Transforming the workplace

Lucy

Lucy moved to Southampton for university eight years ago, and after graduating with degrees in Physics with Astronomy and a Masters in Creative Writing she made the city her home. 

Not a stranger to the spotlight, Lucy has been acting from a young age, with highlights including a performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and directing a version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Ruddygore,’ performed with the Operative Society. 

An avid reader and writer, her first novel was published in 2019. If that wasn’t enough, she is also the lead guitarist in the trans-queer punk-rock band Hunting Hearts. 

We had the pleasure of talking to her about her experience as a trans woman, particularly when it comes to broaching the subject in the workplace.

Coming Out

“When I approached my parents about it, it wasn’t the first time I’d come out. I had been meandering through the LGBT+ spectrum in various ways beforehand, but this time was the hardest. I was about 80% sure at this stage that the transition was for me, having experimented with dressing in my room and going out socially with my friends presenting as female.”

Lucy

When asking friends who had been through a transition themselves, she was advised to get herself on the NHS waiting list sooner rather than later. 

Lucy was told that many people use that time to make sure they are 100% ready, and sadly it is easier to drop out of the process than it is to get into it.

“When I told my parents, once the tears, shock and silence had settled, the first thing they told me to do was to go and see a therapist. I took this advice and it was clear to me and the therapist, that I didn’t need therapy. 

Time went by and I presented my parents with my thoughts, conclusions, the estimated timeline of what would happen and when it would happen. There was the typical denial, grief, regret and anger displayed. The line ‘It’s just a phase’ was thrown around a bit too, but over the years it has settled down.

To this day, there are still a few faux pas regarding names and pronouns, but then my Dad called me by the cat’s name once, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt! Now, after about four years, I’d say we’ve overcome all the little challenges and grown closer as a family. Now, we just live as normal.”

The Biggest Challenge

“I think the most challenging part for me was to reconcile the new and old images I had of myself. Before the transition, I was very quiet and kept myself to myself, not wanting to be the centre of attention or rock the boat in any way. It always seemed like too much of a risk. But with the transition, there wasn’t any way I could be invisible again. 

It felt like everyone was staring all the time, judgement cast even in the privacy of a bathroom mirror.

Overcoming this estimation of worth based upon others’ impressions was the most challenging part and to adapt myself to the social spotlight I’d put on myself. Even now, I do find some days tough, where I’d just rather curl up inside with my cat, but it’s not always possible. You’re back on that stage whenever you leave the house. 

Thankfully, however, I’ve gotten used to it and there are days when I forget it’s there, and it might even now be fading as I become just another person in the background, living my life in this brand-new way.”

The Positive Moments

“There’s no one big moment. There is no epiphany or victory. The transition is a process and because of that, there are lots of little victories and failures. Trying to step outside while presenting is a challenge in itself, sometimes losing heart and retreating back inside. But then, a year or so later, walking to work like it’s the most natural thing in the world. 

It’s not just experiencing these little moments, but realising that they’re there. It could be a stranger saying ‘sweetie’ or ‘dear’ at the end of a sentence, or it could be no one saying anything or looking your way at all. It could be arriving for your first appointment at the Gender Identity Clinic. 

It could be a hundred other things that accumulate over the years, and I think when they all come together into this gradual amalgamation of a normal life, it is rewarding.”

Transitioning in the Workplace

Lucy has been working in sales for the last few years as a bid writer. Working with salesmen and an account director, she responds to bid tenders to get other companies to buy the product among a crowded field of suppliers.

“When I came out, I was working remotely so had only been to the office twice in the year or so I’d been there. Most people knew me by my voice, a screen name and the Skype image when you don’t have an avatar selected. 

I used the time working from home to become more sure of myself in a social way, being with friends, going out to the shops, stuff like that, before crossing it over to the corporate world. 

I chose the moment when I’d officially changed my name, so I would at least have some documentation to back myself up. Thankfully, I didn’t need it. The company was amazing and the head of sales, my proper boss-boss, called me up to say how it wouldn’t change anything and they’d get everything updated via HR immediately. 

Within a few days, everything went on like before, several people emailing in to say how they would support me if I needed it. It helped bridge that gap and gave me a good footing to face future jobs and actual commutes to work. For that, I’m forever grateful.

