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Disclosure and choice

  • Posted on August 30, 2014 at 4:34 pm

This blog is long, but here are the headings: Return to work; Being the anomaly in the workplace; Confidentiality and the Gender Recognition Act; Social media; Disclosure; Advice.

Many happy returns!

I had fondly dreamed of a triumphant, joy-filled, regathering with my colleagues, dropping my handbag on my desk and announcing ‘I’m back!’ I mean, is that not how it goes? Not to applause, but at least welcomed back with a sense of belonging?

Well, no. Return has in fact been a very stressful and hurtful time for me. So I thought it may be helpful for you to know a few useful things when it’s your turn to negotiate this – from either side, employer or trans emloyee.


I wish to make it abundantly clear that here, on my blog, I make a point never to name anyone, nor to speak against anyone or any organisation personally, but only to observe as factually as possible, the experience of transition in its many aspects. I do not even identify my place of work on Facebook, where I exchange life with friends. But I do feel there are important principles about being a trans person, and that we must be free to speak about them, share them, improve things for the next generation. This does not make me disloyal or uncommitted in any way, nor do I ever make personal attacks on anyone, even if I were to feel I have a grievance. Even I may have genuinely misunderstood. But I nevertheless feel vulnerable because I know there is next to nothing to protect me, and you should know that too. Our voice is valid, but we are vulnerable.

Being the anomaly

I was reminded (by a trans friend) that we are an anomaly at work, and that therefore we are treated differently. We create an issue simply by having had gender dysphoria, simply for being transsexual. Nobody really knows what to do, what to expect, and they certainly are not going to take our word as the living expert on ourselves, for anything.

If you are trans, you are different, so expect to be treated as if you have a little-understood disability, perhaps like a disfigurement. Yes, HR will go out of its way to protect you from adverse treatment by colleagues. But you in turn must express gratitude for this accommodation. You are the anomaly; don’t assume that the rights you have to equal treatment are simply about human respect. No, any protection or accommodation you are afforded is because your employer will want to protect themselves. And of course they do, quite rightly. But I sort of think I am not just a possession of the organisation, but also a person, and that normal respect applies. That you have a clinical diagnosis of gender dysphoria usually has no bearing on your ability to do your job, and adds no additional special or concessionary management requirements.

Accommodation of your needs at work? You mean acceptance as a real person with equality of treatment? Someone said to me recently that rule number one for the trans person is never to express gratitude, never to apologise for what you are.

In the early stages of transition, awareness helps ensure that there is protection from harassment. After that it is simply not relevant. At the point of surgery, I maintain, it is nobody’s business other than yours and a single point of reference in HR.

At the same time you will quite possibly experience sexism at work. So that means, for the trans person, normal sexism as a woman (or man) plus cis-sexism (i.e. the compartmentalising or othering of trans people as not quite included in the normal world, neither one thing nor another). Expect it; I hope you may be lucky.

Some while ago, and for several months, on top of the normal sexism, I had a female colleague whose questioning, in open plan office, in front of colleagues and manager, was quite intrusive, very personal, and at times disconcerting. I, as you know since you read me here, decided to take it head on, simply to demonstrate that I am just another person, capable of stating my case, clarifying that gender dysphoria is a medical condition, not a behavioural trait, and that in every other respect I am just another woman. I did not silence it, though perhaps I should. I did not complain, though perhaps I should. I do not want special treatment, and I am not a natural complainer, except in cases of real unfairness. Argue my case? Oh yes; but not to create waves or to play games.

As a trans person, you do not need ‘accommodation’. You need fairness and equality. As an employer or HR person, you are not accommodating the trans person. If having a trans person on your staff is an awkward thing, the problem is the people in your organisation, not the fellow human being who is inconveniently not quite like you. Do not see fairness and equality as a special effort you must make, for a person who is ‘difficult’ simply for being misgendered at birth.

Like me, you should indeed be thankful for correct treatment during early transition, and yes, always be thankful for correctness. But gratitude for being treated fairly and equally? Think about this a moment, if you yourself do not have a ‘difference’ of any kind.

  • Is your gay or lesbian colleague expected to be grateful for being accommodated in the workplace, for being non-heterosexual?

Point made, I hope.

Confidentiality and privacy: Gender Recognition Act

The first point to understand in the UK is that you have few rights at all until:

  • you have lived at least two years in your identified gender
  • sworn a declaration
  • legally changed your name and title
  • supplied documentation proving your medical diagnosis from two qualified professionals
  • supplied detailed (intimate) proof of surgery and/or hormone treatment – or jolly good reasons why you have not
  • provided documentation in the form of passport, driving licence, bank statements, utility bills, employment documents, wage slips, letters etc., that consistently show your deed poll title over the entire period
  • submitted all the above with a fat fee to a panel of experts to express their opinion as to whether you are the gender you identify

    and finally:

  • received from the panel, a Gender Recognition Certificate!

It does, however, apply, if your employer knows that you have applied for a GRC. Therefore you must put this intention in writing. Mine was, if I remember right, merely verbal, but we did discuss it and the patronising nature of the process.

Until this point, protection of your personal data, details and status under the Gender Recognition Act need not always apply. After this, records relating to gender change must be sealed. All disclosure then legally becomes entirely your own. But, let’s also be clear, anyone disclosing your gender history who claims they honestly did not know that you had, or had applied for, a Gender Recognition Certificate at the time (I mean, the more you flash it around the more you are telling everybody? Right?) may claim they are not culpable (Gender Recognition Act, Section 22 on data).

If they do know, then clearly disclosing surgical descriptors (i.e. GRS) is disclosing part of your protected gender history.

  • Dear HR: please be aware that ‘need to know’ in the case of sickness absence, can be covered by ‘gynaecological surgery’ (accurate and sufficient for all purposes) and that once you state ‘gender reassignment surgery’ you are disclosing the person’s previously assigned gender, and this does contravene the GRA.

See also GIRES on the Gender recognition Act, Section 22.

But you exposed yourself!

I have two levels of expectation about disclosure. Among friends, and here on my blog where everything is explained and contextualised, I am open about gender dysphoria (which I no longer have). At work, in public spaces, in my everyday life, it is nobody’s business but my own. Of course this causes ambiguity, but I do only need to be asked if it’s OK to reveal and discuss my gender! This is called respect.

The same probably applies to very many, probably most, trans people, especially those who have fully transitioned, put it in their past, but wish to remain supportive of others. Few go ‘deep stealth’ (totally invisibly trans), and I am an example of those who are open to talk about it, but for whom it has little to do with everyday life.

If you find me on Facebook, and if you friend me and if I say yes, you will see that I belong to a number of transgender groups, some with closed membership. What a giveaway! I have been open on Facebook to my friends throughout my transition. This is probably true of most trans people.

I write a personal blog every week, to relate this whole journey. What a giveaway! Yes, but if you are reading ‘Observations of gender dysphoria and beyond’ then you are in a context, a serious one that looks not just at me, but the issues surrounding transition. Maybe you have a blog too.

Let me then make it abundantly clear that this does not mean anyone can use it to do anything other than observe that I was born with gender dysphoria. It is not an excuse to disclose anything not essentially and legally necessary to people, as if it were relevant to a situation where it is not.

But of course, with so much social media, everyone is much more personally exposed than ever before, and some employers use it more in order to find evidence against than evidence for. I would bet more people have fished in my blog for comment, or my Facebook pages, than my endorsements and skills on LinkedIn, for example. I’m just saying, be aware.

Disclosure and the law

The question is, just because you are detectably transsexual on social media, does this mean that the Gender Recognition Act protections are done away with? Not quite, but it is there to ensure that information exchanged in the workplace (for example) is strictly on a need to know basis. I shall quote here from the UK Equality and Human Rights website:

Gender Recognition Act 2004

The Gender Recognition Act (GRA) gives legal recognition to transsexual people in their acquired gender.

If an application to the Gender Recognition Panel is successful, the transsexual person’s gender becomes for all purposes the acquired gender and they will receive a full gender recognition certificate (GRC). The GRC allows for the creation of a modified birth certificate reflecting the holder’s new gender.

In specified circumstances the GRA prohibits disclosure of the fact that someone has applied for a GRC or disclosure of someone’s gender prior to the acquisition of the GRC. Such disclosure constitutes a criminal offence liable to a fine.

The privacy provisions apply in most circumstances where the information is received by someone acting in an official capacity. The exceptions are very narrowly drawn, so it should generally be assumed that if you are a employer, manager or colleague; or if you are working in any capacity for an official body or service provider, the law will apply.

