Author’s note: As a gender-diverse person worried about their future in the workforce, I approached a non-binary employee of the Australian Public Service, Rian Jenkins, in order to gain an understanding of how their experience being out at work has impacted their life. I think it’s important for young LGBTQA+ people to know that they have a future. They need to know that they will be valued for their skills rather than being forced into doing certain work and experiencing discrimination while doing so. I hope this interview, as it did for me, eases gender diverse people’s worries and makes them a little happier about the prospect of growing up in a cisgender world.
What is your name and gender identity?
My name is Rian. I identify as non-binary: specifically, agender. It was a long process to get to that realisation. It took about 10 years, from when I first suspected I might be non-binary to actually coming out to anyone.
How did you come to that realisation?
Ever since I was tiny I’ve hated dresses. As soon as I gained autonomy over my own closet, dresses were out and boots were in. I knew I was non-binary as soon as I learned what that was and what it meant. It seemed to fit better than anything else.
What are your pronouns?
Have you ever experienced discrimination on the basis of your gender identity?
Nothing violent, thank goodness. I think it’s because I’m read as a woman, even when I’m wearing a binder. I just have one of those faces.
Oh man, tell me about it!
There are sometimes situations, and they generally resolve positively, where I have to make a choice whether or not to correct someone. I had to tell someone at work that while I appreciate the sentiment of “girl power”, and that I did plan to have her back 100 per cent, I am not a girl.
What area do you work in?
I work in statistics, for the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). Specifically, the methodology division. Basically, that involves staring at numbers and formulae all day as part of trying to build infrastructure around surveys.
How did you come to be employed in that position? What was the recruitment process like?
It was unconventional. I applied through their grad program and got offered a year-long contract. I turned it down to start a PhD, but when that didn’t pan out I cheekily asked for my job offer back, and they said yes! Now I’ve won permanency.
Are you out at work?
Yes, as of a few months ago.
What was that process like? How did you go about it?
I’m the first non-binary person to come out at the ABS. Not the first trans person, but definitely the first non-binary person, at least in the Canberra office. In terms of how I came out? The process was completely up to me. My director held a section-wide meeting that involved people I work with closely. I wrote a script for him to follow in the meeting because I wasn’t present at the time (I’d taken a couple of days off). He basically told everyone that I had taken a couple of days off and I would be back at work as “Rian” with the pronouns they/them. Effectively, I had written a guide for my colleagues on how best to interact with me.
Do your co-workers respect your pronouns?
They do. There was a getting-used-to-it period where people made mistakes, and sometimes they still do. But people are completely supportive. I laugh because I notice that when I tell colleagues that I’m trans and what pronouns I use, they get this panicky expression — like, oh no, this is a situation in which I must do the correct thing — and then they proceed to do their best. It’s lovely, but I have to giggle at the panic that crosses their faces.
What did you expect going into this process?
At the point when I decided to come out, I was on a non-ongoing contract under which I could be fired for any reason. I was worried that I would be fired.
So that was your main worry?
That, and people asking me inappropriate questions or engaging me in debates about gender theory! That’s only happened once though, and I just walked away.
What is the importance of gender-diversity at work?
Do you mean are we able to get on and do our jobs?
I suppose I mean, do you feel that it’s important that you came out?
For me, absolutely. I know that it’s been important to others that I be visible and present at work as a non-binary person too. It’s important for people in the closet. I think queer people simply existing is revolutionary.
So, you see that as important in terms of gender? That gender diverse people are as visible as we can and want to be?
You should be exactly as visible as you want to be. But visibility is definitely valuable and has done a lot of good in my case. Especially in terms of working for the ABS. We collect statistics on a broad range of people; we’re constantly knocking on people’s doors and asking: “Are you a man or a woman?”
[Laughs] Exactly, yeah. People like me are able to put our hands up and say: “You’re asking the wrong question.” By existing, I have made people aware of how inadequate that question is.