I’ve since moved onto different jobs performing the same sort of role and they’ve all been decent. I’ve not actually had to let anyone outside of HR know that I’m transgender as I present well enough to pass as female. I know this is not an ideal way of looking at things, because in no way does conforming to binary gender stereotypes make you any more or less valid, but I won’t deny that in the society we have at the moment it does make things simpler.”

What could have been handled better?

“The only obstacle I found to employment while being transgender was the hiring process.”

Lucy explains that when a company hires you, they have to run the basic checks to make sure you are who you say you are. This process requires legal identification papers such as your passport, birth certificate or other.

“Even though I used my old passport, supported with my deed-poll and a letter from GIC, the HR department were forced to use my old name and gender marker in their internal system. This wasn’t used business-wide, it was just for the nitty-gritting HR stuff.

This is because of how they link up with HMRC and the like, which is done using the details in your passport and can only be superseded with a Gender Recognition Certificate (note: these are a pain to get and I haven’t bothered myself). 

Trying to get them to understand the importance of using the correct identifiers was a fool’s challenge as they were bound by regulation. This is something more inherent to the system and can’t be easily solved. It’s just something trans-people need to be aware they might encounter. My advice would be to get your passport updated as soon as you’re able and ready. It just makes things a lot easier.

Most people now see and accept me as female and don’t look any further, meaning I don’t tell them if they don’t ask. It does mean I get exposed to various institutionalised and low-key acts of sexual harassment, just because people see me now as female. 

Examples of this include; asking me to get the coffee when there are several men working the same set of desks, or being judged more for what I wear than male colleagues because the female body is seen as inherently sexual and that’s my fault for some reason…”

What the workplace should know

“First, I would say that the most immediate points of contact, such as line managers and the HR department, need to be fully trained on the world beyond the binary and at least made aware that it exists and where to find appropriate resources. 

They need to know the different terms, the vocabulary (or at least have the willingness to learn) and to understand the significance that the little things can have on an employee coming out, for better or for worse. 

They also need to be aware of the hardships that are involved in the process. Everyday acts, which for them would be of no obstacle, can be a major impediment to someone coming out, such as commuting or speaking on the phone. There should be concessions made to help people through this part of their transition. 

Other than that, they just need to be nice, to put the wellbeing of the person before the bottom-line of the role or business. It’s also important to note that trans-people have the law on their side with the Gender Equality Act. They can’t be harassed or dismissed due to how they identify regarding gender or sexual orientation.”

Issues faced by trans employees at work include a lack of understanding, prejudice, data security and confidentiality issues (including inadvertent “outing” when outdated records are retained unnecessarily), records and reference requirements in the recruitment process, access to facilities and dress codes. 

“Dress code is something to be wary of in the corporate world, but this is more an extension of the judgement placed on women as a whole, which, as a trans-woman, you can fall foul of from time to time, as male-gazey as the rules are. Those businesses for which I’ve worked were clear with the dress code and hadn’t any outdated records as I joined them as fully female from presentation to documentation. But then, I’ve been very lucky in all stages of my transition.”

Lucy’s advice for people who want to use different pronouns in the workplace

“Stick to your guns. Be clear with the pronouns and names you want and if someone gets them wrong, correct them. If they persist, report them. You are in the right, morally and legally. 

Also, be prepared to educate people and to explain the importance of this for you. 

Most importantly, don’t let others dictate your transition and identity for you. It’s not for them to decide. It’s your choice. How you identify might change over time, but then when does any one label we put on ourselves last forever? 

My advice of being true and confident in the face of adversity is easier said than done and can seem impossible at times, but your identity is yours to make and yours to share in the way and at the time you wish. It’s not wrong to get angry, to be upset, to hold people to account just because they don’t understand. You are right. You are valid. You are worth fighting for.

I’d say to speak first with your manager about this as others in the team/department/business will listen and take heed more from a person in a position of authority. I know it’s not ideal, but this is the way the world works, and it’s always good to have your boss on your side.

It’s about being clear and assertive, to have the facts ready regarding what’s happening, what you need, what the company can do for you and how the transition might impact your role. They will take notice and respect your assertion more if you approach them on equal footing with the terms laid out. 

