Let me start by saying: I have reflected upon all of my interactions on LinkedIn with the intention of absorbing the positivity while allowing the negativity to flow off my shoulders and have concluded that it is a very supportive community overall.
However it’s also true that LinkedIn has been the space where I’ve received the most push back specifically for my gender identity (I am somewhere between agender and genderfluid and prefer they/them pronouns). And when I talk about how that affects me professionally, this happens:
Before I dive into why “unprofessional” is a term used to perpetuate racist, sexist, ableist, and homophobic/transphobic cultural values in society, I’ve got a question. Did you notice he only responded to the other white man and not the woman or non binary person? If you didn’t notice it, no biggie, but it would help us underrepresented minorities to bring more awareness to “attention as a form of respect and power.” I guess from this perspective I should be grateful he used some of his valuable time to send me his opinion at all, haha!
So moving on, the most glaring evidence of professionalism being weaponized against a community is in the case of African American culture. Why are dreadlocks unprofessional and sometimes even included in school dress codes for children? Why is one body type the norm for beauty which affects professional development (if you’re naiive enough to believe there isn’t a business reward for physical attractiveness, then you are likely beautiful, be grateful for it). Additionally certain accents or dialects are automatically associated with a less professional image. I am hardly an expert on this, but it’s clear that dress codes are more often enforced against people of color (POC), specifically women or assigned-female at birth (AFAB) POC…
…which brings us to sexism. Misogyny is still at the core of many upper-tier cultures in business. And as I learned during my time as CSO of a startup, everything is business. Did you know the phrase “open the kimono” is a business phrase for “sharing backend details with each other”? And women are expected to laugh pleasantly at such a clever turn of phrase. Just as with racial/cultural differences in identity, women have more stringent standards for “professional identity” that range from the clothes they wear to the way they speak or their face looks. If you want to learn more, google what’s going on in the US political system re: gender-specific dress codes.
This rigid image of “professional” can be unsustainable for some people, especially when we consider neurodivergence. Sensory-friendly spaces, stimming, and other accommodations around attention are rarely present in the professional world. Any display of needing accommodation is generally viewed as a “net negative” for productivity. The norm is to mask until you’re pushed to a mental breakdown that almost kills you.
And now we finally arrive at the main subject: how is talking about my gender-identity unprofessional? Because it breaks that very same rigid image of professionalism.There is a reason that it’s upheld by the lucky few who hoard most of our resources (and those who live in excess and want to keep it that way). Because when we break that professional image, we are showing that we are not subservient to them or their opinions. We are visibly flaunting that we actively choose to live our lives outside of their acceptance. And if we can do that without punishment, then what’s stopping everyone else?
And for those of you who think that I should grow a thicker skin, you are so right. I have aspirations to keep sharing and to keep building this community. I need a thicker skin, and I’m working on it. But it’s also worth thinking about how professional criticism for identity-related features is extremely emotional and for many of us ties us back to generational and community trauma.
I am aware that being open about my sexuality and gender-identity means some people will hate me so much they are moved to violence. The most deadly night of violence against the LGBTQ community was in Miami in 2016, ending 49 innocent lives only 6 years ago. Just last November 2022, there was a hate crime in Colorado stealing the futures of 5 innocent people and their friends and family. The current data shows these events are increasing.
So yes, I need a thicker skin. But it’s also reasonable for these comments to trigger me; I am scared for my life, for my wife’s life. I’m scared, because there’s this nasty historical pattern where those who speak out too loudly against the status quo will eventually get murdered for it.
I am privileged to have a million unique reasons that allows me to get past this fear (I’ve had a near-death experience that was so statistically unlikely that it makes me truly believe in miracles). And this is also why I must keep speaking out for the vast majority of people like me who can’t.
So here is how I’m going to respond from now on
UPDATE – And here is his response: