My first job was in a heart failure and heart transplant unit. I was in the midst of moving to a new state, starting a new career, and trying to understand myself, particularly my gender identity. As someone who identifies as a transgender man, but at the time had yet to transition physically, I wondered how I would safely transition in a work environment that not only included coworkers and patients but management and an entire hospital system—safely being the keyword.
My first job out of nursing school was on a unit with patients who would stay for months, up to a year, or longer, waiting for a heart transplant. How could I possibly transition with long-term patients and not feel like I was revealing everything to them? I spent shift after shift getting to know these patients and their families. Over time, it was made more apparent that there was no way I would ever feel safe transitioning on this unit. Sadly, that meant I had to leave a unit I really enjoyed (and we all know how difficult it can be to love a unit) in order to fulfill a part of myself that I was neglecting.
Luckily for me, the hospital I worked at had an LGBTQ support committee that I could reach out to. This committee included an HR representative who was there to assist with communicating with my new management (if I requested) and educated me on my rights as an employee. This was an invaluable resource that I had, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without their support (I will go deeper into this process in my next blog post)! An important point to address is that when I started on my new unit, I had only been on hormones (testosterone) for three months, so I didn’t “pass” yet. Some people would use she/her and others he/him. This was extremely stressful and scary.
Again, I was very lucky to have the support of my management. When I started, they picked preceptors that they knew would support me and help correct people if they used incorrect pronouns. While all of this was extremely helpful, I didn’t go unscathed. Many coworkers would talk behind my back, and I even had a vendor ask me one time if I was “one of those transgenders” in front of another coworker and directly next to the nurses’ station. Not only was this terrifying but extremely dangerous. Throughout my time on the unit, people got to know me as a human being. My being trans became an afterthought, and I was even voted to be the chair of our unit council. All of this to say that it is possible to transition in a hospital setting and have success, but a lot needs to be in place for it to be done safely and respectfully.