Announcing Gabrielle, Part 3: Coming Out at Work

Telling my children I am transgender started the snowball rolling down the hill.  Doing so allowed me to start presenting female in front of them, and by extension, out in the world on a more regular basis.  I still was not ready to go to work or present to certain other groups quite yet, but for the first two weeks of the new year, I was able to face a few fears:  mainly, presenting in places that already knew me or my family.

For quite sometime, I have been able to go to very public places like malls, stores, restaurants, and the movies without having any confidence issues.  In fact, the second time I ever presented female in a major public area, I was more confident than the friend that joined me on that adventure.  I try not to have rabbit ears or scan the area around me to see what people are saying about me or to see if people are staring at me.  I walk as if I belong in the space I fill, as if there is nothing different about me.  In a space that in not near home, that is easy to do.  No one knows me.  With very few exceptions, though, I always made those trips away from my home.  That definitely helped put me more at ease.  However, if I was going to go full-time, I needed to be able to face the people that knew the male me, and prepare for their reactions.  Now that the kids could come with me, I had to face the everyday challenges:  the grocery store clerk, my sandwich makers, even my pharmacist.  Somehow, this was more challenging than hundreds of eyes on me walking through a mall.  But much like my experiences where people didn’t know me, I received fairly non-reactive responses to my new look from those that remembered me, and that helped boost my confidence once more, and it helped prepped me for the big reveal:  work.

I gave myself about two weeks between coming out to my kids and coming out at work.  In that interim period (kind of a “soft open,” if you will), I very much lived in the middle ground:  female at home, male at work.  That was awkward, because just as I was beginning to adjust to everyday life as a woman, I then needed to flip the switch and return to “male mode” for work.  But, I was being very cautious about how I was going to reveal myself to my co-workers, and I had a plan—even though that plan took a long time to formulate.

For the last 10 months, up to three people at work knew what I was going through because I just needed people I could talk to when I was having a bad day.  I kept the circle incredibly tight.  I work in retail.  Anyone who has ever worked retail knows that that kind of environment is an active rumor mill, and I was not going to allow anyone to share this secret about me without my controlling the situation.  It was my secret to tell in my terms.  But how?

Unlike an office workplace, I did not have the option of telling small groups of people.  I couldn’t come out to my team, and then my department, and then the company.  I work in front of the public, as a supervisor no less, and there was no way to really tell people in groups like that.  For guidance, I asked my HR contact to ask how others in the company had transitioned at work, and to my shock, we were told that no other employee in the San Francisco Bay Area had transitioned at work.  Really?  None?  That certainly didn’t make it easier for me.  Without that kind of help, the ball was put in my court as to how to do it.  No pressure, right?

I had a scheduled weekend trip out of town in mid-January (the last days I would ever present male for a variety of reasons), which set up that two-week window I referred to earlier.  I decided that management could inform my co-workers while I was away that weekend.  This would relieve me from being present so that people could naturally react to the news, and also give me some separation between the last time they saw me present male to the first time they saw me as female.  I went over with my HR contact exactly what words and phrases to use to tell my story as accurately as possible in my absence.  Employees were asked to use my new name and use female pronouns when referring to me.  The discussions were intended to be short and sweet.

Upon returning from my weekend, I officially began full-time status.  I took two personal days to change get ready to go back to work.  I finally pierced my ears for the first time in my life.  I did some shopping (including finding new work clothes), and I got my hair and eyebrows done. I was prepared as I was going to be.  On a Wednesday in mid-January, I took a deep breath and walked into work as the female, authentic me.  My supervisor was waiting for me because she wanted to see what I looked like and immediately approved with a big hug.  I received compliments throughout the day.  And while co-workers weren’t perfect with their pronouns or my name, they were clearly trying and correcting themselves when they caught their error.  Everyone was very nice to me—even those I worried I might have problems with my change.  And to the public’s benefit, again, most reactions were non-reactive.  The exception there were little kids.  Confused by the makeup & chest juxtaposed with the soft (but still male) voice, a few of them asked their parents whether I was a boy or a girl.  Parents handled the question in different ways, but none of them embarrassed me, and that was comforting.

