Letter from the North, Fri 10-Feb-2017
Going to work in a frock
Yes, this post goes back in time, 10-Feb-2017 is when I wrote it, but as I have explained elsewhere I had other stuff going on that stopped me posting, this is the first of many letters from that time.
I have a problem with language. My thought processes and my verbal/written language, are not easy bedfellows. This means that whilst this letter (and the one before and those that follow) may not always make sense to you, they do make sense to me. However, my challenges with language are for another letter, but if there’s something you really don’t understand in this or any other Letter, then just get in touch and Teresa or I will try to explain. In the meantime…
Welcome to my world.
I didn’t always dress the way I do now, though I always did on the inside, just not obviously on the outside. Being as open as I am now has only happened in the last few years – so I am very aware of the before and after impact on friends and family. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t always gender diverse, it just wasn’t as obvious (to me, as well as to others!) as it is now.
What do I wear? I don’t have any trousers, I don’t like them, so it’s leggings in the winter and tights otherwise. I have a mix of long tops, dresses and skirts. Of course, in the summer, I prefer to wear a long dress, no tights or leggings. Men who wear shorts have no idea just how much more comfortable and cool a long summer dress is!
I occasionally wear nail varnish but it’s a bit of a hassle, much as I love it. I always wear dangly earrings and a necklace.
As for hair, well I have no hair (on my head) and I never wear a wig, a wig just doesn’t look right on me. I rarely do makeup; I love it, but it’s complicated.
Last week I told you I had found a job down here in Cornwall. Did I wear a dress to the interview in Penryn? Of course I did, what else would I wear? The picture is taken from a series I did on my previous contract but is the same outfit I wore to the interview
Prior to that interview, I’d been a contractor for over 20 years and all my interviews had taken place over the phone. My last contract was up in Sawston (Cambridgeshire, UK) and the interview was done over Skype. By then I was dressing the way I do now but that was hard to see on a head-and-shoulders shot. Whilst I was wearing earrings and a necklace (well, you want to look your best, even on Skype), I suspect they didn’t really notice those clues.
On the first day of that contract (and indeed every other day) I turned up in a frock and whilst there were some double-takes, they got used to it very quickly. I made it a project to capture that whole contract, day by day, with a photograph on Facebook – that’s over six months of photos and thoughts. It’s all still up there in the ‘cloud’ and you’re welcome to visit, although you may need to be a friend of “BeanCrossDressing”. I may well capture it here on Beanisons one day, when time allows (update, indeed I am in the process of doing this and my current progress can be found on my photos page)
The point of the project was that dressing the way I do is normal for me, it’s not something done in private or secret or something I feel embarrassed about, or need permission (legal or social) to be allowed to do. I no longer have any man clothes, this is how I dress all the time!
So, what happened the day I arrived for my interview in Penryn? Well, nothing. I was wearing a navy-blue dress and dark blue tights, smart clothes as you would for an interview; they interviewed me; I spent a couple of hours meeting everyone who worked there; at the end of this process, they hired me.
The fact is, I’m comfortable in my skin, I’m comfortable in my look which is neither one thing nor the other – and I think the fact that I was at ease with myself communicated itself.
I wouldn’t call myself transgender, though others might. I use the title Mx or Ms more than I do Mr. I haven’t seen the inside of the male toilets in this job, nor during the contract in Sawston. However, I haven’t seen inside the female toilets either. I stick to the disabled/non gender specific toilet, and that’s fine.
Should I fight for the right to use the female toilets? Well I could, but the reality is that I’m content being between genders and using neither/both. In situations like here in the North where I don’t get a choice as there is no disabled toilet, I use the men’s because that’s my biological gender.
Do I always feel safe in a frock in a men’s toilet? No, not always, but I believe in only fighting the battles I need to win. Here in The North, I feel perfectly safe; on a motorway service station at two in the morning, less so!
So, back to the advertised question, what’s it like going to an interview in a frock? I admit to being nervous, interviews are nerve wracking for most people but even more so for autistics.
Would they judge me according to what I was wearing? They might well, but I had already decided that if people want to judge me on what I wear, that’s their problem and they need to deal with it. We did discuss the frock during the interview and I was told that some of the guys (and it is an overwhelmingly male environment) I met as we walked around might raise an eyebrow, and would I be worried? No, of course not, I happily engage with difference. In the event, nobody said anything and I gather that a “poll” taken after my visit revealed the only concern to be whether I could do the job (I can, I’m good at what I do) and the frock was irrelevant, and rightly so.
There you have it, two job interviews and subsequent jobs, presenting as gender diverse, passed without a hiccough. Has it always been like that? No, of course not, but that’s for another day.
The transgender folks sometimes disapprove of the way I dress because I’m not trying to be female (the opposite to my birth gender). However, I find the rest of society to be remarkably accepting of me being who I am, somewhere in-between.
I have a lot of time for people of either sex whose body dysmorphia, combined with gender diversity, leads them down the transgender road and sometimes on to the transsexual one. It is a tough road and takes massive courage. I’m with them every inch of the way, but there are many more roads than just that one, and mine is one of the many.
I digress (I often do that, it’s how I manage to express my thoughts, but it does mean that my writing is not a linear regurgitation). What was the interview like (wearing a frock)? Piece of cake, well it was from the frock point of view, but tough on the technical front as it should be.
Subsequently I was told “we have no problem with you so long as you don’t make it a problem for us.” I think that’s fair comment.
Being neuro and gender diverse is not always easy for those around me. I absolutely maintain my right to be who I am, but I also defend everyone else’s right to find it a bit odd and, sometimes, a bit uncomfortable and often a bit funny. I laugh with them and do what I can to help them feel at ease with their uncomfortableness. Of course it is odd. I don’t set out to make people feel uncomfortable, but I am going to be me and that balance of respect (I respect your feelings and you respect my difference) seems to work.
So, what would I recommend for other neurodiverse, gender fluid people? Well, start as you mean to go on. It is our (Beanisons’) belief that most of the problems that crop up in relationships (work and personal) come from feelings of being deceived, of not knowing, of not understanding. Being upfront may feel scary but it is my personal experience that people handle matters far better this way than when the signals given are not true to who they are. Make no mistake, you WILL give out those signals, even if you think you are hiding them; in the counselling world it’s called incongruence.
Starting a relationship without telling your partner (employer) you cross-dress, are neurodiverse, and then either telling them later or worse, they find out, is a perfect example of incongruence. The person your partner/employer/friend felt attracted to turns out to be not quite who they thought they were – and it hurts.
Despite the fact that Teresa met me in my man dressing days, there was never any question about my gender fluidity; so, although we had to go through the “change”, it was never about dealing with deception and we negotiated our way through the process just as any couple should/would. The point being that my nature was not a surprise, it was the extent and rapidity of the ‘change’ that needed to be negotiated.
It is not easy, but being true to yourself is always the best policy in the long run, even if it’s a royal pain in the short term :-).
Okay, that’s today’s letter, there was a long explanation here about which letter was published on what day, but that’s resolved itself and it’s probably best to save you from that convolution (though the spell checker suggested convulsion which may be more descriptive) of my brain. The autistic in me can come up with some very convoluted solutions and explanations of why I want to do things and sometimes, I have to remember to Kiss (that’s Keep It Simple Silly and/or Kiss Teresa)
Next week, “The challenges of communication into and out of the neurodiverse world – when what you think you understand me to be saying is not what I mean, and vice versa”.
Bean, The North, Fri 10-Feb-2017