As I sit down to write this piece, it is by happenstance that I am listening to my favorite album: Transgender Dysphoria Blues by the anarcho-punk band Against Me!. For those of you unaware, Against Me!’s head woman and founding member is Laura Jane Grace, who famously came out as transgender in a 2012 Rolling Stone article, at the age of 31.
Like Laura, I too came out at the age of 31. Though, in my case, I did not have quite so many eyes on me. I cannot imagine what Laura went through, coming out in front of the world as she did. Working up to my own coming out was an exercise that required me to overcome significant anxiety, as well as a life-long distaste for being in the spotlight. In my case, coming out entailed that I inform all the folks at Yelp with whom I had worked over the past six years. In that time, I had worked on three different teams and bounced between software engineering and engineering management. In doing so, I had built up an extensive network of people. I knew that this announcement would come as a big surprise for most of them.
Prior to coming to terms with my gender identity, I always did my best to hide the part of me that wanted to be a woman. Despite moving past my conservative upbringing, it was hard for me to shed the shackles of toxic masculinity. I became an expert at making excuses to myself for the thoughts that I felt. And under no circumstances did I share those thoughts with anyone. When I ultimately decided to transition, coming out became a logistical nightmare. I had dug myself into this masculine hole, and I desperately wanted out.
I made the decision to medically transition prior to coming out and socially transitioning. I was deeply afraid of not passing. And I wanted time to ease my peers into the idea of me being gender non-conforming. This was not for their sake as much as it was for mine. So, over a period of many months, I lost weight, shaved my beard, started painting my nails, began treating myself for hair loss, started laser hair removal treatments, allowed my voice to drift to a higher pitch, began hormone replacement therapy and inconspicuously updated my pronouns in Workday to they/them/theirs*. Much to my relief, I fielded very few questions from my coworkers during this period, and the questions I did receive, were very well-meaning – e.g. “Hey, I saw you updated your pronouns… just wanted to confirm you’re using those new pronouns now.”
My coming out at Yelp is something that I will never forget. The memories are so vivid, even many months later. I ultimately decided to inform my team and my peer managers of my new gender identity in 1:1s during the weeks leading up to my public coming out. To supplement that, I wrote an email which I would send to a subset of the folks in my professional network. I sent the email at the end of my work week. I coordinated with Yelp’s People Operations team to ensure that my name, gender, pronouns and photo would all change over the weekend. When I logged on again the following Monday, I would finally be presenting as myself. I would be Gen.
What followed the announcement was a wonderful outpouring of congratulations and support from my peers at Yelp. When I did finally bring my authentic self to work, I felt an immense sense of relief. Not one year prior, I was convinced that it would be impossible for me to live life as a woman, and there I was actually doing it… in front of my world.
Looking back, my coming out experience at Yelp was complicated and nuanced, much like life. I never felt unsupported; however, I did underestimate the challenges involved in coming out at work. Despite a wonderfully progressive track record, Yelp still had a few kinks to work out in the process. It became evident quickly that the people around me, and the people tasked to help me, did not have much experience with transgender folks, if any at all. The consequence of this is that I had to shoulder a lot of the responsibility when it came time to figure out all the different things that had to be done for me to bring my authentic self to work. Thankfully, these same folks were incredibly kind and supportive. Everyone around me has been willing to listen and take my feedback to heart.
Six months after coming out, I continue to be in awe of the drastic change I made. I am incredibly grateful that I gave myself this chance, and grateful for all the help I had along the way. I hope that my story, like Laura’s did for me, will inspire more folks to be their full selves, and feel comfortable in bringing their full selves to work.
*When I eventually came out, I updated my pronouns again – this time to she/her/hers.
Hi Gen, Thank you so much for sharing your journey with me. I just want to express that I admire your authenticity and I’m inspired by your courage to be your true self. <3
🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉🎉 Hello Gen!
Sweet. Nice to meet you (again), Gen! This is honestly the first time I’ve gotten an email like yours, so I don’t know that I know the right things to say. But I appreciate the vulnerability required and I hope you get nothing but positivity and love! I look forward to continue working with you. 🙂
So inspiring! I’m so proud of you and have a huge amount of respect for the journey you have traveled. Let me be the first (maybe not, but I am claiming first) to say welcome to the team Gen, you’re amazing!
Hooray! Congratulations, Gen! I’m so happy that you felt safe sharing this with me (and everyone else) and I just want you to know we’re all here to support you however we can. 🙌🙌🙌
💙💖🤍💖💙good for you 🙂