Coming Out at Work

Note: I want to thank a reader for requesting this topic! Feel free to comment on any of our articles with ideas of what you want to see!

Work is a tricky place for most people. There are many people who prefer to keep work and personal life separate, and there are some people who think that work is the best place to gab about what their cat threw up last night during dinner. I try to look at the big picture, I’m spending about 40 hours a week with these people, and if we all work here for the next ten years that is a lot of time to leave knowing nothing about each other. At the same time, we are not best friends, and I do not care about your baby’s vomit that looked like something out of a 1960’s sci-fi movie. However, for most of us someone at work is going to need to know about our transition. Here’s a little guide on who to tell and when to tell them.

I already work somewhere, how do I come out?

The first step I would take is to go directly to HR. They cannot gossip about personal information, and should be aware of current policies relating to trans employees. If they aren’t up to date, ask them to check and meet with you in a few days. They also will be able to make a plan with you on how to come out. Many people have their HR explain the situation to upper and middle management, and then a simple email is sent out to the rest of the staff saying “[Birth name] is now going to be known as [New name] and use [preferred] pronouns. If you have questions, please contact HR.”

It may also help to personally come out to any coworkers you are close with, so that they don’t feel blindsided by this news.

I’m applying to jobs, but I haven’t changed my name or gender marker, when do I come out?

This is where things get a little murky. Here’s how I have handled this the past five years. I made semi-professional relationships on my campus with staff and faculty. Until those relationships were concrete, I used my birth (legal) name on all applications, because my references only knew me by that name. Once those relationships could be job references for me, I applied to jobs by using my legal name on the application (because of background checks) but I put my new name on my resume. Most hiring managers only look at your resume anyways, so it’s worked out for me this far.

Then I kind of just followed the steps from above. Once I was hired, I didn’t mention it to anyone. I handed my Social Security card and driver’s license to the HR person, and they didn’t say anything. It’s a pretty big benefit that trans people are so visible now, and that I have cis-passing privilege. As far as I know, she never told any of my supervisors or managers. It’s our little unspoken secret. After this, coming out to anyone else is up to you!

I’m applying to jobs and I changed my name and/or gender marker, when do I come out?

You shouldn’t have to. Many places require a background check to work for them, and they will ask for previous names. You shouldn’t have to explain this, because most companies use external agencies to perform background checks. If anyone asks about that, you can just say it’s personal.

I want to make it clear that each situation is unique, and you need to keep your safety in mind! If you think it will be unsafe to come out, please take everything into account before making your final decision. It’s also a good idea to be aware of your state/city’s anti-discrimination laws and ordinances regarding gender and gender identity.

Resources for Coming out at Work:
Human Rights Campaign
Lambda Legal

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