On my first day back to work after completing my gender change, I can vividly recall feeling incredibly anxious. For a very long time, I’d anticipated today’s arrival. I got up two hours ahead of time to get dressed, ironing my outfit and applying the finishing touches to my flawless makeup.
When I worked as a bank teller, I spent 8 hours a day on my feet. After falling in my heels, I realized I’d better bring along a pair of sneakers. While making my way down the steps to my car, I had a sudden change of heart and decided that the heels weren’t necessary after all.
That is the one thing I remember most vividly from my very first day. Even though I had been living as my authentic self for a good chunk of time prior to my career change, I was nonetheless anxious about showing up to work for an entire day.
Suppose I opened a new business, would my clients be difficult? How likely is it that my coworkers will mistake me for the wrong gender? Was I wearing something inappropriate? These are the things I was thinking about on my first day of commuting in a dress.
To many trans people’s detriment, their “coming out day” never comes. Many trans people put off transitioning until retirement because of fear of being fired or of being treated less seriously in the workplace.
The trans community as a whole is plagued by high unemployment rates; however, trans women of color are disproportionately affected, with a rate four times higher than that of the general population and double that of white trans people. Trans people can be just as valuable to a company as any other employee when given the chance and the means to thrive in the workplace.
My mind wandered as I changed out of my high heels and into my more sensible flats. On my first day of work, I was concerned about the following three things:
No.1 – What have we forgotten to account for in our preparations?
It took me four months to arrange my shift to a new workplace. The human resources director at my workplace looked like a deer caught in the headlights when I first told her I was gay. Her lack of knowledge on how to facilitate a change was obvious to me. The corporation used me as a test subject for gender reassignment surgery.
It was also a huge stroke of good fortune that the human resources department gave my career change the attention it deserved. The head of HR reached out to her network to ask if anyone she knew had experience facilitating a similar transfer. They all say We haven’t tried this yet, so report back with results!
Human Resources ultimately provided diversity training for all management, with a particular emphasis on transgender employees’ experiences in the workplace. In addition, the branch I was moving to had a question-and-answer session one evening that turned out to be a fantastic team building activity.
The best way to ease into my new role was to transfer to a different office, where no one would recognize me from before. Even though it’s not an option for the vast majority of trans individuals, I decided that introducing myself as “the new lady” instead of my old name and pronouns would be simpler for the customers who have known me for years.
No. 2 – But how would that translate into my everyday experience, despite all the training and planning?
A client could still identify me as trans and have an issue with it. The best-laid schemes of mice and men often go awry, as the old adage goes.
Institutional HR support appears to differ from company to firm, as evidenced by the stories of my trans acquaintances. Not all companies are as accommodating as mine when it comes to helping employees find new positions within the company; some may be downright hostile.
A recent Department of Justice report on Title VII sex protections for trans individuals leaves the legal effect of an employer’s refusal to assist with a gender transition uncertain, despite numerous precedents.
No. 3 – What kind of reception should I expect from my coworkers?
I was entering a new office with different gender dynamics, which I didn’t know anything about. Gendered social cues are something that many trans persons have trouble with. I was nervous that I may say or do anything improper because I lacked a cis-female socialization.
The week prior to my transfer to the new branch, my coworkers and I had a pizza meeting after hours, and it was their first introduction to me as Katelyn. Most people in Maine, where I currently reside and work, have a “live and let live” attitude about life.
Still, everyone shows up to work with their own set of biases. I was concerned that these implicit biases might negatively impact my professional life even with a fully supported HR department.
So, during the first several months, I really paid attention to how I looked by applying makeup and doing my hair. As far as establishing a good impression on my coworkers was concerned, I felt that I had only three things in my control: how I looked, how hard I worked, and how I carried myself.
But once I was able to overcome my gender dysphoria, I became a much more productive employee, and my work ethic naturally developed as a result. Even while I became a much more productive worker after transitioning, I also became more conscious of the loss of any male privilege I had before.
Management of a transgender employee is just one more aspect of a diverse workforce that employers are increasingly accountable for overseeing. Trans people should be treated with respect and dignity in the workplace so that they can have fulfilling and productive lives.
Employers and coworkers create hostile work settings, and trans persons still face significant barriers when trying to seek legal remedies; this contributes to the high unemployment rate among trans women today. Therefore, it is essential that human resources departments implement trans discrimination training for their workers.
What should I do when I finally am recognized as the woman I have always been?
To experience overt misogyny took less than an hour. Though I expected it to happen, I didn’t anticipate it happening with my very first male client.
In the middle of answering a minor question he had about his account, he abruptly cut me off and demanded to speak to a supervisor. It was shocking, even though I’d seen it happen many times before with different female coworkers.
In retrospect, despite having encountered numerous other instances of misogyny during my transition, one particular incident stands out.
When I went out in public as a woman, it wasn’t the first time I was touched. A continual pounding of misogyny was playing in the background, and I had a vision of my future.
Trans persons may be a vital part of any workforce if they are given the opportunity and resources to thrive.
Recent research suggests that the mere absence of gender dysphoria as a result of a successful transition is sufficient justification for businesses to take steps toward accommodating transgender employees.
I made it through the first day of my new job unscathed, and I discovered that most of my worries were unfounded.
The fact that women’s clothing is significantly less insulating than men’s was brought home to me that October day as I shivered through the day in my dress and sweater, but other than that, the day was enjoyable, flats and all.