Feature

So it's goodbye from him ...

Last Updated: 31 Mar 2017
Topics: Our people
Emma, a GCHQ member of staff, came out as transgender in 2014. Since then she has acted as a community role model, sharing her journey with the rest of our workforce through a series of frank and honest blog posts.

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Our Director spoke about Emma’s "coming out" blog during his keynote speech at last year’s Stonewall Workplace Conference. To mark Transgender Day of Visibility we are sharing her full story.

Originally published to GCHQ staff February 2016. 

 

I joined GCHQ in 2009, hired on the basis that I loved working with computers. It wasn't in my career plans to make it inside the fence and I wondered for a long time whether anyone would cotton on to the fact they were paying me to do something I love.

And now I'm going to do something which I had written off as an impossibility many years ago.

For a while I've been trying to deal with everything around me being pretty positive whilst feeling awful inside and about myself. Thinking that no matter what I achieve or get done, life is never quite right and it won't ever be. That I hate looking in the mirror, that I go out of my way to avoid photos and that everything has always been tainted with this feeling of "But you know this isn't really you".

This is about journeys: the end of one thing and the start of something new.

I'm Transgender

I've known something wasn't right from a young age and it wasn't until years later that I could put a word to what I'd been feeling. Because of confusion and fear I never dug into it though; I somehow didn't feel genuine about it and how I experienced it wasn't the same as how popular media depictions said it should be. It made me feel terrible, that I was broken and wrong and I could never talk to anyone about it. So I buried it. Those feelings have never gone away and, over time, developed into a strong negativity that has been an undercurrent for everything in my life.

About a year and a half ago I suddenly couldn't do it anymore. So I started trying to talk, first with my partner, then with Pride, our LGBT+ network, then our internal staff counseling service and it just kept on unravelling. Those who are gender questioning are likely to be the most critical of their thoughts, feelings and reasonings, often to the point of stopping themselves from taking it further. There's a horrible trap of getting caught wrapping yourself up in gender stereotypes as ways of equally justifying or ruling out what your feelings mean along with questions which sound sane from your perspective but really aren't: 

  • "It's normal to question your gender on a constant basis, right?"
  • "Everyone would happily switch if they could"
  • "Everyone puts up with feeling this way"
  • "I'm just imagining all of this"
  • "I liked doing <stereotypical gendered activity> as a child, does that mean I am / am not Trans?"
  • "If I'm not unhappy constantly that means this is not a real thing surely?"

I'm now in the process of transitioning. 

Last year I was referred to a Gender Identity Clinic and recently I started physically transitioning through hormone therapy. I've spent the last year being critical of myself, trying to unpack everything and find some answers. I'm done giving myself stress-dreams over gender issues and in the end I don't want it to be a secret that makes me feel awful any more.

Why now

For most people I imagine the response is "So what?" There are a few reasons why:

  • Getting over my fears. The thought of writing this terrifies me, in the same way that I was shaking and unable to even utter the word Transgender to Pride 18 months ago. In that time I've learnt that being afraid of confronting something probably means it's the right thing to do.
  • Practicality. I'm a private person and by preference I wouldn't want to play out something incredibly personal in public but I don't really have a choice. Transitioning is not a short process and by letting everyone know now it helps to quell gossip and rumour. I have no problem with people talking to me but talking about me makes for an uncomfortable working environment.
  • It's stressful! The point of all of this is to make changes to become more comfortable with yourself. Keeping track of who knows what, who you can talk with, where you can go and what groups you are 'safe' to be out with takes effort and generates stress. By writing this I'm assuming the default is that everyone knows and that makes life a lot simpler. It means I don't have to worry as I make adjustments as to whether people are wondering what's going on. Those who are transitioning are not the only people affected by all of this too. My partner has been incredibly understanding and supporting as someone on the other end of a changing relationship. She’s been caught between trying to keep my secrets and needing to talk herself about what's happening. Being open relieves all that pressure from everyone. 
  • It's exhausting. Coming out to someone for the first time is a massive event. So is the second, third and fourth times. By the 10th time it's becoming routine but it's going to continue to be something you keep having to do. Whilst the experience might mellow over time the anxiety of it doesn’t; every new person is an unknown reaction ranging from friend or ally to someone who will write you off entirely based on this alone. Doing this helps remove my anxiety and stops me having to repeat the experience endlessly with my colleagues.
  • To make something of it. Getting here has taken a long time and the visibility of support and understanding of others has been critical. Knowing that there are others out there and that the world didn't end for them has probably helped the most in getting over my own fears. A big public announcement is not my thing but, if that's what it has to be, there can at least be a silver-lining that it adds to that visibility and maybe helps someone else.

What happens next

To begin with, almost nothing. I'm not going to suddenly become a different person, turn up tomorrow looking radically different or making massive changes to my usual wardrobe. Transitioning is about becoming more you and if I could just flip a switch and have it all sorted I'd happily go on pretty much the same and never look back. For some it can be a long process, physical transition is sort of like going through puberty a second time: it takes years to happen and it'll be scattered with awkward moments throughout. Yes, there will be changes (that’s kind of the point) but I'm just setting the foundations right so I can get on with it.

I do want to make some changes now though to be more genuine. One of those is names and pronouns. Most people already know me by a nickname so it's a change most have already managed once. My chosen name is Emma and pronouns she / her. There's formal paperwork to make things official in the future but if you can start using those from now on I'd be very happy. Given it's a big change I expect people to make mistakes so don't sweat it if you do.

Otherwise I'm still me. Along the way I'll be getting a new pass photo but I'm still the same person inside. So far most people I've talked to don't care but after things have settled in there are always questions. You unfortunately don't get a LGBT+ Welcome Pack so I’ve also been learning quite a bit.

For the first time publicly

Emma