Trying to Get Out

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.

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Independence Days

“He’s transgender.”

That’s what my spouse has been telling members of our family.

 “I’m transgender.”

That’s what I’ve been telling friends from grade school to my work friends.

“I’m… here.”

Well, as it turns out, I am not ready to finish that sentence any other way when I meet with my new bosses and colleagues and HR people next week. I’ve been told at the end of my first six months of my new staff job at a New York based TV network, that I will be re-evaluated. I worry that if I “come out” at work, that I could be (unfairly) judged not on my work performance but on how people feel about my gender status. Yeah, I know: it’s illegal. Yeah, I know: I can challenge it, in court or with the Equal Opportunity Commission. I have three children to support and I don’t have time to wage a battle without an income to feed them, clothe them and provide them with a roof over their heads. So… if all goes as it should, I’ll finish that sentence in six months honestly. I have waited, and can wait a little longer.

What I could no longer wait to do, however, is far more serious, far more depressing than anything that’s happened to me since the close call I survived in saving my marriage. I’ll explain in a moment, but first, I want to say for the record, my wife and I are still together, still close, and still working toward our own creative solution. I’m maintaining my male identity, while not denying to her or to myself my status as a transgender person. I found a very specific description for that status: non-op, meaning a transgender person who does not plan to have surgery to become a transsexual and transition full-time to another gender, in my case: male to female. For right now, that’s not in the works, on the calendar or part of the plan. I am doing everything I can to be the husband and the man and the father without denying my condition.

What my wife has done to give us a chance is talk with spouses of transgender friends, talk with her closest relatives about our relationship, and talked openly with me about her feelings, her concerns and her fears. She’s done research and given my condition far more thought than I am admittedly putting in right now.

What I’ve done is send away the clothes, the shoes, the trappings. I purged myself of the majority of the things that were for me my ticket to looking, feeling and being myself. I allowed myself one last visit to the dentist before telling my lovely dentist and her staff that I had made a promise to my wife to express myself as male, 24-7, until I could no longer do it. And that promise comes with another promise, that I would tell her if I could not keep my promise. What I know with certainty is that informing her I broke my promise would be the sign she is waiting for that I cannot live as her husband and must transition.

She strongly believes that now: that there is no other cure for my condition than transition. She also believes me when I say transition to me is not as important as being with her and our children. Would I prefer to have my cake and eat it, too? Sure. But I know that it is one or the other. Either way, we know now that our separation or our continued marriage will be without the acrimony of the recent past. We will be friends forever. But I am not satisfied that putting myself first is the best solution, and for my own selfish reasons, I want my best friend to be my wife and my wife to be my best friend. And I want to live in the same home as our children, and be there for them as an active parent, not someone who shares custody or is granted visitation. Those things are more important to me than transition.

I guess we’ll see who’s right. My wife knows from my transgender friends and from their spouses that “the genie cannot go back into the bottle.” I say, for now, this works for me, I know it’s working for her, and so far, that is all that matters. Our family is whole.

So (finally) , that brings me back to the thing that has rocked my world. It involves my original family, of which my mother and sister are all that’s left. My mother is remarried since the death of my father, and my sister and I were never closer in all our years, up until Friday. She has only recently rekindled a relationship with our mother, after years of not talking, and years of acrimony. It made me so happy that these two women were finally talking and finally reconnecting.

But something was still amiss. The closer my sister grew to my mother, the further my mother and I grew apart. My wife described it as if she only had room in her heart to love one of us at a time. I don’t disagree.

We have a contentious relationship, and part of that is over what she did in our past, part is over her perception that I am ungrateful, selfish, rude and disrespectful. Well, I think I’ve finally given her reason to think those are all true.

On Friday I said to my mother at a crowded public event: “Fuck you.”

And then I said it again, louder. A third time, still louder. Not sure if there was a fourth time, I lost count. But they were all loud enough to attact attention. Oh, and then we all posed for pictures with big, phony smiles. I neglected to mention this public event was the graduation of her first grandchild, my niece and goddaughter.

I think I also proved I need to work on my sense of propriety and self-awareness.

Why on earth would anyone say something like that to their mother, over and over, in public, and embarrass her, myself and of course, my sister and the graduate?

What could have driven me to show such utter disrespect to the woman who brought me into this world and has been such an influence on my life?

Those are questions for another post. Suffice to say: I apologized, in writing. I confessed my sin, in person. And I have separated myself from my mother, ultimately, finally and without reservation. There will be no reconciliation, not unless she seeks it out. I expect we shall remain separate, sad and sorry until death do us part.

Which is an odd phrase to use, since it’s from a marriage vow. But for all intents and purposes, what I declared that day in the rudest, most inappropriate way, was my intention to divorce her.

And so I have.

I cannot say it feels good. Let’s just say, it feels better.