Transgender in the Workplace

The community where I live is a small-town suburb of Boston Massachusetts.  We are relatively insulated from the city.  Many in the community including me were shocked to read that the principal of the local elementary school has identified as transgender and would like to be called Shannon not Tom from now on.  You can read about this here.

How do you explain this to a kindergartener?  was a question that really resonated with me.  I didn’t know the answer.

The town is pretty liberal so many are accepting of LGTBQ issues in theory but when it hits home, it is a struggle.  Intellectually you understand but emotionally it is hard.

How does this relate to being happy at work which is what this blog is about?  This is happening in someone’s workplace.  To be happy at work we must understand our reactions to this kind of announcement.  We have to become more self-aware.  What are we feeling and how is that serving us?

Shannon is already showing she is self-aware. She knows she couldn’t be happy at work until she could express her true self and feel comfortable.  Can you be your true self at work? Where are you wearing a mask that you’d like to take off.  Are you brave enough to express yourself after you have been pretending for a while.  That takes real courage.  Some may prefer to start over somewhere else.

What about the teachers who work with Shannon?  How will the culture change or adjust now that Tom will be called Shannon?  Sometimes you have a total shift in the culture while you are working in a place.  What do you do?  Is it still a comfortable place for you? Do you stay, adjust, or find a new job?

I don’t have any quick answers here.  In fact, there probably isn’t a “right” answer but just your own answer and you may find that answer shifts over time.

I had an experience with a transgender in an improv class I took about 10 years ago.  Up until that time it wasn’t an issue I thought about.  When we all introduced ourselves one woman said she was born male but was transitioning to female and came to the class with the goal of learning to better express her female self as a female would.

Later in the course she told us how difficult life had been for her.  Once she was arrested for a traffic violation and brought into the police station and strip searched.  The police made fun of her since she was dressed as a female but was born with male parts.  Obviously, the police suspected this when they brought her in and they wanted to taunt her.  I’d never been aware of such mistreatment and it really upset me that such an incident could have happened.

My daughter who lives in New Jersey and works in New York City told me then that she had experience with a transgender employee. “it’s just a pronoun problem”, she said to me.  A what??  “You have to agree on what pronoun to use: he, she or something else. “

My daughter went to the high school in this town where I still live.  When I sent her the link to the article she responded, “Totally awesome to see the town as a leader in LGBTQ rights.  That’s definitely not the town I grew up in.”  To expand my learning on the topic she sent me links to the following videos. They are short and explain clearly the topic.  The first is very instructional and might help with explaining to the kindergartener.  I learned a lot from that one.  The second is the experience of one child.

Finally, she sent me this video link.  It is a bit longer (5 minutes) of a mother explaining her reaction when she realized her child was non-binary.  (Non-binary was a term I was unfamiliar with and the videos were helpful.)

What about you?  Have you had experiences with transgender in the workplace?  How have you dealt with it?  Do you find yourself becoming more attuned to the issues of the LGBTQ rights?  As a coach I help people who feel confused or stuck.  By asking questions I get my clients to think deeply about their issue and discover their own solution.  There are no “right” answers just their own answers.   Please feel free to call me at 781-598-0388 or email me at if you think I can help you.  If you have something to add on the topic please comment on my blog.



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