Don't let your schooling interfere with your education.
~ Pete Seeger

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

An Appreciation

Diane's story reminds me of the gratitude I feel for my own situation, which is very different. My transition was so smooth, it barely caused a wrinkle. I experienced a wealth of support, right from the start, which enabled a sense of safety and comfort that had me smiling on my way to work – even as people, especially clients, routinely got my pronouns wrong.

When I started my working for the city, I planned not to come out to anyone until my 12-month probation period was over, and I was completely represented by the union. Transition is fraught with challenge, difficulty, and frequently pain for many transpeople, including both FTM's and MTF's. For some, it means loss of a job; others suffer harassment, even in just minor ways. There are enough stories similar to Diane's that I didn't consider coming out prior to my hire date for more than a second or two.

Yet, within two months, I came out to a person I felt comfortable with in human resources. She was excited, and I soon met with her, the diversity consultant, and the human resources manager to begin a transition plan. All of them were completely supportive.

A month later, I was in my workgroup manager's office, coming out to her and my workgroup supervisor.

Up to that time, no one who was employed by my city government had transitioned on the job. I was breaking new ground. Nevertheless, Keli O. and Steve M. (the bosses above, respectively) worked with me to develop a plan to prepare for my transition with the least difficulty. They contacted other employers who had helped employees transition, such as the local university. They worked with HR, the human rights commission, and the city's diversity consultant, and prioritized a training on gender diversity that was in the process of planning but had not yet been scheduled. They consulted me on timing and terminology, and on coming out to my department and division managers, where I found additional support. Keli and Steve continued to support me, making helpful suggestions and consulting as need arose, planning for contingencies – one of which was what to do if someone noticed me during my non-work hours, since at that time I was living as Seda whenever I wasn't at work.

Nine months after I started working for the city, I changed my name and the gender marker on my driver's license, took a week's vacation, and began my new life. While I was gone, Keli and Steve obtained several copies of guidebooks for employees working with transpeople, and shared them with anyone who was interested. They met with the staff in my workgroup and other workgroups that had significant interaction with mine, and shared a letter I'd written explaining my transition. They also handed out a memo that included these statements, which I believe was written by Keli:

"…we have determined that the women's and unisex restrooms are appropriate for Seda's use. "

"If a co-worker or … patron asks not to work with an employee because of gender identity, we will not honor the request."

"The City will not subject an employee to adverse employment actions based on personal identity."

When I came back to work, I returned to hugs and congratulations from some, and strange looks and silence from others. But, no harassment, nothing negative. One of the most positive aspects of the work Keli and Steve did was to skillfully walk a line of representing my transition as normal, while simultaneously educating and reassuring those to whom it was strange and uncomfortable, and assuring that I experienced no harassment. At all. Almost a year later, I've had positive, respectful connections with even those who appeared most doubtful at first.

The ease of my transition was, even more than the fact that I work with some very connected and liberal people (including several natural allies from the lesbian and gay community), the direct result of outstanding, talented leadership. The department where I work is full of motivated and competent people, working with very high morale, and totally blowing the image so many have of government.

Oh, yeah, I appreciate it. My transition was a team affair, and I had the help of a lot of people, not just Keli and Steve, though they led the effort. I'm grateful for all of them.

I wish every transperson could have an equally positive experience.

Unfortunately, I believe it's all too rare.

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Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.
~Helen Keller

Reading List for Information about Transpeople

  • Becoming a Visible Man, by Jamison Green
  • Conundrum, by Jan Morris
  • Gender Outlaw, by Kate Bornstein
  • My Husband Betty, by Helen Boyd
  • Right Side Out, by Annah Moore
  • She's Not There, by Jennifer Boylan
  • The Riddle of Gender, by Deborah Rudacille
  • Trans Liberation, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transgender Emergence, by Arlene Istar Lev
  • Transgender Warriors, by Leslie Feinberg
  • Transition and Beyond, by Reid Vanderburgh
  • True Selves, by Mildred Brown
  • What Becomes You, by Aaron Link Raz and Hilda Raz
  • Whipping Girl, by Julia Serano
I have come into this world to see this:
the sword drop from men's hands even at the height
of their arc of anger
because we have finally realized there is just one flesh to wound
and it is His - the Christ's, our