Terri's Transition Story
My Work Transition
Hi my name is Terri. My birth name was Robert. I work for an insurance company.
Two and Ĺ years ago when I first thought about coming to work fully as Terri, it scared me. I had just started my journey of gender exploration after separating from my wife of 30 years. Six months ago when I decided to go ahead with work transition I had made tremendous strides in discovering who I am. I owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to my support team: my therapist- Dr. Christine Wheeler, my electrologist- Kathy, my two sisters, the many trans support groups Iíve been involved with, my wonderfully accepting church, many of my co-workers and the friends Iíve made along the way.
In actuality I began my workplace transition two years when I began to bring the spirit of Terri to my interactions with people. I let my hair grow and 15 months ago I had some hair restoration work done so that I didnít have to wear a wig. I hated wigs because I found them uncomfortable and I always felt like I was disguising myself. I was living on my own and my at home clothes got more and more feminine. My work clothes became more and more androgynous. My co-workers began to notice that I was more relaxed and happy. I had a few trusted friends in the office and I told them that I was transgendered and of my plans. It was good to have someone to talk to about what I was going through in the office. They kept my confidence.
In October of 2004, I spoke to my supervisor Linda about my plans. I told her that I am transgendered (and what that meant) and that I had been transitioning for the past 2 years. I told her that the next logical step for me was to be a full time female and that entailed transitioning from Bob to Terri in the workplace. I targeted April or May of 2005 as the time of the change. Linda was supportive saying that if this is what I needed to do to be happy then she was with me. Linda had noticed a change in me over the past 2 years and I told her that I had never been happier.
I then spoke to my department manager. He was supportive but I didnít get the same warm feeling that I got from Linda. I guess itís a guy thing. He strongly suggested that I let human resources and our operations manager know about this as soon as possible so that they could make whatever changes they needed to make. I felt it was a bit early to do this, but I did. In hindsight Iím glad that I gave them this time.
I then spoke to my local human resources person about my plans. I told her that I was transgendered and I gave her ďTrue SelvesĒ by Mildred Brown to read. I put a sticky on the chapter on work transition and I suggested that she read it. She was supportive and she asked me to speak to our operations manager as soon as possible. I did that same day. My operations manager said that he couldnít imagine someone going through this. He said that he admired my courage. It was a good start.
On November 1, 2004, my local HR person and I met with a human resources person from my home office. I prepared for the meeting by thinking about what was important to me: I wanted this to be a collaborative effort. I wanted to quickly settle the rest room issue so that I didnít obsess about it. At the meeting, I gave the two HR people a copy of the Human Rights Campaignís Transgender Issues in the Workplace: A Tool for Managers report. At this meeting the home office HR person said that I was the first person in my company to work transition and that the company wanted to do the right thing (good to hear). I told them what being transgendered was about for me, that Iíve been in therapy with a gender therapist for 2 Ĺ years and that Iím currently taking hormones. I told them about the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care and the requirement that I live 24/7 in my preferred gender for one year before sex reassignment surgery (I prefer to call it gender confirmation surgery). It was my local HR person who offered a restroom solution. We occupy parts of the 2nd and 3rd floors of the building weíre in. She suggested that when I start transition that I use the 1st floor ladies room until I feel that the women in my office are comfortable with Terri. It sounded workable. I thanked her for coming up with a solution and I agreed to the suggestion. My local HR person said that while they couldnít change my e-mail or payroll records to Terri till I changed my name legally, she would be willing to change the nameplate on my office window and on the internal phone directory. I could live with that for awhile.
Around mid-January of 2005 I had a talk with my supervisor Linda who informed me that there were rumors going around the office that I was becoming a woman. Linda and I talked about it and she casually suggested that I might want to consider transitioning a little sooner. I felt yes right away, but I let myself sit with it for a couple of days to be sure. After that time I told Linda that I had made the decision to move up the date that I would begin my work life as Terri to 3/7/05. I let HR know of the change and because we had already started things months earlier it was no big deal. I told HR that I would be taking off the Thursday and Friday before. My HR person said that my operations manager would be sending a letter to the staff to be delivered during the two work days before my transition explaining what was going on. She thanked me for the HRC information which she felt was a big help. We decided then that the letter would be hand delivered to everyone in an envelope rather than done by e-mail (classy). I asked to have input into the letter and my HR person asked that I write up a letter that said things the way I would say them. I also let HR know that I planned to speak to some of my co-workers one on one. I said that I would try to keep it short so as not to interfere with work time.
I looked over our internal phone list and I realized that of the 120 names on the list that I wanted to speak to at least 50 of them personally. Iíve worked at my company for 25 years. So I began the process. I wasnít nervous because I wanted people to know the tremendous effort it took me to get to this point and the soul searching I had done. Everyone was in some way positive. The reactions ranged from a mild good luck to a bear hug. It was interesting how many people shared about their gay brother or cousin. One person even knew a transgender person. Looking back I realize that this was a critical part of my work transition. I knew how most people felt before I even took a step in the office as Terri. I saw the letter beforehand from my operations manager and I made one small correction. I was happy with it. It was strong and supportive. A copy of the letter is at the end of my story.
Well, the fateful day arrived and I selected something to wear that was not too bold. After the first few minutes at work, I was OK. I told the first few people I met that my choices for something to wear that morning were between a polka dot dress with 5Ē heels or what I was wearing. We laughed and that helped. People tried hard to remember to call me Terri and there were a lot of mistakes those first few days. Theyíve gotten less and less as time passed. What was especially gratifying was to hear myself referred to with a feminine pronoun. After a few days a group of my women co-workers invited me out to a local TGI Fridays for drinks and snacks after work. I felt welcome and supported. They asked me questions and they gave me gifts- a perfume that I had talked about, a cosmetics bag with Lancome cosmetics and a card signed by about 25 of my women co-workers which I will always cherish. I was happy.
Over these past few weeks things have gotten more and more routine and there have been fewer flubs on my name and pronouns. The restroom thing is working out OK. Iím starting to get into a routine in the morning. Itís getting easier to select an outfit and Iím getting a little bolder with my choices. Iíve solicited comments from some of the women and theyíve been honest and supportive. Most of all I feel like Iím coming into my own. Itís starting to feel natural.
My best wishes to all my sisters!!
Here is the text of my operations managerís letter:
To all employees:
Bob xxx, one of our long term employees, has been in the process of making a personal transition that began some time ago. I feel it is important to inform you of the change and to reinforce the companyís position in the matter, that fully supports employee rights.
Beginning on March 7, 2005 Bob will be taking a major step in a gender transition where he will assume his lifeís role as a woman. Bob will begin using the new name of Terri xxx at that time. Many of you may already have had a personal discussion with Bob and are aware of his plans.
There have been many expressions of support and encouragement for Bob and I hope that continues. I want to be clear that the company is committed to principles of diversity and to equal employment opportunities for all of its employees. I also want to reiterate that I expect to continue to have a workplace free from harassment, intimidation and discrimination for all employees.
Terri has agreed to use restroom facilities on the first floor as of March 7, 2005. As female employees adjust to the transition, Terri plans to use the ladies room on the third floor.
Managers have been given information on transgender issues and what is required of employees and co-workers in the workplace. In addition, information on this subject is available on our website.
I would like to thank you in advance for your cooperation, understanding and support in this matter. If you have any questions, please feel free to speak with your manager, HR or myself.