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Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Transition to My Real Self By BRITTANY LYNN ROCHE (A transgender story)

Brittany Lynn Roche, 50, a cartographer, had sex-change surgery in December. She has found kind, though incomplete, acceptance in her workplace.

I’m transsexual. I was born male but knew from an early age that I was different. I’ve always felt like a female. In 2008, I started living as a woman in my personal life, and the next year I started going to work as a woman. It’s been a sea change both for me and for my colleagues, some of whom knew me for more than 23 years as a man.
I’m a liaison between the United States Geological Surveyand the Environmental Protection Agency. I’ve worked for the survey, my home agency, since 1987, and the E.P.A. since 2001. I’m assigned to an E.P.A. office in Dallas. Using geological survey data and other information, I draw maps for E.P.A. emergency-response personnel. The maps allow the agency to evaluate an emergency situation and come up with a plan.
I wanted to transition, or move from one gender to another, earlier. But I was worried because the E.P.A.’s nondiscrimination policy did not include explicit wording to protect transsexuals. Not all federal agencies’ diversity policies are identical. By contrast, a directive by the Interior Department, which includes the geological survey, explicitly protects people whether they are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual or transsexual.
I had reached a point where I felt I didn’t have a choice. I was severely depressed and knew I had to transition in order to be happy.
In May 2009, I contacted a diversity program manager at the E.P.A. in Dallas and told him my plan. He contacted E.P.A. management and, to my surprise, told me later I had its full support.
Then I contacted a diversity program manager with the geological survey. Our human capital, or human resources, department became involved and contacted my supervisor. I didn’t know how he’d react because he was a Mormon, but to my relief, he, too, supported me.
In November 2008, I transitioned in my personal life, living full time as a woman outside of work. I also started taking female hormones. Shortly afterward, I changed my name legally.
In October 2009, my group was to attend a geological survey meeting in Cleveland. I had been discussing the date when I’d start attending work as a woman, and the human capital department suggested that the meeting would be a perfect time to announce my transition to co-workers. I stayed in my hotel room while a corporate trainer spoke to the attendees. The trainer related her own story, similar to mine, and educated the group about transsexuality. She said that I was still the same person they had always known and that I should be treated with respect and not feared.
When she finished, I joined the meeting for the regular agenda. Afterward, almost everyone wished me the best and shook my hand. I was overwhelmed. One of my former supervisors said we had always been friends and would continue to be friends. A woman said she almost cried when she heard how tortured I’d felt for so many years.
The next month, the same trainer gave a class to about 150 of my co-workers at the E.P.A. office in Dallas. The diversity program manager explained the workplace diversity policy and said I should be treated with respect. The manager then read a letter I had written to my co-workers.
In it, I told them that I’d been ashamed of my feelings for years but that I had finally come to terms with who I was. I ended by saying I’d be glad to answer questions and suggested a book they might find helpful: “True Selves: Understanding Transsexualism — For Families, Friends, Co-Workers and Helping Professionals” by Mildred L. Brown and Chloe Ann Rounsley.
A friend thought I’d be terrified going to work that first day as a woman, but I was ecstatic when I walked through the door. I had the elevator to myself as I rode to my floor. When I reached my office, an older worker passed me and I called to him. He hugged me and said, “Hello, Brittany.” Ten minutes later, he came to my office and told me how my letter had touched him. I had wondered about older workers’ reactions, and I was thankful that he accepted me.
NOT all transsexuals undergo gender reassignment surgery, sometimes called sex-change surgery, when they choose to live as the opposite sex. Those of us who have the surgery generally live in our desired gender for a year first. I had the surgery last December and returned to work Jan. 10.
Every relationship changes when a person transitions. People view you differently afterward, whether at work or in your personal life. Most co-workers have accepted me, but not all. Sometimes, on the elevator, I feel people’s discomfort. A few employees ignore my hello or glare at me as I walk by. I’m not offended, and I don’t have hard feelings toward them because I realize they just don’t understand me. If they get to know me, they’ll realize that I’m just another person, like everyone else.
Reposted from the
As told to Patricia R. Olsen.