FOLX's guide for navigating gender transitions for transgender and nonbinary people coming out at work.
We know transitioning is a huge milestone, and sometimes coming out as trans at work can be scary. There's no right or wrong way to transition at work. Our guide walks you through strategies for coming out as trans in the workplace. Remember, coming out isn’t just one moment; it’s a series of steps on the path of sharing yourself with the world. You can take your time and take steps when it’s right for you.
Plan ahead and prioritize safety
Before transitioning at work, you may want to plan ahead. Prioritizing your safety, gathering support, and knowing your own narrative are a few things to consider.
Trust yourself and your assessment
While being seen as your authentic self at work can be more affirming, many transgender and nonbinary people don't come out at work for safety (or other) reasons. According to a 2015 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 77% of survey correspondents reported taking steps to avoid mistreatment in the workplace, such as hiding or delaying their gender transition or quitting their job.
In spite of how challenging it might be, many people express feeling a sense of relief after coming out at work. Weighing the pros and cons can look like considering the following:
- Should I find a new workplace and transition between roles, so I am a new employee when I come out at work?
- Do I feel safe and/or trust my current colleagues and supervisors and expect that they will support me in my transition?
- What workplace protections are in place in my state, city, and company that would protect me throughout my gender transition?
Creating a trans-inclusive workplace benefits us all, and companies realize this.
“The overriding reason to address this issue is that it’s simply the right thing to do…Nobody who works hard and contributes to an organization’s success should ever have to feel stigmatized and fearful of coming to work each day.” -The Harvard Business Review
Trans-specific policies benefit all
Implementing trans-specific policies and practices holds immense value for businesses. Keep in mind that supporting your coming out benefits companies, and savvy businesses know this. By embracing inclusivity and supporting transgender individuals, companies:
- Create an environment that fosters loyalty and reduces turnover.
- Increase engagement and productivity throughout the organization.
The value of trans-specific policies benefits us all greatly as employers and employees alike. A new study by Wells Fargo links U.S. economic growth to LGBT citizens. The study reflected that states with more transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual citizens were noted to have higher rates of gross state product (GSP) over the past decade. And according to a 2022 Gallup poll, nearly 20% of Gen Z identifies as LGBTQ. Could the future of our workforce be inclusive and queer?
Legal protections for trans workers
Rest assured; there are legal protections in place for your workplace safety.
The White House released a fact sheet in 2022 about advancing equality and visibility for transgender Americans. It includes a section on “advancing economic opportunity and protections for transgender workers.”
The landmark Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, decided on June 15th, 2020, clarified that federal law prohibits anti-transgender discrimination in employment. It clarified that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes protections against employment discrimination on the basis of transgender status or gender identity. Federally, it is currently illegal to discriminate against someone's gender identity and sexual orientation in the United States.
For other resources on workplace protections, check out the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE). Or, google “workplace protections for transgender employees 2023 united states.” You can also look up specifically what protections are in your state of residence or employment.
Take time to learn a bit about federal law and non-discrimination policies in your state and work environment.
Concerns about your workplace transition
When transitioning at work, major concerns might include physical safety, job security, and transphobia.
As discussed earlier, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, many states and cities have laws regarding gender identity and sexual orientation. Therefore, employers having a policy or practice that inhibits an employee's ability to change their name during employment can result in a discrimination claim. (Note that many workplaces can easily change name tags or email accounts to reflect a new name.)
It can be scary to be a transitioning employee, especially in today's cultural climate. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has a list of actionable tips for navigating successful transitions. Check the HRC Corporate Equality Index (CEI) and see if your employer is listed! Over 600 workplace policies uphold LGTBQ+ non-discrimination policies, according to the HRC CEI.
Despite how other people have managed their gender transition at work, what's most important is to trust your intuition. Gender transitions aren't linear, and no one's transition timeline is the same. Do what is best for you. You're in control of your transition. Lean on your support network—which will be discussed more below—if you need guidance or assurance.
The pros of being your authentic self at work
There are many reasons to be your authentic self in the workplace. Being closeted at work, where most people spend the majority of their time, can take its toll emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
- Pro: chance of more career happiness and satisfaction.
- Pro: less psychological distress, which is correlated with being open about LGBTQ+ identity at work.
- Pro: equality is rooted in belonging. Coming out at work promotes a culture of belonging and inclusivity. It benefits other colleagues and may make it easier for other coworkers to come out, too.
When you can be yourself, your work life gets better. A culture of inclusivity at work is imperative for the safety and well-being of trans and gender-diverse (TGD) employees.
Have a transition plan
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to come out as trans or transition at work. Contrary to mainstream narratives around transgender and nonbinary visibility, you are not obligated to anyone to disclose your transgender or nonbinary status at work.
If you do want to come out, you may want to think about what you want to share. For example, do you want to share new pronouns, a new name, a new word for your gender identity, or something else? You do not have to share any medical information, such as whether you have had or plan to have surgeries or whether you are taking hormones, unless it feels good to share with people you trust or you’re looking for support on accessing medical benefits or medical leave.
Know your why and maintain boundaries
Ask yourself, "Why am I transitioning? What do I want people to know about who I am now or who I’ve always been?" to understand the narrative you want to share. Set boundaries for what you will and will not disclose to work colleagues. What you choose to share is totally up to you!
Ask colleagues to use your correct pronouns and name, or make a plan with your manager or HR department to help share the news. Manage emotions (yours!) and plan extra time to care for yourself during your work transition.
