Interesting new job interactions

I had already planned to loan out this column space to Judy of Maine and it came in very handy this particular week. I'm sad to report that Perpetual's dear cat, Todd, was struck by an automobile and killed on Tuesday morning. There was no way I could have penned a piece this time. Thank goodness Judy had already turned this into me on Monday night. I will try for a memorial column in the next paper.


new job interactions

- By Judy M Villeneuve

Hello citizens of Western Pennsylvania! You may or may not remember me. It is I, Lisa's friend, Judith M Villeneuve of Maine, as she so often and lovingly calls me. Every once in a while she allows me to take over her column space and utilize it to vent about something or other that is going on in my life, and I sure do appreciate her for every opportunity she gives me to do so!

I recently told all of you about my decision to return to the rat race when I applied for a job after 5 years of running a small business from my home. (Silver Maple Knits on Etsy, if you're curious, or if you are in the market for a cute sweater or blanket for that new grandchild. Shameless plug. Lisa will probably edit this part out prior to publication.) Anyway, long story short, I thought I blew the interview, but I ended up getting the job. I will refrain from another shameless plug here, and confine myself to saying it's at a huge yarn store and warehouse, and since I am a knitter and a fiber enthusiast, the job is a perfect fit for me.

I would like to say that EVERYTHING about this position has been just perfect, but sadly, there has been one tiny but irritating fly in the proverbial ointment. Perhaps some of you can relate. Maybe a few of you have experienced being unaccustomed to doing something, or performing a certain task, long enough that your muscles have weakened a little, and when you try to jump in and perform the activity, which you've done before and done well, you find that you have a little difficulty doing it.

I realize this all seems mysterious, but I promise you that all will be explained in due course. And I am not talking about physical muscles, although I have to be honest with you - this new job DOES involve a lot of running around, lugging large boxes of yarn to and from the shipping and receiving department, and either pulling cones and skeins of fibers from shelves or putting cones and skeins of fibers back up on shelves, often accompanied by the scaling of various ladders. So usually after an 8 hour day, I arrive home exhausted and aching and wondering what I've gotten myself into. But I am happy that this is a part time job involving only 2 or 3 days a week. The other days of the week I usually spend recuperating and complaining to my patient husband, who assures me that as my arms and legs and back grow accustomed to this new level of activity, my aches and pains will vanish. I sure hope he's right.

No, what I'm talking about in this column involves a more metaphorical muscle – the muscle of office politicing. After 5 years of not having to deal with a bunch of different personalities in the work-place, I've frankly become a little naive and unguarded. And during the interview, I got the sense that this workplace employs a lot of people who agree with me politically. In other words, it's an artsy crowd who lean progressive and liberal, if you get my drift. So I jumped right in and, while right away I was very careful not to talk politics when customers were within earshot, I happily began sharing my love of Bernie Sanders and his medicare for all plan. And it was great! I allowed all of my defenses to drop and felt free to be myself. Goodness me, I felt like a fly who had been dropped right into a huge pot of jam!

On my very first day on the job, my boss gave me a heads-up, warned me really, that I would be working with a person, let's just call them "Pat" to protect their identity, who identified as transgender. Well my little liberal and progressive heart just thought this was wonderful. I have always felt that everyone has the right to feel however they please about their gender as well as the right to decide for themselves who they want to marry, as long as they are not hurting anyone. I may be pushing 60, and at first some of these ideas may seem foreign to me, but I really do try to be an ally to oppressed minorities. And I do try to think the issues through, and not have a knee-jerk reaction to things that may seem shocking, like hair that is dyed blue or magenta, or neck tattoos, or piercings in weird places like noses or lips, or people who were born boys but have decided to identify as girls. It's all good!

My second day on the job I met Pat. I need to describe this WOMAN to you. Picture a little hippy chick, a short, kind of adorable, roly poly fireplug of a girl in her late 20's, with a cute voluptuous figure which they don't mind showing off in tight, midriff-baring shirts and tight jeans. Totally cute! If you noticed, in the previous sentence I used various pronouns, such as "her" and "they." Well, my boss had told me that this Pat person prefers the pronouns "they" and "them," and smilingly told me "We're all getting used to it."

Well the first day, I heedlessly chatted with Pat and felt no fear or trepidation whatsoever, until near the end of the day we were talking about our families, and I let it slip that her mom must be so proud to have a daughter like her. I immediately noticed her tensing up, and she said "I don't know if they've told you, but I'm transgender. I consider myself gender neutral, and I prefer pronouns like 'they' and 'them' and prefer not to be identified as either a male or a female."

