Notes on Gender Role Transition

By Anne Vitale Ph.D.

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Crossdressing, gender dysphoria, Gender Identity Disorder, transsexulism

Gender Transition in the Workplace: Advice for the Transitioning Employee

Originally Published November 10, 1996
References Updated September 10, 1998

Everyone facing the prospect of sex reassignment, or transition, as I will be referring to it here, speaks of two overwhelming concerns: What will transition do to my family? And... Will I be able to earn a living again? In this essay, I will address the workplace aspects of transitioning. Although no transition is easy, transition in the workplace has a history of success when handled properly.

Basically, transitioning individuals have two choices. They can quit their old job and start over again -- stealth like -- in a new job, or they can announce their change of sex in their current workplace. I understand that both choices are scary. If the transitioning individual tries to move to a new position in a new sex, they will be faced with having to provide a significant work history and several important personal references. There are other concerns as well. Given the incompleteness of this stage of transition, will anyone grant them a serious interview or want them on the staff? If they do get a new job, will they be able to concentrate on their work and appear in control even though just going to the grocery store may seem like a major test of self confidence? And, if they are fully accepted as a member of their new presenting sex, will they then have to deal with sexism? Will they have to take a cut in pay?

If finding a new job under these constraints seems to be impossible, transitioning individuals might find it easier to consider transitioning within their current job setting. Keep in mind that the scariest part of on-the-job transitioning is announcing their change of sex and then getting through the first few days in their new gender role. If all goes well and they receive their employer's cooperation in the transition, their income will probably remain the same and they won't be expected to have a fool-proof presentation. Being the company's resident transsexual certainly has its downside but at least he or she won't have to worry about being "discovered." Another good reason for trying to transition on the job is that if the situation doesn't work out, they can still try to get a position elsewhere.

Given the long list of hard facts and short list of choices, I routinely suggest to my clients that they transition on-the-job. I also suggest that they continue working in the same workplace for at least six to nine months to gain confidence and presentation skills. Because co-workers naturally make special allowances, I encourage my clients to consider this as an internship. This internship will serve them well if they should eventually decide to move to a new job where nobody knows of their transition history.

In some areas such as the State of Minnesota and the City of San Francisco, there are anti-discrimination laws protecting individuals who transition from losing their job. In addition, many Human Resources departments have begun to incorporate guidelines in their standard operating procedures to account for this contingency.

Civil Service jobs are among the easiest to retain but they do require comprehensive documentation from the therapist and all physicians involved. Jobs with a security clearance have become surprisingly easy to retain. However, they will most certainly require a written release from the transitioning individual allowing a Security Clearance Officer to interview their therapist. Surprisingly, this is usually a short interview and should present little or no difficulty if the transition has been well paced and all is in order. Other than psychological stability, the primary concern of the security investigator is the individual's vulnerability to being blackmailed. Fortunately, the mere fact that the individual has changed openly on the job effectively neutralizes that concern. General work force jobs are less secure, but even here retention rates are improving as the number of people transitioning on the job has forced Human Resources departments to learn how to handle the logistics of the process.

Here is a guide for transitioning successfully on the job:

Rule 1: Do your homework.
Management must know at least three months before you intend to start your Real Life Test. They must be convinced that you are serious about this and that you didn't decide just yesterday that you want to change your sex. Be prepared to write a well documented and thorough report stating the date you will present as a member of the opposite sex in a manner of dress and behavior appropriate to the workplace. Request in writing a meeting to work out a detailed timetable for implementation that includes management's informing your fellow workers several weeks prior to your coming out date. At this meeting you should also request management to arrange a formal meeting where you can address the concerns of your co-workers.

Your report should have a cover sheet that is clearly marked Personal and Confidential. It should include a brief history of your gender dysphoria explaining that since early childhood you have identified with the other sex, the difficulties you have experienced in society because of your dysphoria, how you tried, unsuccessfully, to cope by participating in normal gender behavior (use examples that apply, such as marriage, military service, sports, parenthood). Tell how you realized that these attempts at expected gender expression were insufficient, forcing you to seek medical advice. Include a list of the therapist and doctors you are working with. Be sure to include signed confidentiality release forms allowing your employer to talk to your therapist or doctors, a bibliography of current literature, and a copy of a handbook such as "Employer's Guide to Gender Transition" by Dianna Cicotello (available through IFGE, P.O. Box 367, Wayland MA 01778-0367) for their immediate review. You could also add the address of this web site: Anne Vitale, Ph.D., http://www.avitale.com.

Reassure your employer that you are handling all the legal matters, such as name change on bank accounts and Social Security registration. Also include photocopies of official documentation of your sex reassignment, such as your new driver's license, Department of Motor Vehicle Change of Name and Gender Form (if your state has one), letters from your therapist stating your medical condition and no intention to defraud, and perhaps even a copy of the HBIGDA "Standards of Care" to add further validity. Some people also include photocopies of hormone prescriptions and therapist's receipts.

The report should include a timetable of projected physical changes. Start with inclusive dates of psychological review resulting in approval for hormone treatment, projected starting date of the minimum one year Real Life Test, and target date of actual sex reassignment surgery. Include specifics about when new secondary sex characteristics will appear over the period of your transition. Because appearence is important, it helps to give your employer some idea of what to expect. In that regard, include a conservative photograph of yourself dressed in a manner appropriate for your business setting.

Rule Two: Make your disclosure to your Human Relations Manager first!
DO NOT start with your co-workers or your Supervisor. Keep in mind that most large corporations have at least some experience at handling this situation by now. It is important that those who have the most say over your continued employment are the ones responsible for telling the others. This method insures that management only hears information that is accurate and loaded to your side of the issue. It is very important to prevent managers from getting information about you through rumor and innuendo.

Rule Three: Don't be dogmatic.
Be ready to give in a little here and there at the beginning. Which bathroom you will be using is likely to be the first order of concern. If you are asked to use a neutral bathroom on the next floor as a prerequisite to acceptance, do so. Eventually, as everyone gets used to seeing and working with you, you can slowly began to take normal privileges. The point here is to be low key. Correct people politely when they use your old name and the wrong pronouns. If you have trouble with an individual co-worker, try to handle it privately by quietly confronting the individual over a cup of coffee. If that doesn't work, make a report to management stating the nature of the complaint and your attempts to resolve the issue. Again, be as low key as possible.

Rule Four: Follow through.
If you said in your timetable that you would be starting your Real Life Test on a specific date, do it on that day. If you have a job where the women usually wear skirts or dresses and you wish to do the same, then wear a skirt or a dress on the start day. You might as well take advantage of everyone's expectations and curiosity in one fell swoop. You may find it difficult not to be distracted at first but get down to work and try to appear productive as soon as possible.

Resolving one's sex/gender incongruency in a permanent and public manner is fast becoming a routine event in the workplace. As more and more gender dysphoric individuals exert their right to live openly as their authentic selves, transition in the workplace is becoming easier.

For everyone facing this exciting period of your life, I wish you good luck and quick acceptance.


Copyright 1996, 1998 by Anne Vitale, Ph.D. Dr. Vitale is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist specializing in gender related issues. Her office is located at 610 D Street, San Rafael CA 94901, (415) 456-4452, Internet: Contact Dr. Vitale. This column may be reprinted in any non-profit organization's newsletter if Dr. Vitale's name and address appear with it. Other publications must obtain written permission from Dr. Vitale. A copy of any reprints must be sent to Dr. Vitale.