Transition In The Professional Workplace

By Nichola, 1997

Written shortly after a very successful transition in the construction industry.

It was only four months ago that I was sat in a pub at lunch time with my head in my hands. "I just can't do it," I moaned. "Not in my job. They'd never take me seriously ever again. I'd be out of a job the instant I opened my mouth". The three girls I was having lunch with offered words of support and encouragement. They assured me of all my legal rights, and reminded me of how much happier I'd be living full time as the woman I felt myself to be inside. After all, they should know. Two of them had transitioned successfully earlier that year. I'd been living part time for about a year, but if I wanted to get anywhere with my treatment, I was going to have to complete the Real Life Test.

No matter how much I wanted (or more accurately needed to) transition and could see no future for myself as a pseudo-male, I simply didn't believe I would be able to stay in my current career. I'm not a Cabinet politician or a general in the Army, (now that would be a challenge for a Transsexual, wouldn't it?) but I am a Chartered Engineer working in the male-dominated and frequently sexist construction industry. Every way I looked at it, I saw problems. My boss treated the all girls in the office like dirt and was a real letch, so how would he react to me? Within the office I needed to maintain the respect of both my peers and the staff I had responsibility for. How would my clients react? If they stopped giving me work, I would become a liability to the business and out on my ear in no time. And going on to construction sites! Images of hoards of burly labourers jeering at me filled my imagination. Admittedly, I might have been just a little paranoid, but I was convinced my company would drop me like a stone the moment they found out. I'd spent years building up a reputation for myself and I could see it destroyed in an instant.

My friends pointed out the truth that I was trying to ignore. Having recently started on hormones, it would only be a matter of time before things started to show, making it increasingly difficult to hide the changes that were already starting to occur to my body. A suit jacket can only hide so much, as I soon found out. And though it would make life difficult, being an unemployed woman was a more appealing prospect than being an employed pseudo-male. I had to agree with them, but it didn't make it any easier. I returned to work that afternoon promising I'd study my options. Was I attempting to pacify my friends or my inner self?

Two weeks later, I was sat with my personnel officer, my cheeks glowing bright red and my mind racing. "So Nicholas, what was it that you wanted to talk to me about in private?" Is there any way to introduce the subject gently? Probably not. I swallowed hard and came straight out with it. "A few weeks ago I went to see a specialist consultant and was diagnosed as having a medical condition known as gender dysphoria." She looked slightly puzzled. "To put it into commonly used terms, I'm a transsexual and I intend to transition to a female role this autumn." I wondered if she'd brought my P45 with her. After a moment's hesitation, she smiled warmly. "Oh! And I thought you were going to tell me something awful." She almost looked relieved. From then on, she was entirely professional, very helpful and surprisingly understanding. Gradually I relaxed. Maybe I could come through this in one piece after all.

At that early stage, I didn't have an exact date I intended to transition on. It all depended on how well my electrolysis was going and how quickly I feminised. Even without that, we could discuss important details such as how to minimise the risk of a negative reaction from colleagues and clients. It is very important to be aware that transitioning affects everybody you come into contact with and there appears to be so much public misconception of our condition. She reassured me that the company would offer me all the support it could, and offer support to my colleagues too should they have any difficulties. She even respected my wish that my boss shouldn't know a thing until nearer the date. The relief was immeasurable. Admittedly, this was only a small start, but I was on my way.

Over the coming weeks, myself and my counsellor had discussions with my personnel manager and Director to agree details such as how people should be told, when they should be told, and in what order. By this time, I was able to set a date for transition and booked some time off work so I could leave as him and return as her a week later. By the time the big announcement to colleagues arrived, several of them (mostly girls, I may add) had already worked it out. Mind you, the physical changes were becoming hard to hide and I had long since dropped any pretence of acting masculine. I was beginning to find it a little difficult to pass as a normal guy. Sat at home while my counsellor and personnel manager gave a presentation to the entire office, I was a little nervous. And returning to work the next day, I was quite terrified. I had no idea of what reception I might receive. But I was amazed by the number of messages of support I was offered. Other than a couple of small exceptions (there are always a few people who wouldn't accept it for reasons of their own), everybody was great. Clients were tackled on a one to one basis by my line manager, who's a really nice guy. None of them threw a wobbly, even if several where more than a little surprised. Most said that they were happy with the work I did for them and that was the most important thing as far as they were concerned.

Two weeks later, I left the office for the last time as Nicholas. My first day back in role was easier than facing everybody after the big announcement. I felt I looked great in my new power skirt suit (carefully chosen to make the most of my figure) and I had always been more confident as a woman anyway. While I was somewhat self conscious to start off with, (especially going into the Ladies' while somebody else was in there) things are starting to settle down nicely now. One month in and my clients are still keeping me busy. This is just as well as I need a little overtime to help with the cost of surgery next year. So what's changed? My colleagues still ask my advice when they have a problem; most have got the hang of calling me by my new name and referring to me as she ; I can still show a profit for my boss (though not much. There's still a recession in my industry, you know); I've been to site and nobody read me that I was aware of and nobody has given me the slightest hassle. One guy making a delivery to the office did comment on the "high class of totty" after seeing me and the admin assistant talking in the hall, and I get in on even more of the gossip from the girls. I've even had several compliments from my sexist boss (though they did make me feel a little uncomfortable). Oh, and the most important thing; I feel so much happier now, just as my friends said I would. Going stealth does not appear to be an option for me at present, but as time goes on and staff change, fewer and fewer people will know about my past. While I can't promise it will be as successful for you, if you are currently thinking about transitioning yourself, it will probably be easier than you imagine as long as you handle it sensibly. (Don't simply turn up dressed one day as I heard happened at one office!). Only you know if you really do have to go through with it, whatever the potential costs. I wish you luck. While the following timetable should not necessarily be used as a guide, it worked for me.

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