Working “Out”

| Jul 27, 2020
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Over the last 15 years, I have steadily increased my visibility as a transgender lady in many places, including family, social life, worship and volunteer work. Until fairly recently, however, I had excluded my professional life from being one such venue. But owing to some unexpected circumstances, I decided not long ago to take what by then was the final big plunge and come out at my workplace. As might be expected, I used Halloween as the initial occasion.

To describe my background, I am a technology professional, with over 25 years of industry experience. As of 2018, I had been employed by a medium-sized, privately held company for over ten years. I have a solid record of achievement there, with good personal and professional visibility in a non-leadership role. After so much time, I know most of my internal colleagues by name and by face, and have made a sincere effort to be personable, accessible and accountable.

The celebration of Halloween is a major event there every year, but I had never previously participated in it, and no one would have expected any differently from me in 2018, although I had been growing my hair longer, and even recently purchased my first pair of women’s eyeglasses for everyday use.

Halloween Chris Cross.

So when I walked into the office that day in a costume I called “Chris Cross” – sweater, skirt, tall black boots, appropriate accessories, makeup, contouring, and cross-themed items, even a sash made of “Police Line – Do Not Cross” yellow tape – the impact was seismic. Many of my colleagues (male and female) were very impressed, and said so. I participated in all the morning festivities, and had a lot of fun along the way.

Now on Halloween afternoon, everyone who wears a costume that morning is free to dress casually, so I did the same. During my lunch hour, I had changed into a tunic sweater, leggings and sneakers with pink accents, after first visiting my salon for a hair appointment. Then I returned to the office and resumed work at my desk, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. If anything, the impact of that was even greater. I basically said to my entire company, without words, that this was what I considered “casual”. (What’s more, it was on the record for all to see, and unexpectedly set a valuable precedent for later.)

The following day, I returned to work in what was then standard guy mode. I received many subtle signals of approval, including from colleagues whose reactions I had been worried about in advance. (Just goes to show: Never pre-judge anyone.) A week later, my annual job review came up, and I received a typically solid rating. So not only was there no professional fallout, it even relaxed several working relationships along the way. Except for one or two close colleagues, it was never a direct subject of conversation after that. I basically played it coy from then onward.

When Halloween 2019 came around, several colleagues approached me in advance on their own initiative to ask if I was planning anything similar. I simply said it was a possibility, and that they would eventually get a chance to see for themselves. In fact, I had already decided to up the ante from the year before, and put what I hoped would be my best face forward.

Halloween 2019.

Being a hard rock fan, I created a costume named after a famous (or infamous, depending one’s point of view) 1970s British heavy metal group, itself named after an old Boris Karloff horror movie and featuring a lead singer who has since become a reality TV personality. The “costume” featured my semiformal look — black V-neck dress with sheer long sleeves, black hosiery, black heels, a cross around my neck, and blood red manicured fingernails — with black crepe streamers and song lyrics and references all over my desk. (I even brought an entry for the baking contest, a homemade dessert that tied in to one of the group’s song titles.) Everyone went crazy — especially the ladies! — and I was much sought after for photos. (I believe I ended up on at least one colleague’s FB wall!)

Like the previous year, I made the casual afternoon live up to its name, wearing a black, white and red patterned shift dress and those much admired tall boots. Again, there was no professional blowback; my subsequent annual review was even better than the previous year, and working relationships continued to improve. Still, I had no plans to take things any further.

But when Christmas Eve came around, it suddenly seemed like the right time to take the remaining mystery away. Half of the office was on vacation, the dress code was casual, and the company was going to close early for the holiday. (In addition, the managers in my department were in that day, so it wouldn’t have looked like I was taking advantage of anyone’s absence.)

I arrived that morning in a casual pink sweater, bootcut blue jeans, and black pointy-toed flats, with my ID badge clipped to my handbag shoulder strap. I generally kept to my desk that day, because I was a little nervous, and I didn’t want to come across as if I were parading. But word got around, and I had some friendly visitors stop by to see me.

Throughout the day, I observed only smiling faces. One of my female colleagues was so thrilled that she cried, and told me how glad she was that I no longer felt the need to hide behind Halloween. Another one teased me politely and asked if my shoes hurt. I admitted that they did, but that I didn’t really mind. (In fact, the major challenge turned out to be carrying both a laptop bag and a handbag simultaneously!)

It went so well, that I repeated the exercise a week later on New Year’s Eve, when identical conditions prevailed. That day I wore an ivory turtleneck sweater, black jeans and ankle boots, and what Ann Taylor calls a neutral “tipped cape”. The response was similarly positive, and I managed to visit a few other colleagues in person to greet them for the holiday. I was still a little nervous, but once the conversations began I was able to relax and not dwell on the obvious. I also gained some much needed experience in such quotidian matters as morning preparation for work, interaction with colleagues in break rooms, and most importantly, restroom usage. (Thankfully there are individual unisex bathrooms located in my building, and I used these exclusively.)

A casual Friday was announced for the following week, so I once again took advantage (purple tunic sweater, black leggings, brown ankle boots). That was a bigger milestone; since it was not a holiday, the office was fully staffed. By then it occurred to me that this was a good approach, since it could be associated with casual days, and my colleagues (to the extent that they cared) could anticipate it.

A casual Friday look.

Later in the month, I tested the waters for a normal business casual workday. It was a cold winter morning, so I wore a black turtleneck sweater, beige faux wrap fringed knee-length tweed skirt, and the tall boots. It was the first time I had worn a skirt in a regular work setting, and the response was unbelievable. The women were enthusiastic when they saw me. One literally told me that I looked beautiful, and I broke into a big smile and thanked her. Another who had missed me on earlier occasions said she was glad to finally see “the new me”. An immediate colleague graciously joined me for a casual lunch together at a local restaurant (which we had done on prior occasions). It meant so much to me that she was willing to be seen with me at work and in a public setting.

I ultimately came to be the subject of much favorable conversation. (I’m sure not everyone thinks favorably of it, but if so they have politely kept it to themselves.) Some of the ladies indicated that I should wear particular styles, or grow my hair in a certain way. Others thought I should dress that way daily, and not just on casual days. (One even told me that she had come to look forward to casual days as a result.) When the company held a Wear Red day for a charitable fundraiser, I wore a red plaid skirt and joined in some group photos. Another colleague took the opportunity when we were chatting to ask me some general questions. I was so glad she felt comfortable doing so, and I answered everything as best I could.

Needless to say, I am very blessed that it has gone as well it has. Management has signaled that I have its support and approval. The vast majority of people there say nothing about it, which is perfectly fine. But everyone knows I am approachable, if they wish to chat. I am quite happy to come to work every day. I doubt any of this would have occurred, however, had I at any time adopted a confrontational manner, demanded special considerations, or otherwise been a problem employee or a professional complainer. I attempted to earn this honestly and honorably, and I think I have succeeded. (I should point out that I have always strictly adhered to company dress code policy — which is defined in gender neutral terms — and I have exclusively used the individual unisex company bathrooms.)

Prior to the state-imposed shutdown in Pennsylvania, this was still a part-time professional mode of appearance. But after a few months of working from home — where I have dressed as I wish on a daily basis — I eagerly anticipate my return and reintroduction into office life. Whether casual or non-casual, I now have a complete wardrobe for either option, and will dress to impress!

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Category: Transgender Body & Soul, Transgender How To


About the Author ()

I am a project management professional in the greater Philadelphia area. I enjoy travel, domestic arts, reading and gardening. I am an active member of several ladies groups. I am a fan of 1970s & 80s hard rock, do not own a cell phone, and still have my high school football varsity letterman's jacket in my closet.