After three months of interning at the mid-sized architecture firm Andrews & Assoc., college senior Avery Rose walked away with invaluable experience in how a real architecture firm works, but more importantly, she gained the invaluable experience of being forced to explain cisgender privilege to her 55-year-old employer, Tim Andrews.
That’s the kind of thing you can’t learn in the classroom.
“I now feel much more prepared for a long, robust career wherein I regularly explain how gender works to people 40 years my senior,” Rose says of her first-ever internship. “No professor in architecture school could’ve taught me that. This is why in-office experience is critical.”
Transgender 21-year-old Rose thought all she would get out of the gig was class credit and perhaps a few professional contacts. She now walks away from Andrews & Assoc. knowing full well how to talk to baby boomers about things like the difference between sex and gender.
Rose mentions one conversation in particular that gave her special insight into the total ignorance of most people in her future field. Her boss, Tim Andrews, sat her down to talk about renderings she had drafted for him. But then, in a low voice, Andrews asked her to define “cisgender,” saying he had seen the word referenced online and in TV but had no idea what it meant.
“Well, in order to explain what ‘cis’ means, I had to explain what ‘trans’ means. Actually, first I had to come out as trans, had nothing to do with anything I was studying in architecture school. So now I better understand what’s expected of me on the job, I guess.”
Rose is excited to put this real-world experience to use after graduation. Once she’s passed her licensing exams, she looks forward to being an architect at a small, dynamic firm who’s constantly thrust in the middle of gender-related workplace issues that an HR department would be handling at any other company.
Unlike most of her classmates’ internships, Rose was trusted to metaphorically hold her employer’s hand through the actually-not-that-complicated world of gender identity. While she was not paid for her internship, she did successfully force Andrews to admit that he never felt physically in danger in a public restroom (She did receive class credit.).
So the next time Rose has to ask a decorated Harvard graduate who has written four books in his field of study, “You know how no one ever asks you to describe your genitals to them?” she’ll know exactly what to do!