Negotiating Gender

January 3, 2020

Megan Kipperman

Megan Kipperman (she/her) is a self-described bicon who has been involved in the marketing industry for 3 years. Some of her extracurricular activities include creating queer headcanons for her favorite shows, circulating memes, and taking naps. Currently, she lives in New York City with her cat, Shia LeFluff.

Negotiation is a skill. There are classes on it, books written about it, and people pay good money to have others negotiate deals for them. For some of us, though, negotiation isn’t a choice. The time, energy, and commitment it takes to be in a constant negotiation of one’s identity hinders progression and, in the long run, profitability.

As a transgender woman, Chris Bergeron of Cossette had to not only negotiate with herself but with her peers on how she would move through the world. Fortunately, she found a space that freed her from the constant battle of deciding who she was “allowed” to be.

When she made the decision to transition, Chris recalls the fear of “losing all that he had accomplished.” Along with the fears of losing the world that she’d built before her come the fears of the reality for trans people: statistically speaking, trans folks are in incredible danger when they decide to transition. She describes her time experimenting with her gender as being interpreted as “a poetic phase”, which ended when she was fired 6 months after being clocked as trans in an elevator by her boss. From that moment, she decided to transition both her gender and her career path. She figured that if she didn’t do well in another industry as a woman, she could attribute the transition to a mid-life crisis.

After coming out, Chris joined the advertising world because she saw it valued self-expression. Despite advertising allowing her to be freer, she still experienced some restrictions. The world she was in still saw her gender as a negotiation. “For this client,” she recalls being told, “you have to dress like a man.” Even when she did feel freer to express herself, as she once did in Switzerland with a nice dress and a pair of Louboutins, she was under scrutiny by the workplace; the client she was working with called up her boss and said ‘that’ (in reference to her) needed to be removed from the account or they’d lose the account. Despite this, she started her medical transition.

The process of starting hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is described by Chris as “signing [her] privilege away”; social side effects are listed and those looking to start HRT are warned that they may lose their jobs and family. She says that she knew she would forego the ability to go “stealth” (the ability to hide her identity) once she began her transition, which was another negotiation - this time with herself. As someone who is over 6 feet tall, Chris knew she couldn’t hide once she made this decision. 

All of this takes up bandwidth; the energy one should be putting into innovation and crafting their skills ends up being used in this debate about how much of oneself is permitted in the workplace. Chris began a job and asked her coworker how she would be introduced, and her coworker replied: “I see you as a woman.” From that moment, Chris described herself as feeling “freed” from the negotiation of who she was and validated that she didn’t have to put her time and energy into navigating spaces with her hazards on. 

Chris’s talk concluded with a (well-deserved) humble brag about her 90% success rate on pitches, which she attests to now doing the work with and for the people who freed her. When folks are allowed to be who they are without contest, they’re best able to thrive. Chris Bergeron is just one example of how accepting trans folks in the workplace betters not only the workplace environment but the overall quality of work. There is enough in this world that we have to negotiate; our identities in the workplace shouldn’t be one of those things.