There are lots of reasons why trans people might be hesitant to come out at work. Fear of transphobia, internalised feelings of shame, concerns about job security. Here we share some insights that we hope will be useful.
So you’re thinking of coming out as trans at work. That’s great! But where do you start? A good place would be other LGBTQ+ colleagues. Larger workplaces may have LGBTQ+ representatives or social or support groups you can approach for advice. If you’re part of a union you can ask them for advice and support (and they’ll be able to protect you if there are any negative consequences at work – in fact, it’s good practice for any LGBTQ+ people concerned about discrimination to join a union). If there isn’t any existing LGBTQ+ support in your workplace but there are other out trans people then you can approach them for advice, always remembering to be respectful and mindful of boundaries! Everyone is on their own journey at their own pace, and some people might not feel comfortable or well-equipped enough to support you in yours.
Some trans people, once they’ve decided to come out, want to get it out of the way all at once (which is completely understandable – you’ve waited long enough!). If you want to take things a little slower, though, there’s nothing wrong with testing the water. Making small changes like your clothes, hair, or make-up ahead of the big ‘coming out’ can help you figure out what you want out of your transition, and give your colleagues a sense of where you’re going.
Depending on where you work and the nature of your job there could be a surprising amount of admin to sort out including employment documents and logins that will need to be transferred. You can always approach your line manager or a trusted colleague ahead of time and confidentially ask what might be expected. It helps if you can take some time off for these changes to go through and give both you and your colleagues a clean break. If you’re not able to take annual leave, consider sending an email sharing news about your new name and pronouns last thing on Friday, then come in as your best self on Monday morning.
Be prepared for bad reactions. Unfortunately we don’t (yet) live in a completely accepting society, and there’s always a chance someone will react badly to your news. That said, when we talk about ‘bad reactions’ it’s important that we understand the difference between hate and misunderstanding. Most people don’t hate trans people. In fact, research from last year suggests that 76% of people think prejudice against trans people is wrong. However, some people might not have met any trans people before, or might have only seen negativity in the mainstream media. They might use the wrong pronouns, say hurtful things, or make incorrect assumptions about being trans without intending to cause harm. It’s hard, but it’s important to be patient and try to correct these kinds of misunderstandings gently. If you take the time to help your colleagues learn, chances are they’ll thank you for it, and take the time to get to know the real you in return.
If you’re seriously worried about pushback, read up on your rights. If your work has an internal complaints procedure that should be your first port of call, but if you have persistent issues with discrimination, as a result of your gender identity, you might have legal recourse (this is when that union membership will come in handy). ‘Gender reassignment’ is considered a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and despite the confusing wording you don’t have to have had hormones, surgery, or any kind of medical transition to qualify for this protection. If you are disadvantaged or discriminated against at work because your gender is different to the one you were assigned at birth, then your workplace is in violation of the law. Of course, no one wants to get involved in a court case and few people have the resources to fight one, but making sure your workplace understands the legality of the situation could make a huge difference.
We get hung up thinking about how other people might react – but be prepared for some unexpected reactions from yourself as well. Because of the social pressures placed on trans people – cisheteronormativity, if you’re being fancy – we often carry a lot of internalised shame about our identities. That can all come out at once when we change how we present in public, and cause feelings of uncertainty or anxiety.
Things won’t always go according to plan but don’t let the possibility of things going wrong distract you from the fact that it is so much better to be making those mistakes as the right person than avoiding them as the wrong one.
Even as you prepare for the bad, let yourself hope for the best!
Congratulations! You’ve done it. So what now?
Once you’re settled in, it doesn’t hurt to think about the people who might be coming next. You won’t have been the first person in that situation, and you won’t be the last. If you keep on going strong and proud then the next nervous wreck thinking about how to come out at work will have an example to follow. If there weren’t any existing LGBT+ groups consider founding one, even if it’s just an informal gathering every so often. It might be all someone else needs to open up about their own identity – although if they do, never out them to anyone else without their permission.
Most of all, be yourself. Coming out at work is tricky! But once it’s done you’re out there, and you can get on with your life – your actual life. You can get there, and there’s no better time for the first step than today.