We recently met with one of our openly transgender employees and decided it would be fantastic to feature her in one of our articles. For us, it was a unique opportunity to write about a topic we had never done before. Our employee was excited to discuss her journey with us. It was so refreshing to meet someone so transparent, so resilient, and so positive.
Joy began relaying her story to us by taking us back to 2007. She had been working at a major furniture retailer as a customer service manager. At that time, before disclosing to her vice president she was transgender, she had begun to feature as more feminine, wearing earrings and nail polish, and had begun dosing on hormones, so the physical hints were already in motion. In disclosing that she was transgender to her VP, the response was, “What does that mean?” Joy responded, “I am transitioning from man to a woman.” The VP asked if they could bring in Human Resources. The VP of HR then assisted in securing a resource to address the staff. Four meetings took place, one each with sales, service, manufacturing, and warehouse staff. Overall, Joy states the meetings went well. One coworker did ask why she was doing it, and Joy’s response was “I always knew I was different since a young age.” Joy felt it wasn’t something she decided to do, it was something that she needed to do.
Another coworker that Joy had been friendly with received the information, the friend was relieved, stating, “Thank God. I thought you were nuts!”
And of course, there was one coworker that asked to speak to Joy privately. This coworker had deep religious beliefs, and expressed to Joy that he did not approve of this change, and that she was an abomination against God. Joy respectfully, and gracefully responded, “This is just who I am. I am only a human being. If you are offended, I am sorry.”
Under questionable circumstances, the following year after coming out, Joy was let go from the furniture retailer. It had been a year later, when she began working for a hospital system, and secured a position with the facilities department. With excitement, she told us the story of how she had been interviewed for a part-time position, and was offered the position the same day! Joy worked in the facilities department and experienced a change in leadership, which was one of the contributing factors to securing a new position in the labor and delivery unit as a registration associate.
Within the first three months, Joy experienced tension within the department with some nurses. The registration associates shared a locker room with the nurses. Behind Joy’s back, they had registered complaints with management that they did not feel comfortable with Joy in the locker room. The issue was resolved by human resources with they were told their argument didn’t have legs to stand on. The manager at the time was supportive of Joy, and brought in a social worker who was also transgender to speak with the staff. Attendance was not required, but highly encouraged. Even after the meeting, we learned that patients and staff do misgender Joy by calling her “sir, he, or him.” Sometimes it is a harmless mistake, and sometimes there seems to be more meaning behind it. Joy has become adept at telling the difference. When there is malicious intent, Joy feels that it the most difficult part. She is just trying to go about her day, and others seem to be bothered by that.
Years later, Joy still feels she is treated differently from other women. She feels like there is resentment but does not understand why. After beginning her position in labor and delivery, in 2012 Joy decided to take another step in her transformation journey, and wished to undergo gender-affirming surgery. She had submitted a 12-chapter binder to the benefits manager with supporting documentation from physicians (medical and psychiatric) and legal experts. Joy campaigned for years to have the surgery covered by the organization. It wasn’t until 2016, when the Affordable Care Act was amended that Joy secured the medical coverage. The president of the hospital at the time sat with Joy to congratulate her, and to give her the news of coverage. She stated the organization is covering the surgery not because it’s the legal thing to do but because it is the right thing to do.
Finally in March of 2017, Joy had the surgery in New York City, where her Baltimore-based physician had relocated. Joy was hospitalized for a full six days before returning home. I had asked Joy how it felt and if she has any regrets. She stated she had finally felt “right,” and had absolutely no regrets. Only a month after surgery, Joy was married. Today, Joy calls herself a transwoman. She has always felt like a woman, and is finally able to form her body to outwardly reflect who she is. In her words, “the way that she should be.”
Joy plans to continue the campaign for more items of the process to be medically covered such as facial feminization surgery. She feels she has laid a lot of ground work for a lot of people, and feels like a pioneer for the organization. Joy was very clear, she is not interested in the credit for her accomplishments, she just wants to live her life the way she should have been born. Even so, Joy continues to experience challenges when it comes to gender markers; for example gender identity on driver’s license, or securing an original birth certificate.
For us, spending time with Joy was inspirational, and insightful. Having gone through so much personally, and professionally, Joy continues to smile and exudes optimism.