A. Rose Bi lives in New England with her cats who love to sleep on her lap while she spends most of her time watching TV and playing video games while her partner cooks amazing food. In addition to being an
out and proud bi+ woman, A. has a degree in Cognitive Science, has completed trainings for LGBTQIA+ and sexual assault survivor advocacy, and has experience answering calls for an anonymous LGBTQIA+
help line. She is passionate about feminism, the bi+ community, LGBTQIA+ and female representation in the media, and helping others. Her pronouns are she/her and they/them.
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Dear A. Rose Bi,
I sit on the board for my company’s employee resource group for
women. Recently, we’ve started having more and more conversations
about how to make our organization and our events more
inclusive to trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming employees.
While I’m all for this, some members of the board aren’t
sure they want to open up membership in this way. So, I’m trying
to simultaneously convince them of the importance and benefits
of this type of inclusivity while working with the other women
who are already on board to figure out how to make this happen.
Where do I even start?
Sincerely, Trying to Make a Change
Dear Trying to Make a Change,
I love that this is something you’re discussing! I think a lot of
women’s only groups right now are having similar conversations,
and I think it’s great. It can be a tough topic though, especially
for cis women (women who were assigned female at birth) who
are nervous about changing a community they’ve valued for so
long—they likely don’t yet know how much more rewarding a
more inclusive organization can be!
Let’s break up your question into two parts: first, how to help your
fellow board members understand the benefits of a women’s group
that includes trans women and non-binary/gender-non-conforming
folks and second, how and where to start implementing change.
Women-only groups should already be inclusive of trans women.
Trans women are women. Period. I think if there are board members
who have issue with that, it’s a bigger problem to potentially
address with leadership and/or HR. When we look at trans women
and other trans, non-binary, or gender-non-conforming folks
who were assigned male at birth, we have to understand that they
have experienced a world, grown up in a world, and navigated a
world—including and often especially a corporate one—where
being a man is to be in a default position of power and authority.
Being any other gender, whether closeted or not, includes having
experiences around being “less than” and “other” to the dominant
gender. And for trans men and other trans, non-binary, or gender
non-conforming folks who were assigned female at birth, they have
by default had key societal experiences and discriminations that
come with being assigned female or presenting as a girl or a woman.
All of these experiences are valuable in a conversation about how
to encourage and support women. In the same way that women of different races don’t experience oppression, bias, and discrimination
in the same ways, people of all kinds of non-male genders and gender
identities experience sexism in as many ways as there are people.
Remembering two things—that (1) women-only groups are there
to create a safe and empowering community for those oppressed by
the patriarchy and sexism and that (2) they have to be beneficial and
welcoming to every kind of woman—leads us to a clear conclusion
that we will all be better with the inclusion of our trans, non-binary,
and gender-non-conforming friends, and colleagues.
Onto the next part: where to start! Try starting with some simple but
wide-reaching changes if you can, such as adding a + to your name
after “women” or the equivalent. For example, She+ Geeks Out,
an organization based in Boston with events around the country,
was originally called She Geeks Out. After one of the co-founders
got questions and feedback about whether trans, gender-non-conforming,
or non-binary folks were invited to their women-only
events, she formally changed their name to She+ Geeks Out and
changed the language on the site and for their events to women+
and she+. Something as basic as adding a plus can make it clear
to those questioning whether they’re even invited to the club that
they are not only invited, but they have actively been considered
and will be welcomed. Another great way is to add language like
this to your events, membership, info page, etc.: “This is an event/
group/etc. aimed at the experience of women+. Please join us if you
identify as a woman or femme in any way that is important to you.”
Again, this shows active consideration and a welcoming message.
If possible, all events (meetings, socials, talks, etc.) should provide
pronoun pins or stickers and/or should encourage attendees to put
their pronouns on their nametags. Normalizing the open sharing of
pronouns helps to create an environment where people don’t feel
singled out and othered if their pronouns don’t match exactly what
everyone’s expectation of their gender is. Finally, as you move in
this direction, try to encourage some trans, non-binary, and gender
non-conforming folks to run for or take on leadership roles in the
group! Having someone with a different experience is invaluable
as the board will continue to make programming, community, and
leadership decisions in the future.
I wish you the absolute best of luck in your goals! Try to find your
allies—those who agree with you and are ready to do the work to
make it happen. Audre Lorde said it better than I ever could: “I
am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are
very different from my own.”
Lots of love,
A. Rose Bi