Wed Oct 20
Fresh back from the sea yet again. The big news is that I am fighting to press a case of harassment.
Here’s the report
This letter deals with an incidence of physical harassment in the workplace which took place on the Pride of Bilbao on Thursday 30th September 2004, and with the subsequent events. I shall describe the incident, and its aftermath; I shall then detail my previous experience with my antagonist, and give a wider view of my relations with the engine room crew.
To understand the resonances in this report, you should know that I am a transsexual woman. I formally transitioned in May 2002, and joined Pride of Bilbao in October of that year. Because I was still in the early stages of transitioning, and because I knew that I would be meeting several old colleagues who had, like me, once worked for BCIF, I presented as androgynously male when I first arrived, with the intention of breaking everyone gently into the notion of the new me. After two trips, I presented fully as female in the workplace; although that was obviously rather conceptually difficult during working hours in a boiler suit…
This is the report which I wrote two days after the incident:
“This concerns an incident which I consider to be a form of harassment.
On the morning of Thursday 30th September, I was working on the car deck, freeing-up vent flaps. This job meant that I had to go to the engine room for rags, grease, oil etc. I went to the engine control room, where the sole other person present was Ged Pxxx. He was standing in the space between the control console and the aft bulkhead, at a point where the passage is narrow. I made to go past him, and he appeared to step back. I walked through, tripped, and nearly fell. I looked back to see that Gxx was standing smirking, and with his leg straight out in front of him, with his heel on the ground and the foot ostentatiously raised. I looked accusingly at him.
“I did take a step back,” he said in a smug way.
I said nothing, but left the control room.
I reported the incident to Txx, the Accommodation Second Engineer, explaining that as Ged has a history of verbally abusive behaviour towards me, I thought that this action constituted physical harassment.
The next time I met Ged when we were alone was on Saturday morning.
“Why did you try to trip me up?” I asked.
He raised his middle finger at me, and completed the gesture by saying, “….and swivel.” He then blustered through some stuff about how he’d stepped back, and I should look where I’m going.
“You’re pathetic,” I told him, and left him.
Sunday 3rd October”
that was the letter which I gave to Mxx Lxx. (see below)
(I should elaborate, at this point, on the precise nature of the incident, as, although I had thought I had made it perfectly clear in my report that it was an unambiguous act, Mr Sxx seemed inclined to believe that it was a misunderstanding. Let me emphasise this; after I had tripped and recovered, I turned to look at Ged. He was standing with his leg straight out in front of him, with his heel on the floor and his foot raised, in an entirely unnatural posture intended to leave me in no doubt that he had tripped me. He remained in this posture until I turned and walked away)
Here’s the subsequent sequence of events:
I told Txx Txx, the Accommodation Second Engineer, about the incident on the first occasion I had to speak to him alone, about an hour later. He said that he would look at the company regulations on the subject of harassment.
On the evening of Saturday 2nd October, I brought up the subject with Txx. He said that he hadn’t done anything yet.
I wrote the report above and took it to Mxx Lxx, Chief Engineer, on the afternoon of Sunday 3rd October. I discussed the matter with him, and he said that he would make enquiries.
On Thursday 7th October, I went looking for Mxx Lxx, to see if any progress had been made, as a week had now passed without any apparent progress. I couldn’t find him, but Mxx Sxx, the Senior Chief Engineer, was in his cabin, so I asked him about it, assuming that he might know something. He had not heard anything of the incident, or read the report. He said that he would talk to Ged.
By Saturday I was seriously contemplating walking off the ship, as I had received no feedback at all and was feeling entirely out on my own. But I met Mxx Lxx in the afternoon, and he told me that he had talked to Ged, and that there was now at least a record of the alleged incident. He further said that the Captain proposes to raise the subject of harassment in one of the crew meetings, as there have apparently been other, racist, instances of harassment involving crew members.
That evening Mxx Sxx mentioned in passing that he’d seen Ged. So, the next day…
Sunday 10th October I saw Mxx Sxx again. He said that Ged’s version of the story was different from mine, and that he (Sxx) wanted to drop the matter in case it became ‘messy’. He then said, “I don’t know how to put this, but…” …and proceeded to tell me that it was considered by “some of the engine room crew” (unspecified) that I “camp it up a bit” (sic).
I think it worth dwelling on that term for a moment. It is barely credible that it would have been used to describe any other woman on board. It was a homophobic term of abuse, implicitly endorsed by Mr Sxx by his repeating it. It is entirely inappropriate in my case and in any case an unhelpful and inappropriate comment for a Chief Engineer to make to a member of the crew whose grievance he has just lightly passed over. I presume it was intended to indicate that I deserved what I got.
