Coming out at work as a transgender woman
By Sara Simone The foundation of society is forged in the values we hold dear. Honesty, integrity, and personal responsibility to name just a few. Another is a strong work ethic and the ability to earn an honest living in an occupation that is fulfilling. As I left honorable military service having enlisted as a private and raising to that of 1st lieutenant; I embarked on a career in social services; helping the "least of these", homeless men, women and children. For years I hid my true gender behind a mask and in doing so was not honest with myself. This caused a life time of considerable pain; including almost taking my own life. To live an honest life for me meant having the courage to "come out" as a transgender female; something I was aware of as early as 7 years of age. In the late spring of 2011, I finally found this courage but for the first three months I was "out" only part of the day, not at work or home. At the time, I was the director of a day homeless shelter program in Virginia. We served individuals who were street homeless; actually living on the street, under the bridges, in the parks, in abandoned buildings, etc. I loved helping people and enjoyed my job immensely. But, I was afraid of losing it if I revealed my true self. The executive director was fairly new, however the person who was my supervisor and 2nd in the chain of command did not have a positive attitude when it came to acceptance of the transgender community. Every time I heard a ridiculing remark, I was reminded of this fact. In this atmosphere, “coming out” at work seemed close to an impossibility. However, the Executive Director made clear her true human rights values and mandated LGBT Diversity Training for all staff. The person – my supervisor - who told the transphobic jokes left the company and in this new environment I considered it safer to finally consider "coming out" at work. Before I “came out” at work, each day I would leave home for work dressed as a guy; pull over a block from home; change into women's clothing, put on my make-up and my wig; and drive to work as the female I always felt that I was. It was liberating. About a block from work I would pullover, wipe off the make-up, take off the wig, and put the guy clothes back on. One evening at work as I was about to change into my women's clothing I was almost caught by another employee, which would have been embarrassing and hard to explain. I needed to make a change. I could no longer continue to hide who I am. I decided to write an anonymous letter to the Executive Director informing her that she had an employee who was a transgender female. I mentioned my fear of discrimination, something many trans people experience. I stealthily placed the letter under her door but to my surprise, within 5 minutes of reading the “anonymous letter” she called me to her office. I WAS TERRIFIED! She asked directly if I wrote it and I said that I did but she gave me a warm gentle smile and said “everything is going to be ok”. I STARTED CRYING TEARS OF JOY! Together we developed a plan to "come out to staff." She requested the help of Whitman Walker who assigned a transgender clinician experienced with outreach. She then changed the company non-discrimination policy to include gender identity and gender expression. A mandatory staff meeting was scheduled, and I wrote a letter to staff explaining the new me and the clinician answered questions and facilitated a transgender orientation. The meeting went well and I received emails from several staff persons congratulating me and the next day when I returned to work fully dressed as a woman, I received hugs. I remained at that job another several months but in the midst of a company restructuring; I decided to continue my career elsewhere instead of taking a large pay cut. With 12 years of social service management experience; I was confident in finding another similar job. However, now as a trans woman, I was in for a rude awakening. Companies would view the enormous experience of my resume; talk to me on the telephone or over email; and recruit my services only to change their mind when they saw me in person. Doors closed when they realized I was a trans person. As a child of the 60’s I’ve experienced the pain of subtle racial discrimination; but nothing like I have experienced as a trans person. I finally found an entry level job that was 15 thousand dollars below my former salary and I continue to seek positions more commensurate with my experience and skills. The pain of discrimination is hard to conquer, and I only hope and pray that someday I will be measured by the content of my character, work experience and skills; not my gender! This blog is part of Equality Virginia’s summer 2014 blog series about transgender Virginians. Learn more about Equality Virginia's work by signing up to receive our emails! Another great way to stay in touch is by liking us on Facebook and following us on Twitter.