Content Warning: This article contains mentions of transphobia and mental health struggles while transitioning at work.

Transitioning at work comes with its own set of barriers and challenges. We wanted to speak to community members who were willing to share their experiences of coming out and transitioning at the workplace. If you are affected by workplace harassment due to your gender identity, please read through our guide to know your options.

We had the pleasure of speaking to two of our GenderGP team members: Sofia and Caelan. Sofia is a Pathway Advisor and Caelan works as a Biomedical Scientist and Clinical Advisor. We had honest and vulnerable conversations on what they both experienced and how many companies still need to improve in order to help trans, non-binary and gender diverse people transition as easily as possible, with continuous support from their employers.

Caelan’s Story

caelan story transitioning at work

How was your experience transitioning at work? Did you receive any support?

Caelan: I had been working at the NHS for a number of years. I was also the Chair of the LGBTQ+ network at the hospital trust. That really helped me because I knew who to talk to or who I could ask straight away. My experience would have been very different if I hadn’t worked with them.

Upon speaking to the equalities team, Caelan realised that the hospital had no policies whatsoever. They had no information that could help trans staff members or trans patients through their transitioning process. Caelan and his co-workers went looking for information elsewhere. However, even in big cities, such as London and Manchester there was barely anything to be found, showcasing the lack of trans-inclusivity the hospital and the wider NHS had at the time. “It wasn’t so many years ago and we were really shocked to find that we weren’t the only ones who didn’t have any policies”, Caelan explained. “We had to start from scratch”.

Caelan: It was quite a different experience for me because I was doing it almost in a professional capacity as well as a personal one. I became the guinea pig for our new systems. But, I told myself that I am doing this for everybody who is going to come after me. I had to transition in full view of the hospital. I was being seen around and doing lots of promotion. So, everybody was seeing my face.

While there was no information, the staff members quickly realised that it was up to him to know how to proceed and not on them to decide for him. They all came up with the solution to send out an email, explaining that Caelan is trans. This way, other staff members did not have to come to him directly and ask invasive and inappropriate questions, but the team leaders were taking care of it.

Caelan: We wanted to make sure they had the answers … so that if they overheard people talking or being disrespectful or inappropriate, they could then deal with it, and I didn’t have to know about it. I am happy for people to speak to me, but I don’t want it to just be all day every day when I am just trying to get on with my job.

Once the email went out, the response was barely existent. Some people asked questions, but they were mostly polite. Initially, Caelan was misgendered and deadnamed a lot, but the staff immediately corrected themselves without having to be prompted. However, even after a year, people were still using the wrong pronouns. “I was quite surprised … it was quite worrying to me”, Caelan expressed. Nevertheless, he never dealt with any outright hatred from the departments.

What were the biggest challenges?

Caelan: The biggest challenge was that although the department had many gender neutral toilets, there were only male and female locker rooms. At first, I stayed in the female locker room. But as I started hormone treatment, and I started quite differently, I started to feel that it was completely inappropriate. I was not comfortable in either the male or female locker room.

Caelan was forced to use a cleaning cupboard or a random person’s office when they were away. However, “hiding me in a cleaning cupboard is not a solution”, Calean stated. That caused quite an issue. After speaking to other people, they finally decided to use a different department’s locker room. Only one person was using it and helped act as a temporary solution. However, once the covid-19 pandemic hit, he was not allowed to use locker rooms from different departments. Therefore, he had to start using the male locker room. Caelan sent out an email explaining his situation and if anyone had any objections, they should talk to him.

Caelan: There was one guy who replied. He said: ‘you’re as much a guy as anybody else and you are welcomed in our space’. That essentially stopped anyone else from expressing any objections. That was it, I moved in, and nobody cared. However, when I left, nothing had been actually resolved and the locker rooms remained the same. It’s going to come down to the individual where they’re most comfortable.

Sofia’s Story

sofia transitioning at work story

How was your experience transitioning at work? Did you receive any support?

Sofia: Unexpectedly poor. I was working as a counsellor at the time at a therapeutic behavioural boarding school for kids with behavioural diagnosis. They would not let me come out, and said that because our kids would not understand it, me coming out had to be planned. They wouldn’t let me go by my chosen name and forced me to continue dressing in my old clothes. The headmaster also made many false promises that he didn’t keep.

This went on for months. Sofia was forced to use her deadname and not tell anyone about their identity. The headmaster even compared his experience of chemotherapy to Sofia’s experience of taking hormones – a ridiculous, and harmful comparison. While cis, straight people were allowed to talk about their relationships, queer and trans people were not afforded the same luxury. It all had to be kept quiet. Nobody was making any plans on how to best approach Sofia’s transition at work while lying to her about false progress being made in that regard. Sofia’s care for her children was the only drive that kept them at work.

Sofia: For months, I was being misgendered for over 60 hours each week. It was incredibly draining to be at the job, and it was killing me inside. I was getting really depressed and so I had to get out of there. As I didn’t have another job lined up, I was unemployed for six months after that. I was struggling to exist financially; I couldn’t pay bills. After that period, I finally started working at GenderGP.

What were the biggest challenges?

Sofia: Everything suffered, my mental health and physical health. I was feeling horribly about myself, and it made me question the validity of whether or not I was trans because I had such good relationships with the students as my old identity. I loved who I was with them. It felt so manipulative of the school to force me into a position where I had to maintain that mask, guilt tripping me into staying in my old identity. My whole life turned upside down and I got really depressed for a long time.

Not only did her mental health suffer, but Sofia was kept from pursuing their dream of becoming a sex therapist and completing a master’s degree. Her previous work’s lack of support affected Sofia in all areas of her life. However, looking back on what happened, they explained how it helped them set boundaries in relation to their transition. She had to cut ties with almost everyone from her past, including immediate family. Sofia’s experience taught her a lot about their needs as a person and their self-worth. Yet, it also meant redefining yourself without what you previously considered strong support.

What should all employers know or do when a co-worker comes out as trans and would like to start their transition at work?

Sofia: Protocols and systemic adherence should not come before basic human decency.

Caelan: Don’t wait for the first trans employee to come to you! Recognise that you will have trans patients that are working for you who do not feel able to come out and you will have people who join your employment who are trans. Get your policies in place and don’t have cis people doing it. There are plenty of organisations who have trans people you can get advice from. Don’t rely on members of staff doing the work for you. Make sure you listen to the individual person and how they approach their transition at work. Keep the transgender person at the centre and educate and train everybody at your place at work about trans, non-binary and gender diverse people.

Remember that when you make things better for trans people, you make things better for everybody.