private, I sometimes feel a bit anguished about it, and it can be very exhausting.

But still, like all of us, I press on.

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