Transition at work, the dilemma

I know that most of the readers here have their own issues with transition at work, one of the more tricky parts of transition.  My particular situation is a bit complicated.  As most of you know, I came out to my boss around the middle of June, and he was supportive of my issues.  I told him at that time that I would eventually tell everyone else that works there, the other 5 employees.  And, as you know, I did tell them toward the end of July.   Now, everyone at work knows about me and I’ve been relaxing a lot more and not trying to hide the transition developments at work, they all seem to be OK with it so far, but they haven’t actually seen Amber fully yet.  After my appearance at the theater and the resulting fallout, I’ve been a bit more cautious about pushing my transition at work.  The problem is that our customers don’t know about me, and if the reaction from one of the workers at the theater is any indication, some of them would not want me to come to their place of business as Amber.  The other problem is that our business depends on the relationship with our accounts, they can go to another company like ours any time the want to, there’s plenty of competition for the business.   So, if I cost us an account because of my transition freaking out the owner of the business, the company I work for loses money.  Not good for my job.  The boss says that he’s supportive of me and my transition, but if it affects his business, the bottom line becomes more important than my transition, or my job, probably.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

If I transition at a natural pace, as my body changes, people see it and deal with it.   Of course, that takes just short of forever.   If I just start showing up at the accounts presenting as I would choose to do, I risk damaging the company’s income, and thus, my job.   I think about this a lot when I’m working at a place that I go to enough that they recognize me, how am I going to deal with things like going to the ladies room at the place, when they knew me from before the change?  That may be the biggest issue, even if my new appearance doesn’t freak them out.  I haven’t come up with a workable solution to all this yet, short of getting a different job where I can start as Amber, and that’s really impractical and unlikely at this point in time!  What’s a middle aged girl to do?

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9 Responses

  1. Your concern for your employer’s business shows your character. I’m sure your employer sees that too.

  2. Amber, I was in a similar situation to yours when I transitioned. My situation was different only in that I am my only employee; therefore, I had no concerns about being accepted by my co-workers. (My boss was very understanding about my transition. 🙂 ) As an attorney, however, I deal with a large number of people on a daily basis: my own clients; the courts who appoint me to do the work I do; the other defense attorneys and prosecutors; and courthouse staff, to name just a few. So, instead of worrying about how my coworkers would accept me, I needed to do what I could to ensure that the people that I work with in the outside world would cooperate with me, so that I could continue the career I have created.

    My solution was to deal with it much the same way that the potential for adverse reactions from coworkers in handled: I contacted the people in charge of each of the different groups I deal with, like the chief prosecutor, the presiding judge, etc., told them of my plans to transition and got their cooperation in sending an email (that I drafted) simultaneously to all these different groups announcing my transition and informing them about my transition in much the same way as I’ve outlined below. The result was that, other that a few congratulatory calls and emails, my transition was essentially a non-event in the legal community in which I work.

    My recommendation is that you and your boss adopt this model in dealing with your clients. That means working with your boss to prepare a letter, memo or email to each of your clients explaining that (1) you have been diagnosed with GID, gender dysphoria or whatever other term you are comfortable with; (2) in accordance with internationally accepted standards for the treatement of this condition, i.e., the WPATH Standards of Care, you will be transitioning to living full time as a woman; (3) on X date you will be changing your name to Amber ____ and will thereafter live the rest of your life as a woman; and (4) asking for their cooperation and respect as you undergo this transition and that they address you by your new name and with female pronouns. I would also add a statement that you and/or your boss are available to answer any questions your clients may have. I wouldn’t give your clients more than a couple of weeks warning before you go full-time.

    As for the bathrooms, I would avoid using restrooms at your clients’ businesses for some period of time until you and, hopefully, they, are comfortable with you as a woman. Given the sensitivity of that issue, rightly or wrongly, avoiding that issue as much as possible will definitely help smooth your transition with your clients.

    I wish you good luck! You are well on your way to a happier life.

    Blessings,
    Abby

  3. Working for a small company in the service industry in a rural community is arguably one of the scariest situations I can imagine for transitioning. And all the federal protection in the world isn’t going to protect your boss from losing customers if they object to your “lifestyle”. This is definitely a case where you have to win peoples’ hearts, and for that, you need the right kind of ambassadors. For sure, I think you and Teresa have the right blend of brazenness and sheer charisma to be those ambassadors.

    I think Abby’s approach is a good one. There’s no guarantee some of these clients won’t abandon your boss at the first whiff of the word “trans”, but if they know you and like you already, they should be predisposed to making it work.

    Bathrooms are a whole different issue. Privately-owned businesses are still private property in Michigan, meaning everyone that comes there does so by implied or overt invitation…and that invitation can be rescinded at any time. And it can be enforced legally through criminal trespass law. This is where Federal protection would really benefit us but as it stands, if they object to your use of the bathroom, you have no real recourse.

  4. While what Renee said about private businesses is basically true, they do not, in fact, have unlimited discretion to exclude people. Virtually every state has a law that prohibits sex, race and other discrimination in public accommodations. Thus, businesses like theaters, shopping malls, retail stores, hotels, and restaurants that offer their goods and/or services to the public are subject to these restrictions even on their private property. Moreover, both state and federal courts have held that discrimination because a person doesn’t fit gender stereotypes, such as a butch lesbian or a fem gay man or even a trans woman or man, is illegal sex discrimination. Here in Arizona, a friend of mine filed a civil rights complaint with the state Attorney General’s office against a night club for banning her and all other trans women because some women were complaining about their use of the women’s restroom. The AG accepted and investigated the complaint as a valid allegation of sex discrimination; in other words, they accepted this interpretation of Arizona’s law as valid. Eventually, the complaint was settled by agreement (the nightclub owner dropped the ban and put a gender neutral sign on a preexisting single stall bathroom), so there is no administrative or judicial ruling affirming that this was, in fact, illegal sex discrimination under Arizona law. Nonetheless, this remains a valid basis for asserting our rights if a private business that qualifies as a “public accommodation” treats us differently because we aren’t as masculine or as feminine as they think we should be.

    The ban on sex discrimination in access to public accomodations applies to restrooms, just as it does to every other part of a business open to the public. Many people believe that there are laws stating that only men can use the men’s room and vice versa. In fact, as far as I know, no state has such a law, although some cities may. Absent such a law, which may be subject to constitutional challenge, the business cannot discriminate against anyone in allowing access to restrooms based on their sex; in other words, women can legally use the men’s room and vice versa.

    When Amber goes to one of these businesses as a contractor, instead of a customer, her status is different and the public accommodations protections may not apply to her on that visit. If, however, she comes back as a customer, e.g., to see a movie, they cannot discriminate against her because she is trans under this theory.

    A final caveat: Although many courts have accepted this interpretation of sex discrimination statutes, others have not and instead have held that it does not violate such laws to exclude someone because she or he is trans. Most of those cases predate a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision (Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228) holding that discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment. The current, although still somewhat uncertain, trend in the case law is to accept and apply this theory to discrimination against trans women and men. Of course, the adoption of local, state and federal laws explicitly banning discrimination on the basis of gender identity or expression eliminates the need to rely on this theory and makes our protections much more secure.

  5. […] 5, 2008 by Abby Over on TranscendGender, Amber posted a blog about her transition at work and the dilemma of how to deal with the private businesses she visits […]

  6. Transitioning successfully in the workplace is largely a result of having a high “likability factor.” In my observation, it is imperative that you have done all you can to affect change by being influential in whatever position you retain within an organization.

    I’ve seen many people who are managers but are clearly not leaders primarily because they are not people-persons or well-liked. I’ve also seen many people who have natural leadership abilities and yet are just beginning their careers or chose not to scale the corporate ladder. These natural leaders are clearly well-liked by other employees, and what’s more, their influence within the organization is greater than those who supervise.

    Based on what I’ve seen in women who have transitioned successfully in the workplace, they did all they could do be trustworthy, friendly, and are overall people who are pleasant to be around. My hope is that I can create this same influence and likability factor in the workplace enough to want others to want me around in the workplace.

  7. I see lots of good comments. I have to agree with jadzia9 on the “likability factor” if you are not well respected before things will not improve later. I attribute my ease of transition to being liked and good at what I do. Make the effort now and reap the benefits later. I worked extra hard to do the best I could do before transition.

  8. I appreciate all the comments on this posting!
    I think I’m lucky in that when I told my boss about my issues, one of the first things he asked me was if I was planning on quiting and going somewhere else, and he was relieved to find out that I was not planning on that. He told me straight out that he wanted me to stay and that he was supportive of me and he understood that I need to do this. The only negative reaction that I’ve gotten, so far, is from the one lady at the theater. It was kind of like my “wake up call” that I can’t just walk into these places like that one day, that I have to work my way into it in order to have as much acceptance as is possible to get. That’s OK though, at least I have a path to follow now for transition at work. I need to work on my patience skills. 🙂

  9. Just getting a job here in UK if transsexual is nigh on impossible if like me you do not passs as female, due to the discrimination we face in employment.

    Whilst it is illegal to discriminate, I have applied for over 670 jobs since I changed name and started real life test on April 6th 2006, and I have only managed 6 weeks work from it.

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