Analysis (Services and Self)

Koan Bremner's view on life as a database and data warehouse professional / addict and non-genetic woman

Friday, October 15, 2004

T-Day Plus One Year

16 October 2003 is one of a few upcoming auspicious (for me) anniversaries. One year ago marked the beginning of my transition into womanhood; because on that day, I explained to my colleagues at work (except for a few absentees who were either ill, on holiday or at a customer site) about my gender dysphoria, and that (with the complete support of the company's management) I would be coming to work from that day dressed as a woman, with a new name, but unchanged in responsibilities and abilities. Many people with gender dysphoria either have faced (or will have to face) the process of transitioning in the workplace, so I thought I'd document my experience, in the hope that it might help someone else.

I started working at Exony in March 2003, and at that stage my gender dysphoria was not public knowledge. I was still living as a man, and trying to cope without pursuing a full transition. With hindsight, though, I'm sure that subconsciously I was looking for an employer where I would feel comfortable and safe to transition, should the need arise. I certainly didn't raise the subject at interview, nor once I started! ;-) What I *did* raise with my immediate managers, though, from day one, was that I had been dealing for years with clinical depression; but that a lot of experience of dealing with the practical effects of how depression affected me, together with medication, plenty of counselling in the past, clean living in the present and a period of recuperation prior to joining Exony meant that I felt the role I was taking on was well within my abilities, and one where I could manage my occasional bouts of depression without adversely affecting the company. I think that's proved to be the case (although I can only speak from my side); I'm still there, so hopefully that indicates they didn't lose faith in me! :-)

Six months later, though, I had arrived at the conclusion that permanent transition was really the only viable option for me, so I took my immediate manager (the Chief Technical Officer) to one side and explained to him what was afoot. I don't really know what reaction I was expecting, and I'd long ago accepted that I have no right to expect (or demand) a favourable reaction to what is (for most people) not something they encounter every day. But Doug was fine about it; in fact, he said he was relieved it wasn't something more serious! Which was a salutary reminder to me that sometimes we imagine things about ourselves are much more of an issue for others than they really are.

Doug spoke with the rest of the management team, and I assume they investigated their corporate responsibilities and legal obligations, as any responsible employer would. A few weeks later, we'd agreed that I would be the one to announce my situation to the rest of the staff, and between us we would answer any immediate questions or concerns which were raised. The day before I was due to make the announcement, I met briefly with Doug, Rex (Chief Operations Officer) and Jonathan (Chief Executive Officer), and Jonathan said something that I will never forget. He said that he thought it was a fantastic thing (for me) that I was going to achieve such an important personal goal; and that it spoke volumes for the company that a relatively new employee like me felt that I could go through such a process without fear of prejudice from my employer and colleagues. He said exactly the same thing the next day to the company, after I'd broken the news; and his actions since have proved to me that he meant every word. Respect!

The actual announcement was, in all honesty, a breeze. I've mentioned before that I miss the buzz I used to get while instructing in a classroom. I'd started giving Thursday lunchtime "chalk talks" a few weeks previously, which were informal talks / demonstrations / discussions for an hour or so on a topic relevant to databases, analytical systems and the like which either I felt were not sufficiently clear to my colleagues, or that they had specifically asked me to cover. We were about to begin developing the new analytics product in earnest, so I chose a topic which would appeal to the widest range of staff (including the non-developers) and gave of my best. After the session was over, I said that I had a small announcement of a personal nature to make, and (after a few seconds of hesitation on my part) got on with it.

I had got into the habit of videoing the chalk talks, so that I could turn them into video and audio files for the benefit of colleagues who'd missed a session, so I left the camera rolling, and I still have that recording. It is just six minutes and 55 seconds long. What can I say? They were stars. If any of them had (or have) problems or issues with my transition, they've never been expressed to me, directly or indirectly. Which is exactly what I would have hoped for. It *shouldn't* be an issue for anyone else. But I've read more than a few accounts of workplace transitions by transgendered folks in the UK and elsewhere, and my experience seems to be very much the exception rather than the rule. Stories of immediate dismissal, delayed / "constructive" dismissal, persecution, intimidation and discrimination abound. So, if I *had* experienced difficulties I would have been sad, but not surprised. The fact that I didn't was a source of wonder and relief to me back then, and is something I am grateful for to this day.

And that was my last day in male mode. I went out shopping with my partner Kim the next day for some essential items, gave away, threw away or sold my male clothing, and have lived as I should always have since that day. And I have truthfully never regretted it, not for a moment.

My closing observation on this long-ish post is how I, personally, have dealt with people who've joined Exony since that day. I'm Koan, I work on the database side, I ride a motorbike to work (mechanical breakdowns of my trusty Cruella permitting)... the rest they can work out for themself. I don't say "I'm a transsexual" or "I'm progressing towards a sex change" or anything like that. What other people say to them about my status (if anything), I have no idea, nor do I particularly care. If any of them want to talk to me about stuff, or ask questions, I respond and answer openly and willingly. I take the view that if I don't make a big thing about it, then they won't think that *they* need to make a big issue out of it. That seems to be the case.

Thanks, guys; I really mean that.

PS - to me, "guys" is a non-gender specific collective term; as opposed to "men", "chaps", "blokes" etc. Is that how other people interpret it? If not, maybe I'll start using the term "chuffers" (as coined by my colleague Ant a couple of days ago) instead. I've no idea where that one came from...

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