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For Trans People

Planning for Transition on the Job

GENERAL PREPARATION

You should be in therapy for several months before coming out at work. This is important for establishing your credibility with your employer, as well as for preparing yourself.

Work with your therapist to determine the best timing for coming out. Make sure he or she is prepared to assist you by talking to a designated person at work, and give him or her written permission to do so.

Come out to family and close friends (except coworkers and anyone who might inform your employer). It's best to get this over with so it doesn't distract you while you transition at work.

Build a solid support system consisting of your therapist, a support group, and/or supportive friends or family. It's important to have a place outside work where you can talk about issues that arise on the job.

Gain some experience living in your target role. This will enable you to appear in your new role at work with confidence and ease.

Be careful not to let others in your workplace find out about your transsexualism before you are ready. Web surfing, phone calls, and emails related to transsexualism should not be done from work before you come out. Don't confide in friends at work unless you are certain they can be trusted.

PERSONAL APPEARANCE

Hormones should usually be started before coming out at work, but not too far in advance. When changes in appearance become pronounced (such as breast growth in women or facial hair growth in men), coming out cannot be delayed. If electrolysis is necessary on your face and other visible areas, it should be mostly completed before you begin working in your new role.

Practice personal grooming (hair style, nails, etc.) so you are comfortable with these procedures before transitioning at work.

Acquire a professional wardrobe appropriate for your workplace and your position, taking care to avoid clothing that is too revealing. Shopping with a friend can be very helpful.

Many people prefer to make gradual changes in their appearance on the theory that it will soften the blow when they come out at work. The danger is that damaging rumors may start to circulate. If you make subtle changes in your appearance, don't go too far. Remember that it helps others if they can see a definite change in you on the day you first start to work in your new role.

WORK SITUATION

Find out whether your company has a nondiscrimination policy that covers gender identity and expression. If there is a dress code, familiarize yourself with the requirements for your new sex.

Research local laws to determine whether you have any legal protections. A lawsuit should be considered only as a last resort, but knowing your rights (if any) allows you to negotiate from a more solid position.

Find out if there is a gay and lesbian employee resource group and, if so, whether they are informed about transgender issues. You may want to join this group even if you are not gay, because they may be able to provide support.

If union membership is available to you, be an active member. Find out who to approach for support during your transition. Before you come out to management, inform your union contact about transsexualism and transition, and let her or him know about your plans.

Evaluate your relationships with coworkers. Your transition is more apt to be successful if you get along well with others beforehand. Cultivate friendly (not intimate) relationships with your coworkers. If you are particularly close to certain coworkers, you may want to come out to them before telling your employer, but beware of starting rumors that could reach your boss before you are ready.

Enlist the aid of a coworker if there is one who is absolutely trustworthy. Impress upon her or him the importance of keeping your transition confidential. This person can report to you any rumors that may be circulating about you so you can adjust your appearance, behavior, or the timing of your coming out if necessary.

Evaluate your standing with the company. Especially during the months before you transition, work to make your job performance excellent and increase your value as an employee if possible.

DOCUMENTATION

If you have not legally changed your name, gotten a new driver's license, and amended your social security card, find out how to do so. These should be changed before you begin working in your new role if possible (some states may not allow you to change your driver's license at this stage).

Obtain copies of your most recent performance review and other documents your company may have on file concerning you. These can be important if your evaluations take a dive after you come out.

Begin keeping a notebook in which you keep a record of every event at work related to your transition. Make a note of every conversation you have, what was said, who was there, the date and time. Also record instances of behavior that might be discriminatory. Include any memos or other written material related to your transition. Keep this record at home.

If you send or receive email at work relevant to your transition, forward it to your home account. Otherwise these messages are not your property and you may not have access to them later. Voice mail received at work should be transferred to your personal recorder.

INFORMING SUPERIORS

Decide who to contact first. This could be a company psychologist, human resources person, employee assistance professional, supervisor, or upper management, depending on the structure of your company and your relationships with these people. Remember that people in some of these positions are more bound by rules of confidentiality than others.

Bring your employer some written material, including basic information about transsexualism, information for employers about transitioning on the job, and a list of resources (books, articles, experts, consultants).

If possible, obtain information about other companies similar to yours where people have transitioned successfully, and the names of human resources personnel or managers who would be willing to talk to someone in your company.

Anticipate problems that are likely to arise in your particular workplace with any of your duties, specific coworkers or clients, sharing of restrooms or showers, etc. Have in mind some solutions to these potential problems. This will show your employer that you are sensitive to the feelings of others and willing to work as a team member to resolve difficulties.

Create a tentative timeline for yourself. Keeping in mind that these dates will remain flexible, decide when you'd like to begin working in your new role, when any transfers or changes in your job should take place, when you may need time off for surgeries, etc. Have some pictures taken of yourself in professional clothing, whatever that means for your workplace and position. This helps to reassure your employer that you won't show up inappropriately dressed.

Let your contact person know how to contact your therapist. Employers rarely find this necessary, but knowing that you have a therapist and that you're willing for them to talk helps to reassure your employer.

Ask to be included in planning your transition. Express your willingness to compromise and to coordinate your actions with a timeline approved by your employer.

INFORMING COWORKERS

Write a letter to your coworkers explaining what you are planning to do and why it is important to you, acknowledging that it may be difficult for them and expressing your eagerness to help things go smoothly. Keep your letter short -- no more than one page. Have the content and timing of your letter approved by your employer.

Suggest to your superiors that they write a memo to send in conjunction with your letter to your coworkers. It should express their support of your transition, the expectation that you will continue to perform your job to the same standards, and the requirement that others treat you with respect.

If there is no one in your company who is knowledgeable about transition in the workplace, suggest that your company hire a consultant to assist with the process.

Suggest that your company provide sensitivity training for your coworkers, as well as counseling for individuals who have difficulty dealing with your transition. A professional trainer who is an expert in transsexual issues is the best choice for providing this training. You should not do it because your coworkers may not feel free to ask personal questions, and professional boundaries may be breached. Your therapist may not be the best choice because of ethical considerations and because it reinforces the idea that transsexualism is a mental illness.

Coworkers should be informed that when you begin working in your new role you will be using the restroom appropriate for that role. You may agree to restrict yourself to certain restrooms for a short time to allow others to get used to you in your new role, but your restroom use should not depend on whether you've had genital surgery.

Offer to answer your coworkers' questions if you are comfortable doing so, but don't talk about the details of transsexualism and transition unless you are certain that everyone who can hear you wants to. Even so, you may not want to disclose very personal material to people you must continue to work with. Remember that your medical history, including whether or not you have had genital surgery, is private, and you are not obligated to share it with anyone.

BACKUP PLAN

Good planning maximizes your chances for successful transition on the job, but even the best planning can be thwarted by a high-ranking detractor. Think about what you will do if you lose your job.

Update your resume. Perhaps you will even want to send it out and go to some interviews in your new role to boost your confidence. (Tip for interviewing: if you pass well, there's no need to mention you are planning to transition until you are called back for a second interview. If you don't pass well, mentioning casually that you are transgendered will clear the air.)

If you have thought about changing careers, find out what it would actually take to do so. You may want to take classes, pursue certification, or put in some applications to evaluate the feasibility of this path.

Save some money so you won't be desperate if you lose your job. Know what measures you could take to liquidate assets or reduce your expenses if necessary. Know who you can count on in case of emergency.

Don't plan on suing your employer if you lose your job. In many cases, there are no legal protections for transgendered employees, and discrimination may be impossible to prove. Lawsuits can be very expensive, and even if you have the money, you may not want to spend it on lawyers.