Through her own parenting experience, Christy Hegarty has become an advocate for families with transgender children. During her talk at TEDxBloomington, Hegarty shares what she has learned as the mother of a transgender child. She explores the concept that we should be able to accept that our children may be different than we expect them to be and that we should not be afraid to allow them to express themselves. She challenges us to consider the idea that human evolution is more about being human than it is about being a gender and the important role acceptance plays in our evolving world.
Debi Jackson shares the story of her daughter, who transitioned from male to female when she was four years old. She challenges the ignorant comments she hears about having a transgender child.
Professor, author and activist Jennifer Finney Boylan and her family talk about staying together following her transition from M to F.
We know that being the family of a trans* person is not something you sought or ever thought you would have to deal with. We know that in coming out as trans*, we are also forcing you out as the family of a trans* person. We know that you are concerned for us, for our welfare, for our healthcare, for our relationships, for our safety, for all the reasons that you have seen as headlines in the newspapers, and that makes you afraid for us. We know that you can’t be sure we are doing the right thing, maybe we are just going through a phase. We know that you will get our name wrong and use the wrong pronoun sometimes, which may embarrass you in public. We know all of these things and that’s why coming out to our families is the hardest thing we have to do. We worry so much that, if we can’t help you find a way through all of these issues, we may lose you. We don’t want to lose you, we want you in our lives. Our love for you doesn’t change when we transition but, sometimes, your love for us does.
In an ideal world, when we come out to you as trans*, at some point in the process, we would like you to give us a hug and say something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?” We know this is a big ask, but it’s not an impossible ask.
To our mothers and fathers: when the midwife placed us in your arms for the first time and said, “It’s a …”, would you have loved us any less if she had said our real gender as opposed to the gender dictated by our genitalia? To our partners, siblings, children and wider family: when you met us for the first time and were introduced to us, “This is …”, would you have loved us any the less if you had been introduced to us as the name that we have chosen for ourselves to match our true gender? If the answer to both these questions is “no”, which it probably is, then the problem with transitioning is not our gender or our new name, the problem is that we are changing from something familiar to something that seems unfamiliar.
Nobody likes change and our transition imposes a change on your life that you did not seek. Because of the process of transition, the news of this change is necessarily sudden for our families. Transitioning is never a spur of the moment decision and coming out to our families happens at the end of a process that may take years. Our families, therefore, receive the news of our transition with none of the preparation time we have had. Put like this, as the person transitioning, we have a responsibility to help those whose love and support we value to transition with us.
As the family of a trans* person, you have a right to ask them to accept this responsibility and to give you the help and support you need to manage the change that is happening in your life. This may include arranging for you to speak to a counsellor about your concerns or finding appropriate resources to help you understand the process of transitioning and why it is not a choice for the trans* person. To this end, we have added a post about the Transition Curve – the stages that everyone goes through when faced with change – that gives the trans* person in your family some guidance on how best to do this. You may also want to read it to understand a little more about why human beings don’t like change much and react in similar, predictable ways to it.
It is in our interests to help you cope with our transition. If we want you in our lives, we must make the effort. Communicating with you is, therefore, vital to the process. However much you might not want to talk about it, expressing your feelings is better than bottling them up. Please tell us how you are feeling. If you can’t do it face-to-face, phone us or write to us. If you need time and space, say so. We can respect that. Trans* Jersey’s post on communicating assertively applies to you as well as to us. Anger is a common reaction to change, especially change that is out of our control. Get angry, but please don’t get angry with us. Gender dysphoria is not something that we chose. If you need to get angry, get angry with the change, with the dysphoria, with the situation, but not with us.
To speak assertively: at some point, you have to accept that our transition is not just a phase, it isn’t going to go away. If you want us in your life, you must make an effort, too. Acknowledging this fact is the first step to accepting our transition and that goal of giving us a hug and saying something similar to: “That’s great news. I’m so happy that you have reached a place where you feel able to express yourself in a way that is true to the person you really are. How can I best help and support you?”
To answer the question, “How can I best help and support you?”, all we ask is that you are as proud of us as you always were. Be open and honest about our transition, don’t hide it. Be as proud that you have a trans* family member as you are of the other things we have done in our lives and the other members of your family. If you hide it, you are suggesting to those outside the family that there is a reason to hide it, that it is something of which to be ashamed. When people see that those closest to us accept our transition they, too, will take that attitude. After all, if those closest to us accept us, what right have others to find it “weird”? This also maximises our chances of staying safe from transphobic attacks – one of your fears for us. If we have allies who will step into defend us, we aren’t alone.
