How To: Transgender Inclusive Small Group Introductions

Photos: CC BY 3.0 US Mapbox Uncharted ERG

Something a lot of facilitators, both in-person and online, don’t account for is how to create a safe environment for trans folks during introductions in a small group setting. I have personally witnessed some people do this really well, and others totally fumble the bag. It’s not enough as a designated facilitator in a setting that may include transgender and nonbinary people, to assume everyone will “just get it”. It’s important to communicate clearly about etiquette and respect.

I don’t normally discuss ways to single out trans people because a lot of my work involves educating people so other trans folks don’t have to. This specific example though is especially necessary for cisgender folks who may be facilutating a group that includes cisgender and transgender people in the mix. In this post, I’m going to focus on expectations in introductions — both virtually and in-person for two different dynamics.

How to lead trans-inclusive introductions in-person

Step 1: facilitator sets the pace

As the facilitator in this setting, it is your responsibility to go first! I encourage folks leading discussions to start by sharing:

  • Their name, ex: “My name is Liz, and I also go by L”
  • Their pronouns, ex: “I use they/she/he pronouns”
  • Their reason for being there, “I’m here today because I’m excited to learn more about XYZ”

This short prompt keeps the number of things to remember less than 5 (that magic number where people’s brains turn off) and allows the folks in the room to digest this important information. Names, pronouns, and what brought you to the group.

Why the facilitator should lead the discussion

I say the facilitator has to go first because this ensures others will follow suit. It is also the facilitators responsibility to catch when people miss-state their pronouns or forget to share a piece of information. When I facilitate groups I actually make a note of people’s names, pronouns and their goals. I recognize when I am facilitating a group it is my own responsibility to ensure my transgender participants are not misgendered, and if they are, to handle that correction swiftly and speak 1:1 with the offender before allowing them to continue with the group.

Sounds intense? That’s because it is! Transgender and non-binary people deserve to feel safe, and if you’re going to assume everyone in the group understands how to emulate that, someone is going to get hurt.

Step 2: have anonymous check-ins with group members

In-person this can be a bit easier, ask your participants to share direct and critical feedback with you as the facilitator. Remind them not to share their name but ask a few specific questions so as not to get too many open ended answers.

Some examples:

“How did you feel during our discussion of XYZ topic today?”

“Was there a question or answer you wanted to share but weren’t able to during discussion today? You can share that here or describe why you did not feel able to share”

“How did you feel about the facilitator’s role during our discussion today? Was there anything you wish had been handled differently during our discussion of XYZ topics?”

“Were there any moments today where you felt uncomfortable or unsafe? Would you be willing to share why that was?”

“Was there anything you would have liked to have spent more time discussing?”

Why it’s important to ask critical questions

You can give or take most of these questions depending on the setting — but it’s important to note that if you want critical feedback, you have to actually ask critical questions. Most people don’t respond to vague or open-ended questions with negative // neutral answers because they prefer to say what they assume their leader wants to hear. Keep this in mind as you choose what questions to ask.

Feedback methods

I usually collect feedback in a physical basket using pieces of paper after I’ve left the room as a facilitator! I ask participants to fold their paper in half once so it’s harder for others to see their feedback, and then leave the room and give folks time to write. I then collect the feedback once everyone has left (you can also direct a member to place the answers in an envelope and deliver it to you at a later date if you would rather leave the location all together).

If this sounds like a lot of work for a group, remember this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to collecting anonymous, critical feedback. Creating an environment where people feel safe enough to express feedback about conversations they’re having is actually very hard work.

Photos: CC BY 3.0 US Mapbox Uncharted ERG

How to lead trans-inclusive introductions virtually

For most virtual calls — the setting for in-person introductions can be followed, in fact that’s how I lead introductions during accountability coaching sessions via zoom // google meet. I also note down names, pronouns and goals at that time.

Updating display names with pronouns

Note: one extra thing I do right at the top of the meeting is remind everyone to update THEIR name and pronouns in their meeting name, if possible, and review the OTHER participant’s names and pronouns and to take note so they do not misgender anyone. You will need to say something very SPECIFIC along these lines depending on who your group is made up of.

It’s important to note that trans people are perfectly capable of misgendering other trans folks and may need correcting, which is why the role of a facilitator is so crucial in this setting to ensure there is a clear indicator of whose responsibility it is to catch those errors without leaving the work all up to the person who may have been harmed.

Example of how I would lead introductions for step 1 in a virtual call:

As the facilitator in this setting, it is my responsibility to go first — so I would lead the discussion in a way similar to this:

  • Greeting // boundary setting: “hi everyone! Before we get started today I’m going to lead introductions, and set some ground rules for our meeting today. Before we get started, please update your display name with your name and pronouns (there’s a link on how to do this in the chat — but if you have a question please raise your hand), also please take a moment to review other people’s names and pronouns to ensure no one is accidentally misgendered during our meeting today”
  • Introduction Script: “for intros today, we’re going to share our name, pronouns and our goal for being here today! I’m going to go first: My name is L or Liz — you can use either of these interchangeably. I use they/them/theirs pronouns, or you can also use my name. My goal for being here today is to help each of you complete a task that you have in mind to work on today during our accountability coaching!”

Collecting anonymous feedback from virtual participants

  1. Qualtrics survey

As many know, google forms // surveys are not anonymous. Identifiers such as an IP address, email or name can be attached to the survey and participants anonymity is not guaranteed. That being said, I like to use qualtrics surveys because they allow for me to send an anonymous link to group participants.

2. Postcards

Another idea I’ve seen shared in coaching circles was the suggestion of a postcard, pre-addressed to the facilitator. This encourages feedback in a physical setting, and ensures anonymity of participants.

3. In-direct feedback

Another way to get anonymous feedback is to designate a feedback coordinator in the group. This person agrees to received feedback from each of the members and sends the feedback anonymously to the facilitator of the group (similar to how professors will receive feedback in university-settings)

Remember that it is just as important to receive feedback from group participants in virtual settings as it is in-person because this will allow you to improve on your own work as a facilitator and small group leader.

Work with me

If you found this article helpful and would like to pick my brain on other ways to make sure your work is inclusive of transgender folks, you can sign up to pick my brain here at www.itsjustliz.com! You can also hang out with me on Twitter @itsjuustliz

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