As a trans woman, I sometimes encounter prejudice and intolerance as I try to go about my life, just like almost all other trans people. But why?

Cis (non-trans) people sometimes think that the right thing to do is, for example, to stop us using what they think is the “wrong” bathroom (please: we just want to pee, and we don’t need your permission to do so); or to question whether we are “really are” who we claim to be (yes, we are!); or to do any one of a myriad of other things where they get to doubt, question, and challenge us.

Obstacles that they never place in the way of cis people.

This is a story about just one such incident.

So starts a normal day

One day in June 2014, I get to work about 9am as usual, and for some reason this morning, I have cause to do some Internet banking. I log on, and do whatever it is have to do.

Then, I think: it’s been a while since I’ve changed my online banking password. I’ll change it now.

The web page for changing your password, though, has problems. Several times, I enter my old password, enter a nice secure (long, random) new password twice, and press the button. And each time, the page comes back with an unhelpful error like, “There was a problem with your password”, or something equally generic and unhelpful.

Now, software, and computers, and security, are my thing. I’m pretty sure I know exactly why it’s failing: it’s failing because the new password that I’m choosing has “odd” characters in it, like & or ^ or ! or {. If only I chose to use a new password consisting entirely of letters and numbers, I hypothesised, then the page would work. I tried this out; and hey presto, now my password is changed. So, I thought, I’ll phone up the bank and advise them that their password-change page could be more helpful.

Operation: Phone Call

I call. There’s the usual frustration with press-1-for-this, etc.

Eventually, after keying in my account number and so forth, I get through to a person.

“Good morning madam, how can I help you?”

“Ah hello. I’m logged in to your online banking and trying to change my password, but every time I do so it just says ‘There was a problem with your password’.”

“Oh I’m sorry to hear that sir.”

“Wait — can I just stop you there — it’s madam. You’ve got my details on screen, you said madam when you first answered the phone — it’s not sir, it’s madam.”

“Ah well the thing is the person I’m speaking to has a male voice.”

I start to see red.

“I’m sorry that my voice doesn’t sound female enough for you.” (Sarcasm, obviously. I’ll be damned if I have any reason to apologise). “Anyway as I said I’m logged in and I’m trying to change my password, but I’m getting an error.”

“If you can’t log in, you can”… blah blah blah. I didn’t listen to the rest.

“No, I can log in, I am logged in, as I’ve already told you. But when I try to change my password, it gives me an error.”

“Well sir, -”


“- the thing is the person I’m speaking to has a male voice, sir. If you can’t log in then” <whatever>. I’ve stopped listening.

Is it usually their job to police people by the sound of their voice, I wonder?

“As I’ve already told you three times, I am logged in. Logging in is not a problem.”

I think the call went on a bit longer, I forget. He insisted that I was “Sir”, he flat out refused to be corrected. And, to compound the problem, he kept on not listening to my description of the problem that I was actually calling about, choosing to answer a different question instead, one that I hadn’t asked.

Eventually he got it in his thick skull that logging in was not the problem here, and he put me through to someone else. The phone at the other end rang. But, by this point I was so furious that I just hung up. By which I mean, I slammed the phone down very hard in frustration, anger and tears.

The fallout

Immediately after that, my manager pops by for a chat — it’s our regular weekly slot. We go into a meeting room. It’s apparent that I’m most definitely not OK and I need to take whatever time I need to calm down, to recover.

I go back to my desk, pick up my things, and leave.

I go to the building next door, where I pop in, and I hide somewhere where I know that nobody I know will find me. I take the rest of the day off work.

The mishandling of this call by my bank has left me unfit for work for the day.

What went wrong?

Every other time I’ve interacted with my bank, there has been no problem at all. But on this one occasion, the person on the other end of the phone chose to apply his own security check criteria, which I suspected (later confirmed) were in breach of policy:

  • He chose not to believe that I was who I said I was, even though I’d passed all the security checks, because I had “a male voice”, whatever one of those is.
  • He did not, however, hang up the call – which is what I’d expect the bank to do if they think that someone is attempting to misrepresent their identity when calling.
  • Even disregarding the question of whether or not he believed that I was in fact the Rachel Evans that was the account holder in question, he refused to address me as “Madam”, insisting on “Sir” throughout; he flat out refused to be corrected on this.
  • And finally, he didn’t listen to the actual reason I was calling – he kept addressing the problem he thought I had, rather than the one I told him I had.

The complaint

A while later, I filed a complaint. The complaint process took a couple of weeks, if I remember correctly, and quite a few phone calls – mostly the bank calling me (which was fine by me). The people handling my complaint were professional and courteous throughout – the complete opposite to the call which necessitated the complaint in the first place.

On one of these complaint calls, I remember the man who called me back telling me that he’d listened to the audio recording of the original call – he’d taken the time to get hold of the recording, and listen to it, several times I think – before he called me. I think the word he used was “gobsmacked”, at how rude the original call handler was, and how he mishandled the call.

What I wanted to get out of the complaints process was acknowledgement of error, and to reduce the chance of the same kind of thing happening to anyone (principally, other trans people) again – perhaps through a combination of direct action (at the very least, “having a word”) with the rude man who took my original call, and perhaps also by better staff training in general.

By the time the complaint was resolved I was happy with the outcome. To this date I have not had any other problems with this bank.

Can I just get on with being me, please?

I’d like to think that this is a rare, isolated incident. But it’s not. Trans people suffer this kind of abuse every day, as they encounter the prejudices of the institutions of a largely-cis world.

In this particular case, the bank employee was so confident in his belief that you can’t possibly be called Rachel and yet also have a voice like that, that he chose not to follow policy and training. He chose instead to apply his own prejudices to the situation. And so much did he allow his prejudices to distract him from his job, that he didn’t even listen to what I was saying – all he heard was a voice in his head saying “Female name on screen, male voice on phone, something to do with passwords. I’ll tell them how to reset their password”.

(Many trans people hate using the phone, precisely because of incidents like this).

In my case, the effect was emotional distress, a lost day at work – and lost opportunity for the bank to improve their web site. But it could have been a lot worse: for example, I could have been trying to access my money, and been wrongly denied.

When cis people allow their anti-trans prejudices to surface, trans people needlessly suffer. We are denied the same rights that are silently and implicitly granted to cis people. The right to use banks, shops, doctors, schools, employment, housing. The right to be treated with respect, not to suffer verbal abuse. The right to navigate the world, and to just get on with our lives.

We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re not special snowflakes. We’re just people.

And all we’re trying to do is to get on with our regular, everyday, unremarkable lives, just like you already do.

Rachel Evans is a software engineer who works in an office in London, UK. She drinks beer, goes shopping, watches TV, sometimes listens to podcasts, is trans, is right-handed, writes blog posts, and wears glasses. None of which is remarkable. Basically: she’s a person, just like you are, trying to live her life.

This content originally appeared on my Medium account