Unlawful disclosure applies not only to direct word of mouth communication but also to uncontrolled access to paper or computer files. A transsexual person may consent to you disclosing the information if they decide that it is in their interests to do so. However, such consent must be explicit. It may not be assumed.

As a general rule it is best to agree what to do with information when an employee or service user informs you that they have applied for or obtained a Gender Recognition Certificate. This may often necessitate physically destroying records that reveal inappropriate information, or sealing them for use in specified exceptional cases.

Advice for transitioning at work

I wish I had read all this before, but there are some definite points for attention, if you are heading this way:

  • Be crystal clear, in writing, about your preferences regarding who can know what, and at every stage. What you are prepared to disclose when you are obvious (coming out, early days, or with an existing employer) is not the same as being at the point of surgery or beyond.
  • Give this information to the most senior person in charge of personnel records, explaining helpfully.
  • Let your HR contact know each stage you are at, because this alters things: intention to transition, engagement with clinical services, diagnosis, intention for surgery, application for a GRC – everything.
  • Ensure that any documents that may reach other than your HR contact do not disclose anything unnecessary for the purpose. For example, my hospital sicknote simply stated ‘Surgery’ as the reason, whereas my GP’s fit note clearly stated ‘Gender Reassignment Surgery’. (I was told this had subsequently been seen other than by HR.)
  • No-one wants to be paranoid, but like me you could end up feeling quite distressed if anything goes wrong. Therefore keep records, and if necessary record communications.
  • Be very factual. Grievances are not about stories, they are about actions. They are not personal either, they are administrative, for which people hold responsibility.
  • Assert, don’t argue. You may well hit a wall. Speak to it, don’t hit it. I hate bureaucratic justification and it raises my hackles every time. But it doesn’t help. If you have done the above, and if you have a grievance, state it clearly and back it up. Even if you do not wish to make an official complaint about it.

I wrote this piece because I could not see the relevance of the nature of my surgery to my return to work under a new line manager. My surgery was disclosed, and I observed that no woman in the organisation would wish the nature of her gynaecological surgery to be disclosed to a male manager, unless that detail was directly and specifically relevant to her ability to resume her work (i.e. cover the employer’s liability).

The complicating factor here is that post-surgical maintenance for gender surgery needs initially to be done three times a day. This requires privacy and washing facilities, and if not available at your place of work, you will need to negotiate working from home, at least to cover a mid-day half hour. Now this does not take a lot of imagination as to exactly what you are doing, so how do you request a degree of working from home for a short period (so you don’t need to stay off sick longer than absolutely necessary)? For me it is perfectly sufficient for any manager to know that you have had surgery, need a recovery period, and can return to work making allowances (lifting, maintenance etc.) for confidential reasons.

Am I right? Please tell me if I am not, especially if you are in HR, and I can correct this blog and this advice.

Back to the post-operative maintenance: by telling anyone else in the organisation that your surgery is gender-related, immediately tells your manager (what, a man?!) that you wish to work from home in order to dilate your vagina!

This is why extra sensitivity is required by HR when deciding just how relevant it is to tell another member of staff that the nature of your surgery was to do with your genitals. I don’t care how understanding or empathic the man in my office is, or how discreet he may subsequently be. It is none of his business; it is intimate and personal to me, and most of all, it has no bearing on my work situation whatsoever.

Please, so that you do not suffer the same distress, explain this to your HR contact well in advance, otherwise these unnecessary accidents will happen.


Phew! Finally … If you are in UK HR, and anything I have said is inaccurate in its interpretation, find me on Facebook and tell me so that I can correct it. If you have useful things to add, please also find me and tell me. We all need to know these things and ensure better handling than I feel I experienced.

Workplace sexism, a trans view

  • Posted on July 31, 2014 at 12:50 pm

I really do hesitate to write this at all. Not because workplace sexism isn’t important, but because so much has already been said. Today I was prompted by a Guardian article: ‘10 sexist scenarios women face at work – and men don’t’ to pass comment that in just two years at work as a woman I too have felt workplace sexism. But more: that having been taken for a man at work for so many years, I also know how men are ‘when no woman is present’. When I’ve shared this observation with other transitioned working women, they’ve smiled, understanding what I mean. We see things that men don’t notice in each other’s behaviours, and we see differently from women who have never had this perspective.

