What we’re doing about respecting a colleague’s gender transition

April 9, 2012 § 1 Comment

This morning, after some weeks of consultation with a few colleagues and friends, a member of my department came out as trans. She wrote a note (too personal to share) to departmental colleagues and sent it to my chair for distribution. My chair attached it to the letter below. I think that it’s a wonderful example of how to handle such matters well.

My chair and the colleague to whom my chair refers have both given me permission to share the letter. However, I think it’s best not to name the department, and you’ll see that I left out any identifying information. You may of course use my foregoing paragraph by way of introduction if you like.

All best,

Dear Colleagues,

I attach a letter that XXXX has written to the department faculty, staff and students, and I ask that you read it.

I will not attempt to summarize XXXX’s courageous and lucid explanation of her situation and her plans. Rather, I will take this opportunity to ask for your understanding and cooperation in honouring, as best you may, XXXX’s request for support.

University policy requires “that each member of the University endeavour to contribute to the existence of a just and supportive community based on equality and respect for individual differences.” Yet the immediately relevant consideration here is surely one of departmental community rather than the dictates of policy. I hope we can all put some thought and effort into accommodating XXXX’s preferences regarding, e.g., how she is referred to, and how peers interact with her.

For people wishing more perspective and insight on dealing with transgender persons, I can suggest the following wiki as a useful resource:


One practical matter to consider, which has almost certainly come up before in XXXX Hall without becoming general knowledge, is that there are no single-user washrooms in the building. Early efforts are under way to establish a university policy on washroom facility use for transgender persons; but until such a policy is in place, the appropriate course (for everyone) is to use the washroom corresponding best to one’s presented gender.

I won’t pretend confidence that I will never slip up or embarrass myself by dealing incompetently with XXXX’s gender transition. But I can say that XXXX has made it easy for us right from the outset, by being open and socially generous about it. Thank you all in advance for making your best effort to repay this openness with support and cooperation.

§ One Response to What we’re doing about respecting a colleague’s gender transition

  • ZZZZ says:

    This is a very sweet post and I’m very glad to see it. I’m a Ph.D. student in a US philosophy program and I recently chose to disclose my trans status to my department through our DGS (who was awesome about it). I hope that the subject of the letter, above, has, in her department, as positive an experience as I have had in mine!

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