I'm sure my face showed how remorseful I felt for that particular mistake! I've honestly never met a person who was "gender neutral" before, have any of you? I've met people who have decided to transition from one gender to another, and I am actually really good friends with an older gentleman who spent most of his life as a woman, and I never have a problem thinking of him as a nice old bearded gentleman. I also have another dear friend who lives nearby, who spent most of her life as a man, but now lives as a woman, and I never get confused and refer to her as a man. It's easy! But this gender neutral thing has thrown me for a loop. (To make matters even more confusing, "Pat" has a live-in BOYFRIEND!)

After that particular incident, we went back to business as usual, and I still felt like Pat and I could become friends. We live near each other in the same town, and we've talked about maybe car-pooling on Saturdays when we work together. But I'm afraid I no longer feel like I want to car-pool with her, and I'm about to tell you why.

A couple of Saturdays ago the yarn warehouse got very busy and hectic. Saturdays are generally pretty crazy, but this particular day the store seemed very crowded and the elderly ladies looking for knitting tips and advice seemed just a little needier than usual. One customer came up to me and wondered where the employee who had just been helping her had disappeared. And since there are three of us at the store on Saturdays, I asked her "Was it the woman in the blue shirt, or was it the little girl wearing a hat?" I happened to say this just as Pat walked up behind me. I thought nothing of it, and the customer simply said "Oh it was the little girl with the hat!" and we both chuckled as she pointed at Pat who was now standing behind me, and I rushed off to help another customer who needed urgent attention, and forgot all about it.

A few hours later, the store had cleared out, and Pat and I were standing near the computers at the check-out counter. Pat mentioned that she, I mean "they", wanted to talk to me about something. And "they" proceeded to show me a company-wide memo that "they" had just sent off to everyone. I guess she (sorry if I seem insensitive, but as someone who loves the English language passionately I just can't....) thought she was being diplomatic, by not mentioning me by name in the memo, but she described the entire incident I have just related to you, only from her point of view. She wrote that of COURSE she didn't expect the customers to be told about her preferences, but she did feel that she could expect her fellow employees to exhibit more sensitivity to her wishes to not be referred to as "that little girl with the hat."

When I later related this incident to my kids, my son said "Honestly Mom, my first impulse would probably have been to turn in my resignation immediately." And honestly, that was my very first impulse as well. I don't need this aggravation. I'm a middle-aged woman for crying out loud! I don't need the few extra dollars a week badly enough to put up with being educated and enlightened by some little weirdo who gets her feelings hurt when someone calls her a girl. My husband, when I told him about it, kind of chuckled and said "Now you know how all those conservative Rush Limbaugh fans probably feel when they get corrected about using un-PC terms!" He was right too! And I don't appreciate being made to feel sympathetic towards rigid conservatives who want to go to their graves without ever having to change their views or opinions or behavior in any way! I DO want to be sensitive, and I DO want to be educated and enlightened! But this felt like an attack to me. And when I polled my friends, including Lisa Houserman, they all agreed with me that I had done nothing wrong, or at least nothing so wrong that it warranted a company-wide memo. In fact, I was even fortunate enough to run this by an acquaintance who is part of the LGBTQ community, married to a transgender man, and SHE even said it was a shame that I had to change my life just to cater to someone else's insecurities, and that she still often finds herself referring to her husband by the wrong pronoun, with no unpleasant repercussions. That made me feel a lot better.

I'm not a quitter. I did not quit my job. But the next time Pat and I worked together, it was pretty uncomfortable - for me anyway. I have no idea what she did or did not tell our other co-workers, or our boss. By then the memo had vanished without a trace. Pat and I have been dealing with each other with extreme politeness and a sort of arctic-level coolness. It's fine! I can live with that. There are plenty of other employees there with whom I can enjoy free-flowing conversations without having to watch every single pronoun that may fall from my lips. And I really do love many of our customers, especially the ones who have come in looking for advice on what kind of yarn is best suited for babies, because they are about to have their first grandchild. This happens a lot, and it's great because then I can share with them not only that I'm about to have my first grandchild too (next February – hurray!) but all the expertise I've garnered from years of knitting baby clothing for my Etsy shop.

There is one last thing I'd like to share with you, and it's something that happened at work just this past weekend. One of my co-workers had brought his two children to work with him. His kids are 7 and 10, and I'd never met either one of them. They were kind of wandering around the warehouse, just checking things out, and I introduced myself to them. The younger one said her name, at which point I asked "And is that your sister?" pointing to the older one, a tall, slim, lovely child with long blond hair. They both looked confused and the little one said "No that's my brother." As I took a longer look at the tall, slim, long-haired child, I could clearly see that he was indeed a boy. As you can imagine, my heart dropped and a little voice inside me whispered "Not this again!" as I stammered a very embarrassed apology. But both of those little angels just laughed and the boy said "Don't worry about it, it happens to me all the time." And they skipped off into the aisles of yarn, leaving behind a very relieved and consoled woman, who couldn't help thinking "Those kids are going to be just fine."

And I think I'm going to be just fine too.