A Thinner Skin

There wasn’t many people in. I get in early myself to miss the busy commute and there is nothing like leaving work early. The view out the window was a misty grey winter haze in the distance with a pale sun barely cutting through the cloud. It was a welcome scene to start a working day.

At the back of the office the noisy three chatted, as they normally do in the first hour before everyone joins the working day, talking about everything domestic. The kids having their troubles in school, why ‘he hit the other boy’, the argument with the assistant in the electrical store over the television set that had gone all blue; it wasn’t something I wanted to listen to but the open-plan office space and the overly vocal baritone boom was difficult not to focus on.

I only heard little bits here and there, snippets and sound-bites, but it was fairly clear what I had heard. I tuned in immediately when I heard the wordgenderstand out like a light house on a clear night. “I’m not PC at all.” she said in that manor of I like what I say and I say what I bloody well like. That kind of, I’m entitled to my opinion and I’ll say it, but without any reasoned thought, argument, evidence or well thought out constructive criticism. It was just an opinion for opinions sake and just based in, well, prejudice.

“This whole gender… –” she continued with a look to her colleague with expressive body language “I think it’s a load of crap.” The other two didn’t outwardly give some kind of agreement, they just continued to gives examples of how little Johnny knows exactly what gender he was.

I was immediately hit by internal sadness and offence. I’ve laughed at transgender jokes by comedians and sitcoms. Why was this offensive to me, especially when I didn’t know exactly what her point was in-context; was it about transgender identity that she didn’t believe in or was it about genderless identity, or more popularly know as gender neutrality? I think my problem was more disappointment.

This person was someone who I felt was one of the nicest people I had met at work. She was experienced in her particular job and she was the sort of character you need talking to the clients. She has a way of talking to people in a diplomatic way and with a short flick of the tongue she had dismantled and destroyed everything good I thought about her. She had destroyed this image in my head. One of the other problems of course is that our workplace possibly has some of the strongest policies for equality which goes beyond just policies, everyone has compulsory training covering equality with an extended section on transgendered people. It’s at the very core of our workplace.

I felt conflicted. On the one hand I felt offended and disappointed and felt that the whole idea of this could be the placeif I were to go full-time. On the other hand I felt like I had a skin that needed to be thicker. It wasn’t physical abuse, it wasn’t mental abuse directed at me personally and she doesn’t know that I am transgender. What if she did know, that everyone knew and that I was working there outwardly as female and with everyone aware of my conflicting birth gender? Would she have said it then. Would she have said it so loud or would the conversation be dropped to a low whisper so I couldn’t hear but with a little hint that she was about to talk about it from a small look across the office to check who was in hearing distance. Would she have just not said anything because the nice part of her personality and understanding part would have kept her opinion to herself.

I grappled with the thoughts of what this meant and whether I should do anything about it given the high expectations on its employees. I mean should I report this so that they know that this sort of opinion expressed very loudly across the office actually hurts people. What if they had said ‘This whole gay thing, it’s a load of crap.’ What if she had said, ‘These disabled people needing their own toilet facilities, whats the point of that.’

At the same time there was another part that was still telling me that it could be so much worse and, not so much that was I actually offended, but shouldI be offended? A little bit of guilt that I would feel if I had reported it as something unacceptable. The thought that had decided my actions was the simple one – it wouldn’t change her opinion. It’s one thing hearing someone say something but once you know what they think you know they’ll still be thinking it.

The only things that changes opinion is probably education or personal experience. I certainly don’t want to be the one giving a one hour awareness course for the department. I’m just not in that place at the moment.

I took a wander to the break room and placed my cup under the outlet of the coffee machine, the usual cappuccino with the strength turned down. I looked out the window while the coffee and milk poured into the cup in the background. Thoughts churning around and, well, just waiting for the dust to settle in my head.

I looked at the notice board for a moment. Amongst the flyers pinned neatly square with drawing pins was a notice about an up and coming presentation about ‘LGBT+ issues’. I sighed for a moment. It crossed my mind what use that actually would be if some people were of the kind that what they think is all that matters and nothing will change their mindor may be I’m just underestimating the intelligence of this particular person. Besides, what would motivate someone like that to go along?

It was only a couple of hours before I felt better about it and let it go. The sad thing is though, I don’t feel I have the time for this person now. I have to speak to her, and I speak respectfully, I work with her every day but I just feel I won’t go that extra mile for her anymore. Still, it’s better than processes and procedures and having-words.

Until next time,

Hannah x

6 thoughts on “A Thinner Skin

  1. Ah that’s awkward. I know exactly what you mean, it’s like you’re disappointed in that person for having that opinion. I’ve experienced it first hand. One thing I think does happen after you wear your heart on your sleeve so to speak is that you don’t get to hear those opinions so much. Before hand you hear it from time to time. I think there are always people about with uninformed opinion and all you can do is be nice and hope that they begin to see that they may have the wrong idea, even if you really want to do a Miss Piggy on them ‘Hii-Yaah!’

    • It’s just one of those thing I suppose that happens to people for all sorts of reasons. It just happens to be a really personal reason that feels like a criticism of our core self. Hope you’re well.

  2. It is disappointing, sometimes it’s the people you think are the nicest say the most hurtful things, possibly because it’s from them you least expect it.
    But you shouldn’t have to grow a thicker skin, you aren’t the one that needs to change.
    And maybe in time, with new experiences, she will.

    • It might just be one of those times where she said more than she intended because she wasn’t aware of the ramifications, or may be she doesn’t put much value on that opinion. Still, it’s done and over.

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