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Expressing Your Gender as Non-Binary At Work

Time to get dressed for work. Do you put on slacks and a sports coat, but paint your nails? Maybe you pick out androgynous clothes that are neither male nor female.

Choosing what to wear is one sensitive issue when expressing non-binary gender. Each day in the workplace poses challenges to your identity. People may look at you different. Try to pigeonhole you. Or ask inappropriate questions. All because your appearance differs from traditional gender stereotypes.

Whether you identify as gender fluid, neutral, agender or non-binary, people at your job may not quite get you. That could present an alphabet of concerns you’ll have to face.

Annoying Assumptions

When you don’t consider yourself either male or female – or if your gender identity varies recurringly – others may draw untrue inferences. That’s one of the ways they cope with their uncertainty.

Some people will assume that you’re also lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual. Some will tell themselves you’re probably just confused or going through a phase. A few will figure you’re looking for attention. One or two may even regard you as mentally unbalanced.

Binary Bathrooms

Is your workplace enlightened? It may well be, yet tensions could mount around restroom use. There are relatively few gender-neutral washrooms in buildings, especially at smaller employers with only two restrooms.

Though that situation is changing, for now you may be forced to choose one or the other. Inquire about company policy on this delicate matter. Consider the feelings and privacy of workmates. Keep in mind that a recent Angus-Reid poll showed that 84 per cent of Canadians supported transgender rights, but only 41 per cent supported those rights when it came to bathroom access.

Confused Colleagues

When a workplace doesn’t take into account possible gender dysmorphia, the term is “cis-normativity.” Everyone’s supposed to abide by the gender identity that matches their sex at birth.

But here you are refusing to be boxed-in. You don’t accept being labelled male or female by others. That can make your boss and co-workers scratch their respective heads. It’s especially confusing if you don’t look distinctively like one or the other.

Older employees in particular may not understand what drives your behaviour. So they act warily. Millennials and city dwellers are more used to diversity. To them you’re mainly a new addition to the gender spectrum.

Expert Expectations

By default, people at work may come to you on matters of gender dysphoria. If you’re the only member of the minority there, it’s almost sure to happen.

Expect that some will approach you with their own gender issues. They may come out to you, ask your advice, or see if you know of local resources. This can become a burden when you’re shy or really busy. Set boundaries that enable you to guard yourself and get your work done first.

From a career viewpoint, you could voluntarily become the office specialist on gender issues. It might make you more valuable and raise your profile (if you’re up for the exposure).

Misgendering Motivations

At times you’ll experience pressure to accept cis-normativity. On employee enrollment and benefits forms that only let you check male or female. When people call you sir, miss, Mr. or Ms. for the millionth time – despite pleading with them not to.

Do you suspect you’re being passed up for promotion due to your non-binariness? Do male or female colleagues avoid you because they’re uncomfortable around you? Those are powerful forces toward blending in.

Other Obstacles

The alphabet of concerns don’t stop there. Here are several more to anticipate:

  • Harassment Hassles. You may get teased, insulted or physically bullied.
  • Quivers of Questions. You’re the object of curiosity. So what are you anyway, a boy or girl? What’s it feel like being you? Can’t you simply select one gender and be happy?
  • Terminology Tussles. You want to be referred to as “they” or xe/xim/xir. Few people do so.

With the exception of getting harassed or discriminated against, keep calm. Most people mean well and want to learn more. Show them that you’re willing to connect in mutually respectful ways. And be cheered by the new powerful protections of Canada’s Bill C-16. It amended the Human Rights Act and Criminal Code.

Now gender identity and expression enjoy the same legal status as race, colour, ethnicity, age and sex!

Paula Simons: David Belke’s child pornography conviction a tale of tragedy

Should dark sexual fantasies be a crime? Do we want to punish people for their private thoughts?

David Belke was never known for tragedy.

For decades, the playwright and director has entertained audiences with his bright and charming comedies. Joyous musicals. Literary send-ups. Romantic romps. They were lighter-than-air confections that rarely pushed audiences out of their comfort zones.

Fringe fans lined up for Belke’s sunny, witty plays. Theatre groups across North America performed them.

But Belke had a dark side, one that we never saw on stage, one he kept carefully hidden from adoring audiences.

Belke was sentenced to six months in jail this past Friday after pleading guilty to possession of child pornography. His name has been added to the national list of registered sex offenders.

His career as a family-friendly playwright seems over. So too does his career as a substitute teacher with Edmonton Public Schools.

In our society, there’s hardly a more heinous sin than pedophilia. Every week, we seem to read another story about child sex abuse, whether the alleged perpetrator is a priest, a coach or a Republican politician.

Small wonder we react with visceral horror to the news that an award-winning artist and beloved teacher has been convicted of possessing child porn. We feel bamboozled. Duped.

The cast of one of David Belke’s most popular musical comedies, The Crimson Yak, which was remounted at the 2010 Fringe Festival. Belke’s own tragedy was off stage. J. PROCKTOR / JPROCKTOR.COM

For his students, and for the young performers and writers he’d mentored, it’s a terrible betrayal.

Yet something about Belke’s conviction fills me with disquiet.

None of the images found on his computer showed children being sexually abused or exploited.

Most weren’t sexually explicit at all.

Police found 1,559 problematic images on Belke’s laptop.

Of those, 827 were flagged as potentially illegal, mostly images of naked girls who appeared to be under 18. Some were apparently taken from “naturalist” or “nudist” websites.

Another 732 pictures were deemed worthy of investigation, including images of girls who weren’t unclothed.

