Was inviting my cis co-worker to a pride party a mistake?
Updated: Mar 13
Q: Help! I work with a group of people who arrived in the last year from all over the US and internationally. One of them posted on our work chat asking about pride events. My friends are throwing a lovely party in their backyard later this month and encouraged us to share the invite with whoever - so I extended the offer. She's very excited, and thinks some others in our group would like to join too! At work, I'm surrounded by cis folks. In my personal life, the majority of my friends are trans - like me. I'm having instant regret inviting my co-worker, what if she's a TERF?? Can I say something to her before the party?? Is that weird?? Is there some kind of terf screening process?? I'm used to being misgendered at work, I'm constantly in a cishet context here. But I don't want to bring anyone to the party who could cause harm to my pals.. Thanks for any tips.
K: I think there are a few options here, and almost all of them involve you setting some boundaries or following up about some things with your friends and your coworker. If you had a lot more time before the party, you could try to bring up trans issues in casual conversation to see how she responds, but you're working on a tight deadline. A direct approach would probably serve you best. You could talk to your coworker you invited and both check in on her attitudes towards trans people and make sure she doesn't invite anybody else from work. You could say something like, "Hey, I've been thinking a bit about the party I invited you to and I wanted to talk to you about something. So, a lot of my friends are trans and I realized we haven't really discussed your beliefs/attitudes/whatever about trans people before. Can we check in about that?" or after the "a lot of my friends trans" you could instead say, "so I don't really feel comfortable inviting our other coworkers because I don't know them well enough to vouch for them about trans issues yet." This is a fair bit less direct than asking your coworker how she feels about trans people, but it does give her the opportunity to reveal herself to be terrible (or, hopefully, not terrible). You could also follow up with your friends to see what their comfort level is, since it is their party. I know a lot of other queer people who say "invite anyone" but like, they forget that cishet people exist out there and technically count as "anyone." What are their comfort levels with your coworker(s) you don't know very well coming along? Lastly, you could just lie and say the party got cancelled, or that the folks' whose house it is at decided to keep attendees limited to close friends only. I normally prefer direct communication and think lying is a really inefficient way to communicate, but it is difficult because they are your coworker. With a regular acquaintance, you can just cut your losses if someone reveals themselves to be transphobic. With a coworker, it's a lot harder since you have to keep working with them even if the talk (or party) goes badly. Hope it goes well, whatever option you choose!
S: I like the options and language suggestions here. It will probably feel awkward to bring up the subject, but it sounds like you're worried enough that it will be better to get the topic out in the open. I definitely agree with K that you should check with your friends; that may give you the option of saying that what is suggested above, that they realized they needed to limit the number of attendees or something. (And if you're feeling like you don't want to lie but do need an excuse, you could ask them to endorse one so you don't feel like you're misleading your coworker so much.) They might also tell you that it's completely fine and they expect all sorts of people--these sorts of parties do often end up being extremely open and large, so finding out the details of this one could help you decide how to approach it.
And of course, unless you've actually talked to your coworkers about their identities and know otherwise, there's always the possibility that there are others who aren't cishet! I obviously don't know the nuances of this situation, but from your description it sounds to me like someone looking for community (maybe specifically queer community). It's promising that your coworker asked about Pride events in the first place, and I could see bringing up trans topics in the context of the party being an avenue towards feeling less isolated in that respect at work (regardless of who ends up going to the party). Even if you decide you'd prefer not to have this person attend, you could think about connecting with her another time, which might soften it if you tell her she can't come after all. If there are public Pride events in your area, you could suggest getting a group together to go to one of those instead.
The last thing I'll say is that while TERFs (that is, people with aggressively anti-trans views who actively fund and campaign for social and political oppression of trans and gender diverse people) and the idea of them is all over social media and other online spaces, unless you do have reason to think that this is a real risk in your context, I wouldn't assume that the online extremism is echoed there. It might help to think about what you are realistically concerned with: Actual TERFs? Someone who is transphobic out of ignorance and bigotry? A well, or at least not badly, intended person who makes ignorant mistakes with pronouns and language? It's perfectly reasonable to want to keep your social space as free as possible from all of these, but they are very different things with wildly different intentions and impacts, and the second two groups are far more common. Assessing which (if any) is the case here would probably help you decide what you're comfortable doing.