Thinking about coming out as trans at work.
January 12, 2012 11:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm about to start working at old job. I'm thinking about coming out as trans during interview. Any thoughts?

Next week I'm going to "interview" for a job. I have a 99% chance of getting hired, the interview is really just a formality. I know the manager and I worked there about a year and a half ago but under a different manager. This is a cookie/pretzel store in a mall.

Right now, I guess I'm living part time as a woman. It's complicated but let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up. I'm out to most of my friends and family. Most of them use my preferred pronouns and name. I dress very casually in t-shirts and jeans and mostly get either not gendered or gendered male but this seems to be happening less. For more 'formal' occasions like parties or church I dress more feminine and wear make-up. I "pass" more often in these cases. I am on hrt. I have not had facial hair removed.

Currently my id has my birth name and gender on it. I'm planning on getting my name changed this year. I don't know if I can get my gender changed since I'm non-op and think my state requires some sort of surgery before allowing change of a person's gender marker.

Socially I'm living as a woman. Publicly I fall into a bit of a gray area. Legally I'm still male.

Complication: I am currently cast in a production of The Vagina Monologues. I really want to be in the play because there are no visible trans people in my city. Most people are very clueless when it comes to trans people. I want to do the play to raise trans awareness at least a little.

My roommate tells me that if I'm not ready to come out at work I shouldn't and I should just say I'm involved with a production at the college but not say what production or say I'm working backstage.

I kind of really don't want to hide the fact that I'm transgender any more. I don't think the manager would not hire me or decide to fire me over being trans or for doing the play but this might be a case of better safe than sorry.
posted by Konani to Work & Money (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Two steps.

1. Get hired.
2. Come out as trans when and if you are ready. College play is a fine cover if you want it.

Doesn't work in reverse order.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:43 PM on January 12, 2012 [11 favorites]

Well, if you already know these people and don't think there will be any consequences of coming out to them, then by all means, I don't see why you shouldn't do it.

However, I'd probably err on the side of caution myself. Especially if you aren't a hundred percent sure you'll get the job.
posted by Trexsock at 11:46 PM on January 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I know the manager, the two assistant managers and one shift leader. The other dozen or so people are unknowns to me. I've asked the shift leader who is a good friend of mine how he thinks they would react. He hasn't gotten back to me yet.
posted by Konani at 12:01 AM on January 13, 2012

You're well over-thinking this and adding drama where you do not need to.

I say this as someone who has dated seriously more than one trans person.

I hate to go here, but Anderson Cooper really has it. Just be yourself, don't explain, this has NOTHING to do with your professional career or part-time job, or whatever. They are hiring you for you. Your status as "in transition" has NOTHING to do with this right now. Just absolutely nothing. It is NONE of your employers business. Wait. I'm gonna cap and bold that...


They know you already. No further explanation necessary.

You're taking this too far, which is understandable! But it is still wrong in terms of your best interest. It's not like it won't be obvious as your transition progresses, I don't know why you want to stir up drama. Go as you go. Everyone will adapt to your change accordingly. Be about your comfort - not theirs.


Oops. So you already let the cat out of the bag? Meh. Still go with my plan. Assistant manager friend probably hasn't got back to you because he's flummoxed.

Don't confuse your job with your gender.

If you treat it professionally as a non-issue, others will (mostly) take your cue and just keep on. If you make your eligibility for being hired about your gender status, that is all anyone will focus on.

You really have a choice about how you want to handle this. Just do your thing and don't make it a big deal before/if it becomes a big deal. By making it a big deal now, you pre-empt any chance everyone will be supportive towards you.
posted by jbenben at 12:14 AM on January 13, 2012 [20 favorites]

Response by poster: My friend already knew I was transgender; so the cat has come no further out of the bag than it already was out. Part of my thought was that it would create less drama to introduce myself as myself rather than wait and suddenly ask everyone to use different pronouns and name for me.
posted by Konani at 12:29 AM on January 13, 2012

Job interviews are normally not a place for discussions of gender and sexuality, and ideally, they wouldn't be in your case either. So I'd strongly suggest not bringing it up.

On the other hand, you're going to be judged on your self-presentation, both right away and throughout your employment--unfortunately, that's normal in all cases. So given that this is a pretty huge deal in your life and you kind of want to get the recognition/acceptance over with more than you want the job, it probably makes sense to test the waters by applying a few of what you consider modest formal touches to your appearance, bearing in mind that a pretzel place isn't actually a venue for significant identity performances. Be about as subtle as you'd expect others to be with their expressions of difference, i.e. not invisible as who they are, but not overtly challenging either (indeed, for an interview, pretty much lathered in signs of submission to cultural norms to counterbalance the hints at snowflakeness).

Good luck.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 12:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have worked with a non-op transwoman some years ago. She was on hormones, already had a rather female voice and bodyshape, but a clearly male name (and no nicknames or gender neutral short forms of it) and dressed very casually (jeans and t-shirt). She was well accepted and liked by the office (about 30 employees). However, she never really "came out" in a way that allowed a non-awkward conversation, i.e. asking if she had a female name picked or if she would prefer if we referred to her with female pronouns.
We had to stick with the male name and the quite confusing "Mister" - especially if customers called who only knew her voice assumed she was... well, a woman, it was a very awkward situation.
Everyone, including our superiors, wished she would "make things official" and just tell us "you know guys, please call me (female first name) and refer to me as a woman".

If you are about to change your name legally and are already out to your friends and family, and have plans to be active in trans-related awareness... by all means, talk to your boss. If these people already know you, they might even hope for that to avoid awkward situations like I described above. People might already accept you as a woman, but may not know how to talk about it. Give them that chance. It makes it easier and less awkward for everyone involved.
posted by MinusCelsius at 1:18 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Bottom line: NO ONE at work wants to hear about your gender or your sexuality. That is not what you are there for. YOu are there to do a job, not stir up feelings/ask for acceptance of your gender

If you showed up to an interview as transgender and made a big deal of it, and I was the hiring manager, I WOULD NOT HIRE you, even if I knew you. Why? Because work is not the place for drama and this would be a big big indication that you would let your personal life distract you from what you should be focusing on, which is doing the job that you are paid to do! So basically the transgender thing is a red herring - the drama and lack of professionalism is the issue.

So, TDLR: No great dramatic reveal at the job interview, if you want the job. If you want a great moment of drama and potentially damage your professional reputation, go ahead and knock yourself out.
posted by zia at 1:50 AM on January 13, 2012

Oh, you know, what mostly struck me about this question was the professionalism issue of over-sharing personal matters in a job interview and it being preferable to project who you are as a simple, implied matter of fact. But it does seem to me that saying "oh, one thing--it's not official yet, but the name I usually go by is ____" might work as an effective and appropriate way to pretty much say it all. It could backfire, but at least it's something a divorcee or whatever could say just as matter of factly.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:17 AM on January 13, 2012 [10 favorites]

Do it. If it affects your chance at being hired, I'd say they don't deserve you. You hide it now, its going to be harder to stop hiding it later.
posted by seanyboy at 2:21 AM on January 13, 2012

I vote for no. If you come out during a job interview, they are likely to think
- you are asking for permission to present as female on the job, or
- you think being trans is relevant to the interview, since if they knew, they might not want to hire you

Putting into their minds the matter of whether they should or shouldn't hire a trans person may cause them to have second thoughts and start visualising some kind of mass boycott by phobic customers. Somehow by bringing the matter up yourself, you give them more social permission to bring it up themselves.

If you tell them later, on the job, it's clearer that you are just trying to avoid confusion and letting them know what name and pronouns to use. Plus, it's much more socially awkward to fire you for being trans than it is to invent an excuse not to hire you after all.
posted by emilyw at 2:33 AM on January 13, 2012 [8 favorites]

I would not mention it in the interview unless it somehow impacts your ability to do your job, which I assume it does not. If you want to bring it up before you start at the job, I'd suggest doing it after you have a job offer in hand as a "by the way, just so y'all know" sort of thing that happens as part of the hiring process. But you don't even have to do that if you're not comfortable with it.

Do you live in a place where gender expression is covered under non-discrimination laws, or does the company include it in their nondiscrimination policy?
posted by rmd1023 at 4:13 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I agree with jbenben in principle but, as a practical matter, it seems that it would head off much confusion and discomfort to take the approach advised by MinusCelsius.
posted by jayder at 5:18 AM on January 13, 2012

Out at Work
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:30 AM on January 13, 2012

Coming out at a job interview is inappropriate unless you feel it is important to mention it as it relates to your job duties. It's as if you are asking two separate questions here, one about coming out at work - which you have not, I repeat, have not secured yet - and one about actually getting the job.

Your job is not the place to put a line in the sand, the place to make a social statement, or a place to make a political statement. You are going to be slinging cookies and pretzels in the mall. No one cares about your gender expression unless you make them care - and by shoving your activism down their throats, they're going to be forced to care. By forcing them to care by bringing all of this up either at your interview or at your work if you're hired, all you're doing is polarizing your coworkers and giving them a reason to want to avoid you... not because you're transgendered but because seriously, no one wants to be around that guy or gal in the office that toots about their chosen cause all the time. They'll start wanting to get shifts away from you, the manager will notice that no one wants to share a shift with you, and your job will go away. If I were an astute manager and noticed a propensity towards this in my interview, I wouldn't hire you. You're there to sling cookies and pretzels, and get along well with others.

(This happens to all sorts of people vocal about non-work-appropriate things, including evangelicals and people under a protected class. Firing those people for causing a disruptive workplace holds up in court nearly every time. So if you do get hired and choose to make your shop the front lines of your new trans-paradise and alienate people, you are likely to get fired. Don't come back here and ask if you can sue your boss for discrimination, because you can, but you'll lose.)

This is not a career. You are slinging food at a mall. Let everyone just sling their food, go sling your food, live your life. Stop thinking of everything you experience as a platform upon which to overshare your trans experience. It's unlikely that anyone cares about your trans experience at the cookie and pretzel shop at the mall. They just want to work their shift, leave, and get paid. Just like you. Your manager just wants to keep the shop running and hire employees that will satisfactorily sling cookies and pretzels. Get in the way of that, you've lost the job.
posted by juniperesque at 6:15 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Of course it relates to the job directly. As far as I understand, it's a job with direct customer contact. So this isn't just something you can "work out privately" with a boss; customers WILL notice and people WILL ask. Therefore, it is much less confusing to them if they never knew a male name or male person for that matter. I would probably talk to your boss if it is possible to use your female name even before legally changing it, so this won't become a "Good morning... Jennifer?! Didn't your name tag say Jeremy yesterday?" deal for customers, which would possibly lead to explaining yourself over and over again.
If there's a "Jennifer" working at the bakery who looks a bit guy-ish for a woman, most if not all customers will be too polite to mention it. Even if you'd flash a fancy beard, they'd rather think to themselves "that poor woman" than pointing at you and scream "look everyone, I believe this woman is really a man".
By being out to your boss and people you work with, you are less in a position to parade the trans awareness around, which is what most people here seem to see as a red flag. (So do I, slamming your gender identity into everyone's face doesn't raise awareness, it makes you annoying. And THAT could become a dealbreaker for customers. A woman with facial hair? Not so much.)
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:25 AM on January 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't bring it up at the interview. Know that they're not allowed to ask you about it at the interview. As others have pointed out, the interview is about your ability to do the job well, not about your gender.

But on your first day at work, that's when actually doing your job enjoyably starts being about having good interactions with your fellow employees and managers, as well as customers. Be clear about what you'd like to be called, what other names you might go by, what type of clothing is appropriate for you to wear to work (i.e. if you wore a skirt would that be a dress code violation?) and generally let people know that they don't have to talk about you behind your back, you're perfectly happy to talk about anything they want.
posted by aimedwander at 7:08 AM on January 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, for goodness sake. This is simple: don't mention it at the job interview, mention it on the first day, AFTER they have given you the job. It's fine to express your gender identity at work; it's what pretty much everybody does. But there really isn't any benefit to be gained from telling them at the interview, and at worst, they'll hastily construct an excuse to not hire you.

I am kind of horrified by all the people here saying that this shouldn't ever be mentioned at work. I mean, this:
NO ONE at work wants to hear about your gender or your sexuality.
is absolute tosh. I hear about my work colleague's gender and sexuality all the time - particularly when they get married or reproduce or other straight-people stuff. Some of them even have the nerve to express their gender identity in their choice of clothing! I can't think of a charitable way to interpret the above statement so that it doesn't read:
NO ONE at work wants to hear about your [non-standard] gender or your [deviant] sexuality.
Now, I imagine this kind of person is often easy to win over once they're actually forced to confront their privilege and subjected to a couple of weeks of your mundane, not-very shocking trans existence. But make sure you give them the chance to get this exposure by not bringing it up until you're safely in the door.
posted by Acheman at 7:26 AM on January 13, 2012 [14 favorites]

"There are no visible trans people in my city. Most people are very clueless when it comes to trans people."

Are trans people legally protected from discrimination where you will be working? In most places in this country, it is entirely legal for an employer to discriminate against you for being trans. Awful but true.

I really recommend that you not talk to your employer until you are formally hired. If this is a franchise or a chain, wait until the paperwork has been sent to corporate. In this economy, your manager is going to have a lot of people to choose from, and it would be really easy for this person to choose another candidate if it looks like you might cause trouble. If you choose to come out as trans at work, you want the manager to be choosing between "keeping on a good worker" and "firing someone due to prejudice." That set of choices will work in your favor better than "hire trans lady" vs "hire boring candidate #6."

It's really okay to not talk about it during the interview. Traditionally, even in a informal interview, you'll want to be selling yourself as a good contribute to the team. Nothing more.
posted by catalytics at 7:32 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not that no one at work wants to hear about your gender or your sexuality, though it's true that there will be many people for whom this is true. It's not necessarily true that no one wants to hear about your "non-standard" gender or your "deviant" (I reject this term, by the way) sexuality, but I'd argue that it doesn't belong in the workplace because the explaining of this obviously complex issue takes away from the work at hand.

But I think it's fair to say that it is true that no one at work wants to hear about your activism and "cause of choice" while they are working, and doing so creates a work environment which is disruptive at best. No one buying a cookie from you is going to care if you look like a woman, look like a man, look ambiguous, look like a man but are wearing makeup, look like a woman but have an adam's apple. No one is going to look at your nametag. They want a cookie. At the mall.

If customers are going to "notice" (notice what, exactly?) and comment, it's fine to say, "That's just the way I look. Here's your cookie." If a coworker brings it up to you, you can say "I identify as transgendered. Do you have any ones? My drawer is out." If your boss brings it up, you can say, "I identify as transgendered, but it doesn't disrupt my work unless someone hassles me about it, and then I change the subject so we can get our work done."
posted by juniperesque at 7:40 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I said above that I thought coming out was appropriate at work, but not a good idea in an interview. When I said that, I was imagining the kind of coming out where you say that even though they currently know you as Bob, you are now going by Betty and prefer female pronouns.

Various other people above seem to think that "coming out" would perhaps involve showing up in fishnets and a three foot high wig, waving political placards, or spending all your working hours educating your fellow pretzel sellers in the finer points of Gender Studies 101. I agree with those people above that none of those things would be terribly appropriate at work.

No one cares about your gender expression

In my experience, when presented with a person of ambiguous gender, in fact almost everyone is DYING to know what the correct pronoun is. Just watch people's reactions to babies wearing gender-neutral clothing!

Certainly, if a friend introduces an apparently trans lady to me as Bob I will want to find out privately whether Bob is really the name I should be using and I'll feel embarrassed at the possibility of unwittingly using the wrong name.

So I think it's completely appropriate to put people out of their misery on those fronts. I still don't think it's a great idea to do it at a job interview.
posted by emilyw at 7:58 AM on January 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

After they inform you that you're hired, can you say, "Thanks, by the way, I am living as a woman and am in the process of legally changing my name, so please call me Jennifer and put that on my nametag."

(I don't have experience with this. But that seems to me to be a drama-less but clear way of bringing it up, and as a lawyer, of course I have it in the back of my head that they know they'll be in trouble if they fire you after that.)
posted by chickenmagazine at 8:11 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I disagree with what it seems to me that some people here are saying, that simply letting people know what name and pronouns you want to use is equivalent to over-sharing or activism or drama or whatever. Sure, it may come off that way to some people, and you should be aware of that-- but just like it's unfair and oversensitive to claim that gays are flaunting their sexuality in your face when they use the appropriate pronoun for their partner, if people treat your being openly trans as inappropriate for work then they're the ones who are acting inappropriately, not you. I'm not making a comment on the wisdom or practicality of it-- I don't feel like I have the right experience to give much input on that-- but just to emphasize that I don't think you should feel like you're doing something inappropriately political for work just by being yourself.

I think some of the people who say "don't make an announcement, just show up as your trans self" may be missing that you have worked with some of these people in the past under a different name and pronouns, correct? So it seems like you'd need to have some level of explanation or "coming out" process (to at least some people) at some point. And you're probably right that it's less drama to do it at the beginning than later on (although again, that's not to say that any drama caused by people adjusting to your transition would be "your fault" either.) Although that doesn't necessarily mean during the interview, you can wait until you have the job offer to be on the safe side, and then before/on your first day of work tell the managers who know you about the name and pronouns you want. (Or are you concerned that that would set up a bad dynamic with the manager(s), that they'll feel blindsided? Hopefully they'd understand, but I think talking with your friend about this is a good move, to see how he thinks they'd react and whether he thinks it would be more detrimental to be openly trans in the interview or for them to feel like you hid something from them/didn't trust them to make a fair decision.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:13 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

The time to discuss the issue is after you've been hired and before you start work. Mentioning it in the interview just gives them an opportunity to discriminate, either on purpose or unintentionally.

As for those who say "nobody cares about your gender expression," the hell they don't. EVERYONE cares about your gender expression. People, by and large, are very uncomfortable with a person of an ambiguous gender, even when that person is three weeks old.
posted by KathrynT at 9:33 AM on January 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

OP, I just think you're underestimating some stuff and over-dramatizing other stuff.

The "cat in the bag" I was referring to was not your gender status and I'm really really sorry I didn't make that clearer. The "cat" was your attitude about your gender status, that you'll be making a big deal about it instead of treating it professionally, gracefully, and in a matter-of-fact-type of way. This is a work environment.


Everyone recommending you for the job already knows you, so they already know about your transition even if you've never explicitly discussed it. They know!

It's perfect if on the first day you explain you'll be changing your name soon so please call me "X" from now on. It's OK if you answer polite questions from your co-workers who might not understand transgenderism, as long as you don't go all TMI. It's ok for you to freeze out any comments or questions that are unkind. It's not OK for you to get into great depth or detail about where you are in your transition in a job interview. Like I said, it's already obvious something is going on for you gender-wise, they get it. Believe me, they get it.

This is a job in a mall. Presumably, there is a uniform or apron that both sexes wear when on duty. See? Same uniform for both men and women on duty means it really doesn't matter beyond saying, " I prefer to be called X name now. Thanks!"

Give yourself and everyone a chance by relaxing a bit about your transition. If you approach it as the most natural thing in the world (because being true to yourself is a totally natural act) then everyone you interact with has a chance to meet you at that level.

Yes not everyone is going to be cool with you, but by being cool yourself, you make any negativity soley about the person being negative.

Hope the clarification helped.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 10:30 AM on January 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a paranoid sort, so I would definitely not mention at the interview. Hell, I wouldn't mention until after my work probation was up-- but I don't know if probation periods exist at retail jobs or not given how people move in and out of them. I do think it is fairly likely that you run the risk of not being hired or "not being a good fit" or whatever if you weird them out early on, because they can always come up with some reason to get rid of you and really be thinking that the gender thing is weirding them out and they don't wanna deal. I'd get into the job, let them all get to know you these days, not just the people who already do, and THEN go into an official transition at work.

I also think it's a bit of a challenge that you are not going for full on transition at this point. I'm not saying you need surgery or whatever, but if you're a part time guy and part time girl right now and don't plan on going 100% public girl for whatever reasons right now, that is kind of confusing to folks. I'd probably suggest transitioning at the place where you make your living when you are going more official, like getting a legal name change or possibly attemping to get the birth certificate/other official crap changed. Then everyone kind of "has" to go along with it, rather than being all "Joe now wants to be Jane, but Joe is still technically a Joe, so I'm gonna blow that off" about it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:15 PM on January 13, 2012

Best answer: One of my coworkers is transgender (MTF) and she came out after she got the job. I was hired after her so I don't know what her work life was like prior to coming out as transgender, but what I can tell you is that many of us at our workplace love her for who she is which encompasses her personality, values, honesty, wisdom, her strength for having the courage to come out and make changes so that her body matches her mind. But, my point is that we love her for who she is and the different aspects of her identity.

My best advice is to do what feels right for you and only come out on your own terms and when you are ready to do so. Don't disclose every detail unless people ask, I say this because you do not owe anyone an explanation for who you are. Word travels around fast and I say this to anyone regardless of their identity, but this is your workplace and as wonderful as work relationships can be, only disclose if you trust the person and if you disclose early then only say things that you are comfortable with others finding out about because word travels quickly.

If you don't want to hide the fact that you are transgender then be open about it. The first thing that you can do is say something about your name and pronouns. It seems like these employees and the management team like you for who you are and if you want to share this other component of your identity with them then do it! It doesn't have to be some big declaration, but get the job first which it already seems like you will be hired based on the fact that this interview is just a formality (as you said).

In regards to the play, just bring it up casually by saying something like "I'm going to be in a cool play (or whatever you want to say)" and the other person will respond by saying something like "that's exciting! what's the play called?" to which you can respond by saying "the vagina monologues!" and then they will probably ask you what your role will be/what you're going to be doing/how you are involved in the play and you can tell them about your role. If they seem genuinely interested, open minded, and supportive then you can let them know why this play is important to you. But, if they seem otherwise just say something like "yeah, I'm really excited about it!"
posted by livinglearning at 2:13 PM on January 13, 2012

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