Transitioning at the office can be hard work
Transgender people navigate office dynamics, language issues in the workplace, says Lara Rae
Comedian and Winnipeg Comedy Festival artistic director Lara Rae has been charting her gender transition journey on CBC Radio One and online. This week, Lara explores transitioning in the workplace.
Although unemployment rates for transgender people are still higher than for many other social groups, many transgender people have to transition while holding down a job.
And while some companies will give an employee leave for surgery and other procedures, our daily physical, emotional and hormonal journey is done while balancing the rest of our lives.
Or as many women friends say — join the club, Lara.
I have two jobs, but this week I am focusing on my office job. I am the artistic director of a comedy festival in Winnipeg.
My work experience has been quite privileged. I work in the arts. And in our organization, I am near the top of the pyramid. But it is still a huge process. People have known me at my workplace by my birth name and gender for 14 years. I wore certain clothes, used a certain bathroom, and was referred to by a certain pronoun. Plus, I came out before I started taking a single pill, so physically there is a disconnect.
And then there's your voice, which creates an impression. Once you get the office dynamic down, you soon realize your workplace isn't in a bubble.
Soon the calls came in under my old name. Then there's the new annoyance of being "Lara" in an office with two "Lauras." Then the debates about whether I needed to tell people about my transition prior to a meeting or not.
Although there are now some standards, each crew is basically creating a new playbook. You can only send out so many letters and emails before you get tired of sharing. And you miss some people. A woman came into the office the other day not knowing about my transition, and laughed at me. She was devastated when she found out, but not as devastated as I was to endure the humiliation.
KFC manager fired after dismissing transgender woman
Unifor, Canada's largest private sector union, has a very useful pamphlet that lays out a thoughtful plan for LGBT employees. And when it does get bad, unions can help.
But, still, a trans woman I know was fired after 25 years of service after saying she was about to transition. The laws and protections for us are still patchwork.
But recently, there was a wonderful event. A manager fired a transgender woman, citing a bunch of transphobic excuses. The woman was brave enough to complain. And the company — KFC — reinstated the woman and fired the male manager.
Especially in the high-turnover world of fast food, this is a major victory.
And it's only fair to mention that what I am doing right now is freelance work — and here at the CBC I am treated very, very well.