June 14, 2021 - 637 views|
After my son transitioned, I learned the best actions we can take to support transgender individuals and their loved ones, both in and out of the workplace.
When my son transitioned, society wasn’t talking as widely as it is now about gender issues. The TV show Transparent was just hitting its stride. We didn’t have an LGBTQ ally group at Cognizant, and such groups were few and far between in the corporate world. Time magazine thought it was newsworthy when President Obama used the word “transgender” in his 2015 State of the Union address.
Now, though, there’s a lot of discussion about gender dysphoria — a clinical term describing a person who feels a “marked incongruence” between the gender they are assigned at birth and that which they experience and/or express. A Google search for “gender dysphoria” now returns over eight million results.
Yet information doesn’t always lead to understanding. To mark LGBTQ+ Pride Month, here are some of my family’s experiences (I have my son’s permission to do so) and insights on how to be allies for family members, friends and colleagues who either are transitioning or who have transgender family members.
We’re all human first
When he graduated from college, Cade told us he planned to transition. I was not completely shocked because we had seen evidence of what we now know was gender dysphoria as far back as his elementary school days. As he grew older, so did his deep discomfort with his assigned gender.
When he entered college, Cade chose gender-inclusive housing and worked with therapists to understand who he was. It was a difficult time, culminating in a middle-of-the-night phone call that he was in danger of harming himself. As my husband and I drove through the darkness to reach Cade, I worried I would lose my child. I didn’t care what gender he experienced, only that he be alright.
That’s a key point: the family member, friend or colleague who transitions is still the person you’ve always known. In the family, they share the same memories; in the workplace, they still have the skills and expertise for which they were hired.
Being an ally to transgender individuals
The actions below can help us all be an ally to transgender individuals, as well as friends, family and coworkers who are supporting a loved one through a transition.
If you are managing transgender interns or transgender colleagues, be aware of and sensitive to the fact they may not have much contact with their families. Groups like Cognizant’s Embrace for LGBTQ+ Associates & Allies are an important source of support. The Embrace team often partners with our clients who have similar groups, providing a network of allies a transgender person may plug into.
Note also that employers are very limited in the types of medical questions they may ask. The internet has great resources on gender dysphoria from social and clinical perspectives, such as the Cleveland Clinic’s research into the physical brain structures that may signal dysphoria.
But we all need to say something when someone uses a derogatory term, whether it’s intentional or not. In some cases, this can be an opportunity to educate others who simply don’t know the right terminology. For example, it’s incorrect to say someone is “transgendered;” transgender is an adjective, not a noun or verb. A wealth of information is available that defines terms and explains accepted usage.
If I could revisit that time to do one thing differently, it would be to seek out more allies who understood what we as parents were going through. Today, I turn to Cognizant’s Embrace affinity group. If your child is transitioning, reach out to those circles. To be an ally, ask parents what support you can offer. That question is better than saying nothing. I prefer people to acknowledge our reality.
Before his transition, Cade was often chippy and distant, as if he had a large boulder on his shoulder. Since his transition, that boulder has rolled off. He is now living in the body he was meant to have. He has his master’s degree in social work and works with underprivileged youth in the Philadelphia area, many of whom have suffered trauma from violence in their homes and community.
“Joyful” is now the best adjective for Cade. It also describes my feeling, knowing I have my child back.