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Adjusting to a new job in healthcare as a non-binary trans person

By: Anonymous* / Trans Headlines

I lost my job due to COVID-19, just like a lot of other people. I was left pretty panicked about where my future paychecks would come from, so I decided to take a leap and try something new. I applied to phlebotomy school and got in. The class was small due to the coronavirus–there were only 8 of us in total. The first two weeks of training were at a local Community College and the last four weeks were on the job in the hospital. I wasn’t entirely prepared for how this job would affect me, especially during a pandemic. 

Starting anything new can be both stressful and exciting, but when you’re a non-binary person, the stakes feel much higher. It isn’t only necessary to come out, but it’s also necessary to educate people that yes, people do exist outside of the binary and no, the world is not going to come crashing down because of it. 

At the end of the first week, I gathered the courage to come out to my instructors. Their reactions were surprisingly wonderful, and they made a promise to have my name on my badge changed once I finished training. I had hoped that by coming out to my instructors first, they would set an example by using my correct name and pronouns in front of the others. However, even though they seemed supportive, they still struggled to use neutral pronouns when referring to me to the rest of the class. 

During class one day, one of my instructors called on me and used me as an example for his lesson. As he was teaching the class about drawing my blood, he repeatedly used incorrect pronouns for me in front of everyone. Even though I hadn’t come out the rest of the class, this felt so humiliating and disappointing. How was I supposed to come out to them now? My instructors seemed so supportive, but did they actually understand what I had told them? After class was over he pulled me aside and he apologized for misgendering me. I was shocked–he recognized that he had made a mistake and respected me and my identity enough to own it. That felt wonderful.

During the last day of training at the college, I decided to come out to my classmates to hopefully make my transition into the hospital easier. I stood up in front of the class and explained that I am trans and that I use they/them pronouns. The room fell silent for one grueling moment. Then suddenly one of my classmates exclaimed that my courage inspired her and she wanted everyone to know she had a girlfriend. Huh! Well, that wasn’t so bad. 

Fast-forward two weeks and I am in a patient room with a fellow student and one of the instructors. My class of 8 colleagues and two instructors has expanded to dozens of people all fully masked–anonymized by COVID-19 precautions. This patient is a difficult stick, so the other student and I are watching while our instructor draws their blood. Existing outside of the binary, I get a lot of inquisitive looks and comments on my appearance. This elderly patient could only see my eyes and my hair when they enthusiastically yelled, “Hey! You look like one of those Transgender people! You know, I think that everyone should just have equal rights. Just let people live how they want!”  

I would never ever condone telling someone they look like a transgender person. In this situation, however, I smiled with my eyes and gave them a thumbs up. This patient rocked my world and left me stunned. They meant well and that was their way of showing support. Was it perfect? No. But I’ll take that over any of the bad interactions I’ve had. Also, what a way to sort of “come out” to my new colleagues. Thanks for the assist, Jane Doe. 

The next day, I was assigned to the same patient. Only this time I was the one drawing their blood. I happen to be an AFAB person with a very feminine voice, so at that point, the patient thought that I was just some butch lesbian. They didn’t recognize me from the day before but decided to tell me a story about how they had a phlebotomist in the room yesterday and couldn’t tell if they were a boy or a girl which was just so fascinating. It felt so surreal listening to this patient talk about me, to me, while I was trying to draw their blood. This interaction didn’t feel as funny and innocent as the day before, but given this patient’s age, the fact that transgender people were even on their radar was pretty amazing. 

Coming out in any workplace as a non-binary person is hard. And in healthcare, it can be even harder. But sometimes, people surprise you. Sometimes a patient old enough to be your great grandparent calls you out from across the room and aces your identity within minutes of meeting them. Anything’s possible. 

*The writer of this piece is a trans, non-binary person. Refer to them in conversations using the pronouns “they/them.”