Your Identity Is Not A Problem with Morgan Givens | Crooked Media
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January 11, 2023
Work Appropriate
Your Identity Is Not A Problem with Morgan Givens

In This Episode

For people who aren’t white, straight, cis men, being your authentic self at work can be risky. Even though your identity isn’t and shouldn’t be a problem, many workplaces treat it like one. We received a slew of listeners’ questions along these lines– from choosing to come out at work, to celebrating LGBTQ+ employees in a hostile work environment, to caring for oneself in the process of asking for accommodations– so host Anne Helen Petersen invited writer and creator Morgan Givens to help answer them.

Got a workplace quandary you need help figuring out? Head to www.workappropriate.com and let us know!

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Helen Petersen, and this is Work Appropriate. [music break] Last month, someone wrote to us with a workplace quandary that became the centerpiece of this episode. They said, I’m tired of being thought of as the difficult one. They weren’t talking about being difficult in the way you might think. They weren’t constantly asking for extensions or struggling to figure out how to create a PDF. They were just being more to the point. They were asking politely and repeatedly for people to use their correct pronouns. The negligence of that straightforward request, plus a few other things that you’ll hear about later in the episode, created a scenario in which they were continually asking for something, continually forced to speak up continually, the problem. This quandary made me and my producer Melody realize that we’d received a whole slew of submissions with the same issue at their core, which was basically, my identity is not and should not be a problem, but my workplace treats it purposely or not like it is. To address these questions, I asked someone to come on as cohost who’s really figured out how to identify when your workplace is treating your identity as a problem and all of the strategies you can employ that don’t involve making yourself and your identity smaller. 

 

Morgan Givens: My name is Morgan Givens. I am a storyteller, a writer. I produce for daily news shows, podcasts and I’m the creator of the podcast Flyest Fables. I’m also a Black trans autistic dude in the audio space, in the nonprofit space. So, look, if you got any issues, I probably experience them. [laughter] I guess that’s a short, brief way of just explaining who I am. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: As you just said, you are someone who is really open about your identity as a Black trans man in spaces like public radio that are traditionally very white. [laughter]

 

Morgan Givens: Oh yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But then also law enforcement, right. Could you— 

 

Morgan Givens: Oh, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Could you talk a little bit about that journey? Have you always been comfortable with talking openly about who you are, essentially? 

 

Morgan Givens: Kinda, you know, I mean. Well, let’s see. I think the trans part, because that was a journey in and of itself. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Morgan Givens: So I think kind of accepting that I was queer, accepting, you know, at least initially, I was like, ooh, I like women. Oh, what is this? You know, I grew up in like the 90s—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: —in the early 2000s. So I, you know, I didn’t show up like oh, yeah, I’m, you know, shit, I’m I am who I am as a Black trans guy, like, off the jump. No, that would be a lie. I don’t believe in lying to people. It took me time to get there by the time I got to the D.C. Police Department. And that’s. That’s where I was for a couple of years. I did some work kind of rewriting their training curriculum before I bounced because I was like, oh, this is going to crush my soul before I can bring about any kind of change I really believe in. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Morgan Givens: But, you know, prior to that. I worked in retail and I actually began my transition in retail in North Carolina. But when I got to the police department, I had been on testosterone for a couple of years. So for all intents and purposes, people would look at me and assume I was like, this cis heterosexual dude which means that, you know, the gender I was assigned at birth is the one I stuck to. And I like the opposite gender. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: Well, when I got to the police department, they called themselves, you know, they were like, we want to get ahead of this. We’re going to let everybody in the academy know there’s a trans guy coming. And I was like, Why would you do that? [laughter] Why? Why did you have a meeting about the fact that there’s going to be a trans recruit? Like what? What? Why does everybody what are you. Huh, you know, it was one of those situations. They were so afraid of being sued. And I’m like, I don’t believe in suing you off jump. If you have questions, we can we can address that. And so I get there and everybody I’m like, why is everybody staring at our class so hard? Like, everybody in my my academy class was like, why does everybody looks at us like this? And it wasn’t like, oh, it’s a new class. It was like mean mugging, but not like, not nasty. But they was really eyeballing us. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: And I was like what is this? What is this? Come to find out these clowns had told everybody there was a trans kid coming. But then showing their own transphobia, they thought they was going to be able to look at me and tell. [laughter] So we’re all out there. They’re like, we don’t know who it is. Which one is it like? The officers was confused. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Oh, my God. 

 

Morgan Givens: The recruits was confused. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And it’s so backwards, right? Because they— 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —they wanted to do that. Maybe someone was like, we want to be better about how we integrate this trans person into the department. 

 

Morgan Givens: Exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: We want to make sure that people don’t say things. But by putting this huge like target on someone in the class actually attracted like a lot more transphobic behavior than there would have been otherwise. 

 

Morgan Givens: So much more. I was like, y’all could have just you could have at least called and been like do you want us to do this?

