You Need Help: How Do I Come Out as Trans at Work?

Q:

I recently had the realization that I’m trans. Coming out has been good so far. My partner and friends have taken it well, but the thing I’m most concerned about is coming out at work. I’ve been presenting as a fairly butch woman since I started, and I’m out as queer to all my coworkers and my supervisors. But coming out as trans feels like a whole ‘nother ball game. The place I work for is super inclusive, but I don’t know the best way to go about coming out to people. Do I contact the Diversity Office to get advice? Do I come out to my direct supervisor first? Do I send an email to my coworkers? I don’t know what to do! Help me!

A:

Congrats on the next step in your life, pal! This is exciting because it means you get to live more authentically during your day-to-day! Here are my tips to come out at work as safely as possible, and it requires a little bit of preparation in and out of the office.

Gather your outside community

Before coming out at your job, a space we are forced to be for five-to-eight hours a day, gather your local community to support you. This means ensuring you have people at home, friends you can call on, or groups you can attend that not only get your trans identity, but support and love you as well. These folks are important for when there’s pushback at work. Make sure you have a friend you can call, a partner who will talk you up if your coworkers talk you down, and queer community events such as book clubs, activist groups, group therapy, or night events, where you can be surrounded by like-minded queer and trans individuals. These folks are the backbone of coming out, they’ll support you if at times you feel you can’t support yourself. Also, being there to support and encourage others: it just does wonders to the soul. We love to see it.

Find your work ally

Think about who has been your ally — or your friend — at work. Find one person (or a few if you’re lucky!) and come out to them individually and privately. Let them know you’re planning to come out soon to the rest of the company, but are letting them know ahead of time so they can wrap their head around it, practice changing pronouns or ask any questions they might have one-on-one. And then give your new work ally this call to action: after I come out, please correct anyone if they misgender me, even if I’m not in the room. Can you do this for me? If they agree, then BOOM. You’ve got at least one person stepping up and taking some of the work off your shoulders.

Come on out!!

There’s a bunch of different ways to come out at work, so think about what would work best for you and the space you work in. Quietly changing pronouns and/or your name in an email signature is a subtle way to come out. It probably won’t be as effective or fast of a change than direct communication, but if it’s what feels safest for you it’s definitely a start. An all-staff email is what I recommend (again, if your job allows it). A short email that is direct and to the point is ideal, include a link or two about trans identities and/or pronouns and direct people there with questions (so you don’t have to answer them all yourself!). If you’d like, you can alert people that your work ally will be happy to answer any questions or concerns people have (after checking in with them of course) if you don’t feel like doing that work yourself. If you’re down, let folks know they can come to you with questions! Don’t offer unless you’re emotionally ready for some potentially awkward conversations though.

Now what?

You did it! Treat yourself to a fancy dinner, a bath bomb, or whatever self care activity feels good to you at the time.

It didn’t work!

Coming out as trans is sometimes just the start of the process. If folks misgender you, reach back out to your work ally to step up their game. Also — and I cannot stress this enough — correct people. Just do it. It’s scary to confront a person when they misgender us, for a multitude of reasons, however correcting folks is a muscle. The more you flex it, the easier it becomes. If it becomes a problem or folks are outright rude, don’t be afraid to discuss it with HR. I, personally, think Human Resource departments are garbage and only really care about protecting the company because I’ve been so jaded by capitalism, but you can request they intervene or provide adequate staff training to ensure a safe working environment. Feel free to send out a second email reminding folks, or ask HR or your boss to do so on your behalf, again linking to resources. Printing out resources and leaving a stapled copy in the break room is a great passive aggressive tactic that I fully endorse.

Work sucks, I know.

I know how draining it can feel to have to attend a day job that disrespects you and your identity. No environment is perfect, even if our coworkers are on top of it, customers or patrons might not be. Work environments vary so much, some are downright hostile and coming out might not be an option. This is why it is so so important to find a local queer/trans community outside of the office. Being in a space where folks call you the right name, with the right pronoun, is like standing under a cool waterfall after being stranded in a desert from 9AM til 5PM with only a thirty-minute lunch break. Search online for a community or start something yourself if you’re feeling brave. You might be surprised by who else is looking for solace. If work is dragging you down, it’s important to remember we all deserve a rich and fulfilling existence outside of our employment. Seek that out however and whenever you can. Our beautiful resilient trans souls are not defined or confined by any job.

Hope this was helpful, and if anyone else has advice, plop it in the comments!

I'm a cartoonist living in Minneapolis. Co-Author and artist of A Quick And Easy Guide To They/Them Pronouns. Author of Grease Bats, coming out Fall 2019 with Boom! Studios! If I'm not working I'm socializing. If I'm not out with friends I'm drawing. If I'm not doing any of those things I'm probably depressed. Support me using Patreon.

Archie has written 97 articles for us.

5 Comments

  1. Depending on the size and organization of the workplace, there may be value in giving HR a heads-up. They might even have policies and procedures in place.

    When I came out at work (3 years ago), I was tremendously anxious about how it would go — while I live in a metro area that has an anti-discrimination ordinance, I work in a neighboring county that is considerably more conservative. After having established my work allies (two wonderful people!), I approached my department head, and we coordinated a departmental announcement with HR.

    It couldn’t have gone more smoothly. That was sheer luck, mostly — a generous-hearted department head and a corporate HR person who wanted at all costs to avoid any risk of litigation. I have no idea what any of my coworkers say to each other when I’m not in the room, but when I *am* in the room, I’ve never once been deadnamed and only rarely notice people using old pronouns (out of verbal habit, never malice).

  2. Seconding the idea of giving HR a heads-up. This can also make it easier for them to review and plan for some of the potential difficulties in advance… for example, explaining to people that yes this person can use those restrooms.

    The ally can also do things like check with HR initially for you, quietly, in order to see if there is already a policy, if you’ll need to advocate for a few modifications to their default, or feel out if a change of jobs is a better path.

  3. I’m a social worker at a community center and worked there when I came out. One really wonderful thing that was helpful is that once my bosses knew but before other people did, they arranged for two trainings— one for staff and one for our community members— both on general LGBT stuff with a heavy emphasis on the T. This was around two months before I came out at work, so when I did come out to everyone they had pretty recently received a bunch of information on how to be respectful/supportive/etc. I was also appreciative that they happened in advance because it meant the trainings, as they were happening, weren’t about me at all.

  4. Wow this article is perfectly timed. I just googled “coming out as trans at work” and was thrilled to see this!

    My partner is being super supportive and lightly encouraging me to come out (transmasc). I know all my coworkers are liberal. But it’s a small business owned by a couple. Plus 5 employees. In a food hall with many other people who know me.

    It’s just so! scary! Gotta do it at some point but oof ughhh

    • Agreed! So scary! I’m also working up the courage to come out at work. My day-to-day coworkers are awesome and I’ve asked a few to stop using specifically gendered words, like “ladies,” to address a group. That’s gone well. But I work for a conservative university where the religious affiliation believes trans people don’t exist.

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