But in the end, the police and Crown determined only a dozen of the images were actually pornographic. Of those, none depicted explicit sexual activity, although a number were memes that had captions describing explicit sexual activity. And there’s no suggestion that any of the images were of Belke’s own students.

Belke also had six short stories on his computer which described adults having sex with girls between the ages of 12 and 16. (Though Belke is a writer, the Crown did not allege that he wrote the stories.)

There is no evidence Belke distributed any of the images or writings.

We have every moral reason to be appalled that Belke had these stories on his computer. It’s certainly not material you’d want your child’s teacher to be reading after hours.

David Belke in a 2013 file photo outside the old Varscona Theatre.

But should fantasies be a crime? Do we want to punish people for their private thoughts?

A story, no matter how awful, doesn’t hurt a living child. You could argue such stories are moral and spiritual contagions, that they normalize pedophilia and might even inspire a real-life sexual assault. But does it make sense to criminalize a fictional depiction of an illegal act, however repellent that act may be?

Even the photographic evidence gives me pause.

Belke insisted he never used any of the pictures for sexual gratification or self-pleasure. He only collected the images, he claimed, because he’d never had any kind of sexual relationship himself and was “attracted to the innocence of the young people.”

That’s hard to believe. He’d amassed 1,559 pictures, after all. That’s an awful lot of “innocence.”

Yet shouldn’t we differentiate between someone who likes to look at pictures of naked girls from a nudist site and someone who buys pornography that exploits, abuses and tortures children? There is truly terrible child pornography in this world, pornography that really hurts children and those involved in its production, as buyers or sellers, belong in the seventh circle of hell. But despite Belke’s disturbing obsession, the vast majority of the pictures in his collection weren’t pornographic under Canadian law.

Canadian courts, though, have little latitude. Possession of child pornography comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of six months. The judge has no discretion.

In 2002, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Canada’s child pornography laws, ruling even “imaginary” depictions of children in sexualized situations illegal. The court created a narrow exemption, though, for people to write down private fantasies for their own personal private pleasure.

If Belke had written the stories, if he had taken his case to trial, he might have been able to claim such an exemption, for the stories at least. But I suspect he pleaded guilty to end the public humiliation, to bring down the curtain as quickly as possible on this tragedy, leaving us to wonder how a man so funny, charming and successful in his art could have led a private life of such loneliness, darkness and despair.

Needle Vinyl Tavern sees bookings cancel as it reviews sexual harassment allegations

A file photo of The Needle Tavern in Downtown Edmonton.

A popular Edmonton music venue says it is reviewing allegations of sexual harassment against one of its owners and has removed him from “any active role.”

Downtown’s Needle Vinyl Tavern says it takes the complaints made by a former employee “very seriously” and will take “immediate steps to ensure that The Needle remains a safe environment for lovers of music in the Edmonton region.”

Meanwhile, a Monday-night podcast taping and Tuesday-night workshop changed to other venues because of the allegations.

In a Facebook post which she later confirmed to Global News, Brittany Lyne Rudyck said she left her job in public relations for The Needle because she was groped by one of the owners and because the venue is considering hiring someone with a reputation for emotional abuse and sexual harassment.

“I was sexually harassed by one of the owners in March,” Rudyck said in the post. “He was blackout drunk and groped me several times after I repeatedly said no. It came to the point where I had to ask security to kick him out.

“I informed my manager of this as well as a few other staff members, who were supportive.”

Rudyck said the owner offered a “half-baked” apology the next day and tried to phone her but she did not take his calls. She said she has not heard from him or the other owners about the incident since.

Rudyck said she was also troubled by how the owners reacted to concerns raised by her and other women after they learned of a potential new hire at the venue. She said “a few other women” left previous jobs because of the person, who they say subjected them to emotional abuse and sexual harassment. She said the owners were sent emails by the women detailing their concerns.

Rudyk said she and other managers confronted the owners on Friday to ask if the person was being hired and that the owners did not answer, only saying they respect her opinion.

“No longer will I be supporting this venue in any way, shape or form. I implore you to do the same, whatever that looks like for you,” said Rudyck, who told Global News she plans to speak more about what happened later this week. “Standing up for myself and these other women is the right thing and this seems far from over.”

Global News has reached out to the Needle Vinyl Tavern for comment. In a Monday afternoon Facebook post, the venue said it has “zero tolerance for any behaviour or actions by staff or patrons that impacts the positive environment we have worked so hard to cultivate for Edmontonians.”

The Needle said it would review its policies and training with experts to ensure it maintains a “healthy, respectful environment,” and once it completes a review of the owners, take “all appropriate measures to deal with them.”

Rudyck posted a reply to The Needle’s statement to say it did not amount to “an apology.”

In the wake of the allegations, at least two events planned to take place at The Needle are now occurring elsewhere. The hosts of the podcast Taggart and Torrens (one of who is a former star on TV’s Trailer Park Boys) tweeted they were moving their planned appearance at The Needle Monday night to a venue in Old Strathcona because of the allegations.

“We are heartbroken to hear about the allegations of mistreatment of the staff at The Needle Vinyl Tavern in Edmonton,” their tweet reads. “We cannot in good conscience perform there tonight and will be relocating to @thebuckonwhyte at 10439 Whyte Ave.”

A board member with the Fruit Loop Society of Alberta confirmed to Global News it was moving an event planned at The Needle for Tuesday because of the allegations, adding the organization was “sorry to hear about the allegations and the way they were addressed.” The Fruit Loop Society event was aimed at providing free Nalaxone training (an antidote for fentanyl overdoses) for members of the LGBTQ community and community venues which host LGBTQ-related events.