A Short Story About Allies

Posted: October 25, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Once upon a time, there was a big open-plan office in Bristol, with big shiny lights, uncomfortable seats, and dual screen computers that never had the screens in line with one another. It was filled with people who spent all day clicking on keyboards, drinking copious amounts of tea, and going Excel-blind after manually cross-checking another fifteen thousand rows of data because the network server was down again.

And in this magical place of tea and passive-aggressive emails about the communal fridge, worked a transguy. He was the only transguy in the office, and had still been an undercover one when he joined the company. He even wore dresses back then, imagine!

Then in April, the transguy came out of the  closet and began to transition. He asked his colleagues to call him by a new name, and use ‘he’ and ‘him’ pronouns. He had to have a meeting with HR so that the company could pretend to be inclusive and diverse, when in reality everybody knew that the magical office preferred its employees to show no signs of having any sort of life whatsoever.

But, because the magical office was fuelled by unreasonable work demands and overseen by a tyrannical, three-headed beast known as ‘the senior leadership team’, none of the transguy’s colleagues could care less that one of their kind was changing. “Alright then,” they chorused, and the clicking of keyboards continued in peace.

For six months, nothing more was said on the matter. The servers continued to fail. The multi-headed beast continued to issue demands for constant status reports. The IT desk continued to insist that the solution would be to switch it off and on again, despite the problem being that the device would not switch on in the first place. It was not a happy place, but it was content, for tea supplies were plentiful, and — on the rare occasion that the beast had been cornered in its dark and dreary cave by the paranormal power of Meetings — office banter was happy.

Now in this office, there were three line managers. One ran around all day looking frazzled and feeling sorry for his stressed staff, and shall be known as The Fluffy One. One spent all day shouting at the people on the phone, and tormenting her junior staff with excerpts from Fifty Shades of Grey (the horror!), and shall be known as  The Kinky One. The other…

The other was simply known by his name. For what was there to say about Bob that could be agreed on? Bob did not like being a manager. He despised meetings and staff welfare. Bob liked to manage projects, not people, and the tedium of listening to employees’ problems bored poor Bob. And because Bob was tall and rarely smiled, people did not want to bother Bob. If he could be a One, Bob would have been The Stern One.

But ah! the transman knew better. For you see, he and Bob had worked together before. And he knew Bob to be the kind of man to trade insults as names, and enjoy the more relaxed banter that was always to be uttered out of earshot of the three-headed monster. In the transguy’s previous life, Bob had called her ‘shorty’ and ‘midget’, and said that the day did not begin before she put on her high heels ‘and grew three inches in three seconds.’

Now, the transguy found this attitude refreshing. What is working, after all, if there’s not some fun to be had? So the transguy and Bob mocked each other occasionally, and all was well.

But then one day, six months after the transguy shed his heels for the last time, a rogue manager strayed into the magical office of tea and banter. He had come to see the transguy about an assignment, but — for the rogue had not called the transguy to check he would be there — he found the desk empty, the cup of tea half-drunk and cold, and the employee sinfully absent from their desk.

So the rogue swooped down upon the only manager, our hero Bob, for answers. “Where is she!” the rogue demanded in a loud voice. “I have to discuss the loss reduction report with her!”

“Ah,” said Bob. “It’s ‘he’, actually. And he’s just–”

“No, no, no,” the rogue trumpeted. “The woman who sits there! We spoke last week! She’s doing a loss reduction report for me!”

“No, you don’t understand,” Bob tried. “It’s not she. He–”

“I think I know a woman when I see one,” the rogue guffawed.

And so Bob had little choice, and — in front of all the employees of the magical office — said, “He is transgender and uses the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him.’ I’m aware you may not have been told before, but I’ve just tried to tell you. Please use the right ones in future.”

As the transguy could not be found, Bob sent the rogue away and pondered on what had just happened. For Bob was a private person, and did not like discussing an employee’s personal business out of their presence. So when the transman returned from his dangerous foray into The World Beyond The Office, Bob called him aside into the hall.

“I have to apologise to you,” he said, and the transguy was quite bewildered. What had Bob done to apologise for? “Fred was looking for you earlier and kept saying she. I tried to correct him subtly but ended up having to tell him the situation in the open office, in front of all the staff.”

“Oh,” the transguy said. “Well, everybody knows. And you know me, it’s not the kind of thing I’m bothered about.”

“I didn’t think you would be,” said Bob, “but I still didn’t feel it was appropriate to have to do it like that without you at least present.”

“Well, I’m not worried,” the transguy said. “Everybody in there already knows anyway.”

And so they returned to the office, refilled their cups of tea, and worked apathetically ever after.

****

Moral of the story: being an ally isn’t about being a boring shit who never says bad words, never makes fun, and never cracks a joke. You can call people every name under the sun and still be a good ally. You can play Cards Against Humanity at your desk during lunch, hooting like a group of monkeys, and still be a good ally.

Because being a good ally is about knowing where the lines exist in the circumstances you are in, with the people you are with, and upholding those lines where they are at that very moment in space and time.

Is it harder than blanket statements like ‘never use this word, never say that thing’? Yes. But it’s also more genuine. It doesn’t make a big deal out of things, it allows humour space to breathe, and it treats us all like the adults that we are.

So go Bob. For being the best ally, whilst simultaneously being the manager who can make you shit yourself with fear when he loses his temper.

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