Notes on Gender Role Transition

Anne Vitale Ph.D. Editor

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When The Boss Under Goes a Gender Role Transitions

By Janet Jones

March 14, 1999

Editor's Note: The real name of the author and the company she headed have been changed at the request of the author. The author has suggested that I refer to her as Janet Jones and the company she owned and ran as Smith Company. Smith Co. had 65 employees at the time she transitioned from male-to-female. In the months before announcing her transition, she appointed her long-time second-in-command to replace her as Chief Executive, so she could take a less active role but still remain involved. When she was ready to "come out" to one and all and formally change her name, she sent her employees the following memo and then took two days off to let everyone absorb the news.


To all Smith & Co. staff,

As you may or may not have heard by now, I have changed my name and gender. This change has already been in effect in all areas of my life except the workplace for the better part of a year. It will go into effect in my professional life immediately.

Obviously this transition is a difficult one for me and is not undertaken lightly. Its purpose is the resolution of deeply felt feelings of gender dysphasia that go back to childhood. Please be aware that it is basically a personal, not a business, matter, and be assured it will have no direct effect on the performance of my duties at Smith & Co. nor in my relationships with the individuals who work here. Nevertheless, because you are all used to knowing me in a male gender role, it may take some adjustment on your part to get used to seeing me as a female. I will expect each of you to treat this change in a professional manner.

 

What you can expect

I will return to my normal work schedule within a few days. When you next see me I will be wearing women's clothes. My clothing will be appropriate to our office environment and our dress code for women. You may also notice that the pitch of my voice is a little higher and certain behaviors and mannerisms are different.

 

My new legal name is Janet S. Jones. I have retained the name Smith as a middle name to retain a link to the founding of the Company. Please call me Janet at all times. Also, please make every effort to use the appropriate pronouns when referring to me - she, her, hers. I realize that a few slip-ups may happen before it becomes automatic. If you occasionally use the wrong name or pronoun, I will gently correct you. I do have a sense of humor about my situation. Be aware, though, that if you continue to use the wrong words after the first month or so, it will become irritating to me, and eventually, insulting.

 

It's natural that many of you will be curious about these changes and anxious to have a first look. I also hope you will be sensitive to my desire for privacy and assist me in keeping this transition period low-key. It will be most helpful if you act as though nothing out of the ordinary occurred. You will all have ample opportunity to see me and interact with me in the course of time. It will all become familiar soon enough.

 

A small number of you may find my changes upsetting, disturbing, or incomprehensible. I'm sorry if you have this reaction; I will be glad to talk to you about it if you feel it would help. But be aware you may never fully "understand" in the sense of truly knowing how I feel. Ideally, I'd like your empathy and support. However, if you find yourself unable to give them, don't be concerned. All that is required of you is to keep your personal feelings separate from your behavior toward me in the workplace.

 

What this means for the Company

Transsexualism is now much more common than it once was, but is still rare. Fewer than one American in 10,000 have changed gender (in the sense of going through sex reassignment surgery.) For some of you, I may be the only transsexual you will ever have the opportunity to know well. Many people, especially those from more conservative parts of the country and world, have had no contact at all with transsexuals. Such people may be understanding and supportive on one hand, or they may maintain any of a variety of harmful prejudices and misconceptions on the other. Some uneducated people consider transsexuals as sinful and mistakenly categorize them with prostitutes, sexual predators, and worse. This is unfortunate, but it is a fact of contemporary life and it would be foolish to ignore it.

 

I believe it will best serve the company and my own desire for privacy to keep information about my gender transition as confidential as possible. Certainly the news will eventually get out, but with care, we can postpone and limit its spread. Therefore, I'm asking each of you to do your very best to resist the temptation to gossip or joke about this, especially outside the Smith & Co. building. If you must talk about it, please frame your comments in terms of an unnamed acquaintance - don't mention my name or suggest that the person you're referring to is the founder of the company you work for. It's particularly important not to discuss this with other industry figures like sales reps, employees of competitive companies, Smith customers, vendors, etc.

 

Even though I will continue to play an active role at Smith & Co., in the interests of privacy I wish to keep a very low profile. Customers, vendors, reps, former employees, and other potential callers and visitors who might ask to see "Jim Smith" should be told that he is not here and is no longer actively involved in day-to-day operations, even though that may not be literally true. Do not bring visitors to meet me - bring them to Bill, our new CEO, instead, who is now the Company's spokesperson. Henceforth, ALL callers asking for "Jim Smith" should be either asked to leave a message; directed to my voice mail at my old extension number; or directed to another Smith & Co. manager who may be able to help them. No personal information of any kind should be given out about me. If people are persistent in asking, you should say I keep an irregular schedule and you don't know where I am or what I'm doing. Visitors who may happen to see me working in the corner office and ask who I am may be told simply that my name is Janet Jones, that I'm a part-time consultant, and that I'm using Jim's office temporarily until other office space becomes available. (However: Callers who specifically ask for Janet Jones by_that_name may be put directly through to my new phone extension.)

When in doubt, please say nothing. NO ONE is owed an explanation. Keep in mind that it is in everyone's best interest to keep my transsexualism a company secret and OUT of the industry gossip mills.

 

Questions

Some of you may have questions about my transition, about transsexualism in general, or about specific details on handling various situations. I will be happy to answer these questions, even those that are based more on curiosity than actual work-related situations. However, please avoid excessively personal questions.

I hope each of you will treat my transition as a learning experience and an opportunity to confront your own feelings about the nature of gender. If there were one thing I'd like everyone to take away from this, it would be the understanding that transsexuals, as well as members of every other kind of minority group, are just another manifestation of the endless diversity of the human species, and are entitled to the same dignity and respect as are all humans.

I sincerely appreciate your cooperation and professionalism in coping with this unusual situation.

Janet