Comment: Transitioning helped me bring my whole self to work

Sarah Hodgson, a Data Warehouse reporting analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch writes for PinkNews about her transition to her true gender role and her experiences at work.

The voice I’m talking to you with now has not always been my voice. My voice was that of somebody else, someone who was never really me. If you ask anyone who ever hid behind a camouflage, they will tell you the same as I’m about to tell you: the disguise becomes increasingly difficult and tiring to maintain, and you reach a point where you have to address it.

The pressure I was under led to increasingly withdrawn behaviour and my work suffered. I struggled to host meetings without additional support due to a severe lack of confidence. This wasn’t how I wanted to live so I had to do something about it. But always, when the courage came to make the shift, the same voice inside stopped me. What would my work colleagues think?

The answer to that was the most surprising of all. My workplace was the very location that helped liberate me. I’ve been a reporting analyst in Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s data warehouse team in Chester for nine years but until recently my “true self” had been at work for far less time. My job is to decipher numerical data and I enjoy it immensely. I work in a small team and value a career that allows me the freedom to manage my time and work in an intellectually stimulating environment. But secretly, I was not at ease and I really struggled to be myself. I kept my personality hidden, choosing to be the quiet team member. One of my biggest concerns when transitioning to my true gender was revealing this truth to colleagues. I was worried that people might not trust my opinion, or my ability to do my work. The big irony was, it was my own assumptions that were about to be challenged. I was about to find out that I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’m proud to say that of the most inspiring things I’ve learnt from my transition is that you never know the potential of people to help. My transition was not only very liberating, it ultimately helped me completely re-evaluate my position in the team. It opened my own eyes to the people around me and revealed that I had in fact underestimated their true potential. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the experience would be so positive – in all respects.

One of the most rewarding outcomes of my journey is helping other people. I now co-chair the Chester arm of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s LGBT employee network, which seeks to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community by helping to raise awareness of the struggles and issues faced by this group. The work on this project would not have been possible without the on-going support of my colleagues, who act as role models for other workplaces in all areas of the world. The company’s Global Ally Programme encourages colleagues to stand up as allies and support their peers, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or creed.

This supportive environment was recently strengthened when Bank of America Merrill Lynch became the first company in the UK to offer Gender Reassignment Surgery as part of its health insurance package. By offering the chance for me to complete my transition, I will truly be able to bring my full self to work and take a massive step to conquering my dysphoria, alongside skipping the years-long NHS waiting list.

Outside work, I support transgender people through online forums. If I can inspire just one person to bring their whole self to work I know I will have succeeded. That’s not unique to the LGBT community; it applies to anyone who fears they have to hide their true self from others.

Kicking down the closet door is the most empowering thing I have ever done, and today I can confidently say I am the person I have always meant to be. If there is a future for the workplace, it is in embracing people’s differences. By providing a platform for people to be themselves you allow them to be happier, and therefore to contribute more. The other day, a colleague said that “one’s biggest strength is that we are all different” – it’s so true.

The best advice I can give to those struggling in any big life change is this: be confident in your decision. Be honest. Be positive. And perhaps most importantly, have faith in those around you. You never know what to expect, or just how far they will carry you.