For many, coming out at work can be terrifying. You fear losing your job and livelihood, losing the respect or your coworkers and being shamed. Thankfully many states (like Washington, where I live) have adopted laws that protect transgender workers from discrimination, and many companies (particularly in the high tech field, where I work) have very generous policies towards the transgendered.
I realize that my experience coming out at work is not typical, but my hope is that my journey can provide a few tips for those of you who are planning to come out at work. Please take a moment to comment and share your experience coming out at work – I know that a diverse set of experiences will be a blessing to many who read this.
How to Tell Your Coworkers You’re Transgendered
This is likely not news that you would casually mention over lunch, sharing such a deep and impactful part of yourself requires a little bit of planning. In particular there are a few things I recommend:
- Meet with HR before your manager: HR is generally a safe first person to tell. They’re likely aware of the company policies in this regard if you’re at a large company, and at the very least have empathy and understanding as core job competencies. Starting with HR also lets you tell someone who you don’t work with on a day to day basis, so your job performance won’t be affected while you work through the details.
- Get your manager on your side: The next stop after HR should be your manager. Find an appropriate time to tell them when they’re not rushed and can listen to what you have to say. If you’re nervous about how your manager will react invite HR to the meeting. If you have a good relationship with your manager it will reduce the pressure on them if you tell them one on one first, and give them a chance to process the news before they get involved with HR.
- Work out a plan: Work with HR and your manager on how you will tell the team. I think in person is best, followed by an email sent out to the larger team who couldn’t be present.
- Tell a few people you’re close to on your team: It’s daunting enough to tell the team, not knowing what to expect. Telling a few people you trust before hand will let you know there are people on your side while you’re telling them.
- Have your manager stand with you, and send the email: Show of support from management can be a critical component of a good transition. When you tell the team, have your manager stand with you – it’s a powerful symbol of support, and will hopefully help you avoid a situation with a difficult coworker.
Coming Out To Coworkers as a Transgender Woman
This was the email sent by my manager to the wider team. I worked with HR and my manager to draft the email.
Subject: Welcome Vanessa to <team name> – PLEASE READ
I’m excited to announce a new <job title> on the <team>. Vanessa will be joining our team as the <job title> for <area I work on>. Some of you may have known her as <old name>, our previous <job title> on <team>.
<old name> has undergone a gender transition, and will be Vanessa going forward. Her email address is <new email>. Please use her new name and feminine pronouns.
While this is a big change in Vanessa’s life, it will be business as usual for <team> (and that’s why the tone of this email is lite even though this is an important issue in Vanessa’s life). As <employees of company> I'm sure we will all support Vanessa in this transition and, per her request, the best way to do so is to treat her the same as anyone else.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask Vanessa, <manager 1>, <manager 2> or <name of HR rep>.
Telling Everyone at Work I’m Transgendered
Since I work across so many groups, inevitably my managers email didn’t get to everyone I work with. After my manager’s email went out, I shared the news with everyone else I work with.
Subject: Some news I wanted to share…
I wanted to share some news with a few other folks I know at <current employer>. You can find more details in the email below sent to my team. The short version is: I’ve undergone a gender transition, my new name is Vanessa, and my email is <new email>
My hope is that this only affects our personal and professional relationship in a positive way. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask, I’d love to hear from you.
-Vanessa [Formerly known as <old name>]
[I then included the above email sent from my manager to the team I work directly with]
Coming out to previous co-workers
Over the years I’ve worked in my field I’ve built up an extensive network or past colleagues. I thought it was important to share with them as well, even though I had not seen many of them in many years.
Subject: Some news I wanted to share…
I had some news that I wanted to share with you. Even though I haven't worked with some of you for a while my hope is that sometime in the future we'll get to work together again. So in the spirit of not wanting you to wonder when we next meet, or to be surprised at changes to my LinkedIn profile - on to the news. Which I’ve tried to make short and to the point, rather than long and rambling.
I’m currently in the process of a gender transition, from male to female. From today I will live and work as a woman. My new name is Vanessa, my email address is <email>, and my phone number is <phone number>
My hope is that this only affects our personal and professional relationship in a positive way. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask.
Vanessa [formerly known as <old name>]