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Well, and that’s something that’s so many H.R. policies. I’m sure we’ll get into this. A lot of things would be solved by like, just having a conversation about— 

 

Morgan Givens: Just, just asking, you know, just, just hit me up and ask. And, you know, I knew I was going into even in the DC area, a fairly it’s a conservative profession, you know, that’s that’s just the way it is. It’s filled, you know, with what we call toxic masculinity through the roof. But I knew that going in. And part of my strategy for coming out was I’m going to wait. And so for like two months, the class was like, I don’t know. They keep saying there’s a trans person in this class, that does not make sense because we’re not I don’t see a trans person anywhere, you know? And at the same time, I was dipping out to another locker room for my shower after PT, you know, and nobody noticed. I’m like, y’all want to be cops and detectives, and you didn’t notice I wasn’t here during shower time [laughter] so, but I my plan was they need to get to know me first because. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yup. 

 

Morgan Givens: You know, people have a tendency if they find out I’m trans first in those situations, that’s all they see. That’s the first thing they see. And so it’s as opposed to being an integrated part of who I am, it’s it’s the only thing that they know about me. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Morgan Givens: And so I waited like 2 to 3 months. And then I told my sergeant I was like, hey, I’m going to tell the class now, you know? And he was like what do you need? And I was like, man, nothing. I mean, I’m just going to tell the class. They brought in the lieutenant for the Academy. They brought in the commander for the academy while, I’m telling the class, and on one hand I’m like, this is overkill, but on the other hand, I’m like, well, I appreciate the support. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah.

 

Morgan Givens: [laughs] And so I just I just told the class and you know, there was one guy in the back who was like, oh, this is what they’ve been staring at us for. But he was fine. [laughter] And then pretty much everybody was just like, man, you still Morgan. Whatever. Like, we got you let us know if somebody messes with you. Which went against my expectations because I was like, I had some prejudgments about how they were going to respond and you know, my class had my back after that. I had no issues with any of the officers, you know, but I think my approach is why I didn’t. And by the time I graduated, I had somebody who is in charge of what is called the Civil Disturbance Unit. They’re the people who show up when there are protests. And he’s like, you know. I’m so glad I met you. I’ll think about trans people and queer people differently because I did. And I’m like, you are a 17 year veteran of the department. Like, I know you think that’s a compliment, but I am. I am. That is not a compliment. That is not a compliment. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: You went 17 years in your life without encountering another trans person that in any way challenged your understanding of trans people. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. And which goes to show like how the power discrepancy between the police department and those communities because I’m like, man, you ran into us you just didn’t know. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. Yup.

 

Morgan Givens: Or you ran into us and you didn’t listen to them when you did. So it was an interesting experience. I don’t regret the experience, you know it prepared me for a lot of things going forward. It also taught me a lot of things about some of the you know, some of the ways I view people and my expectations of people, it reminded me to give others a bit more grace, I think [laughs] and think that they can they can attain. I’m like, I’m not going to believe you can’t do it, because I’ve seen evidence of people who would have sworn I will never talk to a trans person long as I live. And I’m like, hey, man, we’re best friends now my guy, you know? [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So we got a ton of really good questions from listeners about identity just generally in the workplace. And when we heard a lot was a variation of this question about how much of myself should I share at work? And this comes from Erika. 

 

Erika: I’m a gay employee at a small company in the Midwest. One of my coworkers is very openly conservative. He’s never been outright hateful or bigoted, but knowing what he believes is enough to make me not want to come out at work. At first, I was fine with not coming out, but the longer I work here, the harder it is to avoid my sexuality and relationships coming up as a topic of conversation. It’s wearing on me to lie or evade all the time. In addition to this, I’ve become friendly with my conservative coworkers manager in getting to know this other coworker. I decided to come out to them. I then had to explain to this person why I didn’t want them to out me to my other coworker who is also their subordinate. Nothing has happened since then, but the coworker I’m out to seems to be more upset about it than I am. I don’t want to interfere with good working relationships, but lying and asking other people to lie for me is wearing on me. I want to be able to freely share my life with my coworkers, but I’m worried about my coworkers reaction and my boss’s willingness to intervene. Should I give my coworker the benefit of the doubt? And if yes, is there a good way to go about coming out to this person? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The first thing that I want to make sure and acknowledge is that not everyone has the option of keeping parts of their identity private and we’ll come back to that. But let’s use the question as a jumping off point for the idea of disclosure. So, Morgan, what is your reaction to this question? 

 

Morgan Givens: My reaction is I feel that in my gut, like I have [laughs] been in that exact position many times and it’s gotten easier to show up as myself each time. You know, it’s like a muscle you work on. It’s practice. Don’t believe that, you know, the queer trans gay folks you see out here, stunting, you know with a cause, where we were not always like this. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Morgan Givens: Okay? And. So that I say that. So it does not appear as something that is unattainable. We can all get there. But it’s also about understanding the bounds of safety, where you are and what is literally safe for you physically and mentally. Like, I always kind of preface that because, you know, I live in the District of Columbia, and even when I was in North Carolina, I was really open, but I was in a place in North Carolina where it was safer for me to be that way. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yup. 

