By: Deja Nicole Greenlaw*/TRT Columnist—
Transitioning to your true gender is a wonderful thing. You’ve gotten to the point where you’re finally on the right path, and you’re eager to begin your new life. At the same time, people have to adjust to you as your new self.
One of the places that you have to deal with these changes is at work. Where you once were a male coworker, you may now be a female coworker, or where you once were a female employee, you may now be a male employee. It can take some adjusting for everyone. In my case, I was working for my employer as a male for 14 years before transitioning to female in late 2007. I can vouch that, yes, adjustments were necessary.
When I approached my Human Resources Director with my intentions to transition, she was very receptive, but she asked for a couple of days to contact the home office to find out the proper procedures. Once she got her directions, we both decided on a date that I would transition. She had a presentation to give, so she added the news of my transitioning at work to it, sharing it with all three shifts. [pullquote]One trans woman who works in a male-dominated field found that her input was suddenly not taken as seriously as when she was a man after she transitioned. Interestingly, this was not because she was seen as a trans person, but because she was now seen as a woman.[/pullquote]
There were two questions that came up in each of the presentations: What bathroom would I use, and if someone referred to me as my old name would they be fired? The answer to the first question followed a previously established company policy. I was to use the women’s bathroom closest to my workstation, and if anyone had a problem with that then they would have to use another bathroom. The second question was answered by assuring folks that they would not be fired, but they had to treat me with respect as a female. I liked this answer, and I admit that I sometimes used it to my advantage. If one of my superiors was admonishing me and referred to me as my old name, I would immediately correct them. They would stop, realize their error, and then offer an apology. It took the steam right out of the admonishment. Yes, I had this new power, and I liked it!
As for my coworkers, most people were okay with me transitioning at work, but there were a few that had a little trouble with it. At first, some people just did not want to deal with me at all, so they kept their distance from me. That was fine. I know that people are different and that they react to things differently. Some can handle change faster and easier than others, and I realized that some folks needed to work through it. I just gave them space and time. Eventually, they all came around to accepting me.
Inside the women’s bathroom it was a little awkward at first, but after the first week it was fine. Soon I was conversing with my female coworkers in the bathroom, and their acceptance of me grew stronger, the awkwardness quickly vanishing.
Right after I transitioned, people from the other plants would stop by and visit me when they came to our plant. After all, it was 2007 and not a lot of people knew about transgender people. Being the first transgender person that they ever saw, I was a sort of attraction, I suppose. Luckily, I tend to be an extrovert, so dealing with people was not difficult for me. After meeting me, things were fine.
My transition at work went fairly smoothly, and I’ve known several other trans people for whom it also went well. I’ve also known some whose transition at work didn’t go so well. One trans woman who works in a male-dominated field found that her input was suddenly not taken as seriously as when she was a man after she transitioned. Interestingly, this was not because she was seen as a trans person, but because she was now seen as a woman.
Thankfully, that wasn’t my case. When I transitioned at work, one of my internet trans friends asked me if I was more docile at work now since I am female. I told them I wasn’t, further adding that now, as a female; I wanted to run the whole place.
Transitioning at work is venturing into new territory for you and your coworkers. You really have to be ready for anything. They do too.
*Deja Nicole Greenlaw is a local trans woman who has three grown children and works at 3M. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.