Transitioning is the process of changing aspects of one's self to match one's gender identity, which can have both social and medical facets. Every transgender and non-binary person is different, as is their workplace, so every transition is unique. It could be as simple as a pronoun change (for example: from "she" to "they"), or it could involve many changes. The timeline could be short or long. Regardless, it's important to have a workplace transition plan so that the process goes smoothly during what is likely a stressful time.
Aspects of Transitioning
Consider all of these aspects that may (or may not) change during a person's transition:
- Voice pitch, cadence, and word choices
- Physical appearance
- Manner of dress
- Habits and daily routine
- Facilities usage
- Interests made known to others
- Group membership
- Physical strength
- Relationships with friends and family
- Living situation
- Time required away from work
- Medical treatment (not necessarily surgery)
- Legal concerns
It's important not to make assumptions in any of these areas. A person's transition should be self-guided based on what that individual needs to feel whole. They may not necessarily meet cultural expectations of any gender. None of these changes mean that a person's job competency will be reduced.
- Do employees know who it is safe to initially come out to?
The goal of a transition plan is to spell out responsibilities, set expectations, and create a communications plan. It should be based on the needs and preferences of the transitioning person, as well as the needs of the organization. While planning, you should be able to reference the policies and benefits that your company has in place.
- Are your organization's policies and guidelines flexible enough to handle the fact that transitioning people will have different journeys and preferences?
What is the timeline for the transition?
- How would you handle a transition that is weeks out versus a longer timeline? What if the timeline is a year or more?
- How would you handle a transition that happens all at once versus a transition that moves methodically with multiple milestones?
Who should be informed about the transition?
- This can range from a specific team or department to an entire company if it is small enough.
- Who needs to know ahead of time in order to facilitate the transition plan?
How will the transition be communicated to the parties that need to know?
- Options include email, one-on-one, at a group meeting, etc.
How will leadership set expectations for employee behavior during and after a transition?
- How would you handle employees who vocally "don't agree" with the transitioning employee's choice?
- How would you handle a coworker that asks an inappropriate question?
What are ways to reduce the burden on the transitioning individual?
- Option not to be present during any announcements
- Offer to make sure that the transitioning individual is not alone during intimidating situations such as the first step into an office after coming out
- Have any relevant email signatures, badges, names, gender markers, photos, etc. updated ASAP according to the plan
- How will you handle questions or concerns from other employees?
- Is there a way that you can celebrate and share excitement with the person transitioning (for example, buying them cookies on their first day back)?
If the transitioning individual works with any external parties, how will they come out to those parties?
- Consider: customers, clients, vendors, contractors, media contacts, regulators, other tenants in a shared office space
- Will the transitioning individual have strong backing from the company?
- How would you handle harassment from an external party?
- How would you handle an employee that feels like a transitioning person might "look bad" to an external party?
In a lot of ways, transitioning never really ends. Transgender and non-binary folks are constantly meeting new people and encountering new situations that may require them to decide whether to disclose their history, how to disclose it, and what the risks are. Even if they choose not to disclose anything, they may still need to deal with the after effects of these situations. This can be especially true if one has encountered a transphobic situation.
- How can you make sure that a transitioning person continues to feel included and supported weeks, months, and years later?
- How can you prevent tokenism that takes advantage of an employee for the organization's benefit?