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Today is Saturday, November 24, 2007


'Ms. Office Ettiquette' Gives Advice to Co-worker of MTF

Your job is to do your best to make him feel accepted


I have a very unique situation at my office that is causing me undue inner stress. It has to do with a co-worker who's over 50 years old. He was hired two years ago and does his job well. The problem is, last year he decided to become a "she!" He is under the care of a doctor who prescribed female hormones. His body is beginning to take on a female silhouette, even though he looks like he weighs over 250 pounds. He has grown out his hair and fingernails, and sometimes even wears pink nail polish and perfume. He legally changed his name to one used by either sex. The DMV allowed him to change his designation from male to female on his driver's license, even though no surgical procedures have been done. Surgery may or may not ever happen, depending on finances.

The rest of the work force keeps asking what's going on with that individual. I do not approve of the transformation, but have a hard time trying to keep my opinion to myself. It's awkward, as he still uses the men's bathroom. The boss says it's "politically correct" to accept this personal decision. Any advice?

- Name Withheld


Perhaps one of the things you can be grateful for is that he's not using the ladies' restroom.

Like it or not, your boss is right. Nothing political about it, however.

It's just plain "correct" in the sense of treating that individual with respect and every courtesy you would extend to any other associate, regardless of your opinion of his decision.

What you have here is a person whose inner being has been in turmoil for years. Perhaps he's never gotten over a childhood trauma. Maybe he's convinced he was born in the wrong body. We don't know. While your co-worker is searching for answers, and when he finds them, it's not up to you to judge him.

Your job, and the job of those associates always asking what's up with so-and-so, is to do your best to make him feel accepted.

This man knows what people are saying and thinking. And while he may look or act strangely, he is still performing his job well and deserves respect, whether man or woman, black, brown, yellow, pink or polka-dotted.

Because you don't agree with his "transformation," you might start by looking at him as a man. Physically he still is one. Then see him as someone who's afraid of who he is, isn't or might become. Someone who's vulnerable. Not unlike the rest of us.

"Issues of gender and sexuality in my view should play a minor role in the workplace," says Kevin J. Kelly, a Laguna Hills-based clinical and consulting psychologist and author of e-book "Becoming Your Own Therapist,"(www.byot. net). "The truth is, we all play off of cues, and someone whose cues are ambiguous makes it difficult for us to know how to interact with them. Give emphasis to their humanity and not their gender," Kelly says.

A way of following through on Dr. Kelly's suggestions might be to look for opportunities to be genuine. Perhaps by saying, "Great job on that report, Terry (Erin, Leslie, Lynn, Marty). Looks like there was quite a bit of work involved in it." Other opportunities could include sharing a snack with him in the break room, or offering to pick up something you think he might need from another department, since you're going there anyway.

Maybe you'll get ridiculed for it by others. But they will get the hint from your example. And if they approach you with, "What's going on with so-and-so?" simply turn it around with, "I don't know. What's going on with you?" This person may or may not open up to you. If he does, you might share why you feel the way you do, so he can understand you better, and then ask him how you can understand him better.

If he doesn't, just accept it as something that's not for you to solve and leave it at that.

"I would recommend she learn about transgender issues," Kelly says. "It's mysterious to all of us and maybe what we can do is learn more about it and suspend our judgment a little bit until we do." Remember, always be kind, whether he decides to remain a man or become a woman. That's something you can control.

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