in DEIB, Libraries, Life

Coming out as nonbinary at work

This week, after 10 years of working at VCU Libraries, I have been letting my colleagues know that I’m nonbinary. Response from my boss, my team, and my colleagues has been so positive, and has made this process so incredibly easy.

I didn’t really have a template for a coming-out message, so ended up writing this post out to our staff intranet. I’m sharing it here in hopes that it helps some folks. Mileage certainly varies depending on where you work, but this FAQ may be helpful not only for folks coming out, but for people working alongside them.

My letter is below.

Disclaimer: Many of the answers in this FAQ won’t be true for all nonbinary folks, but it’s a jumping-off point if people want to start their own docs.

Thank you to the out trans and nonbinary librarians before me who helped me along the way, specifically Stephen Krueger, Max Bowman, char booth, María Matienzo, and Wen Nie Ng.

Good morning! I’m coming out as nonbinary

All –

Y’all have made VCU feel like home for me for the past 10 years. I wanted to share with you today that I am nonbinary, and use they/them pronouns. I have been out as nonbinary in my personal life for a while and I’m ready to bring that part of myself to my work life.

Why now?
I have been a member of the VCU community for a long time, I love working here, and I know this is a place where I can bring my whole self to work. I think my work and VCUL community are enriched when employees are authentically present. I think that all you kind folks at VCUL are open to welcoming me. I also think it’s important to be visible to folks in the community, especially students, who are trans or nonbinary.

What does that mean for me, your colleague?
I’m asking you to change how you talk to me and how you refer to me. Instead of using she or her pronouns to refer to me, you can use they and them. “Erin sent that message about their pronouns.” It’s kind of awkward at first but it gets easier with practice.

What can I call you?
– Addressing me: Erin, you, friend, colleague, erwhite, E-dubs, Mx. White (pronounced “mix”)…
– Referring to me: Erin, they, them, theirs, that person, friend, colleague, talented IT professional…

What shouldn’t I call you?
– Addressing me: Ms., Miss, lady, girl, woman, ma’am…
– Referring to me: she, her, he, him, it, Ms., Miss, lady, girl, woman…

What if I get it wrong?
It’s okay! If you catch yourself, correct and move on. What’s important is to try.

Will you correct me if I get it wrong?
It depends on the situation. If I remind you, it’s because I know we respect each other and both care about our relationship.

Can I correct others?
Yes, in the spirit of calling folks in rather than calling them out. We’re all in community with each other, and want to be generous with each other as we learn.

I don’t agree that I should use they/them pronouns for you.
I hope that you can respect me and honor how I am asking to be addressed, recognizing that inclusion is a core value at VCU, so we can work together. Another option is to just use my name instead of my pronouns.

That’s it! There are more resources on how to affirm nonbinary folks online if you are interested. Thank you for reading this far and thank you for your support.

Update April 15, 2019: This letter is included as part of Arley Cruther’s textbook Business Writing For Everyone: An Inclusive Guide to Writing in the Workplace.