Image courtesy of Vanity Fair
It seems an apropos moment to talk about this, what with all the Caitlyn Jenner splash of the last week. You can’t be very closed-minded in this business. I mean, you can try, but it will limit your reach quite a bit. And actually, learning about all sorts of people, and lifestyles, and new ideas has been one of the more rewarding parts of this job. I won’t lie: I’m way more progressive now than I was 5 years ago when I started. It’s brought me face to face with real people. You look at every one of them and you know that they struggle just as much as any of us to find happiness, satisfaction, and love. It’s a beautiful thing.
A month or so ago, I received a text message from a hostess asking if it was okay if a transwomen (let’s call her J) attend her party. This is a bit of a sticking point for some consultants at present because our corporate policy is that only women over 18 can attend parties. Since the inception of these sorts of businesses 20 or more years ago, our cultural perspective on gender has evolved a lot. What makes someone a woman? We can’t exactly ask them to strip naked or produce a copy of their last pap smear as proof. Usually, we are advised to go by whatever the person’s driver’s license says, but the criterion of having your gender changed on your DL varies from state to state. More importantly, I’m not personally comfortable with singling out a transwoman and asking her to prove her identity. If someone did that to me, I would be horribly embarrassed and offended. I just can’t do it.
In the case of my party, I simply asked the hostess how J identified. She replied, “100% woman” and that was good enough for me. I did suggest that she also consider if she needed to tell any other partygoers about J. It’s unfortunate, but I knew some women might not be comfortable with J being present and if they were going to opt out, I thought it would be better beforehand rather than there being an awkward scene the night of the event. As it was, one guest did chose not to attend on account of J being there. I was sad about that for everyone, honestly. We’re in transition ourselves as a culture and it’s a minefield of personal and interpersonal conflict, big feelings and situations that our previous understandings of gender did not plan for.
So, back to our corporate policy. What now? J told me that if I was looking to “branch out” into her community that I would be very welcome. I hesitated – I hate myself for this – but I am, by nature, a rule follower. Had I broken corporate policy by allowing her to attend in the first place? Was I willing to do it again? On a larger scale? These are questions I’m still grappling with.
I’m anxious for company policies of all kinds to catch up with our changing culture and to see how other consultants in my industry have handled this. What do you think? Would you be comfortable at a Pure Romance type party with a transwoman? If you are transgender, would you be offended if someone asked you for a driver’s license to prove you are who you claim to be? If you are consultant, have you had transgender guests at your parties? Do you think our corporate policy should change and if so, in what way?