I just about had enough. After being told by my company’s HR department and management that I had their support to come out at work, they did a 180-degree turn and told me I was not allowed to. My plan was to email all my coworkers and announce my transition along with my new name and pronouns. This is something they allowed a transgender male coworker of mine to do just six months previously. In my case however, they decided they were uncomfortable with me emailing my peers, and told me that I would have to hold off until the situation could be worked out. Though they were paying me under my new legal name, I was still listed in every system of the company under my deadname. It had been nine months of phone calls and waiting for my human resources department to confer with the corporation’s legal team to get an answer to the simplest questions. It was going nowhere and it was time to force the issue.
I had stormed into the HR manager’s office and told them in a week I would be coming in as myself, and that they would have to deal with any repercussions as they wouldn’t let me come out any other way. I agreed to give them one more day to work things out; otherwise I would be taking legal action. This was it. This matter would be resolved one way or the other.
The next day, the HR manager called me into her office. She told me that the company would allow me to email the other supervisors and senior management, but not anyone else. That left out literally thousands of coworkers, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I accepted the offer. I emailed all my peers. I pulled all the overnight teams into the conference room and came out to them in groups and they were all amazing about it. I had already known what good people they were, so though I was eternally grateful I was not shocked that I had everyone’s support. Monday would be my big day. I was coming in as myself, even if half the company still did not know about my transition. My best hope would be that company gossip would get the message out to everyone else.
"I HAD WASTED SO MUCH OF MY LIFE BEING AFRAID, AND AT THIS MOMENT THE FEAR WAS ALL GONE."
Monday came and I was a bucket of nerves. I had spent hours getting my makeup right and making sure I had the right outfit. I only had one shot at making a first impression. At the same time, I was also elated. Never again in my life would I have to cross-dress as man or wear male clothing. I would finally be me, all the time, everywhere. I had reached the point where I didn’t care what anyone thought, or what anyone had to say. I just wanted to start existing fully. I had wasted so much of my life being afraid, and at this moment the fear was all gone.
As soon as I arrived at work, my manager was standing there waiting for me with a big smile on her face. She led me into a conference room where all the overnight teams and supervisors were waiting. They had a big cake that said “Welcome Mila,” and they gave me a beautiful gold necklace that had my name written in script. It was absolutely beautiful. I was completely overwhelmed. As I had always known, my peers were some of the best people I had ever met in my life, and I am not sure what life would have been like if I didn’t have their support. The only problems I had experienced with any coworkers were those who were upset that they did not receive the coming out email. I had to explain how management wouldn’t let me, and many of them were angry that they had put me through what they did. That was the issue with this job, though so many good people worked there, upper management was the complete opposite.
I was on cloud nine. My coming out day at work went better than I could have ever imagined. It was almost as though all the pain I had gone through over the previous nine months had been worth it, almost. The next day I came out to the entire world as transgender with a great big Facebook post. The day after that, I started Transgender Universe and wrote my first weekly rant about Sylvia Rivera. Over the next year I would learn to navigate what it was like to be a woman working in the corporate world. It was a completely different experience than I was used to. I ended up having to work ten times harder than I ever did just to get the recognition that was often just handed to me when I was presenting as male, but is was all well worth it. A year later I would earn a performance bonus for having one of the best performing teams in the company. I used the money to create a non-profit, The Transgender Resource Center of Long Island and began to help as many people in the community as I possibly could. I wanted something good to come out of the horrible experience I had, and this was the best thing I could do.
My company would end up being bought out by another provider from Europe. Over the next year I would watch as all the senior management people who were behind my miserable experience were either let go or packaged out. I would have literally held the door for some of them. My hope was that the new company would be better. Over time I would realize nothing had changed. Gender identity was still not listed as covered in their anti-discrimination policies. There was no medical coverage for anything transgender related. Though I was finally myself, there was no future there for me. I decided to face my fears of not finding work somewhere else and resign my position. That was a year ago this month.
My new director had asked me if there was anything he could do to make me stay, but I told him there was nothing that could be done. My future was ahead of me somewhere else. The company didn’t grant me an exit interview as they normally did for every other employee, so I stormed into the HR office one last time. This time there was a new HR director and after she also asked me if there was anything she could do to get me to stay, I politely said no and began to explain why. I explained that I was transgender and they didn’t even protect people like me in their discrimination policies. I told her about the HRC Corporate Equality index and how they weren’t even listed even though they were a fortune 500 company. I let her know that the company’s healthcare didn’t cover people like myself and I was glad to see her intently writing everything down. I let her know that most likely there were more people like myself in the company but they were probably terrified to come out because of their horrible policies. I gave her my new card for the Transgender Resource Center and told her to call me if they ever want to be educated and join the 21st century.
"IN MY NEW JOB I AM JUST MYSELF, WITH NO HISTORY, NO MISGENDERING, AND NO PROBLEMS. I AM SIMPLY JUST MILA. "
Eventually I would find a new job working overnight so I could run both the center and Transgender Universe during the day. Though I don’t ever get much sleep, life is certainly better. In my new job I am just myself, with no history, no misgendering and no problems. I am simply just Mila. I am not sure what I has been so afraid of for all that time I has wasted.
Six moths after I had left my old position, a former coworker reached out to me. She told me she was transgender and that she wanted to come out at my old company. I met with her and told her what had happened to me with the hope that things would go better for her if she knew my experience. A few months later I would see her again, and this time she was excited. The company had updated their discrimination policy to include gender identity and they were even starting LGBT groups within the organization. It seems as though my fight with this company had a purpose after all. Things were changing there, and if I had something to do with it I am very proud of it.
What I learned through this experience is that activism isn’t always what we think. We look at activism through the lens of political rallies and marches, but we rarely see the activism right in front of our faces. Sometimes the fight is in our own bubbles that exist around us. It may be a battle with your job or maybe even with family, but if we can somehow get through to these people and fight the little battles around us, we have a chance to create change. Activism does not have to always take place on a massive scale; sometimes it is a few hundred people at a job or a few members of our family who who’s understanding we can change. I saw things through with my job because I realized my outcome would affect the next person. The first one through the wall always gets bloodied, but still somebody has to be the first.