May 25th 2017 was a pretty important and scary day for me. It was the day that I sent out an email to everyone at my work office announcing that I am a transgender woman.
I first came out to my wife (who I met at work in 2009) in October 2015 and I can’t even begin to describe how wonderfully supportive she has been. I would be lost without her. After six months of doctor’s appointments & therapist sessions I finally began hormone therapy. It was at this point that I informed my manager and HR.
In Australia there are legal protections for transgender people and within the company there has been a ramp up in Diversity & Inclusion initiatives over the past year. We also have regular compliance training across the whole company covering discrimination & harassment among other topics. So I felt safe here from a legal & corporate policy point of view.
About 12 months later, having transitioned in all aspects of my life except work, I decided it was time to take that step too. I work for a company with over 13000 employees around the world and my office has around 200 people. So how do you come out to that many people?
After discussing it with HR we decided that I would write a coming out email to send to my local office email list (and a handful of people in other offices that I regularly work with). That would take care of anyone who I would have to deal with on a day-to-day basis. The other 12800 people? Well, they really don’t need to know. No big deal.
Our theory was that there will be three sorts of people:
- Positive supporters,
- Negative transphobes, and
- People who aren’t sure what to make it of yet.
The first group will respond to the email both publicly and privately with support and encouragement. The second and third groups won’t respond at all. So the first group sets the tone of the conversation. The second group gets the message that any transphobic behaviour won’t be accepted, in addition to it being considered discriminatory here. And the third group gets the message that everyone is fine with this and it isn’t a big deal.
So with that plan, I set out to write the email. Which was excruciatingly hard. I read a bunch of advice online, exchanged email with another out transwoman in the company from a different country, and drafted and reviewed over and over and over again. The hardest part was not knowing what people already knew about transgender issues, what misconceptions they might have, what terminology they might or might not understand. It took a little over two weeks.
The basic structure of it is:
- give people the facts and a little history up front.
- let them know what is expected of them
- point them to resources for them to do additional research if they want/need to
I also tried to keep a light conversational tone.
The complete email with some redactions of names etc is below. If you are trying to write your own coming out email please feel free to borrow from it. You have my permission.
I’m writing this email to tell you about something that is very personal, but which will affect you to some degree around the office.
And that thing is that I am transgender & am now living full-time as a woman.
This is something that I have grappled with my whole life, and in late 2015 I finally summoned the courage to face it and begin the process of transitioning.
So what does this actually mean for you day to day?
- Refer to me by my chosen name: Dana (FYI “day na” not “dar na”)
- Use the appropriate female pronouns to refer to me: she/her/hers
- Continue to treat me with the same respect and courtesy as anyone else
And that’s it. I couldn’t think of a fourth thing.
Gender Transition is a gradual process often taking years (and lots of money and paperwork). It’s not a sudden switch over. There is no one thing that you do and are done. Even after 18 months I still feel like I’m taking my first steps. Many people wait until they are much further along before coming out in their workplace, but I kind of like you guys and don’t like pretending to be someone else when I’m here. So I’m ripping the bandaid off now.
I understand that this might be a new thing for some people. Google is your friend but be aware that there is a lot of misinformation out there too.
Some great starting points:
- GLAAD Transgender FAQ
- GLAAD Tips for Transgender Allies
- How to be a Trans Ally LnL (REDACTED) REDACTED Recording
The GLAAD material is really good. I recommend everyone have a quick read through. And the Trans Ally LnL is great if you have the time to watch it. We all have our blind spots and expanding our awareness is never a bad thing. :-)
If you have any questions about working with me specifically or transgender people in general, please feel free to ask me. You can also contact [REDACTED] who can advise or direct you to appropriate resources.
It’s important to understand that being transgender is a rather personal and individual thing, so I can’t speak to the experiences of others or provide any definite answers. However I have started a list of things (books/movies/etc) that have resonated with me personally as a trans woman. You can find that list here if you are curious: [REDACTED]
I also would like to thank:
- [REDACTED] , my fantastic manager for his support (and generally being the best manager ever)
- [REDACTED] for being an awesome HR rep and super pro-active & keen to help
- [REDACTED], my wonderful wife who makes it all worthwhile.
This email got much longer than I wanted it to be and there is so much more I could include or try to explain but it’s an email, not a blog.
So I’ll leave it there and just say I look forward to working with you all as my authentic self.
I sent the email around 4pm on the Thursday. Within 15 minutes I started receiving public and private email responses of support.
Everyone has been very nice and supportive. Anyone with a negative response is likely to keep it to themselves and I do know of a few at least but they are people that I don’t have to deal with anyway.
Heading into the office on the Monday out as Dana was a little nerve-wracking, but I am so lucky to have my wife in the same office. We are mostly a jeans & t-shirt kind of office and I’d been slowly feminising my attire anyway so the only immediate changes are different styles of t-shirt, femme cardigans, more obvious make-up, and wearing my hair more femme. I’ll graduate to skirts one day. Oh and being able to wear flats & just kick them off at my desk is the best thing.
Four weeks later & it just feels perfectly normal now. I still feel a little anxious sometimes using the women’s bathrooms at work but I don’t think anyone else cares. It isn’t the hot-button issue here that it is in the US.