And that is what all trans* people who come out to their friends and family fear most – that they will end up alone as a result of their revelation. Please don’t do that to your family member, they will be much more vulnerable if you do and you will be the poorer for it.
There is very little chance that you will be able to keep your transition a secret in Jersey. The island is small and news of your transition will travel quickly around your friends, family, colleagues and, surprisingly, even people who you don’t know! If you want to transition privately, your best option is to leave the island for a city. However, before you take that step, consider the pros and cons carefully:
- You will pass more often in a city as your gender rather than as transgender
- You will have access to a wider range of professionals to support your transition
- You will have access to support groups where you can meet other trans* individuals
- You can make a fresh start in your new gender
- As well as undergoing the changes to your gender, you will also have to undertake huge changes in your home and work life
- You will lose the support network you have in Jersey (friends, family, colleagues)
- You may not be eligible for funded healthcare, depending on where you move to
- Moving location will add to the cost of your transition
Jersey is a conservative place but it is also, by and large, a tolerant place. The island’s population is a well educated one – our schools consistently get above UK average grades. There are very few hate crimes and people are able to go about their business without interference. Islanders may like to gossip and some of the attitudes you encounter may be a little behind the times but, rarely, are they malicious. The new anti-discrimination legislation due to come into force in September 2015 should improve this situation through education and awareness campaigns. There are worse places in the world to be open about your gender or sexuality.
Because news will spread fast in Jersey, you need to plan the order in which you inform people of your transition. You will find that most of your acquaintances will be accepting and supportive of your decision to transition. However, you don’t want to jeopardise that goodwill by people hearing of your news secondhand. We would suggest the following order as a starting point:
- Your GP and other members of the medical profession necessary to establish that you wish to transition – this is guaranteed to be in confidence and a necessary first step.
- One close friend or family member in whose judgement and discretion you trust – inform them that they are the only one who knows and that you are not telling anyone else for the moment. They will act as a sounding board for your thoughts and feelings. If you do not have access to someone suitable using an Internet forum specifically for trans* people where you can ask questions of other trans* individuals can provide the same support.
- You can stop at this point until you are ready to come out as transgender. Once you are ready to come out, the next steps should follow in quick succession (i.e. within days of each other). Make sure that you inform each person you tell of who knows your news, apart from them, and what your timetable is for telling others.
- Your advocate – this is guaranteed to be in confidence and the first public step you will have to take. Your deed poll should take about a week to process and pass through the Royal Court. It is not one of the Royal Court procedures announced in the Business Brief.
- Your closest friends and family – try to do this face to face if possible. They will be the ones most concerned by your transition because they love you and the ones who require the most reassurance. Have some sources of factual information prepared for them (e.g. a self-help book, a lists of websites offering advice, a handout of basic facts that you have written, an open letter explaining your journey to this decision) to help with their understanding of what you are going through and to demonstrate that you take your transition seriously and have done your research.
- Your line manager or, if more suitable, your personnel manager at work – the process for coming out at work is discussed in more detail below.
- Your work colleagues, extended family members and casual acquaintances/friends – email makes this process much easier than it used to be. On the day that you inform your work colleagues, plan to send an email to your extended family members and casual acquaintances/friends. The email can be relatively brief but be sure to include your new name and the pronouns (he/him/his, she/her/her, they/them/their) you would like people to use from now onwards. You may also wish to explain your journey to this decision and provide some links to websites offering advice. This is the day that you will really feel that you have come out and you will, in all likelihood, find it a positive experience as most people will respond with messages of good wishes and congratulations.
In the workplace, you should expect the following considerations from the manager that you first approach with the news of your transition:
- They take a non-judgemental stance
- They are available if you need to talk
- They support your plan for coming out to your colleagues
- They assist in educating co-workers
- They allow for mood changes caused by hormone therapy
- They work with you to plan time off for surgery
- They treat you no differently than they would other colleagues of that gender
- They always use your new name and gender pronoun
- They take appropriate disciplinary steps with co-workers who do not respect your gender
- They remind co-workers that it is not their job to ‘out’ you to new employees joining the company
- They inform you of anyone else that they are obliged to inform of your news and get your agreement to do so
In consultation with your manager, agree on the plan for telling your colleagues. You should plan to tell colleagues within a matter of days from telling your manager. There should be no reason for the manager to delay:
- Set a date on which everyone will be told (all at once). Don’t allow the news to spread by gossip.
