I have heard a few people say that transition eventually takes on a life and momentum of its own. I think I’m beginning to realise what they mean. Throughout last year the plan was always that nothing would happen until 2017, in order to give the family on last year of “normality” (for want of a better term). But it now feels like everything is happening so very quickly, it’s a combination of exciting, terrifying, surprising, bewildering and exciting again. A lot of this I wrote about in my last post, but even in the short space of time since then there has been yet another major development. I have come out to my line manager. Today. And it was great.
The vast majority of advice I have received said that in work I should be going to HR (Human Resources) in the first instance, and bringing in line management thereafter. As I have mulled this over in my head during the last few months, I have always come up against the problem that I just don’t know anyone in HR, let alone knowing who in HR would be the appropriate person to approach. And the more I thought about it the more I thought that the one person in my team who does deal with HR regularly, and who would know who is the appropriate person to go to in HR, is my line manager Beth. We have worked together for over twelve years, and we get on well. The downside is that she is a bit of a God-squadder, but despite (or maybe because of) this she is generally a nice and sympathetic person. So I kind-of decided that I was going to tell her first and then go to HR together. Maybe that’s taking a bit of a chance, but I decided that nobody knows my working environment better than I do, so I was going with my gut. The next question was when I would have this conversation.
As things would happen, my annual appraisal was this morning. So I knew that Beth and I were going to be in an office, just the two of us, with 90 minutes booked. And I thought that I might raise the subject if it seemed appropriate. Just might. So we went through the whole appraisal process (all good, thanks) and then we got through to the “looking forward to the year ahead” part. We went through some of the more mundane aspirations (Sales! More sales! Yet more sales!) and then it was quickly through to what might be loosely termed “Any Other Business”. And it just felt like the right time. So I began the talk.
I told Beth that I had something I needed to tell her about, and it had the potential to change everything we had just discussed. It was going to change everything. That it was a personal issue that I had struggled with for a number of years. I reminded her that a few years ago she had given me some afternoons off to attend counselling for a private matter that I wasn’t at liberty to discuss with her at the time. She remember this well enough. I told her that it was all the same thing. That it continued to be a huge issue in my life to the extent that I went to my GP in June last year, and that he had referred me on for specialist treatment.
At this point she butted in.
– Everyone has their own issues, Bob. Don’t worry. Whatever it is, it’ll be ok.
– This isn’t really like most other issues, just hold that thought until I tell you what it is.
And so I explained that dealing with this issue was going to involve a lot of changes in my life and will change how people view me in work. And finally I just blurted out
– I’m transgender.
I don’t recall her exact words in reponse, but what I do know is that she was immediately and instinctively sympathetic and supportive. I think her response was something along the lines of her having zero experience of this, that I am the first trans person she has known, but that as far as she is concerned the outside might look a bit different, but I will still be me, with the same skills and experience but happier. So I’m still part of her team and in her opinion there is absolutely no question that I won’t be continuing in my current role. I did mention that I had concerns how my clients might react, but she didn’t even think it would be a huge issue, and that people were generally very accepting of differences, not just LGBT+, but also disabilities or different ethnicities.
With this I was getting quite emotional and the tears were close at hand. She said that whatever other considerations there are, we have known each other a long time and first and foremost she is my friend and I will have her support whatever happens. To which I responded that that is exactly why I was telling her rather than telling HR, because we have that history. At which point she had to wipe away her own tears. In retrospect I now think that had I gone directly to HR without telling Beth first, she would actually have been quite hurt by this.
I told her that I would have to change my name, and told her what it was going to be. She just accepted my new name in a matter-of-fact manner, and then I asked
– Would you like to see a picture of your new colleague?
She indicated that she would, but at the same time I could see that she was a little apprehensive. So as I flicked through my phone to find something, I reassured her that I didn’t look like Lily Savage. I produced an appropriate photo, and turned the phone round so she could see. A big broad smile appeared on her face.
– Oh Bob, you look great! In fact I hope this isn’t the wrong thing to say but you look really normal. Like yourself, but like you as you should be.
Me as I should be. Isn’t that the entire point of transition? She really hit the nail on the head with that comment.
At this point and in an effort to steer the discussion in a more structured direction, I produced the bare bones of a Memorandum of Understanding. As an aside, I must give a huge thank you to Emma for giving me the benefit of her own experience in pulling this together. For the unititiated, this is the “Master Plan”, the document that governs how the transition will play out in work. What happens, when and by whom. Time off needed for various treatments and surgeries. Changing payroll and pension, staff email & mobile phone, work ID pass and business cards, all the various systems that my employer uses. The roll out of the information, who gets told what and when. It is (or will be) my personalised workplace transition bible. What I handed Beth was simply a single side of A4 containing approximately 15-20 headings that will need to get filled out in consultation between the two of us and HR over the coming weeks and months. She genuinely seemed to find it useful to have this, even though it doesn’t have the standing it would do in Great Britain, where the Memorandum of Understanding is a key legal document that triggers the Equality Act 2010. Here in Northern Ireland of course our largest party the DUP only believes in equality for straight white protestant men, so the Act doesn’t apply here.
We did try to go through the various headings on the MoU but we kept getting sidetracked, particularly in the sections dealing with timescales and time off required for various treatments, so by the time I had been through normal GIC appointments, electrolysis, laser, vocal therapy, HRT, blocker injections and finally GRS I think she got the message that this is something that one doesn’t enter into lightly, but she also seemed to find the entire process fascinating. I even managed to give Beth a bit of a laugh by recalling the nail varnish incident from almost three years ago, and pointing out that now she knows how that nail varnish really got on my nails – I put it there myself!
I also told that Mrs K and I will be divorcing, to which there was a great deal of sympathy as Beth went through her own fairly acrimonious divorce around 4 years ago. Thankfully ours looks like being a lot more amicable, although let’s hope I’m still saying that in six months’ time. I also told her about having told Amy and her wonderful reaction (incidentally, Amy came out for a little shopping trip with me on Sunday followed by dinner with Andrea AND a quick drop in at Alice’s house and all was great – good grief, normally that would be a 2000-word post by itself but now it’s just an aside!), and that the reason I have booked tomorrow off work is for a meeting with our youngest’s primary school headmaster, to tee him up that she is going to be receiving this news at the weekend.
So as we were coming near to the end of our allotted slot in the meeting room, we needed to wrap things up. As luck would have it, Beth already has a meeting with one of the company’s HR managers tomorrow afternoon about a different matter, so with my permission, she is going to mention my transition in this meeting with a view to setting up a meeting for me to attend at HR. And Beth then said again that whatever happens, I will have her unwavering support in my transition. And that she wanted to give me a hug, but as we were in a glass office it would have looked a bit weird to people out on the main floor. So instead she just grabbed my forearm tightly and said “I’m so happy for you”.
Yet again, a discussion that terrifies me in advance ends up being something approaching a joy. And at this point with me having officially informed work, I feel like a line has been crossed. I have written in the past about reversible and irreversible actions. This particular irreversible action that I did this morning has I feel brought me to a point where it would now be harder to cancel transition than it would be to proceed. This is happening, and I couldn’t be happier about it.