I had no idea how stressful it would be for me to say the words out loud to my coworkers, the HR department and my boss.
“I KNEW THAT IF NEWS OF ME WERE TO GET INTO THE WORKPLACE WITHOUT MY GUIDANCE, IT COULD GO VERY WRONG.”
I had stayed closeted for so many years and I would justify it with one reason or another, but the fact was that I was scared to death. When I came out in my private life there were a good many friends that walked away from me. There were also a good many people in my life that embraced me. Telling friends and family, the results would be one of the two. By the time I told them I was at a point where I was willing to lose whoever wanted to leave. Work was a completely different story. I was a single Mom with a three-year old daughter at the time. We lived paycheck to paycheck. I ate cabbage three nights a week because it cost me fifty cents and Ailani took priority when it came to the grocery budget. If I lost my job it would have been a matter of weeks before we would be homeless. I knew that if news of me were to get into the workplace without my guidance, it could go very wrong.
I prepared letter a letter for the Human Resources Department explaining my “change in status” and requested any written policies they may have. I also included in the letter a request that my management be informed by me in person as to not create a breach in the chain of command. Their response was that no written policies existed within our company, but they would start researching one. They were fine with my request to speak to management personally and all they asked was to be informed after the conversation occurred.
The following afternoon I emailed my manager to ask for a private meeting when he had some time to talk. A few hours later I heard him call me over the intercom system. My nerves were rattled, but I felt slightly more confident since HR was on my side. I walked into my manager’s office and proceeded to tell him about my future plans for a name change, the physical changes that had already started generating questions and my future surgical plans. To my surprise, he knew of rumors before he hired me and said that he had no problems with any of it. He wanted me to take the time and personally inform the others in our branch face to face. I agreed because I had strong relationships with my co-workers and I felt that an email would be impersonal and cold. Many of my co-workers were very supportive. The ones who had an issue with me managed to stay professional and just avoided personal conversations at work.
“I BRACED FOR THE BAD NEWS WITH THE BEST POKER FACE I COULD MUSTER.”
Six months have passed since I came out at work. Today I was called into a meeting with upper management for the Northeast Division. I walked into the meeting unaware of what exactly it was about. Walking into the room, I could see a packet of papers in their hands and a copy laid out for me as well. This was the first face to face conversation I would have about my transgender status with upper management. I sat down and Jeff started with “I do not really know how to start this conversation.” My heart skipped a few beats. “As you may know your manager and HR had to inform me of your status.” I braced for the bad news with the best poker face I could muster. “First, I want to say good for you. It takes balls… poor choice of words, guts to do what you do,” the sense of relief washed over me. If he was about to fire me this was the most flattering way I had ever seen. “In front of you is the new gender policy for our company,” he said. “It is nine pages long and has been personally approved by the CEO of our company.” I was elated! As I read through the policy with them, I realized that it was not a half thought out document. In fact, this policy was probably one of the most comprehensive I had ever read. As our meeting wrapped up, I was asked to map out a plan for major changes and for the approaches that management needs to take in order to make them as seamless as possible.
When coming out at work it is very important to recognize the chain of command and to gain the help of the Human Resources Department. Coming out at work is terrifying in itself, but combined with the horror stories we all hear it is almost crippling.
Here are some resources for transgender professionals to use to prepare for talking their employer: