Last evening I had a very interesting conversation with a very good friend of mine. He has been seeking guidance from me on how to support someone in his organization that has disclosed they are transgender and looking to transition in the work place. This is a loaded statement if there every was one! Talk about peeling back the layers of the metaphorical onion!?!
First, let me say that full credit goes to my friend for having the willingness and desire to educate himself. We have been engaged in this dialogue for a few months now and his questions and comments are always thoughtful. He, and his organization, are asking all the right questions.
I know it is hard for CIS people to grasp what it takes for someone to do this. To begin the process of coming out and transitioning. It ain’t easy. Trust me on that. And to top it off, there isn’t any manual on how to do this. Everyone’s journey is unique and belongs to them. While there are definitely similarities, we each have our own circumstances and challenges to deal with that make our story our own. So we really can’t tell someone to “do what I did, it worked for me”. Sure, some of the basics do resonant with most who are on the journey, but not everything, and not all the time. There in lies the challenge.
And coming out at work is just that, at work. That doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the entire landscape. There’s coming out to your family, friends, neighbours, volunteer organizations, etc, etc, etc. It took me about 8 months before I think I was done “coming out”. There would always be something else that would pop up, like my mechanic, or yard maintenance guy, etc, etc, etc.
And family. Oh my gosh….there’s a mine field if there ever was one!! There’s spouses/partners, children, parents, siblings, relatives. They all need to be handled a little bit differently as each relationship is different. At least it was for me. Very different approaches based on not only the relationships, but the individuals. Everyone processes information differently. They need to be handled in a manner that they can relate to. Not an easy challenge by the stretch of anyone’s imagination. So it takes time, energy, and strength to navigate those waters.
Then there’s all the “prep work” that goes into the process as well. For me it was coordinating electrolysis, laser treatments, working with an esthetician, hair stylist, to help me to prepare to present as me true self. The laundry list goes on and on and on.
So there are lots of things that this person in question is probably trying to work out. It’s not as simple as just coming out at work. There are a ton of moving parts. Each of them with there own set of challenges and stress level. Oh my, the stress level goes off the charts during this time. Even when the goal is positive, you are finally going to be able to simply who you really are, but still. You never know how people are going to react with each interaction.
Simply telling someone that they have your support, say in the work environment, doesn’t mean they are not still nervous as hell and stressed out about it. Your boss telling you that you have their support and protected by policies is super comforting, don’t get me wrong. One of the first things I did when I was preparing to come out was meet with our Human Rights office to see what protections I had. Turns out, I am protected to the teeth. All of which made me relax somewhat. But that doesn’t mean that people will truly accept you for who really are, policies or not. It can still be a rough transition while people get on board.
So at the end of the day, people need time to do this. And patience. And support. They are the adult in charge, the driver of the bus, use whatever metaphor you like. For those in a supporting role, it is important to educate yourself, listen, learn. Let them know you are there for them when they are ready. Understand there is a ton on their plate and they are just trying to do the best that they can to keep all the balls in the air. But hopefully, they will get there and simple be themselves. And how cool is that!!!!????