In the month since coming out at work, I have found that my fears of non-acceptance in the public eye and my co-workers were largely unfounded.  Yes, there are people that give a glancing stare every now and then, but generally speaking, most people just want to be helped in a friendly way, and I continue to provide that service.  I am still an effective manager.  I can still help people find things or complete their transactions efficiently.  And then there are the people that are complimentary.  I very much appreciate these guests.  I have been called beautiful; received compliments on my clothes, makeup, and jewelry; and one person even called me peaceful.  I am confident enough at work now that I even wear a skirt on a regular basis, something most other women at my store do not even attempt.

Everyone’s story about coming out at work is unique.  For me, I felt like I had an additional challenge because I not only work in front of the public, but I am also a front line supervisor.  There was no hiding.  I had to make myself vulnerable and take whatever came my way.  I am thankful that my company is very accepting of LGBT employees (e.g., they protect my right to use the women’s bathroom) and that my co-workers have been so accepting of me.  The public has been more or less not cared, and negative reactions have been minimal.

Being out at home and out at work helps me mentally.  Now, there are no restrictions as to how I present myself (except in deference to my wife on a few pieces I own).  My kids think I am pretty.  I even think I look decent on some days.  Now a month full-time, life is easier.  There is still plenty of brutal hardship to face, especially on the home front.  Still… I am more confident.  I am happier.  I am me.  I am Gabrielle.

And that is how it is supposed to be.

Announcing Gabrielle, Part 2: Coming Out to My Children

After almost a year and a half of coming to terms with being transgender, I finally made the decision that I needed to go full-time.  Those that have read my posts know that was a tedious and complex process full of grieving, emotions, ups, and downs.  But as 2015 was approaching its conclusion, my path became clear:  I am a woman, and I need to live my life that way.  It was time for my secret to come out.  But how?

There are several community circles I swim in, and I did not want to necessarily shock any of them by just showing up in a dress.  How was I going to come out at work?  What about my community involvements?  What about even walking around my apartment complex?  But first and foremost, how was I going to tell my children?

When the decision was made to go full-time, I felt it imperative that the children needed to know before I went public.  Being 5 and 3, I was aware that once I told them, there was no way to put the genie back in the bottle.  It would be unfair (and unrealistic) to ask them to keep my secret until I was ready to tell the world.  Little children are storytellers by nature.  My story was going to be told one way or the other.  I had to be sure before telling them, and I was.

A big question came up before I even had the chance to have the conversation:  What were the children going to call me?  My wife an I fought over a month over this point, when it became clear that full-time status was imminent.  I felt very strongly that I wanted a “motherly” title.  I mean, how can I be a woman in the world with children and not be called “mom,” or something similar?  How would I feel if I was out in the world with the kids in full make-up and a dress and my kids get my attention by calling me “Dada”?  The idea of feeling outed by my children on a daily basis sounded terrifying.  So did not having a maternal parental title.  Unfortunately, I was accused of trying to “steal” a title than did not belong to me, as the kids already had a mama.  I countered that I was not trying to steal a title; I merely wanted to share.  But my wife was adamantly opposed to allowing me mom, mommy, Mama G… it didn’t matter.  She laid claim to them all.

When it was finally time to tell the kids, an agreement on parental title still had not been reached.  I was supposed to tell the children on December 29, but it didn’t happen because my wife and I had fought earlier in the day about my title, which caused me to be upset, and I was unable to get it together to tell them before I went to work.  The next day, it was time.  No more delays.

