I thought about this decision so much I was beginning to think maybe I overthought it. My plan was to reveal my gender identity issues to my employer one full week before a single publisher saw a single word of the book I was writing about me and this strange, frightening and also wondrous change in my life.
Plus, each one would sign a confidentiality agreement which could lead to legal action if the material was leaked. So I figured, my worries were unfounded. Still…
I sat across from the young woman in HR with confidence and a feeling of destiny. I was certain this was the right thing to do. God forbid someone did leak the story to either the newsroom or to the newspapers (or both), by coming out to HR I was protecting the company and myself.
All Amy knew was that I needed to meet with her about a personal matter. I had pamphlets and such but kept them hidden, as I asked her the suggested opening question and said the recommended statement that I read is the best way to do this.
“I have a confidential medical condition that I wish to discuss, one that will affect neither my work nor my ability to do my job, but first I have to ask: are you H.I.P.A.A. certified?”
“Um, no,” said Amy. “I’m not.”
And then the shocker: “And I’m sorry but I cannot guarantee you confidentiality.”
I was dumbfounded. Of all the things I thought would happen, this was not among them. “You… what?!? You can’t? Even though this involves a medical condition?”
“I’m sorry, no.”
And so began a process that took two weeks to unwind. The whole point of going to HR was to ensure that if the proposal for the book I’m writing leaked out, my employer would not be coming to me with questions such as, “Why didn’t you warn us?”
So you can imagine what happened next. My equally dumbfounded union rep tried to find someone at my job he could trust — now that he, too, knew my secret — and while that process dragged on, the book proposal stayed on track. My story, in cold, black print, was zooming across the internet to publishing houses across the country, from a computer in London, England. The story of my life was out there now, and the small circle of friends who knew it, was widening.
The union rep told his chief counsel. One of the publishers called someone at my job, who then told the president of my company and another executive, and of course the lawyer who approves book deals for all of our employees was already in the know. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few others who manage the affairs of these top executives were looped-in, too. So much for non-disclosure.
What happened next still baffles me. Two weeks to the day that I sat across from Amy in HR, she tells the union rep I never mentioned that I had a medical condition. “If only he had, this whole process would have gone so much smoother.” And the union guy believes her, saying he didn’t recall me using that phrase with him either.
Is everybody just daft?
I forwarded him three emails in which I used the words “confidential medical condition” and told him that of course I had used that same language with HR; why else would she ask if I needed an accommodation? Why else would she ask if she could guess what it was — and by the way, I thought that was so damn funny I had to stifle laughing in her face.
So whatever, she lied to cover her ass, probably not the last HR person in the world to do that — and, definitely NOT the first. The upside of this conversation was that, at long last, the union rep found “the” person at my job who deals with gender issues, trans employees and the like. She’s a lawyer, she’s a VP in human resources and she has a heart of gold.
And thanks to the wonderful world of email communication, she already knew my entire story. If I were to hold a party for the “few” people who knew it before I even published it, we’d now need a large room able to seat at least two dozen. You’d think I’d be fazed by this, but in total honesty, if it bothered me so much I would not be able to post this blog and write a book. Getting the word out was my goal, and I was getting a lot of unanticipated help in that regard.
No matter, my guardian angel found me, after two weeks spent thinking I must have done something wrong. I asked if we could please exclude Amy from this, and I imagine she’s still trying to guess what it was I wanted to disclose. That’s just fine, as far as I’m concerned. One friend ventured she probably thinks I have HIV. Not a pleasant thought but I don’t really care what she thinks, so long as she’s off the case.
The VP promised me I had nothing to fear, about my job, about coming out, and about the future. She assured me she’d handled “this kind of thing” before and would make sure everything went smoothly, even though my story was “different.” She talked about the change in my email, my ID, my change in appearance, getting bathroom issues addressed — and that’s where I stopped her.
My first thought, of course, was that if I were to transition to full-time in the female gender, I would hope that no one would insist I be restricted to a “special,” “Dawn-only” bathroom; that wouldn’t exactly constitute what I’d hope for in terms of blending-in.
But the current plan, which I don’t expect to alter, is to stick with the presentation my coworkers see now. Is it confusing, I’m sure. But it’s what I feel comfortable doing, for now. I promised her I would be communicative and not pull any surprises, and that I didn’t plan on making this more difficult for her, for the company or for me. But that for the sake of my family, for my marriage, I’d be continuing to present as male. What she said next is what stays with me and gives me hope.
“Well, you should do what feels right for you. We will support you no matter what. And you’ll never ever have to worry about making a choice ‘for the sake of your career.'”
I’m pretty lucky to work where I do, no doubt about that.