The Perils of My Coming out as Transgender at Work – Part I
I was ready. I had just finished the family tour of coming out to my wife and kids, my parents, and some of my closest friends. All things considered, everything turned out better than I could have ever hoped. Outside of my job, I was already living as me. I was Mila full time with the only exception being my workplace. It was now time for me to come out at work and shortly after, the rest of the world. At least that was the plan. Though I was living as myself, I was pretty much in self-exile, worried about who I might bump into. I had to take these next steps. It was the only way I could exist fully and without having to hide. The changes from HRT had already started to kick in, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep people from noticing them. Not to mention the raging dysphoria I was feeling having to see myself presenting as male on a day-to-day basis. Yeah, I was ready.
For about a year and a half, I was working as a Supervisor at one of the largest TV, phone, and Internet providers in the New York Metropolitan area. I had spent roughly 14 years at this company, having previously worked in the role of Executive Relations where I would handle any kind of issue that made its way to the corporate office. I basically knew almost everyone in the company because of the wide reach of my former position. We had about 10,000 employees at the time, and though I didn’t know every single one of them personally, many of them certainly knew who I was. Senior management had often told me that I was the future of this company. I was essentially pushed into this Supervisor position, as it was required that I serve time as one in order to move up the corporate ladder. I had everything going for me, and now, just like I did with my family and close friends, I was going to test the integrity of that standing. It was time to come out.
My first step was to come out personally to the only other transgender person in the company whom I was aware of. He was a transgender man, and he had come out about six months prior. He was also a Supervisor and we worked together. Aside from the occasional accidental misgendering, everything went pretty great for him. The company had let him send an email to all the other employees, coming out with his new name and pronouns. Everyone at work was great about it. We were all really close, and though the job was pretty much hell most of the time, our peers were all amazing. They were always the reason we stuck around. I had just voluntarily moved to the overnight shift where he also worked and we quickly became close. I figured it would be easier to transition with less people around, and the overnight crew was a great group of people. There was a third Supervisor on the shift who I quickly became great friends with who I also eventually confided in. They were the only people who knew about my being transgender, and they kept my trust by not telling a soul.
The time to come out fully eventually came, and I went to see my director. I had great respect for him and I figured the best plan was to tell him before I dropped this big bomb on Human Resources, this way he wouldn’t be surprised when they came to him. I sat in his office and told him my story. I was shocked at how supportive he was. He told me he would do anything it takes to help to make things go smoothly for me. He even offered to bring people in to do a sensitivity training. This was going better than I thought.
"I WAS NERVOUS BUT EXCITED ABOUT THE PROSPECT OF FINALLY BEING ME ALL THE TIME"
The next day I went to Human Resources and the reaction was pretty much the same. The HR director offered her full support and we set up a plan. In two weeks I would be going on vacation. The plan was that I would email everyone in the company about my being transgender with my new name and pronouns on my last day before vacation, give people a week to let it sink in and return back from vacation as me. Seemed pretty simple right? I agreed to let them see the email before I sent it and we would be on our way. I was nervous but excited about the prospect of finally being me all the time. It was a big step in my transition, and I was as ready as I ever would be.
Within a few days I sent the HR director a copy of my letter. It was at that moment things started to sour. I received no response. I sent multiple follow up emails, called the office and even showed up one day. She was not available. Luckily, I eventually got her on the phone when she had called the office for another employee. I just grabbed the phone; she couldn’t avoid me this time. I asked if she received the letter and she advised that she did, and when I reminded her that Friday was my last day before vacation, she said she would send me confirmation to send it out on Friday morning.
Friday came and there was no response. She wouldn’t answer the phone and was not in her office when I had stopped by. Something was up, and my coming out plan was now up in smoke. I went on vacation with no email sent, no coming out, and now I would have to return to the office when I got back still living as this person I could no longer stand to be. My vacation was ruined. It was a week filled with dysphoria and uncertainty. I was unsure of what the future would bring.
I would return to work and weeks would go by without a peep from HR. They were obviously avoiding me, as my emails were not being returned. I wanted to quit, but I was the sole support for my family. I was stuck and the fate of my transition depended on these heartless corporate masters. To make matters worse, the director who had supported me had taken a temporary assignment in another office, and aside from the two other people in the company who knew I was transgender, I was now completely alone. A few more weeks later I would receive a phone call at home on my day off.
"THEY PROCEEDED TO TELL ME THAT BECAUSE MY BEING TRANSGENDER IS A PERSONAL MEDICAL ISSUE, THAT THEY COULD NOT ALLOW ME TO SEND IT BECAUSE IT WOULD BE A VIOLATION OF HIPPA LAWS"
It was the HR person on the phone along with the new interim director of my department. They told me though they supported me, there is a problem with the email that I wanted to send, which was now over a month ago. They proceeded to tell me that because my being transgender is a personal medical issue, that they could not allow me to send it because it would be a violation of HIPPA laws. Now HIPPA laws prevent medical institutions from sharing someone’s medical information without their permission. This is an Internet company I was working for, not a healthcare organization. “HIPPA laws?” I shouted back. “Really? I haven’t heard back from you in a month and the best you have for me is HIPPA laws?” I proceeded to explain to them what these laws were really for, and how it was my right to tell anyone I wanted about my own condition. I also pointed out that under their own premise, they violated those laws by outing me to this new interim director who was now on the phone and who I didn’t give them permission to tell about my “so called medical condition.” They both began to stutter and now I was uncontrollably balling my eyes out as I explained that they are denying my ability to exist.
They said that the company would allow me to speak with everyone on a one on one basis. I asked them how this would be possible to do, as I knew thousands of people in the company across three different states. I asked if they planned on granting me the time and travel to actually do things this way. More stuttering ensued, as I demanded a more practical way to do things just as they allowed the other transgender person at the company to do just six months prior. They could not answer me and no longer had a leg to stand on with the HIPPA thing, so they advised that they would have to call me back, but until then I was not permitted to make any announcements about my being transgender and that they would only discuss the matter with me on the phone. I would later take it to understand that they didn’t want any digital record of our conversations, over email for example, which could somehow be used against them in court.
This back and forth would continue over the next nine months. Every two weeks I would speak with them and after asking even a simple question, they would advise that they would have to call me back. I was losing my mind. There was no end in sight. I was dysphoric and suicidal as I felt there was no way out. They had me right where they wanted me. I was not far along enough in my transition to take a chance on getting a job anywhere else. I had no other option than to just play along in silly game they were playing. I worked in a county where it was still legal for them to fire me just for being transgender. My big coming out to the world would have to wait.