What should I tell my coworkers about my gender transition?

Question:

I’m planning to transition to living as a female in several months. (My assigned gender at birth was male, and I’ve lived and worked as a man for many years, but have always identified internally as female.) I’m good friends with one of my coworkers, who knows of my plans. But what should I tell my other coworkers, if anything? Should I tell my boss? I don’t want to face questions about my relationships, my sexual orientation, whether I’m having surgery, and so on; these all feel like very private topics. At the same time, I want to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Answer:

Experts advise employees who plan to transition to start a conversation with their bosses and/or HR departments. Plan a face-to-face meeting, in which you should briefly explain your intent to transition, your timeline, and the issues that might come up. For example, you might need to discuss which restroom you will use, how gender-based grooming or dress codes will apply during your transition, changing your name on company and official forms, and time off from work (if you need leave for surgery or other treatment).

How this initial conversation goes will depend on your company’s culture and your manager’s sophistication regarding gender identity issues. If you have concerns that your boss might not “get” transgender issues, you may want to involve the HR department.

As for your coworkers, you and your boss should discuss how and when they will be told. Generally, you should communicate with your coworkers shortly before you begin your gender transition. Some employees prefer to handle this communication face-to-face, while others prefer to handle it with a group email. Either way, you should explain that you will be transitioning and that you wish to be referred to by your new female name and by female or gender-neutral pronouns. You may also offer to answer questions coworkers might have, if you are willing to do so. Or, you can also refer coworkers to the HR department if they have questions.

Once your transition starts, try to be firm, yet forgiving. If a coworker accidentally calls you by your former name or uses the wrong gender in referring to you, correct the statement right away. But remember that your coworkers have known you as a man and may not be familiar with transgender issues. Mistakes will happen. But, if you feel that a coworker is intentionally mislabeling you in order to be hostile or belittling, call the coworker out and report it to HR. Coworkers who joke, make unkind statements, or refuse to respect your transition can cross the line into harassment.

Legal protections for transgender employees depend on where you work. A number of states and local governments explicitly prohibit workplace discrimination based on transgender status and gender identity. In places without these express bans, you may be protected by Title VII, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and some courts have found that Title VII protects transgender employees from being discriminated against because of their failure to conform to gender-based stereotypes and expectations. An experienced local lawyer can help you figure out whether you are protected and what to do if you face difficulties at work during your transition.

You can find great online resources to help you with your workplace transition at the websites of Transgender at Work and the Transgender Law Center.

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