Dear Prudence

Help! My Co-Worker Thinks They Were Misgendered on Purpose.

Dear Prudence answers more of your questions—only for Slate Plus members.

Workmates surrounding a transgender symbol.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by boggy22/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

Q. Misgendered co-worker: I work with “KC,” who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. Recently during an all-staff meeting, a cisgender employee, “Alice,” misgendered KC. KC was understandably upset and asked their manager to intervene after the meeting. Alice was mortified at her mistake and apologized both privately to KC and in an email to the entire staff. Since then, KC has made it very clear that they do not believe or accept Alice’s apology. They have said to me and others that Alice pretended not to be aware of their pronouns and that they feel she misgendered them on purpose because she is from a country where people do not respect LGBTQ identities.

Advertisement

I am trying to be understanding since I don’t know what it’s like to be misgendered, but personally I think KC is wrong and needs to back off. It’s very possible that Alice did not know KC’s pronouns. KC started their job during the pandemic while we were all working remotely and was therefore never properly introduced to people in other departments, including Alice. Secondly, I think it is offensive and possibly racist to assume that Alice being from a specific country means she is a bigot. She apologized and has not misgendered them again. Isn’t that enough to give her the benefit of the doubt? Should I say something to KC or stay out of it?

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

What you should say really depends on whether you normally have a close working relationship with KC. If you two don’t work together often, you might not have many occasions to revisit the subject; since you’re not KC’s manager you’ll have limited ability to intervene. But I think you’re quite right to object to KC’s speculation that Alice “must have” misgendered them because everyone from her country of origin disrespects LGBT people. If you work together often, you can simply preface this with “I didn’t have the presence of mind to say this at the time, but it’s enough to say Alice should not have misgendered you and tell her not to do it again—saying repeatedly that you think everyone from her country of origin is transphobic/homophobic is offensive and unprofessional. Please stop.” If you don’t work together often, you can simply follow up with your own manager, share your concerns that KC might continue to disparage Alice’s background, and ask for your respective supervisor(s) to address KC directly.

Advertisement

Don’t worry about supplying an “alternative” explanation based on when Alice was hired or under what circumstances she was introduced to her co-workers. Speculation is unnecessary on that front! “Maybe she misgendered you because of _____” is almost certainly not going to put KC’s mind at ease, but more importantly, you have no more way of knowing Alice’s internal motivations/contexts/thought process than KC does. What matters is that Alice knows KC’s pronouns now and can use them in the future, not sorting out the inner condition of her soul at that meeting. What matters is that KC stop assigning universal transphobic intentions to everyone from Alice’s home country.

Advertisement