The Limits of Labels and the Importance of Safe Spaces at Work was originally published on Power to Fly.
Bekah Nye isn’t particular about pronouns.
“I honestly don’t care if anyone calls me sir, he, they, she. I don’t care what someone calls me at this point; I don’t feel like I need to label myself for anybody else,” says the Manager of Business Operations at mobile game developer Zynga.
Bekah realized she was nonbinary when her younger sister saw that an actor had recently come out as nonbinary and asked Bekah what it meant. (Bekah is fine with people addressing her with “she/her” pronouns, as that’s how she presents, so that’s what we’ll use in this piece.)
“As I was reading about it, I realized, ‘This is me.’ I was explaining about the actor and myself at the same time,” shares Bekah. “I don’t need to identify as non-binary to identify as who I am, though. I’m simply trying to be myself to the fullest, and it’s come naturally along the way.”
After growing up in a religious household and navigating the impact it had on her identities, Bekah came out as bi in high school, and now prefers to identify as queer—though she still has a strong aversion to labels.
“Labels are important; I understand the use of them,” she says. “They’re very important for us to be able to communicate with each other because otherwise we don’t know how. But trying to fit that label into a box has been difficult.”
Bekah has realized that she does best in environments without boxes. And that’s exactly what she found at Zynga when she joined four years ago.
Finding the right environment for her
Bekah first heard about an opening at Zynga via a close friend. “I got this text, ‘There’s a position open that’s perfect for you, send me your resume this second!'” remembers Bekah.
That’s how she got in the door—but she didn’t take the job just for a chance to work with her friend.
First, Bekah wanted a more flexible workplace, one that wouldn’t ding her if she arrived ten minutes past her usual time. She liked Zynga’s relaxed and non-micromanaging approach to work culture.
Second, she wanted a place where she felt like she could really be herself. “I had a little bit of whiplash from past managers; I hadn’t really had a good long-term manager up to that point,” she said.
She got a good first impression from her would-be manager at Zynga, and it turned out to be right. “He saw my potential and my personality and simply kept encouraging it,” she says. “I realized that Zynga was a safe space to be. It helped me realize that I can allow my personality to come out safely without fear of my job, and in turn that’s what helped me feel more comfortable in coming out in the LGBTQ world.”
Feeling safe at Zynga and confident in her work skills helped Bekah feel confident in who she was, and in communicating that to her team. Now Bekah is out at work and has joined Z Pride, Zynga’s LGBTQIA+ ERG.
And she’s excited to share her experience with others and to let them know there’s room for them at Zynga, too. Even doing this interview is an example of that.
“Somehow, I made it through the obstacles and hardships of my early life. Somehow, I made it here. I’m at Zynga with awesome benefits, a good-paying job and amazing coworkers. How can I not use this platform to speak from the rooftops of what a human-being can accomplish?” she asks.
Navigating a world of labels
Bekah recently applied for a home loan. When she filled out the paperwork, she decided to leave the gender section of the application blank. She’d heard how single women got offered worse APRs than single men. “I didn’t want to be treated any differently based off the gender I was assigned at birth,” she says.
She’s run into the limitations of gender at work, too. Bekah is currently mentoring two young women, one of whom is a new manager; in a recent meeting, Bekah gave her advice she’d been given earlier in her own career: “Be more assertive.”
“She straight out asked me, ‘But what if I don’t want to be?’ I had never thought about that before. I’d been working so hard to fit in that I automatically did away with being softer; I was more assertive so I could actually speak at meetings, so I could properly represent myself,” says Bekah. “I’m still mulling about how women can come up in an industry that is male-dominated and still keep their feminine sides while still being heard and working effectively in the workplace. I don’t have a good answer for that right now.”
When it comes to asking about gender identity, whether at work, at the bank, or in life, Bekah generally believes in letting people define for themselves how much they’d like to share. For example, a manager might be well-intentioned in asking everyone in a meeting to share their pronouns, but that can put some people in an uncomfortable position.
“Asking people to share their pronouns in a way is asking them to out themselves,” says Bekah.
One of the issues Bekah has with labels like man/woman or straight/bi/pan is that they mean something different to different people. “Take gender fluid—I understand what gender fluid means to me, but I don’t fully understand what it means to everybody else. With that being said, I don’t know if I can take that label because I don’t know how others define it,” she explains.
4 ways to find the right space for you
Bekah has some advice for people who might be struggling with expressing their full identities at work:
- Be true to yourself. “It’s going to make you a hundred times more comfortable than anything else,” says Bekah. “You’re the only person you have to live with for the rest of your life. You have to put up with yourself, whether you like it or not. So be true to yourself first.”
- “You don’t have to share if you don’t want to.” Bekah urges “patience, empathy, and understanding, not just with self, but with others too, because you can’t expect everybody to be the same.”
- Create a safe space for yourself first. “Maybe you can’t have a safe space outside of your home or in a work environment, or maybe it’s even hard to find a safe space in your home, but there’s always the opportunity to find a safe space within yourself,” she says. She suggests trying activities like meditation, yoga, swimming, drawing, or breath work to find an outlet for emotion. Bekah’s personal favorite is singing, particularly Beyoncé’s “If I Were a Boy.” “I usually think, ‘It’s too quiet, it’s not going to affect me.’ Two minutes later I will be singing at the top of my lungs, tears running down my cheeks. Singing really helps,” she says.
- Be patient. “Don’t let go of either a dream or who you are. In time, things will change, and things will shift,” she says. “Consistency and determination will always win in the end.”