Now, to my earlier dealings with Ged. When I first arrived on board he behaved no differently to me than to any other member of the engine room team; although he learned, as the rest did, that I was transitioning, there was nothing particularly feminine in my appearance while in the engine room, beyond my earrings; there are male members of the crew with long hair, after all. A flash point occurred when I appeared in the control room one day having dyed my hair a rather vivid shade. Jed became almost hysterical in his reaction; “What have you done to your hair? –what the fuck have you done to your hair?…” He went on and on about it. It was really rather disturbing.
From that moment, Ged’s demeanour towards me changed, and he became consistently hostile. He persuaded himself that I was bad at my job, and shouted abuse at me on two occasions; once in the A/C room, where he followed me and jabbed his finger at me while ranting; and once in the control room. This latter event, fortunately, was witnessed by several people, as it took place during the morning tea break. On this occasion, I responded to him that if he was unhappy with my work, he should make a formal complaint. Axx Exx, the ERPO, then present, told Ged that he (Axx) was perfectly happy with my work.
The other, relatively trivial, incident of note was the Affair of the Boots. After a changing room for engine room personnel had been created in the 2 Deck crew accommodation, everyone moved their boots and overalls there. As there were no separate facilities for women, however, and I was not prepared to share this changing room, I continued to leave my work boots in the control room, discreetly tucked behind a switchboard. Ged made a big thing of the business, telling me that I should use the changing room, and took to moving them and hiding them, and threatened to throw them away if he found them again.
Since I moved upstairs to join the repair team, I have not had much contact with Ged, other than encountering him in the crew mess, where he contents himself with glaring at me. He barged me once in the Mess, but I knew that I could not accuse him of anything for that; it could easily have been misconstrued as an accident. But then this happened.
Now, to relations with the engine room personnel in general.
I have worked in engine rooms for long enough to know what sort of reaction to expect to someone like me. I am quite happy to deal with and respond to good-natured badinage. I know that few people have encountered TS women before, and people may make inappropriate remarks through ignorance. I accept that, and am happy to tell anyone who expresses an interest, about my condition. I had hoped that as time went on, my colleagues would become accepting. This has happened in a few cases; but I feel that some people reluctantly tolerate me rather than accept me. This is a shame, because among the rest of the crew I seem to have no problem, and a good working relationship.
The business of the control room calendar was quite dramatic. Last year’s calendar, hanging over the table at which the ER team take their breaks, was a particularly explicit pornographic one. I had endured a few remarks along the lines of “Is that what you’ll look like?” or (Chief Eng)’s “It’s a sort of training manual for you, Dru,” and let them pass because it would have been difficult to do otherwise. I did rather resent the fact that the calendar would be taken down if female visitors were expected. Then a notice appeared announcing a Shipboard Management Meeting, and inviting gripes. Among the usual whinges about the food which appeared, I added a request that the calendar should be changed for something less explicit. The next day I found that my point had been scrawled through, and FUCK OFF written by it. I discussed the matter with (Chief Eng). He pointed out that making an issue of the calendar would alienate me, and we agreed to let the matter drop, with (Chief Eng) undertaking to find a less explicit calendar for the following year. And so the matter rested….
…until the day I found that someone had written ‘DRU’ on the calendar, with an arrow pointing to the vagina. I was sick with outrage. What made the matter worse was that it had been on display for several weeks, without anyone having done anything about it. At morning tea break, I waited till everyone was there, took the calendar down, pointed out the graffiti, said that I found it unacceptably offensive, and ripped it up. I then had several men shouting at me together; the worst was Gxx Hxx, who told me I should go and work with the girls in the shop, and said, “You’re going to get done… not if, but when.” I put the remark down as being made in the heat of the moment, but he never retracted it or apologised.
After that incident I was sent to Coventry by several ER ratings for quite some time; there are still some with whom I exchange no words other than in the course of our work, such as Dxx Pxx, who has in his time made some obnoxious comments, opining that “We’re all men here,” and “When God made man, it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”….
Now to the matter of the difference between being accepted and being tolerated. For me, the most significant aspect of this distinction is linguistic. People who accept me are happy to use female pronouns to refer to me; there may be some who might have their own ideas on the subject but go along with my wishes simply out of common courtesy. And then there are those who consider that they know better than me what I am. Thus, this exchange in the control room early one morning.
Sxx (Chief Eng)comes in. “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen,” he says.
“I don’t see any ladies,” says Dxx Sxx.
“Drusilla,” says the Chief, gesturing royally in my direction.
“He’s got balls, hasn’t he?” says Dxx; “ –if he’s got balls, he must be a gentleman.”
