The pandemic has forced organisations to deliver increasing work flexibility and alternative work arrangements. The new flexibility and working in the safer environment of the home is a refreshing change for a lot of trans and gender diverse employees.
I interviewed trans and gender diverse people for my PhD research project concerning work experiences and career development of trans and gender diverse individuals while the pandemic was in full swing in 2020. Naturally, some of the trans and gender diverse interviewees from diverse backgrounds and occupations described the influence of COVID restrictions and working from home for them as the following quotes illustrate. (The quotes are from various participants and not further introduced by name to protect their privacy or to avoid misrepresentation of their gender identity.)
“When I worked from home for two months due to COVID restrictions, this just was not an issue, I was freer to be myself and gendering just didn’t come up.”
Also, there are many downsides such as a higher level of unemployment for trans and gender diverse people through the pandemic, limited access to medical gender affirmation treatments, or growing domestic and family violence due to higher exposure in the home, there is some silver lining.
“It is perfect for me. I was already a hermit, so I was yep, COVID, this is fine. I mean, COVID is not fine, but working from home is fine.” Another trans and gender diverse person explained: “Working from home is amazing, I can pee anywhere if I want to.”
One benefit for trans and gender diverse people working from home is the lesser exposure to the gender binary work structures of restrooms divided for women and men.
“I love my at home gender-neutral bathroom.”
Also, trans and gender diverse employees enjoy the new won freedom to not conform with the gendered dress codes of organisations.
“At home, I wear what I want, I have my hair however I want, sometimes I look a lot like a dude. At work, I need to look more conventionally sensible and by that, I mean like tidier, hair done differently, maybe wearing a dress, like a more conventional feminine appearance.”
While we all are working from home our choice of clothing is less confined and we might choose comfort over gender-normative aesthetic.
“I don’t mind either way if they know or not at work, but I feel like there is a degree of concern about gender expression and then at home, there is no need to be guarded about anything.”
Especially, office workers can approach their tasks more flexible due to online communication which not always requires video or audio coverage.
“A lot of them had heard my voice on the phone, that is another one that gets me, my voice is terrible, and it is a trigger.”
Trans and gender diverse employees get the opportunity to use various equipment and techniques to avoid exposure on their most vulnerable days. Body dysphoria for trans and gender diverse people can include the struggle with their voice. Hearing a person’s voice leads to gender assumptions that are not always correct.
“It is a job that you don’t need to use your voice or face at all, so I think it is potentially one that attracts people who might want to avoid having negative interactions with the public.”
The flexibility of task management with the use of technology offers trans and gender diverse people a more inclusive work environment.
“I am unhappy with my voice at the moment, and I will avoid situations where I have to make phone calls. If I must speak to my colleagues I type. I don’t speak in the voice chat; I just type in the chat.”
Some trans and gender diverse people use the time working from home to undertake gender affirmation actions that would otherwise expose them in the workplace to potential discrimination. For laser hair removal, the person must let facial hair visible grow before it can be treated.
“I have electrolysis which I have to grow out my hair for two or three days. I had the benefit of working from home. If I would be at work where I presented feminine 100 per cent and I want to establish myself as a woman there, turning up with stubbles is not a good way to do that if I have to walk in the office every day.”
Not just the protection of one’s own four walls but the time flexibility is additionally beneficial for trans and gender diverse employees. The laser hair removal appointment might have to be squeezed in during the lunch break while being present at the workplace. Where now it can be arranged more flexible as working from home means personalised working hours.
“It’s easier for me if I can sort of go to the office when there are meetings, and then sometimes be at home when I have other things going on such as recovery from surgery or transition interviews.”
Hopefully, when people return to the office, time, task, and work environment flexibilities persist. It would make the working life for trans and gender diverse people a hell of a lot easier.
Feature image: Please note that this image of a young transgender man drinking coffee while working with their laptop at home is a stock image.
Robin Ladwig is an Associate Lecturer at the Faculty of Business, Government & Law at the University of Canberra with focus on Queer Theory and Diversity Management. Robin takes pride in making a difference by combining academia, corporate influences, and activism.