 

Morgan Givens: And I understand it’s not safe for everyone to be that way. But this letter gives me the sense that at least in this space, there is some safety, at least in one person, which is this manager that you you’ve kind of gotten to know, Erika. And my my thing was you’ve already done the thing I would have suggested first, which is find the ally in that place, because it’s not always true, but usually there is at least one. There is at least one person with some sense. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yup. 

 

Morgan Givens: In that place, whether they are you know, on the same level as you within the hierarchy or not, find that person and you’ve already done it. Granny. You had to tell that person not to out you. We all got room to grow, okay? Like you know, you don’t run around outing people. But I hope it feels good to know that there is someone there who is upset on your behalf because sometimes we get so into this idea that we are not allowed access to those emotions in those spaces, that we sometimes need somebody to be that way for us to know it’s okay for us to be upset. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: It’s okay for us to like, wonder why I feel this way about this coworker who I know is a bigot or I believe will have bigoted views or react to me. However, once they find out this thing about me, the next thing I would say is like, make sure you know your rights. In this place. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. Yep. 

 

Morgan Givens: I am a firm believer and I’ll I’ll repeat this many times in documentation. You know, I am a firm believer in having your receipts. That means every time, if you decide you want to come out. And or and is it coming out or just being yourself. Right. And so when you decide you feel safe enough to be your full self here and we have to be careful of where we are our full selves, not every place is safe again, but when you decide to if that person has something slick to say, document it, write it down. The date and time what they said verbatim, because people will try to say they didn’t say the things they said and it’s like, well, I got the date you said it, the time you said it and what you said. But, you know, I was in a similar situation when I worked in retail and I’ll just call it the circle with a dot place. And I told a manager who I felt I could trust, and I had a coworker as well who was like, I’m not getting on board. She was like, I don’t understand it. It’s weird. I’m like, weird to you. [laughs] You are the one who does not understand it. And because you don’t understand it, you want to foist your discomfort on me. That’s not my discomfort to hold. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: You know, that’s not my quote unquote, “shame” to hold because, you know, we live in a society that makes us think we have to hide that part of ourselves, that we are not worthy of being our full selves, that we have to shred parts of our humanity in order to exist in certain spaces. And the way I’ve gotten around that is kind of accepting that my humanity is mine and it’s not up for debate. And if that means I’m going to be human in this space, then I’m going to be human in this space. But I understand how that can be uncomfortable. I understand how it can. It feels weird to go against the grain because, you know, as humans we are built for that social interaction to a degree. We are built for that togetherness and going against the grain pulls us out of that realm of togetherness. But there are other realms of togetherness. And so it sounds like you have people here. It sounds like you have someone to support you. And maybe it’s not so much about coming out to this person. It’s more about not hiding who you are anymore. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: And it’s about accepting that you are worthy of not hiding who you are, you know, especially if you are you are in this place where you feel safe. And, you know, again, I will say you are not responsible for his feelings. And a lot of this is you being worried of managing how he’s going to react. You are only responsible for how you react and how you respond. And that’s on him, that’s on him. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. It reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, which is other people’s feelings about me are none of my business.

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. Yeah, and it takes a long time to take that in though. You be like. But it is my business, no, like me, love me. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Especially if you are socialized in a way. And I think a lot of women are socialized in this way to always care what other people think about you. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah, for sure. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. So if that is some part of the way that you have been socialized, it’s hard to let go of thinking about that. 

 

Morgan Givens: It really is. It’s not easy. It’s not easy.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But I think I think for advice, let’s think there’s two scenarios here. One is this potential bigot has some sort of power over the person who’s asking the question, Erika. And the other is that this person does not have power. So your advice, first of all, is, regardless document. 

 

Morgan Givens: Absolutely. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The way that I would do it and have done it in the past is you send an email to yourself? 

 

Morgan Givens: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So that it’s time stamped. 

 

Morgan Givens: It is. And they can’t question it. That is very smart. Yes. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And but then how would you approach this differently depending on the amount of power that this coworker potentially has? 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. It would depend. I mean, I’ve been in a situation where someone did have the power over my job and was not very keen on who I was as a person [laughs] and I had to consider. Am I willing to lose this job? Am I in a position to lose this job? And do I have lateral support if I decide to stand up for myself here? You know, and so sometimes standing up for ourselves doesn’t mean taking the fight to them in that moment. It means caring for our future selves as well. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: And so thinking about can I afford to eat without this? What does that do to my home life with me and my wife? Okay, does this mean I need to start looking elsewhere? Does this mean I need to start putting out feelers elsewhere? And so when I’ve had instances or had that instance where someone was in a position of power over me, I reached out to the people I knew. I said they got my back. If I say something, they have my back. I talk to my wife. I said, babe, this is going on. I will not stand for it. And I’m in a position where I don’t have to. Are you okay if I do this? You know, and so I had the conversations to make sure I had that foundational support before. I basically went head on with this person and was like, you will not treat me this way. You will not talk to me this way, because I had the space to do that, you know, and not everyone has that space. And so if they’re in a position of power over you and you need this job, there is no shame in saying nothing. There is no shame in keeping that to yourself because you are protecting yourself in a different way. As long as you can enter that space and your mental space is okay and you’re able to figure out how to put up those boundaries mentally, to leave that where it is, to drop it at the door, then that’s totally cool. You know, but my advice, if they have the power over you, is to decide, you know, first, can I afford not to have this job? And if the answer is no, that’s going to dictate your next steps. And if the answer is yes, that’ll dictate your next steps as well. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s such a great and empathetic response, because I think sometimes people respond in scenarios like this with what they would do in that situation, with disregarding those other contextual aspects in terms of is there job security? Do I need the health insurance to cover my kids? You know, all those different things that might make it more difficult to make the decision that you might otherwise want to, you know, in your most like—

