by Helen Hill LMFT
It was a long time ago, and yet I remember it like it was yesterday. I prepared as best that I could. For three months I worked with the director of Human Resources to ensure that my “transition” (aka “sex change”) would go as smoothly as possible at the school district.
You see, this was back in the time when there was no legal protection about gender in the workplace. They could have fired me immediately. Thankfully, the school district chose to keep me employed. Since I was their first transsexual, I would be under a magnifying glass. If I screwed up, as the director said, “no one will save your arse.” Being 40 years old and facing myself was scary enough. Letting others see me as well, for who I am, was beyond scary.
If not for my therapist, I’m not sure how well this would have gone. I love her for that. She saved my life. She inspired me.
Those who needed to know were informed. Since I worked with nearly 700 people at the area schools that meant the principals and the direct reports who work with me needed to be informed. On D-day, after preparation and meetings, Helen showed up for work.
Approximately three months had passed since D-day when a voice-mail was left on my phone asking for help from one of the high schools. Now this particular high school was very tech savvy and did not require much help at all. But when they did call, it was always important, and urgent. I drove over to the high school and walked into the administration building.
Within moments I was surrounded by the staff. The tension was so thick “you could cut it with a knife.” I was not allowed to go do my job. A crowd was building. In the background was one of the staff administrators on the phone. What I would learn later is that she had called my boss and said, “Please come get David Hill. He showed up in drag!”
It seemed like forever, but which was probably no more than a couple of minutes, and it dawned on me that the staff did not know about my “transition.” At this point I was fighting back tears and shaking. I said to the very discombobulated colleagues, “You don’t know, do you?” “Know what?” replied one. Their principal failed to inform them. I then gave them the 30 second spiel of my decision and my transition.
Taking a breath I said to the assembled staff, “Now, please, I’d like to go do my job.” And like the parting of the Red Sea, the staff opened a path and let me through.
After I finished I returned to my car and bawled my eyes out. I may have cried for well over 20 minutes.
You see, it wasn’t whether or not people were good or bad; it was a question of what they knew and had been prepared to contemplate and deal with an employee making a huge change in their life that would also effect them. The principal had not done his job. It was left to me to take people who were confused and afraid and to allay their confusion and their fears. It was the most difficult thing I had ever done.
But don’t miss the point of this story. The point of this story is NOT to stop transition. The point of this story is NOT to stop being honest. The point of this story is to PREPARE those you care about, are employed with, or otherwise interact with in your daily life, as much as possible. Because TRANSITION goes so much better when people are PREPARED!
If you hide your life, then when people are confronted with the truth, they might react as anyone would; with surprise and confusion. But if you prepare people, then you will find out how INCREDIBLY good people can be; how they can rise to the humanity one may have thought not possible. It is indeed possible.
I believe, and it has been proven to me time and again, that people are good when give the chance, when informed, and when not surprised. Their capacity for compassion, empathy, and acceptance are far more than you would ever think possible.
But are you willing to trust them that they can accept you?
Are you willing to trust that you can accept yourself?