Employment Problems for Transexuals and Transvestites

Anne Hanson

Trustee of Gender Trust, Beaumont Trustline
Gendys Conference, 1990


Three main areas affect both groups in employment; the legal protection offered to all employees under general legislation, the employers viewpoint and relationships with colleagues. I will also mention the advantages and disadvantages of new employment.

The legal situation is largely covered by two Acts. The Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act and the Sex Discrimination Act.

Understandably neither of these pieces of legislation were drawn up with transvestites or transexuals in mind. For example the first Act might be used by an employee as a shield against dismissal. However the employer could say an individual, particularly if in a senior or supervisory role, would be unable to exercise adequate control. This could be taken as reasonable grounds for dismissal. Adverse reaction from other employees or customers would also be reasonable grounds if it could be shown, particularly if, in a small business, it affected output or profitability.

The Sex Discrimination Act offers little protection. If an employer can state he would have treated an individual of either sex in the same way then the Act is irrelevant.

Legislation has one beneficial effect. It usually makes employers think carefully before making a decision. It encourages them to explore all the options.

What I have to say about the employers view will not be popular. It is essential to be realistic. The world of employment cannot afford to be idealistic.

Employers and their managers both in marketing and service organisations only exist to meet a need and to make money for any shareholders. Unless they meet this objective the business will cease to exist and nobody will have a job. The same criteria apply in the Public Sector.

This does not mean that employers are inhumane. Most will bend over backwards to help. Keeping people within the organisation, moving them to a different department or more suitable work or paying them while on leave during a transition.

The Civil Service, what used to be known as the nationalised industries and some large organisations in the private sector have agreed procedures for transexuals.

It is essential the individual is co-operative and flexible. Unfortunately some are not.

A large organisation in a highly competitive market, highly dependent on its image with the public, faced with the situation offered other employment to two individuals because of the possibility of adverse reaction and as new employment was more suitable in one instance. The moves welcomed by one and strongly resisted by the other were both successful. The one who welcomed the move settled in quicker and has gained promotion. The action was entirely reasonable from the employers viewpoint.

An area not normally thought about is the security aspect. Transexuals are not normally regarded as a security risk, possibly because in the minds of the general public it is considered a medical condition and is therefore "respectable". Transvestites are unfortunately looked at in a different light, partly for historical reasons, partly perhaps because of suppressed desires and partly due to social conditioning. It is a much more common condition than is generally realised. Prejudice against it is deeply engrained except in clearly defined areas which act as acceptable outlets. Transvestites are considered a security risk, even when open about the transvestism they have been moved from classified work to less sensitive areas.

The prejudice affects all levels. Resignation has been mooted for senior executives when the situation became known. Perhaps it was considered it would affect the individuals authority or adversely affect the organisation if it became common knowledge.

The employer or manager faced with a transexual will almost certainly never have had to deal with the situation before. After his first reaction and asking himself "Why me? I have enough opportunities to shine already". He or she will push it upwards through their superior and any personnel department. Eventually it will reach a level where the fundamental policy decision will be made.

The individual must carefully prepare his case and be prepared to have constructive answers ready for any difficulties raised.

Also he must expect for it to become common knowledge far more quickly than any urgently disseminated management information. Even to the Prime Minister's chagrin government secrets are not immune to leakage.

Often the use of toilets will be a potential stumbling block for the pre-operative transsexual. Other staff will need to be considered as well as the requirements of the Shops, Railway Premises and Offices legislation. This is a practical area which management, who rarely like dealing with non-specific problems, can get their teeth into.

I will deal later with the benefits of using Trade Union or other help at an early stage in negotiations.

The most important aspect of employment and one largely within the individuals control, the key area if long term success is to be achieved, is good relations with other employees. Without this, the protection of legislation and the employers willingness to help are of little help. Regrettably and for understandable reasons minority groups throughout history have considered themselves disadvantaged and often unfairly treated. Sometimes with good reason. Often they receive more favourable treatment. Transexuals are no exception to this rule.

The individual should consider very carefully how they will react to other colleagues knowing either in an existing or new job and what they can best do to help the situation.

It is a five day wonder but one which will arouse considerable interest. Most will react favourably or with amusement. A few will be violently opposed on various grounds. Although management can help it is up to the individual to deal with the day to day situation. The most successful transitions have been where the individual sinks into the background, answers questions briefly or does not discuss the situation at all, dresses quietly and gets on with their work. The Australians have a saying "Tall poppies should be cut down". Transexuals and open transvestites who stick out from the crowd risk the same fate. Eventually interest will die down and the individual will become part of the team.

If too much favourable treatment is expected or given colleagues will be resentful and become hostile.

The "Ancient Mariner" syndrome repeating an endless tale, a common occurrence is to be avoided. People are only interested in the details of their own problems. It keeps the level of curiosity up longer than is desirable.

Where the individual has the choice of remaining with her existing employer or starting afresh, no quick decision should be made. Starting a new job means additional stress and new colleagues may not be as accepting or supportive. Pension benefits and job security will almost certainly be lost. More important if disclosure is not made a real risk exists of dismissal without compensation at a future date when the facts become known.

On the other hand some severance pay may be obtained or more congenial and suitable work found. New work will not be easy to get as other equally qualified candidates are usually available who do not have the additional problem for the employer.

There is some truth in the accepted view that woman are more sympathetic than men to both groups. Individual views are much wider spread than those of the groups and this should not be relied on.

Finally I would like to say a few words about negotiations. It is said only a fool represents himself before the law. The same is true in this situation. However skilled a negotiator the individual is, and most are not, inevitably their judgement will be clouded by their own perception of the situation, making it more difficult for the individual and the employer to reach agreement. A trade union officer or other person skilled in the personnel field is much better equipped to reach a satisfactory solution. What is needed is agreement on broad principles and feasible solutions. The detail can be left until later.

Due to the need for confidentiality, I am unable to highlight individual case or organisations. An increasing percentage are thankfully now being resolved in the way the individual wishes, enabling them to remain in employment and live a fulfilled life.

Citation: Hanson, A., (1990), Employment Problems for Transexuals and Transvestites, Beaumont Trust International Gender Dysphoria Conference, Manchester England.
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