 

Morgan Givens: Oh yeah, make it in your brain. Say it out loud. Beat your chest and be like, I would make—

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 

 

Morgan Givens: —that decision if my babies didn’t need to eat [laughter] or I didn’t need go to the doctor next month, you know? And so don’t beat yourself up for life being life, I guess. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Our next two questions are about caring for yourself and your coworkers when your workplace is inherently demoralizing. First is a question from Natalie. 

 

Natalie: I recently started working for a small nonprofit that markets itself as a racial equity organization. Despite all of senior management and the majority of staff minus the CEO being white identified, there’s a palpable misalignment in how the organization defines itself and its values, and how myself and other BIPOC individuals view and experiences. Navigating the space as a Black person is frustrating, exhausting, and demoralizing. Unfortunately, I need a job, and leaving isn’t an option right now. So I’m curious to know how other Black folks have learned to navigate these spaces and protect themselves and their well-being. Do they put their head down and just focus on their work? Try to offer feedback and the hope that it might be received? Or are there other strategies folks have used to get through or get out? 

 

Morgan Givens: Hmm. Oof. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: All right. Morgan, what’s your experience with this dynamic? 

 

Morgan Givens: Wooh. Let’s see. As far as what to do. All of the above. All of the above. All three things. And sometimes at once I have been in that space, because one of the things that tends to happen, if you’re like a Black person or a Black trans person or a queer person or an autistic person is they’re like, we’ll just plug you in right here and think we have to do nothing else differently. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: 100%. 

 

Morgan Givens: Like, that’s that’s not how it works. Like, I’m not your token. I’m not here to, like, rubber stamp that you’re a good white person. Like, that’s not my job. That is not my role. So. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: I feel that I have been in an organization, you know, that was actually started by really radical people in the seventies, like spent time in prisons for the protests that they were engaged in for the rights of others. And the organization, when I joined it had somehow lost this connection to how radical they were when they started. And it seemed like they were afraid to really push against power structures. And that was in, causing an inherent issue because we worked in prisons. The main power structure you’re pushing back against is going to be white supremacy here and you have to be able to name it. You have to be able to call it what it is. And so when I’ve been in that position, there was it was me and this other Black person, this Black woman who is still a good friend of mine to this day. And we were the only two in the North America offices. And she was in L.A. and I was in D.C. and we had these full, you know, team meetings and we would literally be texting each other the whole time. Because one of the things that I have found that is super helpful when I’m in that space, if there is another Black or brown person who gets it, and even if they’re not in that space with me, if I’ve got a friend, I can text like you will not believe what these people just said up in this meeting yo, like, did you hear that? Did you? Oh, I heard that. Like being able to have somebody who can affirm the reality. As you see it is very grounding in those places because you are constantly buffeted by the winds of like white reality. [laughter] And you’re like, that is not my world. I don’t know how to deal with this. I can’t sail these seas. And so I found somebody [laughs] who I could talk to and be like, child, did you hear that? She be like boy I did, you know. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Well, and it keeps you from that feeling of being gaslit. 

 

Morgan Givens: Exactly. Cuz that’s when it really gets discombobulated. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. You have someone who’s just affirming to you over and over again like this white norm, just because it’s always invisiblizing itself as white norm—

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —right, like that doesn’t mean that it’s not still really weird, right? 

