Today’s blog article has kindly been provided by Andrea Brewster OBE, leader of IP Inclusive.
This week I travel to Bangkok, to be with my daughter who’s having gender reassignment surgery. This is the culmination of years of soul-searching and heartache for her; I’ve done my best to support her but she’s travelling a tough road and I can only wonder at her courage and commitment.Having a transgender child is an inspiring reminder of a very simple truth about human relationships: that there are many layers to a relationship, but very few of them depend on gender.
Yes, if it’s a sexual relationship you’re after, the other person’s gender may be important to you. And maybe if you like a relationship based on power, you might use gender as one aspect of it – but I’m going to discount that because in my book, that isn’t a valid human relationship.
In most other contexts, the gender label is superfluous. You love someone as you find them, for what they do and what they believe, for the responses they evoke in you. Assigning them to a different gender category won’t change that. You’ll still love them. Even in a sexual relationship, there will be foundations beneath, that have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the human being who simply makes you smile, allows you to speak, helps you face the day with enthusiasm.
It never occurred to me that I should feel differently about my son when she turned out to be my daughter. And I don’t. “Male” and “female” were labels that were entirely inadequate for encapsulating her mind and personality. Neither category could contain the love and respect I felt for her. Neither could define the way we interacted with one another.
And once that thought comes into focus, you realise that all the other labels are superfluous too. In your relationships with friends, family, colleagues or advisers, gender simply shouldn’t come into it – and nor should sexuality, race, religion, physical or mental capabilities, physical appearance, background, age or a whole host of other so-called distinguishing characteristics. Each person is a unique meld, impossible to deconstruct without devaluing the whole. So instead you build a relationship out of trust, respect and shared values. You experience things together. You work together, laugh together, cry together. You support one other. As you are. The whole of you.
And then they tell you that they’re gay, or Muslim, or Christian, or reliant on anti-depressants. So what? They were gay or Christian before. Telling you hasn’t changed who they are. Why should it change how you relate to them?
Does someone do a good job or not? Are they reliable or not? Do you like spending time with them, or not? None of these requires you to determine a person’s gender, sexuality, race or religion. Judge people as you find them, by what they do rather than by the labels other people might impose on them.
Clearly, for my daughter, it feels important to be “female” – and doubtless that has a lot to do with the expectations that society attaches to the term. But I suspect that for those who know and love her, it matters little. She is who she is. I like to think that it matters little whether I am “male” or “female” either. I work in IP. I write. I run. I take photographs. I help look after my family. I enjoy a gin and tonic. If I started calling myself “male” tomorrow, it should make not the slightest bit of difference to the things I’ve achieved or my ability to continue doing them. Anyone who puts me into a box, and attempts to constrain me by it, is unworthy of the chance to know me.
The way to build an inclusive workplace, then, is quite simply to strip away the layers of catalogue and code that attempt to define people, and concentrate instead on the human interactions beneath. Judge on behaviour and on values. Build respect and trust, and love, that transcend all of the labels.