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Content Guy's Note:  Last week, Michael Sansolo wrote a column about people who include in their online signatures notations like "he, his, him" or "she, hers, her" or "they, them" - designed to tell the reader how they identify in terms of gender.  At a time when a number of people do not identify with the gender that they were assigned at birth, perhaps being in transition or nonbinary, this can be helpful in terms of conversation.

The column and, I think, some of the conversation here that followed, prompted this email from an MNB reader.  To me, it is the very definition of an Eye-Opener, and so I wanted to share it with you in this space….

I’ve been trying to sort out my feelings on Michael’s column for a few days now as this column really hits home for me.

I’m a grocery lifer. It’s pretty much been all I’ve known and wanted to do since my father purchased our business when I was five.  We’ve grown a lot since then with multiple stores and other ancillary businesses but my day to day is at the stores and I work closely with our team.

I also happen to be a transgender woman in transition.

I’ve faced many roadblocks in my way that were designed to keep me from getting to the point of giving in to the truth I’ve always known. I am a woman no matter what others see and what the mirror reflects.  Some of those roadblocks were related to our industry. As I grew up in this business, I looked around and always saw a bunch of old, white men running things.  I always felt like I only had one option…. Be the person others saw me as, or give up my dreams and my business.

If you think Michael’s column is simply about pronouns, you’re missing the point.  It’s about encouraging visibility and representation. It’s about giving your people a place they can be themselves.  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about their gender identity, sexual orientation, race, etc. Visibility gives people the opportunity to thrive and bring more value to your team. The visibility of other transgender people living successful lives is a big reason I was finally able to take steps to live my life as who I really am. If putting a pronoun in your bio creates that opportunity for someone like me to thrive then what is the downside?  What did you have taken away from you by doing that?

One of my motivations for writing this is to put a real “face” on this subject. This issue is not just an HR exercise or an industry think piece.  These issues have real people behind them.  Real people that just want to exist without having others making them feel like they are being imposed upon by being visible. To hopefully show people such as the commenter who lamented that “treating everyone respectfully and equally” is no longer enough that NO, it is not enough. The world has always seen me as a white male.  I have every advantage you can have in this country and for 43 years I did not feel like I could share with anyone who I really was without losing EVERYTHING.  It’s not because people didn’t treat me with respect and as an equal, it’s because I didn’t feel like I would be given the chance to be respected and equal. There is a difference between not being exclusive and being inclusive.

The road ahead will not be easy for me. As a retailer we don’t get to choose who comes through our door. As anyone who has dealt with mask issues of late knows, customers can be downright nasty when they choose to be. I know that at some point I will encounter people who don’t think I have a right to exist. I also know that I will have many customers who will support me and embrace who I am. I’ve come to realize how fortunate I am. I can control my fate.  I don’t have to rely on others to create a place for me to exist. That is rare. You may have people in your life relying on you to create this place for them. I have a favorite quote from a business partner of ours.  “We love you for who you are. Bring that. Tell us who you are”.  That is the embodiment of being inclusive. They are doing a great job of building a better company by embracing everyone for whomever they may be.  Their leadership and example changed the course of my life.  It is my hope that someday that my example will provide the same opportunity to others.

Postscript from the Content Guy:  More than you know, I appreciate you being willing to tell your story here, and to make clear that this is not just about pronouns.  Michael and I both wish you luck, understanding, and most importantly, love from all the people around you.