This came up following a recent failed job interview (I don’t say unfair of itself), so let’s start back there. But first …

Privilege and workplace sexism

I want first to clear this little hurdle of privilege. I get challenged, as do most women with a trans history, by the statement, even the accusation, that because we were brought up as boys, with the assumptions of a dominant, manly future, we have the privileged status of never having been the underdogs, and have been handed on a plate certain advantages, de facto, by virtue of maleness. Never were we offered a reduced career choice, assumed to be just future mums and home-makers. Never did we get offered the same job on a lower scale for being female, or be passed over for promotion because we were of child-bearing age. Never were we the pretty things there primarily for the benefit of men. We were assumed to be the future captains of industry, the careerists, breadwinners, leaders, never discriminated against as women always have been.

Of course this is how men have been privileged. But to take any advantage, you do have to play the game. I’m sure I did gain some advantage, though many of my female fellow university graduates have done far better in their careers than I have. Maybe it’s because they never felt they didn’t belong. Maybe they were stronger than I at challenging the sexist game. I never found a comfortable way of living up to male employment expectations. Much of my privilege was empty, a tool I didn’t even now how to use. Lesbian friends speak of the additional stigma of growing up and coming out, as if I had no problems growing up ‘to be a boy’ who wasn’t also stigmatised or bullied for being different, for wanting to be different, or for not conforming to stereotype.

Sometimes women with trans histories get slaughtered twice: for not being a proper man, and for not being a proper woman. There’s little worse than being designated not real on all bases.

So don’t lay on the cis white male privilege too thick, because it’s a meme that’s easily trotted out to keep ‘us’ out of ‘your’ spaces (whoever you are), as if we are imposters or invaders.

The failed job interview feedback

So I applied for a job; a promotion to a post I really felt I could do. Let me be clear, I am not contesting anything that took place here. What I did after being told I had been unsuccessful, however, was to ask to check back: my reason was that I was aware that my career drives and ambitions may have changed. My style may have too. I had presented a 30-year career that suited me very closely with the job. But it was the CV of a male who had always been in management work, presented by a woman who had not been observed in management at all. Further, I had presented after two years of transition in this workplace, the first of which had been quietly difficult (for personal reasons, and as I shall describe below), and this may have given a less flattering impression of my real capabilities.

The main reason I failed the interview, I was told, was my lack of ‘soft skills’. As a male manager these had never been challenged in my 30 years of work. If anything I was too soft, not assertive enough. Interesting. I felt this job needed a bit of a kick, because time is of the essence and things, I felt, were a touch too laid back. Colleagues have subsequently agreed. I did wonder whether, not consciously, the same interview by me as a man would have elicited the same response as by a woman about to undergo surgery. I don’t know, my interviewers would never consciously have felt this, and I am not contesting their opinion, though I did say I felt it unfair.

Here is a very interesting piece of research on how men and women fare: The one word men never see in their performance review. Are you ‘abrasive’ because you are a woman?

But I did discuss how I had felt as a woman at work. Their response (both women) was to ensure I had not felt discrimination or prejudice (mainly as trans, I would imagine). That has not been a problem, but I did point out that as a woman, I had felt sexist diminishment in this workplace. For them, that’s just regrettable but normal. You acknowledge it, put up with it, and leave it, unless it is beyond a certain undefined boundary. No, it isn’t stark, it’s just things like:

  • giving the best answer to a problem straight away, and it’s ignored – until a man gives a similar answer and gets instant recognition
  • providing a solution and just being looked through like you’re not there
  • always being last to be greeted
  • bemusement that you should actually know about something technical, as a woman
  • simply not being asked because you couldn’t possibly have a valid opinion, or be able to carry something forward, even your own ideas
  • being accepted as being able to do a task, but not a project, because that requires a man.

That may sound as if I’ve had a bad experience of sexual discrimination, but I haven’t really. Just a few memorable instances where the assumption has been absolutely clear: women don’t know these things, I’ll ask someone else. To cap this one, the appointment was made. I presented my big project (which I proposed, initiated, designed, developed, built, populated, rolled out, and trained) to our top people, and to the new person. It’s ground breaking, transforming the way some people work, and with potential to make a big difference, and I presented its progress, impact and potential. Fantastic! And the chairman turned round to my new colleague and said: ‘Well, that’s why we brought you in. To really take this forward!’

