Why I’m Genderqueer, Professional, and Unafraid - Jacob Tobia seeks gender empowerment in the professional world
MARCH 7, 2016
I looked myself up and down in the full-length mirror. Blouse tucked in? Check. Pearl earrings on? Check. Lipstick flawless? Check. After a few minutes of primping, posing and deep breathing, I was off to my first day at a new job.
When I start a new job, I struggle with all of the typical trepidations and hesitations. Will my coworkers like me? Will I fit in with the office culture? Am I formatting this report the right way?
But one question loomed above all others as I started my job last week: what should I wear to work?
In many ways, it’s a concern everyone faces. On the first day, everyone wants to get their outfit just right. The morning before a new job, most of us spend an extra ten, twenty or thirty minutes making sure that our hair is properly coiffed, our deodorant is both effective and unobtrusive and our outfit is on point.
But for transgender and gender nonconforming people like myself, the question of what to wear to work becomes an exhausting question of identity and of survival. For us, the question changes from “how do I present my best self at work?” to “can I present my best self at work?”
As an undergraduate at Duke, I spent four years learning to love and appreciate myself as a gender nonconforming person. Going into college, I thought that my desire to dress androgynously and adopt a feminine gender expression was shameful; and for the first few months of college, I hid it from others and from myself. But after years of work unearthing internalized oppression and masculine shame, I finally learned to keep my head high as I stomped by the frat boys in my five-inch heels. I made a name for myself at Duke, and by the end of four years I wore pencil skirts and pant-suits to meetings with the Board of Trustees. During undergrad, I became fully empowered and comfortable in my gender.
Or so I thought.
I thought back to all of this, took a deep breath and walked through the front door of my new office, heels click-clacking on the concrete floor.
While people may try to discriminate against me and tell me that I’m dressing “inappropriately” for work, I will hold on to my gender identity and sense of self. In the workplace, I will stick up for those who, like me, find that their gender does not match a prefabricated box. I will wear my heels, pearls and skirts to work until, hopefully, the world can learn to respect people like me.
So to all of the discriminatory employers out there, you better watch out, because I am genderqueer, professional and unafraid.