Thursday, April 8, 2010

Work Transition: My Birthday Present to Me

"So if you think it's scary, if it's more than you can take,
Just blow out the candles, and have a piece of cake!
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday to you!
Happy Birthday! Happy Birthday to you!"
 -- Weird Al Yankovic, Happy Birthday


All opinions posted here are my own, and not necessarily representative of the company I work for

On Monday I transitioned at work. A few people have asked me what that means, and each time, I suddenly remember that this isn't all self-explanatory. Outside of work, I've been dressing how I like and going by my new name and female pronouns for a few months now. At work, however, none of these changes had happened yet.

I came out to all my coworkers in November, but so far, I had decided that I wasn't quite comfortable enough with the new me to make the transition leap at work. I continued wearing a sports bra, baggy t-shirts, androgynous earrings, no makeup, and talking in my old voice. About a month ago I decided I was finally ready, and that pretending to be male was getting a little bit too awkward.

I informed my supervisor and started meeting with HR and management to plan it all. We created different communication plans for my local teammates (one meeting a few days beforehand to prepare them), the local center (a top-down communication to all leadership, so they can be prepared if any rumors or concerns surface), and the various other teams and people I work with globally (basic communication from their leadership). We planned for a new name tag, badge, preferred name in the system, etc. When it came to the bathroom issue, I told them that I was worried about it because I know it can be a very sensitive issue for a lot of people, but they reassured me that it was no problem and that I would probably just use the women's.

A couple of weeks before transition, the HR rep met with me and told me she would be meeting with legal the next day to review the plan. She wanted to get a clear idea of my thoughts on the bathroom issue so she could represent them properly while discussing it with the powers that be, so she asked, "What if, for some legal reason, they say you have to use the men's room?"

Anxiety set in. After a pause I choked out, "I guess... I wouldn't transition at work."
"Then how would you continue your whole process?"
The tears started, "I guess... I would have to leave the company."
"Wouldn't you have to face this kind of thing at any company you work for?"

We talked some more and she reassured me that she just wanted to clarify my feelings-- that nothing had actually been decided yet. I tried desperately to calm myself down. I felt pretty stupid, but she was really sweet about it, and asked me to come talk to her first thing the next day since she was meeting with them earlier in the morning.

Thankfully, the next day, she told me that the meeting had gone well and that I would be using the women's restroom. They decided that there would be more questions/complaints/awkwardness if I were using the men's room, than if I were using the women's. Yeah, I could've told you that. =P

Day 1 (Monday)

On Monday, April 5th, I went in to the office as myself for the first time. I met up with the HR rep, who sat me in a meeting room to give me time to breathe and make sure I was ok. I think I was shaking. When I was ready, we went to the security office and got a new badge printed out, complete with new name and picture.
When I got to my desk everyone was very natural and easygoing about it, which helped a lot. One of my awesome female coworkers gave me a necklace, because "Every woman needs a black necklace that can go with anything."  So. Sweet. =3

There were a few slip-ups with the name, but I never got a chance to correct anyone before they did it themselves. I was still terrified of the bathrooms and avoided going for most of the day. At around 5 hours into my shift, I finally decided that it wasn't worth a bladder infection and convinced myself that I'd have to get over my fear eventually. I decided to use the upstairs bathrooms, to hopefully avoid seeing anyone I know. I actually didn't end up seeing anyone at all. On the way out I decided that I looked pretty good, and that I should've gone a long time ago just to see myself and boost my confidence.

Day 2 (Tuesday)
On Tuesday, the internal systems finally updated with my "preferred name" and new picture, so that people can look me up or email me using Vivi. Partway into the day my boss's boss called a random meeting and brought in Birthday cake for me and my supe, whose birthday was on the 4th.

"Happy Birthday Michelle and  Vivi"

I was worried about my voice for most of the day, so I kept talking really quietly, and trying not to cough. The bathrooms got easier to use, especially since there was never anyone else in the ones upstairs.

Day 3 (Wednesday)

We had a team meeting early Wednesday morning, which I decided to call in to from the comfort of my pajamas. The whole meeting, I kept thinking about how much I hate my voice, and how the more afraid I am, the worse it sounds. On the drive in to work, I used my phone to repeatedly record and playback my voice, to reassure myself that I don't sound that stupid. Shortly after getting in, a co-worker randomly told me that my voice sounded good, and that he didn't recognize me on the call at first, which made me feel a lot better.

A few of the women on my team sometimes take breaks together to go on walks or over to the gym, and they invited me. A social activity and forcing myself to work out? Sweet!

I used the bathroom a couple of times without too much anxiety, but I know I'll tense up the moment I finally see someone. Everything else is already starting to settle back into normalcy. My boss's boss commented on how it was as if everything had changed, and yet nothing was different. I couldn't agree more.

In other news, today is my birthday! After 28 years, I'm finally free to be myself. Oh well, better late than never I suppose. =)


  1. CONGRATULATIONS! That's excellent that they've been so good about helping you transition safely at work.

    In regards to the bathroom situation, I completely understand how unnerving that could be. When I transitioned at work, I felt comforted by the fact that they had a single-stall bathroom on the first floor that they made unisex so I could use that until I felt safe and comfortable using the mens. Could your work do something similar, you think?

  2. happy birthday. thank you for posting this.

  3. Mel - Thank you! =)

    I originally told them that my only condition was that I could not use the men's, for my own dignity and safety, expecting them to come up with something like you mentioned. They said that they'd really like to have a single-stall unisex bathroom in the future, for a lot of reasons, but that it just wasn't feasible right now. They also didn't want me to be limited to one bathroom in the whole complex, since we're spread over 5 buildings.

    I'd almost rather just force myself in to the fire and get it over with anyway, and I'm quickly getting used to it. It's good real world experience too, since public places hardly ever have unisex bathrooms. ;)