Going Back To Work, Expectations VS. Events

There are so many stories a trans-person can tell about their transition.  When they knew they were different, when they came out to friends or family members for the first time.  We get into our first adventures into the world as our identified gender, going to seek out a therapist to begin transition and starting hormones.  Another adventure that some trans-people get to do is transitioning on the job.  I got to partake in that adventure.  I think of no better way to put that statement then an adventure.

Shortly after starting my therapy, I knew that transition to some degree would occur.  To which extent was to be determined, but change was in the works for me.  Because of my position as a sales rep, I knew that I had to bring to the attention of my manager why somethings will begin to change in my appearance.  I scheduled a ‘One With One’ meeting with my manager in a setting that would be private and would not be interrupted.  This would be the first of many meetings with staff of our location that caused a minor anxiety attack I am certain.  After sitting down, the first thing I asked for was to have an open and accepting mind to what I was going to reveal and discuss.  I remember exactly what was said to get things rolling after I received a nod from Art to let know he was ready.  I said to him as I could feel the sweat in my palms, “Art, since you came to our store, I’m sure you’ve noticed a small change in my appearance and presentation here.”  I was referring the the goatee and bushy eye brows I had shaved and trimmed since his arrival.  Acknowledging that I moved on, “I have been going to a therapist for a condition called G.I.D.”

I was already a little shaken by that statement, so we let that settle.  Art asked if G stood gender.  I could only nod.  Art sat way back in his chair, which triggered a response in my mind, “what did I just do!  I completely screwed up my position here!”

What happened next was what surprised me that most; Art looks me dead on and replies, “Mike, you are a hell of a sales rep and great person.  If you can do your job, that is all I am concerned about.  Whatever you decide to do, I support your decision and will help you the best I can.”

I think that was the point I melted.  A conversation that so many other trans-people I have read and listened to dreaded and regretted, just went with out a hitch.  At this point, I have also had similar conversations with a couple co-workers that I would also consider my friends.  Their acceptance was also given to me, with the ability for them to come to me with questions so I could answer them.

Months passed and my therapy continued.  Work turned into a mess of sorts, only a few months after I outed myself as transgender to my manager, he was promoted and moved on in the company.  The holiday season came and went and we were presented with a new store manager.  About a two months passed with my new manager settling in.  I knew that I had to do this meeting again, and once again I was unsure how my manager was going to react to the news.

I scheduled that One With One again, and when meeting time arrived, I started to have flash backs to what had just occurred months earlier.  As I sat down with Jason, I could feel my heart start to race.  I knew I had done this once, I had an idea how to start this.  I started, “I had this meeting once with Art, and I was quite nervous going into that one, this one is no different.”  I was reassured that things will be fine.  I took in a deep breath of air and put it out there, “I have been in therapy since last spring for G.I.D. and sometime in the unforeseen future.”

It was at this point, I got to explain what the initials were for and explain that I would be going through transition at work.  To my surprise again, I was told that so long as I can do my job, that’s all that mattered.  I was quite relieved and opened the forum again to allow questions and me to be able to educate if there was uncertainty as to how to handle issues as they arise.  The meeting ended with a comment I was more amused by then anything, “I just assumed you were Gothic, I don’t think I would have guessed otherwise.”

Time passed once again, and as different point developed with conversation, I made sure to keep Jason in the loop about things that the company would need to know about my transition.  June 9th, 2011 came and went as the day I started HRT.  This was a big day for me as I knew this was the big plunge of no return.  Co-workers I felt I had a good relationship with were brought in the know of my transition.  The tool I used to judge reactions to my news was a video of an amazing singer from Thailand.   What I knew, and they didn’t; the singer was a trans-woman who could sing in her old voice in and new one.  The singer started in a feminine voice, and for the second verse her voice drops to quite a masculine voice.  As reactions were positive to how impressive she was, I felt it was safe to go back and simply say, “It’s amazing who can do this and where they are.”  I would then reveal myself to these people.

Summer went by and as Autumn arrived, I had to start wearing my usual work uniform with the addition of a fleece vest I had from an old position I held.The layers started to become a necessity as the hormones were working their magic.  When it was noted I was wearing layers in even the warmest of days, the next meeting was scheduled.  I got to drive to the regional business office to have a meeting with our HR representative.

In my HR meeting, I got to explain where I was in my transition. This was the first time I got to explain why I was telling people now instead of closer to the date.  “Transition is change from one point to another point.  This transition isn’t just my transition, it’s everyone who is involved in my life.  I was going to be asking a lot of my teammates when my time came when I would be presenting female at work.  I couldn’t expect that to be sudden.  So as I make my journey to being the true me, I need everyone on that journey with me.”  This was the center point of how the rest of the meeting went.  I was asked what was needed from HR , and set up plans on how to handle certain situations if they were to arise.   The last thing was, if that was my point on transition, I would have to go back and talk with the rest of my team.

Within two weeks, I had met with everyone who I did not reveal previously that I was trans.  The responses from everyone was positive, anything from well, I had a good idea, to I respect you that much more for willing to put yourself through this to be yourself.  Thinking of all the responses simply makes my eyes water in the belief that my teammates were that great, and understanding.  As I approached the date I set for being full-time I kept people who were interested in the know, I got my name changed, I have PTO ready to go to let it sink in once and for all, Mike would not be back.

Independence Day was scheduled as my last day before a vacation from work.  I decided to take an extended paid vacation that I saved up for to set in that I was indeed coming back with change.  As I was leaving that day, I realized that the 4th now had a second meaning to me.  My own independence to allow myself to no longer be restrained by a fake presentation.  I wrote a lengthy e-mail to all my co-workers, thanking them for their unbelievable support and understanding.  I put out there what I expected when I returned, and left the lines of communications open.

July ’12 was my time to just let me settle in as living as a woman, it was this time a couple team members added me to Facebook, and was showing some interest in my time off and my adjusting.  About three quarters of the way through my vacation, I had a call come in from Jason for a small One With One at a location remote from our store.  There, we caught up a little then set a team meeting to talk about store operations and after that concluded, I would have the floor.

Nervous to arrive to the meeting, I arrived to where I talked to everyone who came at some point in chit chat, my expectation was some type of reaction to my appearance. To my relief, that didn’t happen.  Conversations were asking about vacation, and just anything else that would be normally discussed prior to my vacation.  Our meeting occurred, and when I got to speak, I could feel that same nervousness return.   I got to thank the whole store, for being such an incredible team.  To take something that isn’t completely ordinary and not make it in anyway uncomfortable, and not just that, but their on going support.

Leaving that night from the store, I so glad to know I could walk into my store, with my teammates and interact with them like I had previously with nothing out of place.  The true test would come a week later (I know, this is the part a lot of you readers were probably hoping to get to.)

July 31st, 2012; I arrived to work about half an hour early.  I parked my car, and my heart was racing like nothing else ever felt.  I was walking in that day knowing I had to interact with customers, and what would could possibly come of that scared me to death.  I walked in, said hi to the reps of the floor, and made my way to the back room and sat at the break table with a glass of water, trying to relax.  My team mates came to the rescue again, as they passed me in back room they welcomed me back, talking about how it would be a good day.  What stood out that most, I was at a point close to start time, and my hands were trembling , and Alesha, a senior rep and friend that’s know from the very start about my transition, looked right at me said, “You are going to be fine, if anything happens, all of us are right behind you.”

That reassurance helped a lot, and I made my way to the sales floor.  It is now a week plus since I made those steps out the floor,  but I have had nothing more then a couple looks.  So many of interactions were positive with my customers.  The best interaction on that first day was a sale where I sold a device to a couple, and I got to team up with the woman customer and give her boyfriend a hard time.  It was also where I had people that sit there and as they spoke about me, referred to me as ‘she’ and ‘her’, which I am holding onto as simply amazing.

I’ve had other interactions with people who made it clear they knew me, but nothing negative.  One conversation was about how long my hair has gotten since I started to grow it.  Another was a lady who had remembered an interaction she had with me months ago, and thought I was exceptional.  She made it a point to thank me by my name.  One of my regular customers was talking to me like nothing was different, telling me about how she tried to come in while I was on vacation.  When I flat out said, “Well, we know why I was gone now,” and gesturing to my presentation.  The reply I got back blew me away, but made a lot of sense, “You act like a lot of us didn’t realize what was going on.  We could feel that about you.”

I remember how dumbfounded I was for a moment, but made complete sense.  As she left, she wished me “the very best as I continue my journey.”  I’ve had so many interactions with so many other people.  No bad reactions, simply treating as the person that was presented in front of them.  I really do believe that because of the way I handed my transition, bringing so many people along for my ride, my journey; it allowed me to give off the aura that everything was right, and was the way things out to be.  After the sweat dried, and the shaking nerves calmed, I was able to be out there, as confident as possible.  With teammate behind me, I know that even if I have that one jerk to deal with, everything will  be alright.

I understand that not all transitions can be like mine at work.  But I want to point out what was different about mine from so many other transition-on-the-job stories.  Where so many people a couple weeks, to a month before they go full time, go “oh, by the way.  I will be coming to work as the gender opposite of what you know me as.  I expect you to call me by proper pronouns and this name.”  I did not do this.  I took the line I used at my HR meeting and applied it the whole way, “Transition is change from one point to another point.  This transition isn’t just my transition, it’s everyone who is involved in my life.  I was going to be asking a lot of my teammates when my time came when I would be presenting female at work.  I couldn’t expect that to be sudden.  So as I make my journey to being the true me, I need everyone on that journey with me.”

Because I allowed people to adjust as I did, it was a lot easier for everyone involved to simply, transition as I did.  I was told more than once by the management team that, “the way handled my transition has been amazing.  Adjusting is so much easier then we could have expected.”  This statement is more true than you could believe.  Time to allow for large adjustments lead to adjustments being taken easier then expected.

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