Advice from A. Rose Bi: Women’s Space

Jun 16, 2021 | 2020 Winter - Women's Space, Advice From A. Rose Bi

Dear A. Rose Bi,

I sit on the board for my company’s employee resource group for women. Recently, we’ve started having more and more conversations about how to make our organization and our events more inclusive to trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming employees. While I’m all for this, some members of the board aren’t sure they want to open up membership in this way. So, I’m trying to simultaneously convince them of the importance and benefits of this type of inclusivity while working with the other women who are already on board to figure out how to make this happen. Where do I even start?


Trying to Make a Change

Dear Trying to Make a Change,

I love that this is something you’re discussing! I think a lot of women’s only groups right now are having similar conversations, and I think it’s great. It can be a tough topic though, especially for cis women (women who were assigned female at birth) who are nervous about changing a community they’ve valued for so long—they likely don’t yet know how much more rewarding a more inclusive organization can be!

Let’s break up your question into two parts: first, how to help your fellow board members understand the benefits of a women’s group that includes trans women and non-binary/gender-non-conforming folks and second, how and where to start implementing change.

Women-only groups should already be inclusive of trans women. Trans women are women. Period. I think if there are board members who have issue with that, it’s a bigger problem to potentially address with leadership and/or HR. When we look at trans women and other trans, non-binary, or gender-non-conforming folks who were assigned male at birth, we have to understand that they have experienced a world, grown up in a world, and navigated a world—including and often especially a corporate one—where being a man is to be in a default position of power and authority. Being any other gender, whether closeted or not, includes having experiences around being “less than” and “other” to the dominant gender. And for trans men and other trans, non-binary, or gender non-conforming folks who were assigned female at birth, they have by default had key societal experiences and discriminations that come with being assigned female or presenting as a girl or a woman. All of these experiences are valuable in a conversation about how to encourage and support women. In the same way that women of different races don’t experience oppression, bias, and discrimination in the same ways, people of all kinds of non-male genders and gender identities experience sexism in as many ways as there are people. Remembering two things—that (1) women-only groups are there to create a safe and empowering community for those oppressed by the patriarchy and sexism and that (2) they have to be beneficial and welcoming to every kind of woman—leads us to a clear conclusion that we will all be better with the inclusion of our trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming friends, and colleagues.

Onto the next part: where to start! Try starting with some simple but wide-reaching changes if you can, such as adding a + to your name after “women” or the equivalent. For example, She+ Geeks Out, an organization based in Boston with events around the country, was originally called She Geeks Out. After one of the co-founders got questions and feedback about whether trans, gender-non-conforming, or non-binary folks were invited to their women-only events, she formally changed their name to She+ Geeks Out and changed the language on the site and for their events to women+ and she+. Something as basic as adding a plus can make it clear to those questioning whether they’re even invited to the club that they are not only invited, but they have actively been considered and will be welcomed. Another great way is to add language like this to your events, membership, info page, etc.: “This is an event/ group/etc. aimed at the experience of women+. Please join us if you identify as a woman or femme in any way that is important to you.” Again, this shows active consideration and a welcoming message. If possible, all events (meetings, socials, talks, etc.) should provide pronoun pins or stickers and/or should encourage attendees to put their pronouns on their nametags. Normalizing the open sharing of pronouns helps to create an environment where people don’t feel singled out and othered if their pronouns don’t match exactly what everyone’s expectation of their gender is. Finally, as you move in this direction, try to encourage some trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming folks to run for or take on leadership roles in the group! Having someone with a different experience is invaluable as the board will continue to make programming, community, and leadership decisions in the future.

I wish you the absolute best of luck in your goals! Try to find your allies—those who agree with you and are ready to do the work to make it happen. Audre Lorde said it better than I ever could: “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

Lots of love,

A. Rose Bi

A. Rose Bi lives in New England with her cats who love to sleep on her lap while she spends most of her time watching TV and playing video games while her partner cooks amazing food. In addition to being an out and proud bi+ woman, A. has a degree in Cognitive Science, has completed trainings for LGBTQIA+ and sexual assault survivor advocacy, and has experience answering calls for an anonymous LGBTQIA+ help line. She is passionate about feminism, the bi+ community, LGBTQIA+ and female representation in the media, and helping others. Her pronouns are she/her and they/them.

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