Jennie Kermode, chair of Trans Media Watch, shares her advice for employers on how to make the work place supportive and inclusive for trans and non-binary people.
Proportionate to their numbers in the general population, trans people are under-represented in the workforce. If your company is positive about diversity and has a friendly workforce and sound policies on inclusion, yet you’re still not managing to recruit trans people, what can you do about it? Are you missing out on potential talent because people don’t see you as approachable? How can you make sure that your recruitment process is up to scratch?
A Totaljobs survey recently found that 43% of trans people seek out trans-friendly employers when looking for jobs. This means that it’s worth sprucing up your website to make sure your diversity policy is easily accessible and to stress that your organisation is committed to equality. It also means, however, that advertising in mainstream publications might be passing trans people by. If you advertise in publications aimed specifically at the LGBT community, trans people will see this as evidence of your good intentions, and will be more likely to apply. You can also try contacting trans support groups in your local area to let them know that you’re a friendly employer, or approaching national organisations like Stonewall and Proud Employers where you can be listed as such.
Jo Green, founder of Distinction Trans Partner Support and the author of The Trans Partner Handbook, explores the importance of talking openly about mental health when you are in a relationship with a trans individual.
As Jo notes in the extract below, trans people are more likely than cis people to experience mental health issues, but communication is key for both parties to feel fully supported throughout transition. In this extract, we hear from the partners of trans people on their experiences of dealing with mental health issues.
Trans people are more likely than the cis population to have mental health issues, which are caused by a long history of gender dysphoria and/or chronic minority stress rather than by being trans (World Professional Association for Transgender Health, 2011). Minority stress is the increased stress of being part of a minority group, and it is due to the lack of awareness in the general population and consequent discrimination faced by people in a minority.
“I think the worst of this aspect was when my partner was growing up and the times when she contemplated suicide. This was at a time when there was no internet or groups visibly available. I feel very fortunate that my partner confided in me very early in our relationship, and the past 15 years, it has been a journey we have made together. I do have to reassure her that [I] will always be there for her, which I will be, and have given it lots of thought to be sure that this is a situation I can cope with and am happy to be in.” (Avril)
According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), trans people can present with a number of mental health concerns, such as depression, anxiety and self-harm. They also present with compulsivity, substance abuse or sexual concerns, as well as being more likely to have suffered a history of abuse or neglect. Trans people are also more likely to suffer personality disorders, eating disorders or psychotic disorders. WPATH also notes that trans people are more likely to present with autistic spectrum disorders.
“I have learned to work with my partner’s mental health needs. [I] have learned cues that help me know when he is feeling anxious or stressed, and [I] encourage him to talk if he needs to or to seek medical assistance if there’s a need for that kind of support. It’s definitely not something to be ignored or avoided, and in most cases, it’s a requirement for the transition process.” (Julia)
You’re in a relationship and your partner tells you that they want to transition. How do you feel? You want to support your partner’s choice, but you’re worried it will change what you have with them. Is it fair to feel anxious and uncertain?
Realising the need for a support network for the partners of trans people, Jo Green set up Distinction Trans Partner Support Group. Here, Jo explains how you may feel as the partner of a trans person, and how important it is for trans partners to find their voice and be supported throughout their partner’s transition too.
Despite the common narratives in the media, most relationships survive one person transitioning. From working with partners for years, I’ve found that transition means that you need to start communicating much more. And it’s this communication that becomes the key. We went from the average couple to a cohesive unit. Watching my partner transition meant watching her grow into a much better, happier human being. Just being able to witness someone grow from someone quite isolated and unhappy, into someone who glows with confidence and joy is an honour. It’s given me the courage to explore my own gender issues and come out as non-binary. Trans people teach us that nothing is set in stone and there is no such thing as doing something just because you should. It’s all about doing what you feel is right for you, which for me is a wonderful approach to take.
Finding Out Your Partner Is Trans
Finding out that your partner is trans can be quite confusing for people, and the responses can vary greatly depending on loads of different factors. The first factor is how far into the relationship you discover this.
For people who know their partner is trans before they get together, managing transition and their identity as a partner of a trans person can be easier.
“I found out when my wife and I got together. She was still living as a man and spent most of the evening trying to convince me that her being trans was a reason for us to not be together. She felt that being trans meant that she could never be in a successful relationship because her transness would always get in the way. I, of course, spent most of the evening convincing her that she was worthy of love and that we could make it work together. To be completely honest, I had no idea what being trans meant, other than being a huge fan of the Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was a teenager (I now recognise how massively problematic Rocky Horror is for many people). I sometimes think that it was this fact, asserting that trans people deserve love just like everyone else without any idea what the practicalities would be, that kept us together. No matter how hard things got, no matter what we went through, it always came back down to the fact that she is deserving of love, and I took it upon myself to prove to her that I was right about that.” (Jo)