I the morning of December 30, I put my 3-year-old daughter on my lap and my 5-year-old son on my other leg, while my my wife sat two spots away on the couch.  I did not have a pre-written script.  I didn’t know exactly what to say.  I was highly nervous.  I only had one shot to really get this right.  I proceeded to tell them  that I was a girl.  My head and heart did not match my body.  I would be changing my name and wearing girl clothes from now on.  I kept it as simple and accessible as possible.  In the initial conversation, I never used the words “man,” “woman,” or “trans,” or “transgender.”  I kept it terms of boys and girls.  The discussion mainly went over the 3-year-old’s head in the moment.  My son was super accepting.  One of his first questions was (without prompting), “Does this mean I have two moms now?”  Inside, I was ecstatic.  I wanted to answer with a resounding Yes!, but I count not.because the fights over this question.  With no agreement in place, I answered, “Kind of, but we will need to find something else to call me.”  He told also told me that he just wanted me to be happy.  Amazing empathy from a 5-year-old!  Clearly, we have done something right in raising him.

To my wife’s credit, she immediately began switching over to female pronouns to refer to me after the conversation was over.  Apparently, she had been practicing while talking to people that were in the know.  While I appreciated that move, without a maternal title, a weird juxtaposition occurred that made me feel uncomfortable.  For example, my son would do something I told him not to do.  My wife would say something like, “Dada told you not to do that.  She told you five minutes ago.”  My brain had a lot of trouble resolving Dada & she/her in the same breath.

The next day, New Year’s Day, my wife came home after having the kids out in the morning.  For the first time, they came home to see me dressed as a woman, something they had not seen outside Halloween ever.  My son walked in, paused, and said, “Oh yeah.  You’re a girl.  I forgot.”  But then, it was nothing had changed.  My daughter called me “beautiful” and “pretty.”  My wife went to work.  The kids stayed home with me as they do most every Thursday, and we had a good day.  Still, hearing Dada wasn’t working for me, so my son and I had a discussion about it.  In the end, we agreed to that they would call me Amma (basically, “Mama” without the “M”).  This was a suggestion my wife had previously made, and I had rejected, because I was opposed to non-maternal, intermediate type names.  But with the bitterness and the need to not be called Dada anymore, I begrudgingly accepted I would need to accept a new title, and Amma was the least objectionable choice.  At least it sounds close to Mama.  My son agreed, and ever since that day, I have been Amma to the children.  It has taken time for them to adjust, but in the six weeks since we had these conversations, I cannot remember the last time I heard Dada.  We are still working on pronouns, but hey, he’s 5, and that’s not easy anyway, but he is getting there.

While I kept my transition as positive as possible, I also needed to brace my son for possible negative reactions in the world.  I asked, “What would you do if someone said some mean to me because they didn’t think I was a girl?”  To this, he again had the most supportive answer he could come up with:  “I would block them (using his arms and his body to shield me from the offender).”  I told him he did not need to do that.  In response, he said he would hug me and tell me that he loved me!  That melted my heart.

That night, we spent New Year’s Eve as a family, with me in a dress and my kids surrounding me.  It was wonderful!  I could finally be the real me with my children!  A great way to start the new year.  Of course, there was still plenty of tension in the house, but at least now, the ball was rolling.  I could start walking outside of my apartment dressed as a woman.  I began dressing everyday around town, and getting into the rhythm of everyday life.  While not technically full-time yet, I treated it kind of as a “soft open.”  I still had to change for work and to see certain people, but the time of getting the family and myself adjusted had begun.  I even began dropping off and picking up my son at kindergarten. Parents (and his teacher) were taken a little off guard at the beginning, but there have been no real major incidents to speak of, as parents get more used to my presence at school.

In the end, my children are young enough that they seem to be adjusting to my transition and having an “Amma” really well so far.  I could not ask anymore from my son when it comes to how he treats me or how he refers to me.  He has been absolutely amazing.  My daughter is not having too many problems either.  She is more interested in the makeup I wear each day.  I was nervous, but really it has been a very positive experience coming out to my children.  I love them so much!

