Transition in the Workplace

If you are planning to transition in the workplace, consider the following:

Prepare Management and Co-workers
Your chances of keeping your job could be enhanced by working with management and coworkers beforehand, rather than by shocking them with a sudden change in your appearance, demeanor and/or self-identification.

First, Inform and Educate Management
The first step typically would be to contact the appropriate management representative, give notice of your plans and explain how you propose to implement them. This could lead to a period of negotiations with management. Ideally, discussions with management would resolve issues of timing, responding to harassment, job responsibilities, restroom use, pronouns, etc., before problems arise. The restroom issue often is a great source of tension. A willingness to seek compromise here could pay dividends in other areas.

In order to influence management discussions held in your absence, prepare and give to management a brief document that can be circulated among decision-makers. The document should be targeted toward the specific audience, focused on resolving management concerns and answering questions, and cooperative in tone. Search the internet for "transsexual transition letter" and you will find many examples of such documents.

Next, Inform and Educate Coworkers
This step would involve giving coworkers notice and explanatory information and dispelling rumors. Management may wish to do this without your involvement or with your indirect assistance. They may want to circulate an explanatory document prepared by you, similar to the document you prepared for management, but targeted to your coworkers and designed to address their questions. The manner in which this step is accomplished may reveal to coworkers whether or not management supports you. Consequently, it is important to work closely with management. If there is one, it could be beneficial to involve the workplace GLBT support group at this stage.

Be Mindful of Dress and Demeanor
Your attire should remain professional. Your demeanor should be that of a cooperative team player who is focused on getting your job done. Gender nonconformity tends to be interpreted by others in sexual terms. While you learn the ropes and management and coworkers become accustomed to your transition, cultivating a somewhat androgynous appearance in the short term might minimize friction.

How to Respond to Harassment
Odds are that someone will find something cruel to say. Don't lose your cool because you will be the one who is portrayed as unstable. Instead, stay focused on getting your job done. If the harassment comes from peers and you cannot resolve it yourselves, seek management's help. Emphasize your shared interest in getting the work done without friction. If necessary, continue up through the hierarchy to resolve the problem. Since you may be put in the position of having to prove that you were continuing to do your job, keep records of personnel memoranda, non-discrimination policies, and management's interpretations of these policies. In addition, keep a journal (work on it at home, on your time, not on the office computer). Note in detail the tasks you work on and accomplish each day. If anyone says or writes anything pro or con about your coming out, note in your journal the date and time, speaker/writer, recipient(s) and the gist of what was said. Some human resource professionals recommend keeping a separate journal of positive signs and supportive comments to use as a tool to help you keep your balance and good humor during a difficult time.

Prepare a Fallback Plan
Prepare for the possibility that despite your best efforts, you may be forced to leave your job. Evaluate and articulate your skill set. Revise and update your resume and related documents, including recommendations. If management is uncooperative and you are forced to leave your job, attempt to negotiate a letter of recommendation as part of the severance package. Assess whether or not your appearance and demeanor currently would create an obstacle to your being hired in the gender to which you want to transition. This assessment often is surprisingly difficult for transitioning people to do realistically; you may wish to ask people close to you for their candid opinions. Consider whether that assessment, if negative, should influence the timing of coming out. The risk of unemployment could be reduced by coming out when you no longer pass as a member of your pre-transition gender, because then you could most easily find another job if fired from your current job.