 

Morgan Givens: It can be very weird. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s the thing about whiteness is that it tries to establish itself as the norm, just as the status quo. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yup that’s where the power lies in it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And you know, you need someone else who’s like, this is super fucking weird. [laughter]

 

Morgan Givens: Exactly. Like, did you? Like, I’m not the only one. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: Why did they say that to me like that? Why are they giving me the assignments that you would give a kindergartner? Like, what do you mean? [laughter] And so it’s. It’s so in those spaces, one of my strategies was to find another person, another Black person, another brown person. If they were in that office. Again, allies are important. And it’s you know, you have to vet people. [laughter] You know, because people will tend to show you who they are over time. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah, yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: Or like I’ve, I’ve reached out to my other Black friends or brown friends who were not even in that space. Like, y’all will not believe what I’m dealing with this week and they’re working somewhere else and am like, you won’t believe what I dealt with this week. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: So having those moments of commiseration are so important. They’re so important. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. And I think, you know, we had someone who had worked and has worked in nonprofits for a long time and been in a lot of organizations. She was the co-host of a couple of episodes ago, Nicole. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Talking about you can work in nonprofits that are ostensibly DEI aligned forever. You can have a CEO who is a person of color, but until you actually have an organization that is not majority white, that that whiteness is going to be really suffocating [both speaking] and hard and it’s hard to find spaces, especially if you do a particular sort of work that you know, you don’t you can’t apply to a billion jobs, you don’t have infinite options. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah, yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So how do you navigate it? 

 

Morgan Givens: That is real, you know, and so part of it is I often ask myself, you know, when I’ve been in those situations, what can I stand? I know I don’t deserve to be treated this way. And so reaffirming that constantly, but also, again, having to take in the context of can I lose this job, like when I was working there and dealing with that, I could not afford to lose that job. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: Like it took me time to find another job. And so it’s like, how do I keep myself from like believing the lies they’re telling me, believing these white lies about myself? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm. 

 

Morgan Givens: And so I began finding other outlets creatively. I got on stage storytelling because it reminded me of one of my skills. And so I dive into the things that remind me of the skills I have, the things that I inherently can do by virtue of who I am. And so and then sometimes. I had to go and just ask my friends. I’m like, I need a gas up today. Like I had a bad day. Here’s what happened. I need a gas up because my critical voice is very loud and it is picking up what these people are telling me. And I know that’s not true, but I need to borrow a little your confidence and a little of your strength for a bit, because I’m having a moment and that has meant I’ve had to be more vulnerable with myself, you know, and then also accepting that I have emotions that don’t need to be cut off. Because again, if you’re Black in the world in any capacity, if you’re queer in this world, or you live at the intersections of any of these existences. We are taught to shield our emotions from ourselves, to make others comfortable. So it’s it’s been a lot of work, you know, also diving into that. And and so yeah, part of it is. Finding that person you can laugh with and recognizing what you can change and what you cannot, which, you know is is like the alcoholic anonymous creed. Like that is my jam. I’m like, yes, okay, I got, you no more drinking and also this, change of things I understand what I can change and what I cannot and recognizing when I have to let that go, but also realizing I can do good outside of this organization. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yup. 

 

Morgan Givens: Like nonprofits do not have a lock on the good I can do. They don’t have a lock on me buying this person dinner. They don’t have a lock on me donating the gift to this place. They don’t have a lock on what I do outside of them. And often when we’re inside of them, we think that’s the only way we can do good. But that that’s not true. And so it’s about taking those moments to breathe and ground ourselves and remember that this is one part of our life story. And this is going to sound wild, but one of the ways I get through this type of stuff is that I think ahead, I’m like, when I am 80 years old, am I going to be thinking about these people? God willing, no. You know [laughter] and so that kind of helps. That kind of helps me, too. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I think it also speaks to something that we talk about on this podcast all the time, which is that people who work in passion jobs like vocations, right, callings— 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —oftentimes do align so fully with the work that they do that it’s easy to fall into that trap of like. 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: If I’m not happy, if I’m not doing everything I can in this job, then I am failing in some way. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah, that’s real. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: When people who aren’t in jobs like that are never like what I do in my job from, you know, the 8 hours that I put in every day is the limit of who I am as a person. 

 

Morgan Givens: Exactly. But we live in that. You know, this capitalist world that that tells us our output, our product is is our worth. And that’s that’s simply not true. So a lot of it is like unlearning that the capitalist impulses that have been kind of put into us from beginning and disconnecting our worth from our output, disconnecting, you know, my worth from my work, like I think my work is worthy, but I don’t tie my worthiness to what I put out. And that that, again, is a skill. I work on it every day. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Same, same. 

 

Morgan Givens: I’ve had instances, even recently where I’m like, I am a terrible person because they just edited the crap out of this paper and it’s like, no man, they just edited the paper like, what are you doing? [laughter] You know and so. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right? 

 

Morgan Givens: But it is a constant work in progress. And it is it’s a skill that, you know, we work on it. It becomes reflexive, but it takes time, you know, again. So as I and others begin to do the work of disentangling our work and our worth, you know, just patience with yourself, I think the biggest thing is when in these spaces to be patient and kind, because these are the spaces that can activate our critical voices, especially as Black people, especially when we know, you know, unfortunately, our resumes have to be three times as stacked, perhaps as one of our peers, you know, just to get the same shot. And so it it takes time, you know, just takes time to be kind to you. You deserve the kindness. You deserve the softness. So. Yeah. 

 

[AD BREAK] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is similar, but it’s about an outright conflict between the values of an organization and the people who work for it. So this is Renee. 

