Trouble in the Office

It was Lou’s first day back at work. A sunny day, with clear blue skies outside the office windows. A bright day in every sense of the word. A day full of hope and expectation.
Lou had just returned from two weeks leave, a break deliberately planned with the company’s HR manager in order to allow for some adjustment time before her return, post-transition. She’d had few days of mental acclimatisation, a week at a plush hotel on the Devon coast, a day shopping for office clothes and, finally, two days getting herself psychologically prepared for the return to work as her new self. Lou was full of hope, but this was tinged with some nerves and anxieties. How would her workmates react in practice? It was all very well talking them through the protocols that would have to be followed when she returned, but these were written procedures, laid out in black lettering on a soulless sheet of paper. Her colleagues were human beings, full of their own collections of emotional baggage and feelings. Would the two mesh?
She pushed open the doors and walked in. She glanced across at her desk and spotted the small vase of flowers and the Welcome Back, Lou! xxx poster that had been stuck to the wall. She could also see a small pile of sealed envelopes the size of greeting cards. Things looked good. Sadly, things didn’t continue in that vein.
It started at the morning coffee break. Lou visited the ladies loo with a couple of her closest colleagues. They chatted while checking on their make-up and clothes in the mirrors. Was her eyeliner still staying put? Was the kick-pleat in her skirt still lying centred and straight at the back? She noticed that one of the other women using the facility looked rather sour-faced but thought nothing of it. It was late in the morning when her boss, Simon Parsons, called her into his office. He’d always been a flaky individual, a man of uncertain allegiances.
‘Um, Lou, there’s been a bit of a hitch.’
Was that a slightly shifty look? He seemed reluctant to look her in the eye.
Lou was puzzled. ‘What do you mean?’
‘A couple of the women have complained. They say that you can’t have had any op yet, so you must still have, you know, your penis. They claim that means you shouldn’t be using the ladies’ toilets.’
Lou tried to remain calm. ‘And what do you think?’ she asked.
‘Well, we hoped a problem like this wouldn’t surface. We went through the policy with all employees while you were away.’
‘So, what are you going to do?’
‘Well, it’s a tricky one. The guidelines are pretty clear. You are entitled to use the ladies. The trouble is, it’s my job to balance out conflicting demands to keep the place harmonious and everyone onside.’
‘You haven’t really answered my question.’ Lou was starting to feel angry and upset. A day that had started so well was rapidly going downhill.
‘Well, what I’m really asking is that you consider using the disabled loo until we get this settled.’
Lou practised her deep-breathing exercises, closed her eyes and thought. She’d prepared well for her return to work and had planned a range of responses to possible awkward situations. This was one.
‘Why didn’t you suggest that they could use the disabled loo if they object to my presence so much?’
He looked flummoxed. ‘Um, well, I felt a bit pressured to be honest.’
‘So you want me, on my first day back, to give in and agree to use the disabled loo? Tell me, when would that change? Would it be temporary, just for a few days? Is that what you mean? But won’t this just repeat itself when that grace period is up?’
He shrugged. ‘I’m just trying to keep the peace, Lou.’
She stared at him. What a weakling, buckling at the first sign of dissent.
‘No. The law is clear. I have the right to use the ladies, just like any other woman.’
‘What about if we made the small cleaners’ toilet at the far end of the corridor gender-neutral? Would that do?’
Again she thought hard, her brain cycling through the options.
‘Well, if they don’t mind using a gender-neutral facility, that’s up to them. Have you suggested it to them?’
His mouth opened a little, but he didn’t speak for a while. ‘That isn’t what I meant,’ he finally murmured.
Lou gave a thin smile. ‘I know. But what you really meant was entirely unacceptable to me. And I think you should take another look at the company guidelines. They’re pretty clear on this point.’
‘So you’re not willing to compromise?’
‘You mean give in to prejudice? No, I’m not.’ She pulled her shoulders back. She was a different person now. Stronger, more resolute. She glanced at her watch. ‘I’ve a short progress interview with the HR manager at the end of the day. But I think I need to see her now. What you’re asking is just too much.’
‘No, no, no,’ he said. ‘I’m sure we can sort this out informally between ourselves. It needn’t go any higher.’
‘I’m not backing down, Simon. Do you think I’ve come this far just to give in to petty-minded bigotry? Do you really think I’m capable of sexually assaulting one of my fellow workers in the ladies loo?’
He threw up his hands in horror. ‘Lou, of course I don’t think that.’
‘Well, why do you seem to be going along with this, then? Tell me that. What other reason can there possibly be?’
He put his head in his hands, so she left. How many more incidents like this would there be during the coming months? It was just as she’d been told during her counselling. Most people would be totally supportive and very helpful. But a small minority might well try to stir up trouble. Well, bring it on. She hadn’t changed her life as much as this just to buckle at the first hurdle. The complainers would just have to get used to her. She was tougher than they could ever know. She was glad she’d studied for those extra managerial qualifications during the past few years. She’d got her eye on a certain weak-minded person’s job when the time came. Maybe it would happen sooner rather than later.