- Find a method of telling everyone the same information at once. Email is probably the best way to do this so that staff who work remotely also hear at the same time. Keep the information clear and factual.
- You may wish to undertake a presentation about gender issues to all staff in which a Q&A can happen. Only the most confident/comfortable trans* individuals are likely to undertake this but it can be a great way to get your colleagues comfortable with your news. Discuss this possibility with your manager.
- You may wish to take holiday whilst your colleagues get used to your news so that your return to work marks a clear date on which you are dressed as your preferred gender and referred to by your new name/pronouns. Discuss this possibility with your manager.
- Your manager may wish to offer all members of staff the opportunity to talk to them and air their concerns about the change. This is a good idea as it can stop any negative comments early on and the manager can get a feel for which employees might need anti-discrimination training.
Below is a sample email that can be adapted by you and your manager to send to other employees:
I have been asked by John Bunbury to write to you to inform you that he is starting a process of gender reassignment from male to female.
From [date], his name will change from John to Elizabeth (Liz). Liz has also asked to be referred to by female pronouns (she, her, hers) from this date.
I ask all employees to respect Liz’s wishes and to use her correct name and pronouns. I also ask that you respect Liz’s right to privacy and that you do not discuss this with other employees. Should you wish to discuss the matter, please arrange to see me in confidence.
[Optional] A presentation about gender issues will be held on [date], which all employees are expected to attend. Further details to follow.
[Optional] Liz is currently on holiday and will be returning on [date].
Toilets and changing rooms
One of the areas that gets people into difficulties is communal facilities that are gender segregated. You should expect to receive the following courtesies from your manager:
- They should ask you which facility you would like to use.
- They should offer to provide you with a gender-neutral option, but not force you to use one.
- If other members of staff complain about the arrangements, they should educate them.
If your manager does not get this right, be patient with them because it will be due to lack of experience in dealing with trans* issues. Explain that you are the most vulnerable person in this situation not your colleagues and that using facilities designated for the opposite gender is one of the most daunting aspects of transitioning. Remind them that:
- Digressing gender norms does not make you sexual predator.
- The majority of sexual assaults in the world are perpetrated by cisgender (non-trans) men.
- Even in the gents, you rarely, if ever, see other people’s genitalia when using public facilities.
- Transwomen are put at risk of being physically assaulted by men when using men’s facilities.
If your organisation has a uniform:
- Ensure that your manager arranges for a uniform matching your new gender to be provided as soon as possible.
- The uniform may need to be altered fit. Your employer should offer to fund this for you but check company policy for whether this is covered for cisgender employees. If not, you are unlikely to get it covered either. (Transwomen may be broader in the shoulders, transmen may be shorter in the leg, than standard sizing.)
- Agree a point in time when you will commence wearing your new uniform.
Health and safety
If appropriate to your work and your transition, you should discuss the following issues with your manager to ensure that they are aware that some of your duties may need to be adjusted as your transition progresses:
- Hormone therapy brings about physical changes. Be aware that if you are an MtF manual worker you will not be able to lift the weight you used to.
- Following surgery you may return to work but may not yet be capable of carrying out all your normal duties. Take medical advice about recovery times and appraise your manager of them.
Finally, Jersey does not currently have appropriate legislation to protect trans* workers’ rights. This is due to be introduced in September 2015. However, the States of Jersey appear to be modelling their new law on the UK Equality Act, so be aware that:
- In the vast majority of cases, the gender of a worker is of no relevance to their ability to do a particular job. However, the Equality Act 2010 does allow for an exception where being of a particular sex is an ‘occupational requirement’ of that post. It might apply where the work necessarily involves conducting intimate searches, or where services are provided to one gender only, such as a women’s refuge.
- The Equality Act makes it clear that the employer must act reasonably in applying an occupational requirement. For example, conducting intimate searches is unlikely to be a main part of any particular post. The employer must consider whether these tasks could be carried out by someone else. Also, the occupational requirement must be identified at the beginning of the recruitment process and stated in the application pack.
- If an employee who is intending to transition permanently works in a single sex position or organisation, it is probably best for the employee, the employer and any service users if redeployment can be negotiated. Employers should make sure that options are discussed early on, to reach the best outcome.
- Don’t forget that a person with a Gender Recognition Certificate is legally of that sex for all purposes.
Guides to managing your transition at work –
National Institute of Economic and Social Research
The Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services