You can start by sharing your name and pronouns or share with a trusted colleague or your manager first before coming out fully. It's entirely up to you. Do what feels best.
Start by rallying up support from colleagues and friends you trust. Make connections with work DEI and LGBTQ groups. Involve your human resources representative, so they can help you know your protections and navigate any issues that may come up.
Find office allies that can support you in your gender transition at work. Even if you find only one person, having someone on your side can be a tremendous help. Have a support system outside of work, too. If you can’t think of someone inside or outside of work, consider joining a support group, like the ones we offer at FOLX, to connect with other people going through a similar journey.
Additionally, consider what kind of support you'll ask for at work. It also helps to figure out what type of support you don't want. When you identify what would and wouldn't be helpful, you'll be more likely to articulate both of these to others. This might include asking for your colleagues to be notified (or not!), ensuring you’re not dead named in meetings or on company platforms, getting your coworkers connected to trans 101 resources (so you don’t have to educate them), or something else.
Connect with human resources
Assess the risk of coming out and transitioning in your work setting. Seek out your human resources representative at your workplace. You can ask them about how they have supported colleagues who have transitioned before you and what the process looks like so you’re prepared for what to expect.
Check if there is a work-oriented LGBTQ group or committee. See if your company has a DEI (Diversity Education and Inclusion) group or work Pride committee. Connect with any supportive resources and groups within your organization.
Connect with someone higher up you feel has your back. This could be a supportive manager or supervisor or other LGBTQ-friendly team members.
Prepare for how you might respond if people ask inappropriate questions. One example of a response that puts the responsibility back on the person asking is, "What do you mean by that?" You can also say, “That feels like a really personal question,” or “I’d like to keep my medical information private.” You might imagine some of the ignorant questions people might ask and prepare for how you want to (not) respond. Preparation can help you feel empowered for whatever comes your way.
If you don’t think your colleagues will understand the concept of transgender or nonbinary gender transitions, it may be helpful to gather some reference materials beforehand—such as an article, podcast episode, YouTube video, etc.—to pass along instead of taking on the emotional burden of explaining your own identity repeatedly to colleagues.
Here are some helpful resources to send to people who might have a difficult time understanding:
- 4 Tips for Supporting a Coworker Who is Transgender (FastCompany)
- Understanding Gender Identities (Trevor Project)
After you come out and transition at work
After your work transition, take time to celebrate! Transitioning to becoming your most authentic, vulnerable self is a milestone not many people achieve. However, there are also some administrative tasks to take care of.
Admin task #1: update your identity
If you've chosen a new name, this could look like requesting a new name tag or email address. You might not even need permission to accomplish this, depending on your work environment. If you've never added your pronouns to anything, now might be the time to add them to your email signature, Slack profile, and any other relevant places of communication.
Admin task #2: set "in-person" expectations
Whether you do remote work or are in-person, setting expectations from the start is essential for a smooth gender transition.
The first few days of coming out as trans or nonbinary are critical for establishing expectations for how others will respond to your gender transition at work. While we cannot control how others treat us, we can control how we respond to how they treat us. Because our culture is so ingrained in the gender binary, your colleagues will likely undergo their own adjustment to using the correct name and/or pronouns.
However, that doesn't mean you have to accept misgendering and deadnaming. If you plan to be proactive about correcting others when they mess up your name and/or pronouns, correct them unapologetically. It can be hard to stand up for yourself, but some appropriate responses to help you might be:
- I noticed you are using [wrong pronouns]. Now, I use [correct pronouns]. When you refer to me in the third person, I expect you to refer to me using [correct pronouns].
- It's inappropriate of you to misgender me. If you continue addressing me by the wrong gender, I will let our supervisor know.
- I heard you use my old name to refer to me. I now go by [new name]. I expect you to use the correct name without having to correct you.
Be aware it's not required, nor your responsibility, to correct others when they misgender or deadname you if you don't want to. Many transgender and nonbinary folks opt out of correcting others to preserve their emotional capacity in the workplace. Especially if you are the only transgender or nonbinary person in the office, your colleagues may look to you for guidance on addressing gender based on your lived experience.
Your journey is yours. It's perfectly acceptable to outsource resources or tell anyone at your workplace that you don't have the capacity, nor are you being paid to educate them. Encouraging people to do their own research and educate themselves is always appropriate.
While setting expectations (and boundaries, too) can be worthwhile, they aren't always well-received or respected.
You may experience backlash for announcing your gender transition at work. If so, self-advocate for how you should be treated. This can look like addressing harassment and discrimination by reporting it to the prospective department in your office. It can also look like suggesting your colleagues undergo gender-focused diversity, equity, and inclusion training. If you do choose to report, lean into your support network if you need encouragement throughout the process. During difficult times, fall on radical self-acceptance (i.e., DBT) and self-care practices that nourish you.
Wherever you are in your transition, approach navigating your transition at work with self-compassion. Your transition is a time of celebration, joy, and abundance. Don’t let anyone take that away from you.
FOLX Health is the first digital healthcare company designed by and for the LGBTQIA+ community. Our services include expert, gender-affirming virtual primary care, gender-affirming hormone therapy including estrogen and testosterone, mental health care, sexual health care, and preventative care. We offer FOLX memberships that give you access to LGBTQIA+ expert clinicians, peer support, thousands of LGBTQIA+ referrals, and more. Whether you’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, gender non-conforming, or nonbinary, you can find LGBTQIA+-friendly healthcare with FOLX. FOLX Health is healthcare that's queer all year. Get all the benefits of becoming a FOLX member and sign up today!