I quietly seethed.

So what has changed? My not being a man? Or being transsexual, or simply being a woman? [I want to write about this difference issue very soon, so watch out for more in-depth stuff.] I do know that I would not have been treated as above had I not transitioned, because I never was in the previous 30 years of employment! I do not think that I am discriminated against for being transsexual as such, but there are a few observations.

And how about this for further observations about the trans perspective (MtoF and FtoM): Why Aren’t Women Advancing At Work? Ask a Transgender Person? Please ignore the blatantly transphobic comments at the end.


There were times, working as the only woman in an otherwise male office, when I distinctly felt regarded as not quite a woman, or rather, when the humour was testosterone-edged and sexist, as an honorary man. I am quite certain that, although unspoken, ‘she’ll understand, she used to be a man’ made some things acceptable, whereas had I ‘just been a woman’ they would not. I loudly and clearly objected to a conversation about a female colleague one day, because it had gone way beyond the acceptable. It was rude, abusive, sexist and personal, and I challenged it head on. The conversation would never have happened in earshot of any other woman than me.

What this leads me on to is the observation that transsexual people see both sides in a way single-binary/cis people do not. Every woman knows male belittling, and that ‘it goes with the territory. Every man knows this goes on to some degree, and that very few men ever challenge it, partly because if you stay away from the edge you won’t fall off. So we all see it; we read about it being sexist, and that we need to improve. But how many people really do see both (a) women interacting when no man is present, and (b) men interacting when no woman is present? Only a trans person.

It is illuminating. There is always a sense in which a trans person is not regarded as ‘really’ anything, where (post-transition) female cliques remain excluding and (pre-transition) male cabals have not included the atypical male, but you do get to know a lot more about what women think about men but would never tell them, and vice versa. There is, between them, a layer of accommodation: ‘let’s face it, men/women are just like that’. And whether it’s about Mars or Venus, rigid or flexible, it isn’t simply an acknowledgement that men and woman are different, but an acceptance that the way they treat each other isn’t going to change.

This is where we could launch firmly into feminist territory, but the truth is that few women at work directly challenge male attitudes. I might say (have said): ‘I feel I do know enough about this to fulfil that task’ to counter the suggestion that it needs a man. But would I directly say: ‘I feel you are assuming I can’t do this because I’m a woman’? Not likely, because the man would most probably get defensive, deny it and still refuse me the opportunity, whereas to just assert that ‘I can’ offers a let-out. I think an awful lot remains unspoken in the workplace about ongoing assumed male supremacy.

I do accept (hence my request for interview feedback) that male and female approaches to getting things done are different. We do work in different ways, have different styles, work with teams differently, have different degrees of self-assuredness. I also accept that my personal style is a blended one. I am very intuitive, highly illustrative in my leadership, quite assertive when I know the right answer to a problem, I can be quite direct, but I prefer to share the load and work with a team. That’s probably a male/female blend that’s both innate and socialised, and from both sides of transition.

But the bottom line for me, is that this is an accepted state of dis-honouring women. We call it mild, We live with it. It isn’t like it used to be. Thank god the groping years are over.

Gender roots

Skating over the feminist/equality issues, there is the fundamental reality that society has been built, constructed, developed and maintained to a male paradigm. The commercial world often seems to work best when run on male attributes. Build a diesel engine, and you have to run it on diesel. If I’m offering a can of petrol, I’m implying that you need to change the engine. You own the engine? You say it works well, why change it? I turn and walk away with my fuel. The one who turns up next with the appropriate fuel gets the ride. And with everyone standing round looking after a diesel engine that ensures a regular supply of diesel-oriented goods, things aren’t about to change.

I’m just not sure I can go on bringing diesel to the workplace. Maybe I do have a blend, which works, but not optimally. But my fuel has as much energy as yours, it’s just that I don’t feel really enabled to use it to its best advantage right now.

I work in a place where the ‘brains’ are all men, and the paperwork is largely dealt with my women. Men mostly do the making, women mostly do the admin. Not all workplaces are like this, though my last, for all its raison d’être and senior female figures, still felt very sexist. I’m not sure what the answer is, but having seen both sides from the inside, there must be something more useful to say.

Is my ‘can’ good enough?