 

Renee: I work as a library director and higher education at a Catholic college. Throughout the years, the college has made LGBTQIA folks feel like their identity is a problem to be wrestled with. While there isn’t outright discrimination, there isn’t outright celebration from the top administrators. The Catholic order we are connected to is especially anti LGBTQIA. This tension wears on my employees who identify as such, resulting in feelings of burnout and stress. What they have labeled as drowning. I’ve approached our Title IX coordinator for advice and I’m told to offer self-help options, e.g. use EAP and take time off. I worry this is not enough to show folks they matter to the library, nor is it enough to help them combat the anti LGBTQIA sentiments on campus. Do you have advice on anything else I can offer my staff who feel dismissed by the overall climate of the college? Or is it really all boundary work on the part of the individual? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Uh. Here’s the thing I’ll start with here is that this is a classic example of something that you were talking about before, is that people who work at libraries like the library profession, whatever we want to call it. 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: There aren’t enough jobs. People are desperate for jobs. So people who are in this position, I am sure if they could have taken a different job right out of school, whose entire mission statement like who does who believes that their lifestyle is sinful, that they would not be working in this institution. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah, yeah.

 

Anne Helen Petersen: They do not have that choice. So, do they leave the industry or do they? What do they do? And also, I think it’s interesting that this comes from a manager who’s really trying to— 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —figure out how to work this. So what do you, think? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s, I mean, I think the part of that you talk about it being a manager who is like, How do I help? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: You know, the people I work with. I think the first thing is to just make it known. And not in like the I’m an ally way. But continue to make it known that you do see them and you do support them. Because, you know, unfortunately, one of the things we get good at as being queer people, being trans people, is navigating these inherently hostile spaces. But we’ve always had to find community within those spaces. And so in one way it’s about you continuing to hold that space for them so that they know there is someone who sees their struggle on this campus, who understands perhaps, you know, or can at least recognize that cognitive dissonance of being part of a religion that professes an all loving God while engaging in behaviors that are not all loving, you know, and that’s that’s a lot to hold in one space. And so. You being there. And making it obvious that you are fighting for them, making it obvious that you see them, and then being real about the possibilities of what can happen, because it’s much easier to have someone fight for us who is realistic about what they’ve been told than it is to hold on to this hope that things are going to change overnight. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Mm hmm, yup. 

 

Morgan Givens: That things are going to change rapidly. Again, it’s about, I think, disentangling that idea of religion from who they are, but being able to sit and recognize their inherent humanity in this space. And so it might be about giving them access to resources. Like I know everybody is always like The Body Keeps The Score. But it does. [laughter] Like you know, it’s so. Books that can help them recognize— 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s a classic, because it’s a classic— [laughter]

 

Morgan Givens: It’s a classic for a reason. It’s like some of these resources can be them talking to one another. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: You know, again, it’s about creating that space where they know they can say whatever they need to like this is bullshit and know that their manager is going to be cool hearing that. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah

 

Morgan Givens: And that their managers like it is bullshit and I’m doing what I can. Often knowing somebody is fighting for you can do wonders. So I would create that community among the people you have at that library, you know, I would find ways to create that space for them, to create places where they can find joy. So what does joy look like for them? Like, right. Like ask them what that means, what that looks like, and find ways you can bring that into that space for them. Because just because the outer community is super hostile, you can be part of creating that bubble of safety for them. So find the things that bring them joy, find the things that make them happy and remind them of those things and try to give them those things. You know, when you can, which I know is hard and you are already doing so much work, you are already advocating for them, but sometimes advocating is creating space too. So maybe it’s about figuring out how to create that space in that library where they have all these stories and all these different worlds, they can also dip into and disappear if that makes sense. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: The only other piece of advice that I think that I would give is that this person should try to cultivate in the quietest way possible a feeling of empathy in terms of— 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Understanding or being on the lookout for, let’s say, like communications from the Catholic order that the college is associated with. 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: If there’s a communication or like a ruling or a homily or whatever it is [laughter] that is that feels really hostile and maybe it doesn’t feel hostile to this manager or outright hostile to this manager’s identity because they are not LGBTQIA, right? 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: But understanding and recognizing, like, having that part of their brain that lights up when they see this, this is going to feel like shit, right? 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah, exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: This is going to feel incredibly devaluing. And seeing how you can not only like not send an email that’s like, I understand what you’re feeling— 

 

Morgan Givens: Right. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —do not do that. But just send an email that says if you need some space right now, like this is a great time. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Or not, even if you need some space. 

 

Morgan Givens: Take some. Take the day if you can. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Take some space today. [laughter] Right. I’m always against the if you need some time, take it like. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Just take it. 

 

Morgan Givens: Just take it. No, that’s a that’s a great that’s great advice. And I mean, just as you said that, I’m thinking about how much it would have meant in 2020 and leading up to the summer of 2020 if any of our white managers had said things are really bad in the news for Black people right now, how about you take two days? Like call off Black today, you know [laughs] it’s just like I’m Black. Not going to make it because, you know, it is hard to it is hard to work through those moments. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: While you’re being told by people above you that what you see is not true. Only four months later, them to oh my God, racism and fascism. And you’re like, we’ve been screaming it for years. [laughter] And so. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right.