So… kids the children were finally told.  The avalanche was about to begin.  Next, I needed to come out to work and a volunteer community in which I am highly active.  More on that in future posts.

Announcing Gabrielle, Part 1: Prologue

A lot has happened since I last wrote in this space.  There have been several holidays (even a new year!).  Oh, and I announced to the world that I am a woman named Gabrielle.

To catch up my long-time reader (OK, maybe readers, if I am lucky), I last wrote about how I was grieving my marriage back in October.  To this day, I still mourn the loss of what once was in terms of my marriage.  At the same time, life moves forward, and so did my transition in spite of the consequences.

Early in October, I began to seriously consider the idea of going full-time.  A few weeks earlier, I had experienced my epiphany moments, and I was coming to accept myself and who I truly am: a woman.  I started talks with my HR contact at work to see how we might think about getting the ball rolling there.  My wife and I began fighting over my parental title, as she adamantly opposed me taking on any type of motherly moniker.  I go shopping with my friends with the intention of beginning to expand my wardrobe.  The blocks were beginning to be laid.  A plan was forming.

On Halloween, my wife and children attended a combined birthday/Halloween party for the one-year sister of my son’s T-Ball teammate.  For the 23rd year in a row, I dressed as a female character.  For the first time ever, I was Cinderella, and I showed up at the party as such.  I generated stares and the attention of children.  My wife was very receptive to the attention I was receiving, and it made her uncomfortable—especially given everything we were going through with my transition.  Later that night, I went to San Francisco with a trans friend of mine (dressed as Elsa), and we walked the city.  We had a great time walking and talking, and during the night, I got a little education on womanhood:  a man, probably a lot buzzed, came up to the two of us and began seriously hitting on us.  While flattered, I really didn’t know how to react.  This was the first time a man actually saw me as a woman and called me gorgeous.  Granted, I was in costume and he had been drinking, but still… this was new for me.  We eventually got rid of the creeper, but now I knew what it was like to be pursued.

November was filled with anxiety as I continued to contemplate a timeline for going full-time.  The month was also punctuated by continuing fights over my future parental title.  For me, this was a major sticking point that needed to be resolved before I could come out to my children, and I felt they were the first major people to talk with about me before I shared with wider groups.  I work retail, and so I also had to balance home life with Thanksgiving and Black Friday, as well as my new promotion I had recently received.  I resolved that with all of the business in my life, and the fact that December would be crazy, too, that I there was no way I could really go full-time before the new year, despite my growing desire to do so.

December was full of retail work, my wife’s church work, her birthday, my daughter’s birthday, and of course, Christmas.  I tried to plan time out with my wife for her birthday, but she wasn’t having it.  The Christmas season was difficult because we both know that this is likely our last Christmas as a complete family.  Divorce is imminent, as is finding a way to restart our lives individually.  I also had to figure out how to tell the kids.

The three months between October and December were deeply unsettling.  I finally stopped waffling as to whether or not transition was for me.  For the first time, I took active steps to figure out what it would it take to go full-time and start putting a plan together.  But now that I was ready to move forward, the pain those decisions caused my my wife were like new wounds, and she lashed out at me several times.  Arguments and disagreements ranged from the minor to the major, many if which I really don’t want to rehash now.

By the time Christmas came, the plan was in full motion.  I had selected a new name, informed work of a timeline to come out there, resolved to increase my estrogen to maximum doses, and mentally prepared myself to come out to my children.  Once I told the kids (which I will write about later), the ball began to roll.  I told the last remaining significant groups in my life so they would not be surprised when I went public to the world.  I began to dress almost daily in early January with a few exceptions as I spread the word and prepared for my final reveal.

On January 11, I officially began living full-time as Gabrielle.

In future posts, I will write about coming out to my children, my first day at work, and my first month as a full-time woman.  But for now, I wanted to catch you up on my life and share the news with you as well.