6. Telling other people

Agreeing a timetable and approach

This section looks at some of the practical steps around transition. 

When an individual transitions, both they and their colleagues might be somewhat anxious about this unfamiliar situation. The process of transition is complex and requires understanding on all sides. Individuals and their colleagues may need support, guidance and some awareness-raising activities. It is normal for people to be curious, as they might be any time a colleague experiences a major life change. Interest is often not intended to be intrusive, but may simply be a way of expressing support. The person who is transitioning may need to be willing to engage with their colleagues and also to tolerate questions and mistakes: years of habit are hard to change. However, it is important that a spirit of mutual respect is maintained.

For the individual

  • Do you want to tell colleagues/fellow students yourself?  You may want to speak to people, send an email or a letter.
  • Do you want an agreed statement to come from a senior person within your department or college to show that your transition is supported by the organisation?
  • You may want some general information about transitioning for people who are not familiar with the concepts, while not going into detail on your own personal or medical history.
  • Are you happy answering questions, or would you like to refer people to someone else?
  • Do you want to take a short period away from work/study, then return with your new name and affirmed gender?  This is common practice, which enables the organisation to brief people during your absence, which may be a few days or weeks.
  • If you are making a gradual transition, this should be reflected in communications.

For the organisational lead

  • Have you helped to identify the people who need to know about the individual’s transition?
  • Have you agreed a timetable, and what steps will be taken?
  • Have you offered support in communicating the message, including signalling organisational support?
  • Have you agreed a timetable for the transition, which may be gradual?
  • Is there a need for trans awareness training in the department or college?
  • Have you considered how you will support people who are concerned about the individual’s transition or who have questions? 
  • In the early days, check in regularly with the individual on how things are going, and resolve any issues.
  • Remember that historic information about someone’s transition should not be shared with people joining the department at a later date.
  • Have you liaised with relevant colleagues to make changes?

Good practice: A member of staff who was transitioning went on holiday. During their absence another trans member of staff gave a transgender awareness talk to the department, covering the basics of what trans is, what terms mean, legal obligations and dos and don’ts. They explained that their colleague was transitioning and would be returning with a changed name and gender presentation. Colleagues could ask questions and were prepared to welcome back their colleague.

Welcoming a new student or member of staff who is trans

New students or members of staff may or may not be open about their trans status, or may disclose their status confidentially to some colleagues, managers, tutors or other staff. When this happens, the person with whom the information is shared should explore whether the individual has any ongoing support related to their transition, for example in relation to ongoing health care, and whether any action is needed by the department or college.  Remember that details of trans status should be treated as confidential information.

It’s easier to treat someone respectfully if you’re thinking of them how they’d like to be thought of. It’s much more difficult to interact with somebody when you’re thinking “she… but I must say ‘they’”, than it is to interact with somebody when you’re just thinking “they”. This isn’t a change that happens overnight – I still think of myself as “she” sometimes, five years after I first told somebody that “they” felt like a better fit!

Staff

Trans respect guidelines for staff and students

The following informal guidelines[1] from the Equality Challenge Unit on how to treat trans people may be helpful for colleagues or fellow students. 

  • Think of the person as being the gender that they self-identify as.
  • Use the name and pronoun that the person asks you to. If you aren’t sure what the right pronoun is, politely ask them what name and pronoun they use. If you make a mistake with pronouns, correct yourself and move on. Don’t make a big deal out of it.
  • Respect people’s privacy. Do not ask what their ‘real’ or ‘birth’ name is. Trans people are often sensitive about revealing information about their past, especially if they think it might affect how they are perceived in the present.
  • Do not tell others about a person’s trans status.  If documents have to be kept that have the person’s old name and gender on them, keep them confidential.
  • If you hear, or see staff members or students using transphobic language or behaviour challenge it and/or bring it quickly to the attention of someone in a position of authority.
  • Respect people’s boundaries. If you feel it is appropriate to ask a personal question, first ask if it is ok to do so. Personal questions include anything to do with one’s sex life, anatomy (not just genitalia) and relationship status – past, present or future. Questions about medical transition, such as ‘Are you on hormones?’ can be considered personal.
  • Listen to the person, and ask how they want to be treated and referred to.


[1] Trans staff and students in HE and colleges: improving experiences (2016) Equality Challenge Unit www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/trans-staff-and-students-in-he-and-colleges-improving-experiences