Skip to content

Coming Out at Work

Last updated on 01/03/2024


Before I get too far, I should reiterate, this story is largely from my recollections. It was… a rough time in my life. I’m not big on diaries. Almost all of what I’m relating happened in a non-archival way. Other people who were there may feel it went down differently, but this is what I recall.

A picture from when I joined our firm.

At the Threshold

I was closeted, but it wasn’t a particularly closed or well hidden one. I’ve always been, well, a little queer. Long before I came out, long before I had stopped denying how I felt, I had friends and co-workers who seemed to know.

A younger developer said they thought my sailor moon t-shirt was cool when the other engineers were poking fun at it. A peer asked me why I painted my nails, and told a story about his sister painting his dad’s. A manager asked why I colored my hair and talked to me about Boy George and Pete Burns. These were all, in hindsight, invitations to open up and talk about myself.

I wasn’t ready, but I was thankful for them all the same.

First One Foot

By late 2020, I knew I had to do something. The pandemic was unbelievably stressful. My wife had two hip surgeries. The real forcing function was my kid. She was going through a phase where she’d insist she was a boy sometimes. That by far was the last of the last straws, not because kids aren’t allowed to explore, of course. No, because I couldn’t bear the thought of setting an example for her by being closeted. So I had to do something.

As soon as we went home for the pandemic, I went wild with my hair again.

And so I did the first thing in my professional life where I really owned up to what was going on. I asked a friend and coworker for help finding a therapist. And that meant saying why I needed a therapist, at least obliquely. It would take nearly a year to find a therapist who had space to take on a new patient.

As months of therapy passed, I became more certain of what was going on. I told my friends and my partner. Many of my friends were also my co-workers. I wasn’t out at work though, it’s just that some people I worked with knew.

Then the other

And then, one day I told my manager. It was during one of my 1-1s, and one of my last 1-1s, at that. I knew I needed to come out. I had been nervous about it for days. I remember I felt nauseous going into the meeting. I kind of just blurted it out, after we’d dispensed with the business portion of things. He thanked me for trusting him with it, and that was that.

My work photo immediately after coming out at work

Shortly thereafter, he told me it made him uncomfortable being the only person to know that. He’d reached out to the head of HR. I didn’t feel great about that. I remember thinking “I should be angry. Or maybe scared? Someone outed me” but honestly I just felt numb. I think it was shock, to be honest.

Anyway, a little while later I found myself talking to the CEO. I was rattled, too much to remember much of the conversation. What I’ve latched onto was him apologizing for the company telling me I had to wear pants back when I first applied. See, I work for the same consultancy now that I turned down to go to grad school.

Then the conversation was over. And I went home.

And Ultimately, Very Little Changed

And… that was kind of it. After all the fear and worry and anger. Just, ok, we know, now back to work! It all felt a bit anticlimactic. All the awful, drastic things I had imagined never happened. I’m grateful for that.

One of the first conferences I worked after coming out gave me this headshot.

In all honesty, very little changed. I shaved my beard. I changed how I dressed slowly. I didn’t lose my job, or my station. I just said “this is who I am” and by and large the workday went on much like it had before. The people who had been my friends were still my friends. The people I didn’t get along with, well, that honestly got a little bit worse, but not by huge degrees.

But Also, Very Little Changed

But also, that was kind of it. The company acknowledged that I had come out, but nothing changed. There are mailing groups and slack channels for women within my company. They exist to organize social events, for safety announcements, and the like. It would take nearly a year, and a friend loudly asking why I wasn’t at an event to get me on those lists.

StirTrek gave me this unflattering caricature based on it (which I love!)

It’s clear to me at this point that my company doesn’t know how to deal with my situation. As far as I know, I’m our only transgender employee. To be clear, I think they mean well, they just don’t know what to do. Where I bump my shins on something, eventually it gets addressed. There’s not much that’s proactive though.

One of my colleagues feels free to wear his kilt to work now. I did that, I guess? There is now one regular poster in our #inclusion slack channel. It’s me. We’ve doubled the number of women overseeing an engineering discipline since I came out. In so much as I’m in charge of our AI practice.

And now?

And what’s being out in tech like? Well, that’s the thing I wanted to tee up here. These articles were meant to let you know a little bit more about who I am and where I’m coming from. I hope that helps frame the other articles in this vein I’ll inevitably write and post.

Published inPersonal