While you are there to work for them, they are there to support you. It’s why there’s been such a push for working rights and wellbeing initiatives over the years, employee assistance programs and minimum wage guarantees. A business will care more when you are happy and working well. If helping you ensures that’s the case, they’ll help. And as I said above, the law is on your side, so don’t be afraid to put your foot down if needed. It takes courage, there’s no denying that, but be strong, be sure, and things should turn out okay.”

ACAS have information for employers on their website, where they say: “An employee-led plan should cover consideration of matters such as: who is told and under what circumstances, when any transition may occur, when records will be updated, how old records will be dealt with, absences from work and temporary changes to working arrangements.” We asked Lucy if her plan included these.

“No, there was no mention of gender identity or transition beyond a passing mention in the discrimination section of the employee handbook. The only mention of gender was a document written by a non-binary member of the business. 

Not many people talk about trans-issues or gender topics because not many people know about it, as it’s easier to let the status quo lie than to invest in change. And it’s sometimes easier to just go along with it, as a trans-person, than to raise your voice, call attention to yourself and insist something be done. It’s a risk and it’s scary, and there’s no guarantee that your efforts and hardships will result in anything.”

Is there enough official information available for employers on how to deal with these issues sensitively in the workplace?

“No, there isn’t. This is a systematic, society-wide problem that stems from a lack of education of anything other than cis-het genders in school’s sex-ed classes. Speak to someone who’s never met a trans-person before and ask them about the details, and they wouldn’t have the foggiest about pretty much anything. 

If I had my way, we’d work from the bottom up rather than the top down, as having more educated people coming into businesses is easier than reforming businesses from the inside. However, it doesn’t take much to make a start. 

Maybe have your marketing team write a document detailing gender identities, sexual orientations, and the other facets of the LGBT+ spectrum. This can then be disseminated throughout the business, put in a central location for people and managers to access, as well as be used on the website and social media pages to attract positive press for your efforts towards inclusion. You can go further with seminars and workshops, more serious disciplinary actions for those on the wrong side of the rules, and more.”

Being accepted by the LGBTQIA community

“As a member of Hunting Hearts I’m an active member of the community, pushing for inclusion and representation with every performance and social media post. I’ve not found any discrimination in the community and the few pride events I’ve attended, which were mostly spent back-stage before a performance, were very friendly and full of love. Not much more to say than I’m supported by people who are there to help me anyway they can, and I’m there for them in the same way.”

The biggest issues that the community faces

“This is a big topic, more than I can put here. But I think that the lack of education and awareness around LGBT+ people and trans-people in particular is a huge issue. The community faces harassment and violence on a regular basis, as highlighted in the news recently, stemming, I think, from this lack of awareness into the seriousness of the topic and the impact their actions have. 

As to why? I don’t know. Maybe there are some fragile egos in there who are threatened by anything beyond the cis-het bubble because they feel it would invalidate them. Or maybe they’re just arseholes, I don’t know.”

Living in a digital world as a transgender woman

“As a millennial, I’ve only ever known a digital world. It helps with outreach and building communities in safe spaces, but it also opens these to online trolls and bullies. 

Many LGBT+ societies don’t advertise their events outside of private groups for fear of people finding out and causing trouble. It’s a double-edged sword. 

It’s spread awareness further than ever before, which has been positive for those that are lonely, uncertain and vulnerable, questioning a subject for which they previously had no words or basis for comparison. It has also made more bad people aware. In the end, I think it’s a good thing, as unity and goodness will always prevail. At least, that’s my hope.”

At SOCIALight, we are still learning about the LGBTQIA community as are many of our readers. We think It’s okay for people to sometimes make mistakes and slip up on things such as pronouns and their understanding of different genders, sexualities and preferences, no one is perfect. 

We asked Lucy if she welcomes people to come forward and ask about her experiences and learn from her. She said: “Yes, I welcome any and all questions because I know how difficult it can be to get all the terms correct. Not only are they new (it took me several months to get my own name and pronouns right!) but they’re evolving alongside the vocabulary. The language around the LGBT+ space is becoming unified in a way it hasn’t before, with the community reclaiming words that were previously used as insults (gay and queer, for example), while redefining other words as unsuitable (when I started the transition, the word transsexual was more common, but now transgender is used more because it doesn’t carry the connotations of gender identity being related solely to sexual organs, a correlation which is of course resoundingly untrue).”

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