I'm an old school kind of guy. I mean, the generation I grew up in was tough. Not tougher than prior generation, as they dealt with the civil rights movement. But me, I was born in the late 70's Disco was on its way out, rap was just being birthed, and cocaine was taking over the world. And that was just the beginning.
In the 80's there were the metal bands, weird clothing, crack cocaine, war on drugs, big hair, and a violent NYC. And then finally the 90's...my high school and college years, where hip hop matured, gangsta rap filled the airwaves, and terrorism began to play out on TV. There was a lot going on. And during those times, just as in generations before mine, there were roles we played.
Whether we payed attention to it or not, we were given these roles when we were young. I played with cars/trucks, pretended to play cops and robbers, wrestled, fought, burped, and got dirty. My sister played with dolls, an easy bake oven, and some hideous thing that allowed her to practice doing hair and makeup. Had we grown up and participated in these things in the reverse, I'm quite sure my parents would have been concerned; largely because of their programming from when they were children.
We sometimes don't even think about the effect this type of thing has on us when placed into our minds as kids. Yet, it has embedded itself. I am a man, and as such, will "act" like a man. I still have a hard time wearing pink (as well as salmon) based on this programming. So what now. Today, there's this idea that's being embraced, that gender roles are a social construct. That is, there's nothing genetically that dictates how we are to act as male or female. The genetics largely dictate the reproductive organs. After that, everything is up for interpretation. I'm sure some people will scoff at this and think something like, "dam libs, trying to do their lib thing again." And maybe that's true, but it doesn't change the fact that this idea is gaining traction.
As a man who "acts" like a man, this concept was difficult for me to accept. A few years ago, I recall seeing some NBA players wearing clothing that was too feminine for my taste. And then there was Jaden Smith who began wearing, what some would consider, skirts. The automatic assumption I made, as did many of my other reproductive organ sharing brothers, was that these individuals must have homosexual tendencies; not that there's anything wrong with that (shout out to Seinfeld). But there was no room for in between. You either are straight and act straight, or you are homosexual and you act as such. The one exception seemed to be Prince, whom for all of his female tendencies, was known to embody some raw male sexuality.
At some point, I began putting more thought into this. My comparison was, what does it mean to "act Black?" I've heard that a lot growing up, but didn't quite know what it meant, as there's no one way to act White or Black that's exclusive to either group. So how does gender differ from that? What is it to act female or to act male, and why? Sure, there are likely some physical and hormonal differences, but how much of that is meant to define how we dress, when or how we express our emotions, or what jobs we do?
If I'm honest, I'm probably still observing and learning from our society as it changes. I do know that here in the U.S, we're built on acceptance, and giving people equal and fair treatment (sometimes in theory, but yeah). This is easy to do for things we are comfortable with, but it is tested when dealing with something that challenges our long held beliefs.
My HR Guy Interpretation
As these changes continue to evolve, they are likely to seep into the workplace. If you're not comfortable with these changes, you may want to prepare yourself. Your next coworker may just see themselves on the end of the gender identification spectrum that doesn't align the way you think it should (or it may change from time to time). Better yet, it could be your boss
Understand that the workplace isn't a place for your long held personal beliefs to rear their head. The workplace is about advancing the business, working with and hiring people who can support that. The way a person identifies themselves has no bearing on that. Though the workplace may dictate things like face tattoos or tongue rings as being a detriment to the business, gender identity is more difficult to tie to that. So what's your role?
Your role is to continue what you do. Treat people as people, regardless of those personal factors. I tell people all of the time now, that you don't know your coworkers as well as you think you do. I promise you that there are a couple of people you see everyday who have beliefs that would surprise (and maybe anger) you. However, that's none of your business. Just like this isn't. Feel free to feel how you feel, but how you act could be a difference between lawful expression, and unlawful discrimination. It's best not to get close to that line. You also have that one other thing you can do..Quit! No one is going to make you work in a job you feel uncomfortable at. The choice is yours.
If you're in a position of power, you should also begin to think about creating and implementing policies to prevent discrimination. Those who fail to plan, plan to fail. This may take some time to truly materialize in your workplace. The point is, you need to be ready. As you would with any other change to the business or talent pool.