Would it be useful for me to be out at the library I work at?
Updated: Mar 13
Q: Hi! So, I'm a librarian in training. I'm also non-binary, trans masc, although the term I mostly use to describe myself is just queer. I am out to friends, passively out at my MLIS program, and fully in the closet at my current workplace. I work at a library (in a temp position), and I've read a decent amount about the utility of representation in library spaces to allow queer patrons to feel like at least a tiny bit more comfortable with the space and their use of it. My question I suppose is, should I be out at the library (this one specifically, but also going forward in library work)? I'm not currently out because the vibes were off when I interviewed and in general when I met everyone. No one was transphobic or anything, and there is at least one other person who is queer and out working here. But like a single person shared their pronouns (in a very look at this fancy new thing I learned way, in the middle of a conversation) and everyone has easily and without much thought assumed my gender and are going along with it, and I haven’t done anything to stop that presumption. I am basically certain were I to come out I would spend the rest of my time here correcting people, or simply dealing with people, misgendering me (this has been the case at other workplaces). Which to me, is about 30% more annoying than simply being misgendered due to their ignorance of my gender and pronouns, because then I also have to deal with their apologies and excuses and whatnot. However, I don’t feel particularly unsafe about the idea of being out in this workplace. (It doesn’t seem like anyone would be purposefully transphobic if anything.) And I know that having visibly queer library workers can help queer patrons and all that. Also, that perhaps if they had to deal with me correcting them on their pronouns they might learn, so that other queer patrons and colleagues will not have to deal with all that. So, while obviously I don’t owe anyone anything in terms of being out, would it be useful for me to be out? I’m just a bit confused about what to do and don’t want to make a lazy decision about something which could be important, even if only for a few people at this institution (and to me).
S: You mentioned this, but it bears reiterating: You do not owe it to anyone (including yourself) to be out in any situation. I won't just leave my answer here, but I'm kind of tempted to because it's all that really matters. If you feel like being out for your own personal reasons, great! Those are the only reasons that should impact this choice. It's not "a lazy decision" to not be out (sure, you'd be taking on a lot of unpaid labor if you did, but cis people aren't expected to do that work at all and so opting out of it isn't lazy), and you're not failing anybody--patrons, your workplace, other trans and gender diverse folks, or yourself--if you choose not to be. Note here that I'm intentionally avoiding the word "closeted" because I don't think that concept applies here--not going out of your way to correct people who make assumptions about your (and presumably everyone else's) gender isn't the same thing as intentionally keeping something private. And of course, if you were doing that, all of the above would still apply. You do not need any reason at all to not come out; cis people aren't expected to, so neither should you be. Whether or not you choose to be out at work, or anywhere else, should be entirely your own choice based on what makes you feel most comfortable.
The underlying premise of this question, as I understand it, concerns whether trans and gender diverse people have some sort of responsibility to try to make a space more welcoming through their own presence. I'm not going to deny that in practice, this is often what happens, and it is a factor in some people's decision to come out in different spaces. There could very well be patrons and coworkers who will feel more comfortable knowing your identity, as well as others whose understanding and awareness of trans and gender diverse people improves due to that. If that is something you want to factor into your decision, that's perfectly reasonable. There are quite possibly also patrons and coworkers who will respond negatively due to transphobia and/or ignorance; this is similarly an extremely valid aspect to consider. But broadly speaking, you absolutely do not have any sort of obligation here. It is not your job or your responsibility to use your own identity to do something that your workplace as a whole is failing to do, especially because from the details you've described, your work life would probably become more stressful and difficult if you chose to share your gender there.
Because that failure of your employer is the real issue. There is responsibility in the situation you've outlined, but it's not yours; it's that of your workplace and coworkers. Even if everything there were perfect and you knew they'd never misgender you or expect you to do education that isn't your job, you wouldn't be obligated to come out, but this sounds extremely far from that ideal. The library has an obligation to make it so trans and gender diverse patrons feel as welcome and supported as anyone else, and it has the same obligation to employees; not only is it not on you to fix the fact that it is failing at this, but you as an individual simply can't possibly make the necessary changes on your own, and trying will almost certainly burn you out. You mentioned that "perhaps if they had to deal with me correcting them on their pronouns they might learn, so that other queer patrons and colleagues will not have to deal with all that"...but if they are interested in doing that learning, they don't need you to come out in order to do it. Your coming out won't fix the pervasive issues around ignorance you've described, and any changes that might result would come at direct cost to you in time and stress and effort.
So: should you come out at work? Sure, if you want to. Or not, if you don't. It's completely up to you and what pros and cons carry the most weight. Maybe it's painful enough to be misgendered that you want to make the change; maybe you don't feel like talking about your gender at work or don't want to risk the professional punishment that is common for trans and gender diverse people. You asked if it would be "useful" for you to be out, but that's really not applicable here--this is your own identity, not something to be used for the benefit of others (especially when that benefit would come at cost to you). Maybe representation is important enough to you to be a serious consideration, but please make sure that you're weighing that factor on your own terms, not on any idea of what you owe to your workplace or patrons or profession. You do not owe them anything; on the contrary, they owe you a place where you can make this decision without all the negative consequences that you very realistically expect, and they are the ones failing here.
K: Echoing EVERYTHING that S said above. I deal with this issue from two angles because I'm both trans and Indigenous (specifically, Native Hawaiian), so I've been dealing with part of it (the trans bit) only the past 6-7 years, but I've also been dealing with this basically my whole life.tThat's all bullshit. How to interact with and be inclusive towards trans and gender diverse people isn't knowledge that has been secreted away, reserved only for highly trained trans and gender diverse people to dole out to the general public as their sacred duty in life. Quite literally, you are working with people whose jobs are all about meeting people's information needs and connecting people to resources. If they want to learn, they are extremely well positioned to educate themselves. It isn't your job or responsibility to make your library look welcoming to trans and gender diverse patrons. It isn't your job or responsibility to educate all your coworkers in the hopes that the appearance of trans and gender diverse inclusion at your library isn't misleading. It isn't your job or responsibility to burn yourself out dealing with your coworkers stumbling through continuing to misgender you and asking for both praise and forgiveness as they learn. It also isn't your responsibility to potentially have your employment in danger if people do not respond well to knowing or being corrected about your gender.
Your decision to be out or not should be about what is best for you, not what is hypothetically best for others.