Hi, my name is Chloe and I work in strategy and corporate services where I'm a SharePoint architect and developer. I've been at Jisc for about four years or so both as a contractor and as a full time member of staff. In my spare time I'm an artist and photographer, and also study Chen style Tai Chi. I have gender dysphoria, and I transitioned from male to female whilst working at Jisc.
I've been transitioning for most of my life in some form or another but I've been living full time as Chloe for two and a half years now. The road to accepting my real identity, hasn’t been entirely smooth.
There are many things to think about, issues that arise, and unfortunately – prejudices to combat. You’ve got to tell your friends and family, deal with reactions from the general public, and generally learn a lot as you go along.
All this whilst coming to terms with the realities of your new life. In my case I struggled initially to make progress working as a female in a technical role.
But it’s not all doom and gloom of course – and I wouldn’t give up my life as a woman for all the male privilege in the world. It truly is excellent, and I’m proud to be one of Jisc’s women in tech (I hasten to add here that Jisc have been exceptional and supportive to me throughout, and I’ve been very lucky to work here. More on that later).
The workplace from a unique perspective
Amongst all of this I came to appreciate the unique view that I had of the workplace, from both sides of the coin. I’ve been working in IT for over 27 years, but only in the last two have I been treated differently in the workplace in terms of my knowledge and skills.
Having spoken to several friends in similar positions, it seems that this is a common observation. I believe that people are not malicious, and that this is a deep-rooted societal trend. One that so deeply rooted in fact, that we don’t even notice it happening.
‘Mansplaining’ - not a myth
At the start of my transition, I was overlooked a lot more in meetings, something that genuinely surprised me. I’ve even noticed it happening to other women when they in fact, have not.
I’ve chatted to friends at other companies, and it seems the age old: ‘stuff women have to put up with in the workplace’ rumours are true. (The term mansplaining has had its fair share of media attention of late, and is recently explored in the Guardian article: ‘Is the term ‘mansplaining’ sexist?’).
Unconscious bias is also very real – and I’ve been really surprised how some people assumed that since transitioning, my technical knowledge has somehow been removed.
Obviously there’s a wider debate here. Sure, women can raise their voices at work to try and take up some ‘male space’, but they then run the risk of being labelled rude, bolshie or even difficult.
I think it’s all about awareness, perhaps if we all start paying attention a bit more – we might realise where we’re going wrong.
Working at Jisc
Jisc have been completely wonderful throughout my male to female journey – I feel very lucky to work here and to have had such a safe and supportive experience. In fact, nobody really batted an eyelid about the whole thing!
I can highly recommend working here if you’re looking for a welcoming and accepting environment.
What can you can do to support someone who’s transitioning
- Talk to them and include them – transitioning can be a lonely and daunting time. Find out about any common interests, or take a coffee break together to learn about each other
- Ask questions, no matter how silly you think they might be. Information will always beat ignorance
- A really good source of information about gender issues is GIRES (Gender Identity Research and Education Society). GIRES was founded by Terrie and Bernard Reed who have both received OBE’s for their work. GIRES contributes to de-psychopathologising gender non-conformity. Along with many other things, they provide training for staff and companies
What can you do if you’re transitioning and need support?
Being transgender and realising you are in the wrong body is not a lifestyle choice. It is something you know about from an early age. If you are planning to seek help and maybe even transition to your true gender I recommend that you contact your GP or one of the Gender Identity Clinics.
Be aware there is a long wait for services via the NHS (18 months just to get an assessment) and then further waiting for treatment (18 months – 2 years is not uncommon).
The process is extremely disruptive and can be overwhelming at times, so usually some form of therapy is recommended to help you cope with the upheaval. I stress again it’s not something you enter into lightly, but there is support out there if you need it.
That’s all for now…
So that’s it from me for now. I hope by sharing my experience you might be inspired to pluck up the courage to strike up a chat with a colleague, or ask them a question that’s been bugging you for a while. We’ve all got a story to tell, and hey, it’s nice to be nice.