Confidence in the privacy of home
Transitioning from one’s sex assigned at birth to another gender looks different for every trans person, but it can include changing names, pronouns and gender presentation; some also undertake cosmetic procedures and surgeries. People who have recently transitioned report working from home offered opportunities for more control, such as when to appear on camera during video calls, meaning trans people could be more comfortable in their own spaces.
Parcell says, for them, transitioning was like “a second puberty” that included a trial-and-error period to figure out what worked best. “I think getting to do some of that floundering out of the public eye allowed me to just build more confidence and be more creative in what I was trying out,” says Parcell, who eventually grew a beard and got top surgery (a procedure to remove breast or chest tissue). “It was a process that got to be more personal, because I wasn’t having to explain myself as I went. I was able to feel things out and try things out.”
Alex Keaney Solaas, a 30-year-old trans woman from Boston, came out at her former workplace in January 2020. The dozens of colleagues she worked with closely were supportive of her transition. Overall, she says the 180-person company was LGBTQ-friendly with several out gay and lesbian employees, including Solaas, who used to identify as a gay man.
But she says as the first out trans employee to transition at her office, there wasn’t any established protocol. “[Management] didn’t really know what to do,” says Solaas. “So, it was kind of like, ‘We support you, but we’ll be learning with you’ sort of thing.” Solaas says she felt the burden fell on her to lead. “And I just didn’t really feel like teaching them,” she says.
Solaas began hormone therapy on the last day everyone was in the office before the pandemic closed workplaces down. She was grateful to be working from home early on in her transition, when she didn’t want to be seen in-person as her physical appearance changed. As she got laser hair removal and experimented with clothes, she felt she could present herself “on her own terms” during video calls.
“I didn’t have to worry about like if people thought that I was looking weird,” says Solaas. “I just didn’t have to face any direct judgments.”
Back to the office
Now, however, some trans people who transitioned in a safe space report they are returning to the office with different identities and grappling with policy hurdles and social shifts.
S Leigh Thompson, a New York-based diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) consultant, says trans people who transitioned while working from home now have to reprocess their transition with the colleagues as they return to the office. “So, not being able to actually do that work in the social space means that the trans, non-binary person may be really in a different place and not ready for all of the people kind of viewing them for the first time,” says Thompson. “They may have just kind of gotten over it already, and don’t want to go through it again.”