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.