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah I think that’s I think that’s really wonderful advice. Like truly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Let’s let’s see if we can offer some very specific advice here. I think that Renee wants to know, like, how could I celebrate and acknowledge and show the value that these workers have to the library, the stuff that the the administration is not showing. So what do you think? 

 

Morgan Givens: You know, as you’re asking me that, I started thinking about how cheap little pins are that you [laughter] can, like, wear on your clothes. You know, they make really cool pins. Like a friend of mine gave me one that just said assigned tired at birth with the trans flag colors. And just I was like, oh, my God. You see me, right? [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: That’s so good.

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah we were. You know? And so it’s it’s the little things. Because what’s funny is people who are often very bigoted don’t know all the little cues we have now. Granted, wearing a pin is very obvious. But there are things you can do, like putting up the little flags in your office when you’re we’re talking about celebratory authors in November, celebrating authors with debuts in March. Even if you don’t directly put on the thing here are all the queer authors we got this week. You put queer authors in that pile. You put them up front, and so you don’t have to blatantly draw attention to it. But I promise you, those who are parts of those communities will see it. They will say, wow, they are putting us right up here as though we are okay because we are as though nothing is wrong with us because it isn’t. And so it’s about those little moments when you can take to kind of undermine that nonsense, especially if the library is as a bit of your domain. And so, you know, how can you put these up in a newsletter? Do you have a newsletter. for the library or, you know, how do you, as you said, you know, you can tell people to take a day off. Do you you know, sometimes it’s not even about identity. And I’m not saying you’re not doing this, but do you have time to, you know, gas them up a bit at the end of the week? And I don’t want to put more things on your plate, but do you have time to send an email like, yo, the way you organize that shelf, perfection, like whatever [laughter] you can do to kind of give them that reminder that they are good and they are worthy and that you enjoy having them around without, you know, worrying about the boundaries you do still have to maintain as one of their supervisors. And so I think it’s about especially as someone who is not part of that community, people who are also part of your community will listen to you faster than they listen to us. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love that. Our last question is from Kimberly. And this is the one that inspired this whole episode. Our colleague Ari is going to read it. 

 

Kimberly: I work remotely as a news editor. I’m one of two openly queer people in my department. And the only trans person, probably not the only disabled person, but it feels like I am. I am sick of feeling like I’m the difficult one, asking for my correct pronouns and name to be used, asking where there’s a non gendered restroom, the one time I visited the office, there was none needing to use our open leave for therapy appointments and rest days or working through symptoms. Quitting isn’t an option. It’s worse at other workplaces. How can I be more firm in advocating for my needs and rights without jeopardizing my job security or feeling like shit after. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: So, do you have any examples of this in your own experience or someone you know who’s navigating— 

 

Morgan Givens: Oh, I do. I have an example. You know, just recently it was another thing where I was like, wifey, here’s what’s going on. I’ve tried. It’s been seven months. She was like, get out. I hit up other friends in different positions. They was like, get out. You know? I felt like I was in Jordan Peele’s movie, but for audio. And so [laughter] I was like, so I have been in that position where I’ve had to advocate for myself. And like I mentioned earlier, documentation is going to be your best friend here. And it also means you’re going to have to learn to be uncomfortable with being uncomfortable. And that’s hard. That is hard to do. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. We were talking about this a bit earlier, but the way that capitalism works is that the ideal worker is the worker that provides the least friction in the system. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And because capitalism, at least in the United States, is very much a white institution. 

 

Morgan Givens: So much. [laughs]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: White, straight depends on people being married. Right. 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Because they want to be able to depend on labor that so that they can like have other people taking care of the home. There’s all these different things that are the expectations, the norms within American capitalism specifically. So any person who is not those things is conceived of just because of who they are as friction. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And so that makes it so that anything you do, even just the word accommodation, right. 

 

Morgan Givens: I hate that word. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: It’s a negative word, this negative understanding of accommodations, like it’s unfair treatment instead of saying, I want the system to work for me too, right? 

 

Morgan Givens: That’s all it is. Yes. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Instead of working only for this certain type of person. 

 

Morgan Givens: Exactly. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And so what this does, though, I think, to the individual is it really makes them feel like they are the problem. [both speaking] That they’re always complaining that they are combative, that there is something about them that is inherently bad, aggressive off, right. 

 

Morgan Givens: Mm hmm. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And the thing that I would say to this person is that like you are not the problem. You know— 

 

Morgan Givens: Not at all. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: —you asking for a bathroom that makes you feel comfortable that it’s not a problem. 