I had a rather trying experience with Mr R relatively recently; having worked consistently in the repair team for a long time, I had reluctantly agreed, at Mr R’s request, to work as storekeeper (my reluctance to return to the engine room may be explicable in light of the experiences mentioned above…). He phoned Pat Williams in the Portsmouth office to arrange a forklift course. Throughout his conversation with Pat, he referred to me as ‘he’. I remonstrated with him afterwards.
“I didn’t want to confuse her,” he replied.
(Bear in mind, please, that I am officially, legally and administratively female. There should be no record of my previous identity. There is a clause in the Sex Discrimination legislation dealing specifically with disclosure of this kind. But I forbore to mention this to Mr Rxx; I was still hoping that the voice of sweet reason would prove more effective…)
In the aftermath of this conversation, I obtained a copy of the Gender Trust’s Guide for Employers, and attempted to raise the matter of forms of address with Mr Rxx, mentioning the Chief Officer on Pride of Dover who has also transitioned, and concerning whom, as I understand it, the crew was briefed as to appropriate behaviour and language.
“But they (sic) are an officer,” he said.
I told him that I had some literature, which I should be glad to give him. He declined most vehemently, evidently worried that there might be pictures of willies being chopped off….
If Sxx Rxx features heavily in this account, it is because I have usually found him to be helpful and proactive. Unfortunately, I feel that in some issues he is somewhat out of his depth. And nor is he the only one, as the incidents which sparked this account show. I am a woman, and entitled to expect to be treated as such in the workplace, irrespective of the private opinions of those with whom I work. I am emphatically not whatever it may be that the engine room gossips have decided among themselves that I am. Ignorance is forgivable up to a point; the crew have had plenty of time now to get used to me, and there comes a time when use of inappropriate language becomes culpable. And I think it should be recognised that, when Mxx Sxx made his remark about ‘camping it up,’ that time had arrived. I presume that HR Dover have some experience in or record of guidelines for this sort of situation; as previously noted, they have been faced with the same scenario on Pride of Dover. It might be time to give them a call.
Pride of Bilbao
Sunday 17th October
The closing scene of this act took place the day before I got off, with the captain -it had no longer been possible to keep it ‘in house’. There will be a review of the complaints procedure; he is getting in touch with Dover regarding guidelines; and there will be a proper investigation into the incident. There will have been quite a lot of action by the time the shrapnel has stopped rattling off the rooftops. Hopefully, I’ll still be able to work on with these people after that time.
I think I’ve changed my mind about adopting a meliorist, laissez-faire approach to workplace transitioning. Guidelines are there to protect other people as well as us; they can be saying or doing the wrong things out of sheer ignorance. And the bigots need to know that they are not allowed to do what they are only happy to do, given half a chance. And then one day it all blows up….
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.
T S Eliot East Coker
It seems timely to be lighting flames against the onset of winter, so here’s my own little one. Ironically, when I used this poem on my Christmas card three year ago, I could not have known that within two months I really would be sailing ‘the vast waters of the petrel and porpoise’….
Another chapter closes. After panic attacks and bouts of uncontrollable retching, I figured that enough was enough. Part of me really wanted to go back to the ship and see this harassment case through. But I’m just not strong enough. As of now I’m on sick leave. Goodbye P&O.
Thank God, I’ve got the support of some good friends. I got back from one of them yesterday (she wasn’t too obviously fazed by my arriving in time to throw up in her loo…), just in time to get a phone call from an ally to tell me about ACAS (that’s the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service…) and messages from the girls on the ship. The goodness in the world is still there and still fighting the hobgoblins and foul fiends…
Friday 10th December
Went to the council house last night, for the launch party for Bristol City Council’s new Guide to Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Life in Bristol. I was a bit nervous, which I identified as concern that it was the first time I’d publically outed myself as lesbian; it is perhaps the most daunting aspect of the whole business; it’s one thing to say what I am, and an entirely different matter to be accepted as that by other women. As it was, I didn’t get too much networking done; chats with a couple of people who were themselves new to this sort of thing; a girl who’s just about to start work for an organisation called FFLAG (Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and wanted to dip her toes in the water; and a chap from the Terence Higgins Trust. In fact, almost everyone there seemed to be professionally involved with either the council or some support group.
it must be very nice to work for Bristol City Council if you’re white collar and are conversant in committee-speak; everyone seems so proactively anti-discriminatory. Perhaps it’s like that everywhere, which is why the woman from P&O HR Dover seemed so shocked by what had been going on on the ship.
As TS, I still feel invisible and unrepresented. I can’t believe there aren’t plenty of people in a similar situation in Bristol; there’s just no organisation for them. Do they -do I -want one, though? The whole point of successful transition is to live in the desired gender role, not to become, as it were, a Professional Tranny…