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I am the first trans person ever to “come out” publicly at my workplace. I never thought I—little ol’ previously shy me—would be the kind of person who was confident enough in who I am to be “out.”

First of all, being “out” as a transgender and nonbinary person is a huge privilege.

Being able to express who I am and have support from my friends, family, and work is extremely lucky. Not every trans and nonbinary person is in a situation in which they’ll be safe living as their authentic selves, and that in itself is frightening, sobering, and disappointing. Why do we perpetuate this culture in which not everyone is accepted for who they are? And even if you’re gender nonconforming, why is it that you’re still expected to adhere to a certain set of normative standards?

I was terrified to come out at work.

Just as I started examining and exploring my gender identity, I got hired at an extremely stereotypical corporate company. To give you an idea, it’s at this job that I realized “sales bros” still exist, a place where they regularly keep Bud Light in the fridges, and where they ring the dreaded “sales bell” when anyone makes a sale. Pretty normative right? It was like walking right back into the very white cis demographic I had experienced as a student at Stonehill College.

So, at first, I sat back and just endured it when people called me “she” or referred to me as a “girl” or “woman.” And it was bearable for a certain length of time. For my self-preservation, I maintained the façade, even as my appearance got visibly queerer and queerer, and I annually added to my number of facial piercings. I kept a low profile and didn’t openly acknowledge anything about my gender identity, aside from on Trans Day of Visibility the year after I got hired, where I daringly decided to wear my Genderfluid shirt underneath some flannel.

I resolutely decided that work was the last neglected frontier, where I’d never come out.

Of all the situations, work was the last place I wanted to invite having to explain myself and correct my pronouns on behalf of myself daily, like I did in almost every other arena in my life.

But as the years clicked by, so did my progress. I was at once becoming more comfortable and uncomfortable with myself. I told almost all friends and family that I was trans and genderfluid, that I use they pronouns, and that I’m proud to be nonbinary. All of those things are still true. And as I felt so—finally coming out to a few select friend circle at work after months of going to BATS, a trans support group in Boston—I realized with sneaking dread that work was still the last bastion.

Another thing to mention, as the years passed and I slid into role after role, earning a few promotions after a series of very corporate-like “department restructures,” in parallel I also developed my writing career. I’d penned and published a few essays about policing genderfluid identity and expression, privilege, and challenges of being nonbinary. Sure, I’d share these on LinkedIn from time to time, but I felt obligated to muffle my excitement even there, as I had many coworkers as LinkedIn contacts. Even as I was speaking out for those who couldn’t with my writing, I still stymied my pride and achievements.

Early last spring, my body dysphoria was so bad that I took off a week from work for my mental health. During that week I found a therapist (who I love) and an endocrinologist, and knew, with my partner Shea’s support and encouragement, that I wanted to begin HRT (hormone replacement therapy), and now was the time to do so.

Starting testosterone was the best decision I’ve ever made, I’d wager.

I’m proud of it, and am visibly more confident in, myself. The feeling is unreal. So that begs the question: what about work? Before starting T, I asked myself: do I choose to dedicate my time to finding another job, and then begin HRT with a fresh start in a new-to-me company? Or do I prioritize HRT, then figure out the work stuff, maybe by coming out? At first I chose the former; then my mental health decline forced my hand to the latter.

On T, I reached a point where I was so happy with myself, yet I couldn’t share the reason why with my coworkers, or fully express that excitement. I was at once in the best place of my life, and at the other still stealth.

Then, my voice started changing and getting unmistakably lower. Taking T affected other characteristics in a more subtle way. Sure, if my friends and coworkers looked closely, they could see the increased amount of hair on my face. But my voice? Immediately noticeable.

It was high time. In order to become the agent for change I so wanted in myself, and which I put forth in my writing and published works, I knew I had to tell my bosses and team that I’m trans. And when I did so, I felt sheer relief and nothing but amazing support from them.

I’m the first trans person to ever come out at my company, HR told me.

That realization was, and still is, mind-blowing. There’s no friggin way I am the ONLY trans or nonbinary person at my company, but hearing this only pushed me to continue the process.

I’m finally satisfied with my life and with who I am—why not be the one to pave the path for others? I told my therapist, I’d reached this stage of “eh fuck it, may as well,” that I no longer cared if others judged me or looked at me the same way. Someone has to be the first one, right? Guess that’s me in this case.

Long story short, all went well, and I feel more relieved than ever. I finally feel that the dualities I lived all these years have eclipsed and I can now fully push forth into the tides.

Who’s with me?

Shalen Lowell

Shalen Lowell is an author and poet from southern Maine. They were also voted least likely to be an ENTJ Slytherin, but here we are.

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