Visible and Trans at Xandr
Making the decision to come out is a deeply personal choice and journey. It is a process, and one in which no one person follows the same path in how they decide to share that aspect of themselves. In recognition of the Trans Day of Visibility, I wanted to share some of the thoughts and experiences I had while coming out and living openly as a trans person at Xandr.
Transitioning is a multifaceted process that touches every aspect of your life, from family to health to social and professional relationships. While there was a lot of introspection, discovery, blunders, comedic moments, and other nuanced relationships I experienced along the way, I will focus this story on my identity in the workplace (although, I’ll add the caveat that it is all ultimately connected).
When I first knew I was going to transition, the greatest fear I had was that I would have to choose between living authentically or having a successful career. There is a common practice amongst a lot of us in the queer community of bringing our “straight” selves to work and leaving our authentic selves at home. It’s easy to understand the fear too. I personally know people who were kicked out of their homes or told by their bosses to leave their jobs after making the decision to step into the vulnerable spotlight of authenticity.
After working at Xandr for about a year, I was not scared of being let go. I had observed the culture of the organization well enough to know that they would not terminate me for existing as a trans person. But I was still anxious that it would affect the personal and professional relationships I had built with teammates during my time there. I remember so many times across my life when I would hear a coworker’s unprompted opinion on trans people, and these memories clung heavily on my mind. There was a fear that people may not want to work with me even if they had to. But the reality is, taking a step into the unknown of being myself at work is the most amazing thing I have done in my career.
I do want to call out that the conversation with my boss was not the scariest coming out conversation I’ve had in my journey. I would actually rate it towards the bottom in terms of people I was afraid to have the conversation with. Something non-queer people may not realize is that coming out is a skill, and it gets easier every time you do it. My manager at Xandr was not even the first manager I had come out to, just the first one I came out to with the intention of going public with the full team. If you are at the beginning of your journey of presenting your authentic self to the world, I promise coming out gets easier with each iteration. Until one day you’re so out that you don’t even have to talk about it with people! (Quick hint: being concise, direct, and to the point yields far better results than trying to half-commit to communicating the idea of being queer to someone. Adding in a lot of fluff and half-statements usually just leaves them confused.)
Before transitioning, I maintained a strictly professional policy at work, where I would mostly keep my personal life out of the conversation and stick to the safe topics. However, existing as a trans person isn’t a safe topic. It’s not something you can just hide from 9–5, and then take off your straight mask. Existing as a trans person is visible. It’s vulnerable. Accepting this fact and learning to make space for the emotional aspects of myself in the workplace was a foundational step in finding my new groove.
Professional vulnerability is a topic we don’t often talk about, but I think it’s at the heart of our experiences with one another. Professional vulnerability is letting your whole self exist in the workplace. The relationships with my team, my boss, and my colleagues have exponentially improved since I allowed myself to talk to them in a very professional but authentic way. Furthermore, coming out as a queer person at work has afforded me the opportunity to be an advocate and ambassador in many more ways than I could have previously imagined. One of the most impactful opportunities I’ve had during my time at Xandr was hosting an open conversation in our work Slack with a list of questions I had chosen that colleagues could ask about my experience as a trans woman. Breaking the barrier of discomfort around interacting with a trans person is the most effective teaching I can offer in my position.
Stories like mine are why Trans Day of Visibility is so important for so many other queer people in the workforce. I would not be where I am today without the thousands of magnificent trans people who were visible before me. I am so honored to be in a place where I can exist visibly and authentically to the world. We must continue to build an environment of trust, professionalism, and vulnerability so that our fellow queer colleagues, family, and friends can come to work as their whole selves.
Here are some things you can act on now to help your LGBTQIA+ colleagues feel comfortable in your workplace:
· Lift your trans and queer employees up, and make them visible
· Invest in building an active employee group, with allies and sponsors from leadership teams
· Get involved in queer tech conferences
· Offer comprehensive medical coverage for your trans employees informed by the actual experiences and needs of trans employees
· Be open to, receptive to, and excited about feedback from your queer coworkers
· Bring your whole self to the workplace to promote the same in others
· Share your pronouns in your email signature and as a formality when meeting someone for the first time