Coming out at work
This conversation has come up a couple times here recently. I had intended to write it down anyway, just for the sake of posterity. I will admit, this feels very pieced together. I started this at 5am, to be a short little posts and it’s turned into a nearly 1800 word essay. I apologize in advance for my murder of the english language and my overuse of commas.
So, I had been out to family and friends for a while. I wasn’t out to everyone just yet, but I was trying to time everything just right so as to avoid as much overlap as possible. I wanted everyone to mostly hear it from the source. I had been debating on when and how to approach the subject to management at work. I knew the company had a formal policy in place. I also know that in the corporate world, you don’t get fired for being gay or trans or black or pregnant. That’s discrimination. You get fired for breaking some obscure rule.
I built up the courage to just do it. It was the proverbial “FUCK IT.” I wish I had saved the original email that I sent out announcing my intention to transition at work. However, I didn’t. Sad. It was so short and direct. It was the kind of email you send out when you’re drunk and it’s 3AM. It was something like:
“XXXXXX, This email is to inform you of my intent to transition from male to female. Here is the (company redacted) policy. (link) Please let me know what the next step is.”
I thought I had emailed the right person. I didn’t realize there was a difference between HR and the people who make sure we’re at work and such. So I had emailed a bombshell to my group time recorder. Who, understandably, was probably caught off guard by this email. She had forwarded my email on to one of the members of management. My boss’s boss. (We’ll refer to her as Barbara.**) It died there for a while. I emailed again to the same person, who still didn’t reply. A few days later, I saw her in the center.
She stopped and said “I got your email and I forwarded it to the correct person.”
No mention of who/what/where. I assumed it went somewhere to the bowels of the company. At some point, I had gotten tired of waiting and did a little more research on my own. I found that we have what’s called a ERM, or employee resource manager, which is what everyone else in the world calls a HR rep. This person is, for reasons unknown, in another state. My first one was in Louisiana. My current ERM is in Boston. Who knows? So I had emailed this person, who wasn’t the best at communicating back to me what was actually going on.
Finally, I was pulled off the phone and asked to come to Barbara’s office. She apologized for the delay, my email lost in the hundreds of others received each day. She asked some basic questions and I tried to explain as best I knew. At the time, I feel like I was very knowledgeable but I’ve learned so much since then. The basis of what I laid down was, I was switching teams. I would be changing my appearance, I was starting hormones, laser hair removal, name change, pronouns and finally surgery. I had originally intended to not start the social transition until after Hunter was born. This was something my wife had requested, and I had conceded to her. In the end, it didn’t work out that way. I explained that, of course, bathrooms were a concern.
She assured me that she would speak with HR to get their guidance on how to handle things and we’d talk soon. I assumed that I didn’t need to be specific, but in the end, my assumption was wrong. During this limbo period, the decision to wait until June was pretty much thrown out the window. Forced out, in femme, by my asshole of a doctor, I was a woman on the loose. As I had posted on reddit, it was kind of like trying to put biscuits back in the tube. Good luck with that. I went back to Barbara and I explained that the timeline was shifting and it was basically happening now, rather than months from now.
Again, days passed and I heard nothing. I emailed the ERM again. I spoke again with Barbara, who assumed that I would change into a woman and THEN use the ladies room. That is, she thought I didn’t want to use the correct restroom until after I had surgery. I explained, no that it was not the case.
Once again, HR and her talked, and eventually they came to the agreement that if I was presenting as a woman, I could use the women’s restroom. I was confused by this meeting, because I was already wearing a pair of yoga pants and a woman’s t-shirt. I got the email from HR, which read almost begrudgingly that since our building contains no single occupancy facilities, that I am permitted to use the women’s restroom.
Barbara confirmed the email but with a somewhat alarming side note. She said that instead of telling everyone, that she would deal with issues on a case by case basis, if they arose. I thought this was stupid and honestly, it went against the policy set forth by the company. It also didn’t address the name and pronoun situation. At the same time, I was trying to update my name with the company but they were refusing to do so until I had it legally changed. This is despite knowing other trans people within the company going by their new name without issue. I was waiting for my court order to come back to me, so I didn’t put a lot of energy into the issue as I knew it was self-correcting. Also, enough time had passed that I was officially out to the rest of the world, so certain co-workers that I was friends with on facebook had read my letter and the gossip train at work was taking care of the notification process.
So, I went forth and into the women’s room. My very first visit to the ladies room, I decided to try and avoid people as best I could. I went to the fourth floor, which is largely vacant except for a handful of engineers that were all male, as far as I knew. They kept to themselves and rarely acknowledged that anyone else in the building actually existed.
So I walked up the steps from 2 to 4, took a deep breath and pushed the door open to find? A very startled older woman. The lights were low, so I just stepped aside, she went out, I went in. This game went on for exactly one week. Then I kind of got tired of trying to avoid people. My job requires us to adhere to a schedule without deviation. If we don’t adhere we can be written up. It’s a lot like high school, except high school is more flexible. So on the 7th day, I was on break, I didn’t have time to go to a different floor, I ducked into the women’s room on the first floor. When I came out, from across a dimly lit break room that’s the length of a football field, I’m spotted. Mind you, I’m wearing a dress, but still.
One of them yelled at me, “Did you just come out of the women’s room?”
I stopped, turned, looked at them and said, “Yeah?”
I could tell they were trying to decide what to do or say. They were not from my work center, but I assumed from the 5th floor, which is another self-contained call center with different management. I realized then that Barbara’s not telling anyone idea probably extended to the fifth floor.
I came back to my desk and I calmly typed out an email to the center director of the fifth floor that essentially said “Hi, I’m so and so, you don’t know me. I assume that no one has told you, but I’m transgender. The reason that I am telling you all this, is that I had a run-in with two of your employees who yelled at me when I came out of the women’s restroom. I am not trying to get them in trouble, but I do have HR’s permission, I’m working with XXXX, here’s a copy of the policy, etc etc etc.”
She emailed me back, thanked me for letting her know, because no one had told her. She called HR, HR called Barbara. At this point, they pulled me back out to a meeting with her and a couple other managers from my floor. Along with them, they had our union steward. They wanted to go over verbiage with me, as they were essentially holding huddles with small groups to cover everyone on the situation, and company policy. The union rep reaffirmed the union’s position that there was a non-discrimination policy and the union would not protect them if they attempted to grieve the issue. Management and the union in agreeance. Doesn’t happen often. In any event, feedback that I got was that there were a few people who thought my genital status precluded me from the ladies room, but they were told that they were free to find another bathroom elsewhere if they had such an issue with it.
From that point on, things got pretty easy. I only had one notable issue. I was standing in the lounge part of the bathroom, facing a mirror at a counter texting on my phone. The door opens, and I look up to the mirror to see a lady coming in. She sees me, stops and pivots on her heel and leaves.
Who knows, maybe she was uncomfortable with me. Maybe she was about to have blow out diarrhea and didn’t want me to hear. Who knows. At this point, I’ve been using the women’s room at work for 7 months. No one pays me any attention. I wouldn’t say that I’m accepted as one of the girls, but they tolerate me.
A couple weeks later, I finally got my legal name change. I was able to update my name with the company, get a new badge with 100% less facial hair. I have spent the last 6 months tracking down all the systems with my old name and getting them updated. But that’s a topic for another post.
** Not her real name.