The Perils of My Coming out as Transgender at Work – Part II
Life at work was absolutely miserable. After it had seemed I had the company’s full support to come out at work, they had pulled the rug out from under me. My planned date to email my coworkers announcing my transition with my new name and pronouns had come and gone. I would not be coming to work as my true self. At the last minute, my HR department had told me I was not allowed to send the email because of HIPPA laws, something that does not apply to an Internet company. They had also let my friend, a transgender male, do exactly what I had wanted to do without issue. I was perplexed as to why my situation would be any different.
After I had totally destroyed the merits of their reasoning, the real battle had begun. They wouldn’t respond to email or return my phone calls. I had to wait for them to call me at my home when I wasn’t at work, and they would never tell me when they would be calling. I had quickly figured out what was going on. They wanted no paper trail of any of these discussions. It was like I was dealing with the FBI. Roughly every two weeks, I would hear from my HR person and the interim director at my office. I would ask a simple question and each time they would tell me they would have to call me back. I soon realized that this was because they would go back to their legal department every time I had had a question or had tried to propose an alternative way to make the situation work.
"I KNEW IF I DIDN’T FIGHT THIS BATTLE, WHAT WAS HAPPENING WITH ME WOULD HAPPEN TO THE NEXT PERSON IN MY POSITION."
Over the next nine months, the time between hearing from HR and the interim director would grow longer and longer. I felt I had no choice but to keep trying to work things out. I had no confidence that I would be able to find another job in the middle of my transition and I was simply too scared to take the chance. My depression was at an all time high, but I had to keep pushing forward. It was clear that my employers just wanted me to go away so they wouldn’t have to deal with me, but what was going on was much bigger than myself. I knew if I didn’t fight this battle, what was happening with me would happen to the next person in my position. This fight was bigger than me and I had to press forward. In the meantime, I would continue to transition full force outside of work.
The hormones were really starting to show their effects. I would go to work with my hair slicked back in a ponytail and I began to wear baggy clothes to hide my body. Once my chest started to grow I began to bind, using compression shirts and anything else I could think of to hide the changes. After all I had been through to finally be the woman I was meant to be, I was now cross-dressing as a man at work. Every day had become a dysphoria trigger. My wife would do everything she could to help me get out the door each day. Every time I had thought about giving up or ending my life, she would somehow find a way to convince me to keep going. To this day, I can’t wear my hair in a ponytail because it brings back the thought of that time in my life and it triggers my dysphoria.
Over time, the changes were getting more difficult to hide. I looked like a little kid wearing their father’s clothes as I was losing weight and my body was changing. Still, there was no way I was ever going to buy even one piece of male clothing ever again, so I just dealt with it. At this point I was getting strange questions from coworkers. One had noticed how my skin had changed. Another asked me why my hairline was filling in. I was constantly being told how different I look. The questions kept coming. At one point I just flat out told someone I was transgender and they had just laughed and walked away.
Eventually my old director stopped by for a visit. He was the person who originally told me I had their full support before it all went to hell. I told him about the HIPPA laws and he said he did not know why they would even say that. After pressing hard on the issue, he finally admitted that the company was worried about getting sued for supporting my transition, as it might offend employees with certain religious beliefs. I was absolutely dumbfounded at his answer. He advised that there was nothing he could do about it as this was coming from the highest levels of the company. Technically, they could legally still fire me for being transgender and I didn’t have much of a leg to stand on.
I had tried reaching out to whatever resources I could find, which were minimal. I spoke with Lambda Legal and told them what was going on, but they didn’t seem to want to help and stopped returning my calls. I was on my own. The length of time between speaking with HR had grown from weeks to months and we were getting absolutely nowhere.
"I WAS LIVING FULL TIME AS MYSELF OUTSIDE OF WORK, BUT I WAS AFRAID TO GO ANYWHERE TOO PUBLIC OUT OF FEAR OF A COWORKER SEEING ME AND OUTING ME TO THE ENTIRE COMPANY."
I was living full time as myself outside of work, but I was afraid to go anywhere too public out of fear of a coworker seeing me and outing me to the entire company. Though considering what was going on it might have been a good last resort, I wanted to come out on my own terms. In a sense I was in self-exile, but at least I was exiled as me. It was not until one Saturday morning when my wife had wanted to stop at a mall to pick something up. She asked me to come in with her and I responded with my usual, “I can’t. Knowing my luck someone from work will be there.” She was persistent and convinced me that the odds of me running into someone at that hour were minimal, so I went in.
Of course, as soon as we walk into the store I run right into a fellow supervisor. I was a complete mess and did not know what to do. He said hello to me and I responded with a quick “hi” as I literally turned around and walked right out of the store. It would be a long almost 24 hours as I stayed up all night waiting for him to arrive at work the next morning at his desk at 6:00 AM. I apologized for being so strange and proceeded to tell him I was transgender. He was great about the whole thing. He told me he thought our coworkers would be supportive and that he had my back. My secret was safe with him. Crisis averted.
The whole experience of running into a coworker was just the scare I needed. It was time to take matters into my own hands. That Monday morning, I barged into the HR director’s office. “I am coming in!’ I said as she locked at me in shock. “I am coming in as me next Monday, and if anyone has anything to say about it or even gives me a crooked look, I am sending them to your office to deal with it.” The woman began to tear up. At that moment I knew she was being forced to put me through the hell I had experienced for the past nine months. “And I want to know why you treated my transgender male coworker differently than me,” I said. “ So let’s figure this out right now, because if you have to go back to the lawyers for two weeks, I am going to have to call mine.” At this point this woman was visibly crying. “Why do you think they treated you differently?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I responded. “Boys club? You can join it but you can’t leave it?” As she pulled it together she responded, “Sounds about right.” She assured me that I would have an answer the next morning. I again assured her I am coming in as myself regardless, but I was willing to hear what they came back with. It would be just one more day of waiting.
Read Part III - The conclusion: