What do you wish you'd known before coming out as trans at work?
December 7, 2015 10:34 AM   Subscribe

I am a trans man and I am legally changing my name and gender marker in 2 weeks. I have still not come out at work. I am extremely anxious about this and want to hear other people's experiences. Preferably from the trans person perspective, but also HR or managers of trans people, especially in white collar environments.

Relevant: I am an IT project manager who works for a consulting company. I work onsite at our (very large, well known) client and deal with a mix of my company's employees and theirs. I have been at this client for a year and have worked for the consulting company for five years. I have a solid track record (with written positive evaluations) and my fears of being fired are most likely just paranoia. (There is an anti-discrimination ordinance in my county that covers gender ID, but obviously people still get discriminated against all the time.)

I am anxious because I interact with people all day and I need them to respect me so we can get projects completed. I have really no good sense of their attitude towards trans people - there have some positive-to-neutral comments about gay people but that doesn't always transfer over. I don't know anyone in either company who is openly LGBT although the client company has an affinity group for their employees. They are also very conscious of other types of diversity.

I don't expect any open hostility, this place is too professional and structured for that, I guess I'm just worried about people distancing themselves. I really like this job. I've built a rapport with my team and I dread the thought of losing it. I also have a ton of bathroom anxiety, for some reason running into my boss in the bathroom seems like the most awkward thing in the world.

So if you are trans - is there anything you didn't say that you wish you would have said? Things you did that you are glad you did? My gender presentation won't change; I already wear men's clothes and mostly pass as male to strangers. I will just be asking them to use a different name and pronouns. I really don't feel like doing trans 101 but I realize I may have to indulge them somewhat to keep good relations.

If you are HR or a manager of a trans person - is there a best practices way to handle this? I suppose I should talk to HR first, then my manager? There is no HR from my company on site; I will need to talk to them by phone or email. (I'm not even sure who exactly to call.) There is nothing in the company handbook about gender identity and the insurance doesn't cover trans surgeries, so even if they're not hostile they're not especially inclusive.

Thanks - my (m)email is open and confidential, if you don't want to disclose your status here.
posted by desjardins to Work & Money (10 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
You give your location as WI so I am answering based on what I know from working in the US.

My history: HR Database IT (I would be managing the database where ultimately your gender identity and name would be updated). I work for a Fortune 10 company, was the GLBT* affinity group leader for my site (2k employees) and have recently worked on a project to allow GLBT* employees to self-identify. As you can guess, this is a very sensitive topic in HR. My company has both white collar and manufacturing populations. I am in a white collar office but have worked with GLBT* people in both populations, and have a basic understanding of the nuances of coming out in both environments. I've also attended several trans 101 classes and several global open forums where trans people spoke openly about the coming out and transition process. Several of them work/worked in a similar position, where they needed to come out/transition not only internally, but to outside clients as well. I identify as cis female/pan sexuality.

This isn't legal or HR advice, and if someone with a legal background or HR background chimes in, their advice should supercede mine.

Procedure: In my company, you could start with either your manager or HR manager, but I hope HR managers can chime in for you on larger industry best practice. If you do not know who your HR manager is, you may have options - if you have a yearly performance review, you may be able to identify them from that. Additionally, your employee directory may note who the person would be. If you have no other options, you could - if you were at my company - approach any US-based HR manager and they should be able to help you.

That said, for many of the people I have listened to in forums and 101s, they started with their managers, because they had a stronger relationship with their manager. A few noted that when you do approach your manager, schedule some time - this should probably not be a 15 minute conversation (it might be, but if it were me, I would schedule an hour). Be prepared to answer the question, "What do you need from me?" "I need you to back me when I ask others to refer to me with a different name and male pronouns." "I know it may be awkward for a bit, but I need people to understand that I will be using a different restroom." - those are both legitimate requests for you to ask of your manager. Be honest and direct. Treat this as a professional encounter, because it is! It's very, very personal for you, but at work, this is a professional item.

Support: I would strongly suggest you seek out support from your workplace GLBT* group. You will be able to get additional information on company policies, and also supportive allies. In my workplace, allies wear small lapel pins, and have a sign on their office door or cube entrance. You may have something similar. I have had people come to me as an ally for all sorts of things. I help where I can (with things like I'm writing here), and refer to HR where I can't.

HR isn't always your friend in every work situation, but HR and your manager ABSOLUTELY should be your allies here. If you find that you are having issues, you should go up the chain. A smart company understands the value of all employees and how to support everyone.

Build your Team You. There are people at your workplace who want you to succeed and who want you to have as smooth a transition as possible. Seek out allies wherever you can.

Clients - this is hard and may depend on your industry. From the forums I've attended, there's usually a few weeks where people stumble, and there will probably be some embarrassment on both sides as people adjust. You may have some people who are just jerks and refuse to switch names or pronouns for you. This is where your boss, the project director, or HR can help out. Sometimes a quiet manager-to-manager call can help in these situations.

Support - This also might be a good time to seek out your employee EAP program. EAP program reporting in the US is usually limited to saying, "100 employees called in this month" - no one should be reporting on WHO called in. If I were in your shoes, I would call EAP today or tomorrow - they may have additional resources to help you prepare for the conversations you need to have with HR and your manager.

Updating your official employee record - I almost forgot! Your HR manager should be able to tell you what, if any, documentation will be needed. If you are legally changing your name, you will need to bring the court documentation or other official government documentation showing the name change. If you are just changing the name by which people refer to you (in HR lingo, it might be called the "preferred name"), you probably won't need any documentation. (For instance, someone named James who wants to be called "Jim" as a preferred name doesn't have to produce any documentation to note it in the db). For gender, in my company you just need to send a written request to HR and it is changed, but you would need to check with your HR manager for your company's policies.


I wish you the absolute best of luck. I hope this is an easy transition for you and that everyone you work with gives you 100% support. I'm not great about answering memail, but if you need additional "go you" level support, I can email you my email address if you'd like.
posted by RogueTech at 11:28 AM on December 7, 2015 [20 favorites]

My coming out at work experience was greatly different, because at the time I worked for a 4 person company, but from what I do know is:

- Talk to HR first and foremost. They may already have protocols set in place. And if they don't, they should work with you to figure out a plan. Go into it with a plan/timeframe, but be flexible to work with them to make it easiest for both you AND the company.

- Ask for a meeting with HR, your boss, and your team so you can come out to them semi-privately. (You may want to do your boss w/ HR first, then approach the team, that way you can present a united front with your boss.)

-Understand that people may distance themselves. It's not your fault. People don't like change, especially if they don't understand the change. Handle it with grace, and try not to treat them any differently than before. It will take time for some people. Some people may never come around.

-Be open to conversation, but hold firm to your privacy. Some people will be a little too curious.

-RE: Bathroom anxiety: Is there another bathroom you could use, either on another floor? Or single stall/use? It may help assuage your anxiety, provided it doesn't overly inconvenience you. It also may not go away, so you need to find coping mechanisms. (I wasn't open at my past two jobs and still had bathroom anxiety.) It could be worth talking to a therapist about, especially if you find yourself avoiding using the bathroom at work due to the anxiety. That's not healthy.

There are a bunch of online articles out there that can help as well:







Perhaps include some of these links in the email you send to HR and/or your boss.

Congrats & Good luck! Feel free to message me as well :)
posted by TWTBoy at 11:38 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

When I was on the school board, one thing our HR people wanted when trans employees (or students, for that matter) came out was clear direction from the employee (or student & parents) about what role they would like HR to play. Do you want HR to give a mini-seminar to your work group on what "trans" means? If so, will you sit down with an HR person and go over what, specifically, you'd like included? Do you want it just announced and then have it be totally off limits and have HR drop the hammer on anybody who brings it up? What sorts of things are you willing to talk about, what sorts of things are you willing to have HR talk about to managers or coworkers, what sorts of things do you prefer totally off-limits?

Our HR was happy to take ANY strategy from total openness to total secrecy, but it was very helpful to know what the employee preferred, whether it was answering 101 questions themselves; having HR answer questions; or just having it not spoken of after announcement.

It is, as you know, a slightly tricky area navigating the fact that this is YOUR ACTUAL LIFE and not a teaching case for ignorant people; but also that taking advantage of the teaching moment can smooth the path for you in the longer term. So our HR department wanted to respect BOTH of those impulses -- that educating coworkers makes them better allies, and that gender identity is ultimately a private matter -- and take direction from the specific employee what approach they preferred to those two issues.

So just think through some of those issues, and have some idea of what would happen in your IDEAL world, when you talk to HR (and/or your manager), because I think they'll really want some direction from you on how it should go. They'll tell you what company policy or local law prohibits them from doing, if any of your ideas aren't permissible, but if you know what you want, it'll be easier to work with HR to get those outcomes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:36 PM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]

I worked with a man who I later learned had been a woman previously and came out at work when he changed his name and legally became male. We worked with many outside clients as well as a host of internal staff. While I didn't know him when he was a woman, he let me know that when the time came, an internal staff email went out alongside one to external clients that said, basically,

"We wanted to let you know that Kathy Johnson is no longer at Acme Corp. The leadership team and her peers appreciate her many contributions over the past six years, including X, Y, and Z.

Today we welcome our new team member, Kurt Johnson, who will be taking on Kathy's role and clients. Kurt comes with six years of experience in widget-making and we know he'll pick up right where Kathy left off. We're excited to have him join our team!"

And that was that.
posted by juniperesque at 1:30 PM on December 7, 2015 [24 favorites]

My experience was that basically all my coworkers were in the same boat as Eyebrows McGee's HR office. The main thing they wanted was to know what specific actions to take. In my case that included "Use 'she' and 'her' pronouns for me," "If you use the wrong pronoun, correct yourself and move on, you don't need to make a big deal out of it," "If someone knew me under my old name, it is okay to tell them I'm transitioning." Lots of 101-level stuff, but the main thing was that — unlike my family and close friends — they didn't really want to understand why I was transitioning or how it felt, or what it meant to me, or how young I knew, or whatever. They just wanted to know what actions were expected of them when they were dealing with me in a professional capacity.

Other specific actions I had to specify later: "You still call me 'she' even when you're talking about something I did pre-transition." "You still call me 'she' even when I'm wearing pants." "If someone else here is coming out as trans, it is okay to put them in touch with me." "Do not compare me to a drag queen."

It's kind of impossible to anticipate all the specific requests you'll need to make. But I think people find it reassuring if you can lay out the basics.

If you really want to avoid doing 101 with people, I think you'll at least want to point them to a document that tells them what you expect of them. What I ended up doing was sending a mass email to the department where I worked. You can even mention in the email that you'd rather not answer questions about your transition at work, or whatever other boundaries like that you want to set.

Some people did distance themselves from me. A few straight-up never spoke to me after I transitioned, though they were people I hadn't been close to or worked directly with before. Most people were mildly uncomfortable at first and then got over it after a week or two. A few were actively enthusiastic and told me how cool it was that I was transitioning. It didn't seem to correlate with their general politics or personal lifestyle or whatever. The best predictor seems to be having trans friends or family. Consistently, the straight cis coworkers who are most comfortable around me are the ones with a trans child/niece/nephew/cousin/partner/etc. A lot of people in that situation will avoid outing their trans family member in conversation, so you may be surprised how many there are among your coworkers.
posted by nebulawindphone at 1:39 PM on December 7, 2015 [9 favorites]

I was here for another employee transitioning. In addition to the above, you might also think about (though I have no idea if my workplace is at all typical):

There might be a bathroom panic, not from management or people who know you, but from people who don't know you and have only heard second-hand. HR should be ready to be on top of this, and it should die away after a while.

Some people might avoid you not because they have any problem with it, but because they're suddenly deeply embarrassed about things they may have or can't remember if they said in the past.

People are going to be walking on eggshells around you for a while. Just like when we first integrated women into the different military communities, some people are just terrified that they're going to accidentally say something that turns into an EEO nightmare. In one sense this is a good thing -- they'll develop new habits of speaking more quickly that way -- but it is awkward and unfriendly seeming. They'll get over it.
posted by ctmf at 7:50 PM on December 7, 2015

I'm transmasculine, and one thing I wish I'd done when I came out at work was to gently remind/correct people about name and pronoun usage much earlier. Instead, there were a couple of folks who didn't pick up on hints or others' correct usage, and I let their incorrect usage go on too long, to the point where it became SUPER awkward (for me and everyone who was doing it the right way and couldn't figure out what they should do around those folks). If I had to do it over again, I would worry less about my corrections offending people, and just be consistent about it.

I completely feel you about bathroom anxiety. I've been out for 8 years, but when I started a new job this summer, decided that I would use the bathrooms one floor down from my department, which are slightly more public but less convenient for my direct coworkers. I'm non-binary, and need to use the women's room because $REASONS, so I still get lots of double-takes. It's with folks I don't have to work closely with on a daily basis, though, so that feels less awkward to me, and I'm okay with it. (Also, the idea of using men's bathrooms terrifies me.)

My point is, things have consistently gone a lot better for me when I have figured out what was best for ME, and then established that as "the new normal" right up front. Stuff is awkward, but people get used to it.

Feel free to memail me if you have questions or need support. I do IT-adjacent work (in higher ed) and am happy to provide more feedback or just to listen if you want/need it.
posted by zebra at 8:41 PM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Oh, and: congrats! If I could send you a cake for your name day, I would. Also hugs, if wanted.
posted by zebra at 8:42 PM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Update: So far, so awesome. Here's how it has gone down:

1. Last week I made an appointment to talk to HR (on the phone, there's no one on site). She was nice but clueless. They do not have any set process or procedure in my company.
2. After our conversation I sent her PDFs from the (HRC) Human Rights Campaign and (TLDEF) Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund that contained information on best practices, current laws, etc.
3. She sent me information on how to change my name and gender within our computer system, and a contact name if I had issues with that.
4. I talked to someone from the client company's LGBT affinity group, who agreed to provide my company's HR department with resources.
6. Today the HR person and I had a conference call with my boss. He was surprised but supportive. There were no details or awkward questions, it was straightforward conversation about communication to the rest of the team.
7. Later today, he and I met with our supervisor at the client company. She was likewise supportive and asked me to tell her if anyone was inappropriate.
8. This week we will meet with the on-site team and she will send an email (written by me) to the off-site team and internal clients I interact with.
9. And then I will be completely out to everyone, everywhere.

I told them I was prepared to be patient with people getting used to my new name and pronoun. The subject of bathrooms came up multiple times (mostly from the HR person) and I drew a pretty hard line on that. I agreed to use the single stall bathroom until Monday (when my gender marker will legally be changed) but I reminded her of the OSHA regulation that says employers must provide adequate facilities to transgender employees. So as of Tuesday I will use the men's room and they will just have to deal. My (male) boss did not think it would be an issue.

I cannot even express how relieved and joyful I feel.

So MY advice to any trans people reading this would be to contact your company's affinity group, if there is one, and go to HR prepared with the knowledge of the laws in your locale and best practices in the industry. Keep it simple and be confident and assertive. You are not asking permission to be who you are, you are simply informing them who you are.
posted by desjardins at 4:30 PM on December 15, 2015 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Another update: I'm out to the entire company now. There was a meeting with the onsite staff (reactions ranged from awkward silence to obviously bored). Then I sent an email to all of the remote staff.


I have a personal announcement.

On Monday, December 21 I will be legally changing my first name to Kevin and changing my legal gender to Male. I will be out that day but I will return to work on Tuesday, Dec 22.

How this affects you:

• Please call me Kevin from now on and use male pronouns (he/him/his) to refer to me.
• The directory will be updated next week and I should be able to keep my ID [xxxx]; it may take some time for my name to propagate through the system. You should still be able to contact me as usual via [oldname]@company.com until the update is complete.
• My last name is not changing.

The quality of my work and my professionalism will not change.

This is not confidential information and feel free to forward to anyone in the company. I am using BCC for this email to prevent any unnecessary reply-all emails.

I realize it could take some time to adjust to my new name, but I appreciate your support through this transition.

Best wishes,

Kevin (formerly OldName) [Lastname]
Project Manager, Department name
Company Name
Contact Info
posted by desjardins at 10:00 AM on December 17, 2015 [11 favorites]

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