Coming out to family and friends was one thing, coming out at work was an entirely different experience.
At the time I came out my job involved interacting with a large, diverse group of people, and jobs as well as counterparts in other organizations, the public, and the media. Additionally, I was living in a small community in northern Alberta Canada. Coming out seemed fraught, complicated, and terrifying but I was stunned by the kindness and support I found instead.
Ultimately I have been very impressed, pleasantly surprised, and totally content with the way the process of coming out at work unfolded for me. Most importantly there are some parts of it that are generally repeatable and transferable across a number of fields.
Here’s a list of general things to consider if you’re going to come out at work:
- Ensure the company or organization you work for will support you as a trans person. In Canada as of 2017, if employers wish to be compliant with Federal legislation, they cannot discriminate against trans people. Check your local applicable laws and become an expert.
- Speak with your Human Resources contact and your boss in advance. Secure support from them and then discuss a plan to go forward, make sure you know what you want from your employer in advance.
- Pick a date to come out. I picked March 31 because it was International Transgender Day of Visibility.
- Plan for practical matters, does IT need to be informed for network or username changes? Will you need a new email? New business cards? How will you deal with updating clients, subcontractors, freelancers, or associates? How will you dress? Are there policies or requirements around clothing?
- Get a good night’s sleep the night before you come out.
- Stick around and be visible afterwards. Hard as it was I’m glad I came to work the days and weeks after I came out. It showed people that though things were different, I hadn’t changed, my work hadn’t changed, it was just a new name and pronoun.
All of that will depend upon the specifics of your location, the laws in place, the place you work for, and a number of other factors. The following are some more specific details on how I came out last year.
Policy in Place
About a year before I actually came out to anyone in my workplace there was an update to our harassment policies. Policies were modernized and much of the definitions section included the language of Alberta’s recently updated Human Rights Act. That included specific reference to discrimination based on “gender identity,” or “gender expression.”
At that time there were no Federal protections in place. Since then Bill C16 has become law and now protects all transgender-Canadians in the workforce.
With those policies in place I felt much more confident that I would not be quietly let go if I came out as trans it also meant that at an macro level discrimination, bullying, open transphobia wasn’t ok. How that would look if implemented depends on if there is institutional will to use policy to protect marginalized workers. Where I work, there is a managerial culture that prohibits discrimination of all kinds.
All of that made me feel like it was safe to come out, next I had to start telling people.
The first person at work I outed myself to was Human Resources. While they were supportive they had no specific experience with trans or gender non-conforming employees, which was fine because they were very willing to learn.
What I learned is that within the Human Resources world, professionally, there are supports and resources to support both trans employees and transition in the workplace. It requires only the willingness to learn new things and to seek out that info.
Next, I began telling the women in my immediate work area this was for two reasons: Firstly, if anyone had any questions or issues I could try to address them one on one and in private. Secondly, it would mean switching the bathroom I used, wanting to avoid any uncomfortable surprises, I let people know in advance.
To my relief no one had an issue, everyone was supportive and no one cared about the bathroom thing.
The final ally I would need was my boss.
Back in late-January 2017, I asked my boss for, “a few minutes to chat about something.” We went to their office and closed the door and sat down. I waited a few moments unsure what to say then suddenly the words, “I’m transgender,” lept from my mouth.
We talked for about 20 minutes. During that time it was made clear that my boss supported me completely in my plan to transition. This was an incredible weight off my shoulder. While I never suspected there would be an issue, it is one of those things where you do not really know how people will react until you tell them.
Next, it was time to prepare to tell a broad audience at the same time.
Email seemed like the most effective medium of communication. So beginning in February 2017, I started drafts of emails I would send out.
I wrote one that was sent internally to everyone organization-wide. Due to my job, another one was written for regional media outlets. It was akin to a press release, though more of an “FYI” rather than a, “Please publish this.”
Additionally, I was assured by my organizations’ senior manager that management would be tasked with making sure all their staff knew, HR would handle any questions. In a way it was simple but it stressed the hell out of me.
The day of…
It was a Friday and I woke up at 6am showered and opened facebook. There I posted that I was trans and linked to an earlier post I had written on this blog.
I closed my laptop lid, I dried my hair and got dressed.
Just before leaving for work I logged into my webmail and opened a draft I had saved earlier, I hit send and informed area media that their contact had changed.
Sent: March-31-17 7:39 AM
To: Area Media
Subject: Communications Personnel Update
Personnel update – not a news release
It’s with great excitement today that I am officially informing people professionally that I am transgender.
As part of the transition process I am in the process of changing my name and from this point forward I will be going by the name Autumn. Additionally, I ask that when using gendered pronouns to refer or quote me that you use the feminine she/her/hers.
This will also be my last working day using this email address, future emails will come from redacted@redacted, however, redacted@redacted will remain active to redirect any emails that might go there.
Today is International Transgender Day of Visibility. Over the last decade, transgender people have made incredible strides in attaining civil rights. The most significant of which is the right to be who one is and to exist publicly. As such it felt like an appropriate day to publicly announce my transition.
If you have any questions you can contact me.
After that I went to work where it was day three of three in a professional development training course. I knew the training would last most of the work day and since I had begun the training two days earlier, for consistency I decided to wait until after it was done before emailing everyone.
During the day I also confirmed with IT that my old email was now just a referral email, a new one was set up in my new name. This meant any emails I sent would come with my new name, any emails sent to my old name would still end up in my inbox.
With the training completed and just over an hour left in the work week, I returned to my office, opened another draft I had sitting in my email, took several deep breaths, then hit send.
Sent: March 31, 2017 3:51 PM
Subject: Important Message from the former Adam
Please share the following information with staff who do not have access to email.
In addition to being the end of the month today is the annual International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV).
This year I’m taking the opportunity to announce to everyone that I am transgender.
Until recently this was something I had only disclosed to a collection of friends and immediate family. However, I feel now is the time for full disclosure and to begin a new chapter. With that in mind there are a few changes that I would like everyone to be aware of:
- I am a woman and would prefer feminine (her/she/hers) pronouns used when referencing me.
- I’m in the process of legally changing my name, and would ask that from now on you call me Autumn.
- redacted@redacted has been set up and is the email I will be working from; my old email is still active and will remain so for the foreseeable future to assist in this transition.
- If people call asking for me by my old name please transfer the call but do not out me to them. I’d like to repeat this again, if someone calls for me by my old name let me take the call but please do not correct them. I will work on a client by client basis on this.
I understand that there will be a period of adjustment and I have ample patience for all good faith efforts to use my proper name and gender. I know mistakes will happen and there will be a period of adjustment. While I appreciate that gender variance may not be something that you personally have experience with, or understand, that’s ok, you don’t need to understand. You do need to accept and respect the realities of the situation.
For me the actual process of transitioning was begun in December, and it will take three to four years to complete, likely. During that time I will start to look and present myself in a more feminine way. This is possible in no small part due to the type of organization and the culture that exists here. REDACTED certainly feels supportive and inclusive enough to have room for a trans woman on its staff.
If you have questions feel free to ask me, I really am happy to answer any questions I can.
To a new beginning!
About three minutes later the organization’s chief manager hit ‘reply all,’ and followed up with the following organization-wide.
Sent: March 31, 2017 3:54:36 PM
Subject: Re: Autumn’s Letter
Good afternoon everyone,
You will have received Autumn’s email this afternoon. Please join me in extending support to her.
We all have an obligation to create a respectful workplace. If you have any questions about acceptable conduct, I encourage you to review our policies in this regard or to speak with the Human Resources Coordinator.
That second email was significant, it was my boss’ idea and I’m glad they did it. The follow-up helped to clarify publicly that the organization and senior management supported me, without sounding heavy-handed.
In the year since…
Everything has gone as well or better than I had hoped.
In February 2017 I was racked with anxiety over what was about to happen, in February 2018 I’m calmed by the results of what did happen.
Overall things went as good or better than I had hoped. Yes occasionally people have used the wrong pronouns or name but in all cases, they were innocent mistakes. In most cases, the person made an effort to correct themselves.
The last year has been a challenge, for a number of reasons, yet I have found myself more focused and productive at work since coming out. There is a huge weight off my shoulders.