· Features

The trans employee journey: "When you transition your whole world transitions too"

Filmmaker Fox Fisher describes his fears of losing employment when transitioning, and the discrimination many still face

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. A recent Totaljobs survey revealed that the majority (60%) of transgender employees have experienced discrimination during their career. Staying in or seeking employment can be a potential nightmare when you’re trans. Many employers are unaware of our rights and we are often at a vulnerable stage of our transition when we first start out. The irony is that so many transgender people I know are extremely clever and willing to work.

As a designer, screen-printer and filmmaker I’ve carved out my own path, and am often my own boss. While I don’t remember any clients giving me a hard time during the early days of my medical transition, there was a lot of mis-gendering when I was taking my work to galleries, which was frustrating. But I felt I was selected on the merit of my work, not on my gender expression.

At the studio Ink Spot Press, where I create editions of prints and teach printmaking, I was pleased to not lose my job during the early days of my medical transition. I was extremely worried about this, and I half-expected to be told I should no longer teach there. But there are laws in place to protect me. I was worried too how my transition would affect my social life and my existing friends and work colleagues. When you transition your whole world transitions too.

I was lucky that my employer was very supportive, although there was an adjustment phase – including my new name, pronouns and getting used to my changes – which was difficult for everyone. It took my employer the longest, out of everyone, to stop mis-gendering me. They did apologise a lot, and it was almost funny after I'd been transitioning for a while and had gained a little confidence in myself.

However, as shown in the Totaljobs survey, there is still a lack of understanding from employers, which has made it difficult for people to reveal their gender identity at work. More than one in every two transgender people (53%) felt the need to hide their trans status from colleagues. This fear of discovery is not conducive to work.

Transphobic discrimination is most likely to come from colleagues (38%), and then from management (25%). This has led to more than one-third (36%) of trans people leaving a job because the environment was unwelcoming. More than a quarter (29%) have faced discrimination as early as the interview stage.

Encouragingly, the rise of transgender characters in soaps and comedies – from Hollyoaks to EastEnders to Boy Meets Girl – means 51% believe acceptance and understanding of trans employees has improved in the workplace. A lot of this change has been a result of interactions with the media engineered by All About Trans. This fantastic organisation has been working non-stop over the past four-plus years to interact with the media, giving a human reference point of what it’s like to be trans.

I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, but the fact 53% of transgender people have felt the need to hide their status from colleagues shows there’s a lot more work still to do. If you’re a forward-thinking employer that moves with the times and supports LGBT staff you’ll be rewarded with an improved work environment and work ethic.

Fox Fisher is an artist, film-maker and campaigner