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Coming Out Letters

Often when transgender people are ready to transition on their jobs, they write a letter to their coworkers explaining what is going on. Although it is impersonal, it is useful because you can tailor it to say exactly what you want, it can be sent to many people at the same time, and it gives everyone the same information. If there are a few people at work you are close to, you may want to talk to them individually shortly before your letter is sent out.

The timing of this letter is important. It should be sent only after you have talked with management and HR and developed a timeline for transitioning at work. The person or team overseeing your transition may want to review your letter before you send it out. They may even want to send it out themselves and/or add a note to it to; this can be very helpful in letting people know that management is supporting you in your transition.

It is best to consult with your transition team about who should receive your letter. Generally, people you interact with on a daily basis need to be informed about your transition. There may be others it is appropriate to send your letter to also. For example, people who already know you and will be using the same restroom or shower facilities will need to know why you are there.

In some cases, people outside the workplace should also be informed. This might include clients or vendors with whom you interact on a regular basis. Your letter to coworkers may or may not be appropriate for this purpose. In most cases, the decision about whether and how to inform these people should be made by your company.

Depending on your work situation, it may be best to send your letter out by email or to deliver it on paper. It could be handed out to your coworkers or read to them in a meeting that could include training on transgender issues. Your transition team may want to decide the best way to deliver your letter.

The tone of your letter should be matter-of-fact. Avoid being apologetic, being overly dramatic or exuberant, or sounding like a victim. A sense of humor is a great asset as you go though transition, and it's fine to use your sense of humor in your letter, but don't go overboard—your coworkers should understand that this is a serious matter.

Your letter should say clearly that you are transgender. You may prefer different words to identify yourself, but remember that your colleagues are probably not as knowledgeable in about gender identity as you are, and it is more important to use terms they will understand than to describe your gender situation in the most precise way.

You should tell your coworkers when you plan to start working in your new gender role, what name you will use and what pronoun you prefer. Even though you may not think of yourself as making a sudden change, your colleagues will find it easier to have a specific date when you will change from one gender to the other, have a new name and pronoun, dress differently, use a different restroom, etc.

If you have done a good job of hiding your gender variance from your coworkers, your announcement will seem to them like it's coming out of the blue. They may think that you were perfectly happy in your original gender role or that your decision to transition was hasty. It is important to let them know that this is something you have been struggling with or thinking about for a long time.

It may also seem to your coworkers that you are acting in isolation, caught up in some fantasy or delusion, without any guidance. It is helpful to let them know that you have a diagnosis of gender identity disorder, that there is a standard of care that you are following, that a therapist and/or doctor is overseeing your treatment—in short, that there are people with letters after their names who agree with what you know about yourself and the decisions you have made.

If you are willing to answer the questions your coworkers may have about transgenderism, you can put that in your letter. If you are not, it's a good idea to refer them to one or a few reliable web sites or books. In the absence of accurate information, people may believe that what they've seen on Jerry Springer, for example, is true of all transgender people.

Your letter should acknowledge that people may have some difficulty getting used to the new you and using your new name and pronouns. It is helpful to let them know that you recognize that it will take some time and that you don't expect them to be perfect in their use of your name and pronouns right away, but you do expect them to try.

You may want to point out that you will continue to do your job as well as you have always done it—maybe better, because you will be less distracted now that you don't have to hide who you are and because you will be a happier person and therefore probably easier to get along with. Express your expectation that they will continue to treat you with respect, even if they don't understand or "agree with" what you are doing.

It may be helpful to mention some of the things you have already done in your transition process, such as coming out to family and friends, living in your new role when you're not at work, making legal and document changes, having electrolysis, working with a therapist, etc. It is important to maintain a professional tone, however.

In most cases, it is not appropriate to discuss your family life (divorce, child custody, etc.). Don't include information about your sexual orientation, sexual feelings or sex life. Your medical history is a private matter. Don't write about it other than to say you are under the care of doctors. Bringing attention to the fact that you haven't had genital surgery can sometimes lead to problems with restroom use.

Finally, keep it short. Many people in the workplace just want to know what is happening and how it impacts them. They may consider it an intrusion to be flooded with details about your transition. The best letters are no more than one single-spaced page.

After writing your letter, have some other people read it and give you feedback. They should be people you trust who are not associated with your workplace, such as close friends, members of your support group and your therapist.

Sample Letter