updated in 1997
Transsexuals in the work place-a
guide for employers
by Beverly Copeland, contributing editor (WEST COAST)
Gender Expressions Magazine grants permission for this material to
be freely copied and distributed provided that the article is
reproduced in its entirety and this notice is retained intact.
possibly you were presented this material by one of your employees,
quite likely soon after learning that the employee was undergoing or
had already undergone a "sex change." Much information and
misinformation abounds in the media, but little of it is helpful to
the employer in comprehending the new status of their employee. Also,
small or new companies are likely to have never encountered such a
change in status before; hopefully the text that follows will be
useful and informative. This article is written in respect to the case
of the male-to-female employee; however,most of the information
applies identically to the female-to-male employee if the sense of the
pronouns and gender-specific statements is reversed. The remainder of
the text is presented in question/answer format.
IS a transsexual?
The answer to this question is best given in rather technical
medical terms. Strictly speaking, a transsexual is a person with the
condition known as Gender Dysphoria Syndrome, a psychiatric term which
means "feelings of conflict and discomfort felt by a person due
to the anatomical gender of their body". Research indicates that
Gender Dysphoria Syndrome is the psychological condition which results
from a birth defect in the matching of brain and body, similar and
perhaps related to the condition known as intersex, in which a child's
body at birth has genitalia which are not clearly ether male or female
or has the characteristic of both male and female. In other words,
transsexuals are persons born with a perfectly normal and healthy
brain of one gender, but in a body with a perfectly healthy and normal
anatomy of the opposite gender. The affected person lives with a
struggle to reconcile their natural personality, gender identity, and
body image with their physical body and social status until a time in
their life when the conflict becomes too great to bear and they seek
medical help to change their anatomy and social role.
No effective psychotherapeutic treatment for transsexualism exists,
since the only defect is the mismatch of body and brain, and a healthy
gender identity (even a mismatched one) cannot be changed; therefore
the only effective treatment is to surgically change the gender of the
body to align with the person's natural gender identity, a "sex
change." Such treatment is effective in relieving the secondary
problems of depression, low self esteem, and anxiety which often
accompanies gender dysphoria, and the patient is then able to pursue a
normal life in their new gender.
Today, transsexuals are potentially valuable research subjects in
the new studies of pre-birth programming of gender identity and
personality into the brain during fetal development, though the rarity
and desire for privacy of transsexual persons often makes the
gathering of data difficult. At present there is little agreement in
the medical community as to the cause of a person being born
transsexual; researchers and physicians today are largely divided into
groups advancing theories of either genetic cause or fetal-development
causes. Environmental conditions seen to have an effect on how long
the individual is able to adapt to their reversed-gender life
situation before seeking medical help to correct it. Transsexualism is
rare occurring at a rate of one in every ten thousand births.
Currently no method capable of detecting the condition at birth is
aren't there female to male transsexual persons?
There certainly are: about 45% of all transsexuals are female to
male. Male to female transsexuals receive the largest amount of
exposure thought the media of TV and print, apparently because they
are considered more "newsworthy" in our traditionally
Transsexual persons homosexual?
No, transsexualism has nothing directly to do with sexuality at
all; the "sex" root of the word refers to gender rather than
sexual preference. This misconception, largely disappearing today,
apparently resulted from public confusion of transsexuals with two
much larger groups: effeminate homosexuals (gay males imitating
feminine mannerisms or dress as an expression of their sexuality) and
transvestites (males, usually heterosexual, who find enjoyment in
wearing female clothing); neither of these two groups has the
body-identity gender conflicts which are experienced by transsexuals
and lead to an eventual change of physical gender.
Transvestites out number transsexuals by at least 50 to 1; gay
males out number transsexuals by about 900 to 1. in addition, these
other two groups are composed entirely of males only; transsexuals are
nearly evenly divided between male-to-female cases and female-to-male
cases. Transsexual, both before and following surgery, may be
heterosexual, bisexual, Lesbian, or celibate, with the proportion of
celibacy being some what higher than with the general population of
women. Transsexuals are NOT members of any known AIDS high-risk group.
this effect our company's medical insurance?
Many group insurance policies have specific exclusions which limit
or eliminate payments for transsexual surgery; if your policy has no
such exclusions, your employee may seek coverage for medical expenses
under your current plan. Insurance companies with exclusion provisions
do so only because the surgical costs are expensive-surgical and
hormonal treatment for transsexuals has been legally established as
medical necessary treatment, and not cosmetic in nature. An insurance
company might, for instance, have similar exclusion for liver
transplants, another very expensive procedure. Whether or not your
insurance company provides coverage, it should not affect your rates.
this affect the productivity of my employee?
Often, the employee in their new gender role is more productive and
produces higher quality work than in the past, due to improvement in
their own self-esteem and motivation. Time off from work to recover
from surgery procedures may be necessary, however-but it should be
noted that your employee will have no need for maternity leave in the
future since she will not be able to bear children, so net time lost
from work may prove to be less than in the case of your other female
employees. The process of changing gender usually takes several years
to complete, with surgical, hormonal, and social changes progressing
at different rates with different individuals; you can expect a
dramatic change in her appearance and in expression of her
personality. Your employee may already have completed much or most of
the transition before advising you. Transsexuals are often
conservative individuals and frequently set high standards on their
appearance and performance following their gender change.
If your employee is doing heavy physical work, bear in mind that
her entire muscular structure will change to female norms. and she may
not handle task requiring physical strength as easily as she did
before. [The opposite applies to the female-to-male, of course.]
do other companies handle this?
With the increased public awareness of transsexuals today, the
major problem which remains is that the employee is an object of
curiosity among co-workers for several days following her appearance
in her new gender role. Very large corporations with large numbers of
employees may encounter a transsexual employee every few years, and
often set up internal guidelines. in nearly all cases. a memo is
circulated among co-workers informing them simply that the employee
will return to work at a certain date as a female employee. Some
companies call a short meeting of co-workers at which management and
the employee is present to inform them of the change and to answer
questions which may appear; this technique is particularly effective
in keeping the transition smooth.
One company (IBM) also transfer the employee laterally for several
months to a different department; at the end of than time she is given
the option of ether returning to her original department or staying in
her new position. If the employee is new to the company sometimes no
action at all is nessary, since her former gender status may be
undetectable to others, or even to management itself.
is my employee's legal status?
Upon completion of her surgery, under state law in every state she
is considered to be female, and entitled to all the considerations
applying to that gender. Under state law in every state she is
considered to be female, and entitled to all the considerations
applying to that gender.
There are differences in detail of how administrative law handles
such cases from state to state-- your employee will take care of any
needed legal matters concerning state and federal identification
papers, tax status, social security, and legal name change herself.
Please note that for employers participating in a state-subsidized
equal- employment plan, your employee may now be a "double
bones" person, fitting into both the female and handicapped
categories, and entitling the company to a substantial subsidy(details
vary from state to state.)