I’ve worked in the civil service for over 5 years, once in a previous role in another department and now as a Crown Court Clerk. I have worked under my former name and now as my current name. I am a trans man and none of my colleagues are aware of this.
I have an eternal internal debate with myself about this lack of out-ness that I don’t possess. I understand that I don’t owe anyone my identity and there is no requirement for me to be out at work. Those who know me privately are aware of my gender transition, but people that I meet every day have no idea. They see me as they always should have seen me, as a male. This is a privilege of which I am wholly aware.
The issue that I now face is that my privilege erases my queerness. I am overjoyed that people see me as they should and that I don’t face the hardships that come with being misgendered on a regular basis, nor indeed the much worse harassment and abuse that many other people face, especially trans women and
even more especially trans women of colour who are almost routinely murdered in various places around the world, so much so that we have a day dedicated to remembering those who we have lost each year – Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoV – 20th November).
In the face of this is seems somewhat selfish that something as simple as my queerness being erased causes me upset, something that is also a choice on my part to not be open about my identity. Nonetheless it leaves me with a sense of sadness and a continual internal debate about the need for me to be out to my colleagues as a trans man. The idea of bringing my whole self to work doesn’t revolve around my identity as a trans person, but that doesn’t make it unimportant.
I know there are strong views around trans people and it is almost impossible to know who may or may not holds views that go against the freedom of expression that all persons should have, in particular views that are against the freedoms of transgender people. I would not expect that there are any individuals with whom I work that would voice such views within the workplace. If there are people with such views it may then inform their treatment of me. There is also the potential for the stepping of eggshells, the potential for people to not want to say anything that may cause offence – through no intention of malice – but thereby treat me differently because of a knowledge about me that they now hold. And then there is open season on questions that people can feel entitled to ask, questions that they would not normally ask any person they met or knew, but questions people feel they can ask trans people with impunity (Have you had “the surgery”? So, you used to be “insert gender assigned at birth”? And other such questions that relate to the perceived view of trans people).
All of this and many other things are reasons that I don’t come out at work. I don’t feel that I can be me without people knowing who I am. I don’t want people to know who I am and lose that level of assimilation I have achieved. I want to be me but being me is a complex statement that has no easy answer, no simple happy outcome that leaves me with a sense of peace and pride. I must be out and vulnerable to all the potential consequences that I wish to avoid in order to be able to celebrate my own queerness.
This is no different to the issues faced by gay men in the 80s and 90s, for example. They had to be straight acting to retain their privilege. The fear of being found out could lead to undesirable consequences. History is repeating itself and this time trans people are the ones under the microscope, the ones being told they aren’t allowed to retain their rights within society, the ones having to keep their identities hidden so as to not be seen as a fascination or an oddity, or worse.
I understand that many trans people don’t feel the same way I do, they are happy to share their transness and then there are also people who don’t have a choice or the ability to hide it in the way I do. Many people welcome the trans community and treat them with respect and kindness. But it is not those people from whom I hide. It is the people that would deny my existence, the people that would tell me I’m wrong and mentally unwell. Those people still exist, they exist in larger numbers than most would believe, they don’t all shout from their Times, Telegraph or Mail columns, they exist within our workplaces, within our families and most harrowingly, within our own community.
Until there comes a time that the misinformation about and hateful actions towards the transgender community cease, I cannot be out at work, I cannot be me at work and I cannot be proud at work.