Behind family, coming out and transitioning in the workplace can be the hardest step to take when fully transitioning gender. The fear of losing financial independence, along with decades of experience and accumulated qualifications can often hold trans folk from taking this major step.
There are cases where some people decide that the risk is too great and continue to work using their previous identity and then live in their identified gender in all other aspects of their lives. Wendy Carlos, the musician responsible for “Switched-on Bach” did exactly this for many years. However, it can cause significant dysphoria when having to present in a gender that does not match their identified gender.
Others leave behind their (sometimes highly skilled) jobs and apply for menial roles because they are afraid of associating their old identity to their new one. There can be fear of being misgendered, misnamed or simply judged if qualifications show an old name that indicates a different gender from which the person is presenting. It can also be difficult to show that the qualifications in one name are those of the person sitting in front of you.
These things can appear to be insurmountable when you’re sitting looking at them in front of you, but many can be overcome with care and forethought.
There are several important things to keep in mind when looking at transitioning in the workplace.
- Be open and honest with your employer
- Take the time to prepare your coworkers
- Be prepared to educate
- Mistakes and misgendering WILL happen
- Be patient
1. Be open and honest with your employer
If you are transitioning within your current workplace, it is vital to be open with your employer, and be honest about how you feel and your identity. It is easier to have this understood before you speak to your employer so that they can have a clearer understanding of what they can and need to do to make your transition easier.
2. Take the time to prepare your coworkers
Imagine if you suddenly turned up to work wearing a dress, with no warning to your coworkers. What would they think? The chances are that they would think that you were doing a huge prank on them. Even if at that point, you tried to explain the situation to them, they would likely remain extremely uncomfortable and not entirely able to take you seriously.
It’s important to work with your employer to give notice to your coworkers, to explain what will happen and the reasons why. Give them time to ask questions, to try to understand. One of the biggest factors in acceptance is when someone is given the chance to understand why. Which leads on to the next topic.
3. Be prepared to educate
The chances are that your workplace knows little to nothing about trans people, and what little they do know is undoubtedly wrong. The most common image that people have in their heads is of drag queens with bright pink wigs, heavy makeup and sequins. Of course, there is nothing wrong with any of that, but for the most part, that’s not what trans people are.
4. Mistakes and misgendering WILL happen
No matter how well you have prepared your workplace, no matter how accepting everyone is of you in your new identity, if you have worked with these people for any length of time as your previous identity, they WILL accidentally call you by your old name, or use the wrong pronouns.
The chances are that it’s not intentional or malicious in any way, they simply have a mental model of “you”, and it needs time to update. This can take time.
5. Be patient
This is perhaps the single most important point. Remember that you have had a lifetime to understand who you are and how you feel. Your coworkers have exactly as long as when you first told them you were transgender. They need time to adapt and assimilate.
Even years afterward, people will make the odd mistake. When that happens and they correct themselves straight away, then just let it go. They KNOW who you are, they know they made a mistake. Beating them over the head with it will help no-one, and especially the comfort levels of those around you.
While your first thought may be that transitioning in the workplace is about you, it’s actually about your employer and your coworkers. Give them the information that they need to understand, time to take it on board and be patient with them as you transition and work with them into the future.