 

Morgan Givens: You deserve to pee. [laughter] Like, you know, it’s just like it’s a shame we have to say it. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: And asking people to to use your pronouns, like the thing I find with pronouns is that people who are not trans or do not live with a trans person or are not intimate in some way with a trans person, they get so uncomfortable about maybe messing up. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. I’d rather you try. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, just keep trying. [laughter] Maybe you missed the connecting pronoun at one point in a sentence. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yes, but keep trying. [both speaking] And don’t make it about you. When you mess up, just say, oh, my bad. I’m sorry. And keep it pushing. Because nine times out of ten people just want the apology and keep it pushing. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. 

 

Morgan Givens: Because once you start, I feel so bad for no, now I got to comfort you for your mistake. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yep. [laughs] 

 

Morgan Givens: Just say you’re sorry and keep it pushing like I promise we’re not that pressed about it unless you’ve done it 27 times, you know, because after a certain point, it’s like, okay, is this on purpose? 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Right. Yeah. But I think, like the thing both you and I are trying to say is like, it’s really hard, but you are not the problem. Your identity—

 

Morgan Givens: They are not the problem. The system is the problem. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 

 

Morgan Givens: The system is the problem. And there are only two things that they can control here. How they feel about advocating for themselves and whether they advocate for themselves. Like the job security thing is only partly in their hands. You know, it’s one of those things where it’s scary to admit how little control we have over that situation, but you have as much control over that situation as you have, and they may not be much sure. Advocating for yourself could make you feel like or in certain situations could actually jeopardize your job security. Which is why I also say documentation, recognizing what you can and cannot afford to have happen, you know, and tailoring your response to to that. And you know and but the the thing that I feel they have the most control over is how they feel after advocating for themselves. That means perhaps sitting down and getting into the nitty gritty of why they feel bad about advocating for themselves and who taught them that they were too much for advocating for themselves. Because once you have the answer to that, it makes it easier to begin doing that work of advocacy, to be like I was taught I don’t deserve this by who? Who told me I wasn’t enough, who told me my humanity should be up for debate. And when I got, I started getting into the answers of those. And I’m constantly kind of asking myself those questions because I find myself in that position often where I’m like, do I feel like advocating for myself right now? Is it easier to just let it go. And let God in the wind do what is going to do? Right? [laughs] And so I think getting into why you might perhaps feel bad for advocating for yourself can help you feel better about doing so, you know? And then that again means shedding all the shame that’s foisted upon us for having, you know, regular human needs and emotions, because that’s all it is, is a regular human need and emotion. And they’re calling it an accommodation. They’re calling you difficult, you know, but that’s not true. You don’t carry the labels that are not yours to carry. It’s what I say I label myself. I’ve gotten to the point where I’m able to kind of shed what the world will foist upon me, but not to the point where I don’t try to be introspective. Like, well, is there a point to what this person said? But when it comes to like bigotry and denying my inherent humanity. I just don’t have the patience for it. And part of that might mean being angry. And we’re taught we’re not supposed to be angry, especially if you’re Black. Don’t get angry now, don’t you have that emotion? Well, there’s a lot of things to be angry about, you know, so [laughs] I think part of it might just be getting in touch with that, that human aspect of your emotions and then just getting in touch and really getting to the point where you can start accepting what you are truly worthy and deserving of outside of what you’ve been told. You’re worthy and deserving by the world. Because like I don’t know your family, I don’t know your circumstance, but I know what the world tells you and I know it’s a lie. [laughs] So yeah. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love that idea of do not carry the labels that are not yours to carry. 

 

Morgan Givens: Yeah. They’re not mine. Mm mm. You call me that. I didn’t pick that up. [laughter] I mean, you can toss it all you want, but it’s going to keep hitting the ground because I’m not grabbing it. You know, so. [laughter]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Morgan, this has just been really wonderful. I’m so grateful that you took the time to join us. 

 

Morgan Givens: Of course it was fun. I really had a good time. I really did. [laughter] 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Where can people find you if they want to hear more from you? 

 

Morgan Givens: I mean, you know, I’m on Twitter sometimes cuttin up @Optimus_Mo like the Transformer because that’s what my kid brother called me when I told him I was trans. He said, like the transformer? I was like, sure, kid. You know [laughter] he’s about 14, 15 years younger than me. So I was like, that makes sense. So I just kind of kept that. And then I have the podcast Flyest Fables, which is a hope series that tells New Age fables and fairy tales. Yeah, yeah it’s got songs, music, fantasy, all that stuff. 

 

Anne Helen Petersen: I love it. Thank you so much again. 

 

Morgan Givens: Of course. Of course. [music break]

 

Anne Helen Petersen: Thanks so much to Morgan Givens for joining me today. And thanks to you for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you want help figuring out, get in touch. You can find submission guidelines at WorkAppropriate.com, or you can send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Crooked.com. One episode we’re working on is tentatively titled What the Fuck is Wrong With People. And we want your wildest, pettiest, I can’t believe this is real lifest questions about dealing with coworkers. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Petersen, your host. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen and you can sign up for my newsletter at AnneHelen.substack.com. Next week we’re talking about what to do when the job you love is grinding you into a fine pulp. Be sure to subscribe in your favorite podcast app so you don’t miss it.