The delight and the pain of being who you are


P.M. didn’t feel right for a long time but couldn’t identify why. She had been working too hard, so she thought that stress was responsible for the confusing feelings she couldn't explain.

I felt something
was wrong with me,

she said. She decided to seek help from a psychologist and was diagnosed with depression. However, her sense of inadequacy seemed to go way beyond.

Every time someone would mention the word “transgender” at work, she still didn’t quite understand what it meant. After all, she had “been born a man,” she liked women, and society said everything was alright with that. How was it possible that she didn’t identify with the male gender? It was an avalanche of questions.

Around that time, in 2009, P.M. changed jobs and started working at SAP. Still in search of something to help sort out the confusion she felt, she reached out to a woman, the company's first trans employee in Germany. She needed to talk, to understand what she was going through.

That's how she found out about Pride@SAP, an employee network group that discusses LGBT diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and through them she learned a lot about gender transition.

That was really encouraging, but once I had all that information, I realized I wasn't ready for the transition yet. It was a lot to digest. All of this was a shock for me as well.

Human Resources at SAP also took every effort to ensure things were as simple as possible for P.M. At that time, her psychologist even attended meetings with her team to explain what gender identity was and how transitions worked. The first stage was complete, but then came the hardest part: announcing her decision to her family.

One of the first people to know was her ex-wife and mother to her son. The second one to find out was her son, who was eight at the time. “I tried to make it sound as simple as possible. I told him my doctor had said I was a woman on the inside and that I wanted to look like one on the outside,” she explained. At the time, he didn't have many questions, but after a while he got worried and decided to ask what mattered the most to him: “So, you are going to be a woman, but will you still like me?” The obvious answer put him at ease, and there were no more worries afterwards.

With the rest of the family, it was a bit more trying. She told her sisters first and then her parents. She even prepared a slide deck. Her father was speechless and didn't want to talk to anyone about it. One of her sisters decided to intervene and, so, the family began going to therapy together, which helped everyone adapt. “They all kind of transitioned with me,” said P.M.

Once her colleagues and family were in the loop, her transition began, and it’s still not over. P.M. started taking hormones and underwent several surgeries during the following nine months. After that, she went through the gender reassignment surgery in Thailand. The next step was to have her name changed on all her documents.

In addition to the clinical and surgical procedures and organizing her own feelings, P.M. also had to deal with other people’s reactions. Going back to work was difficult. She couldn't get over her anxiety the first day she was back at the office. When she arrived, she took the first empty desk she found and stayed there the whole day. During the next few days, her colleagues started to get closer to her and made her feel at ease.

Then came the first customer visit, a new trial. Her heart was pounding out of her chest. At the time, P.M.'s new documentation wasn't ready yet, and her ID card showed her former name. Her first challenge was to identify herself at the front desk. Along with her ID, she had a letter signed by SAP that explained her transition, her name change, and the entire context. After this first barrier, she decided to keep quiet and focus on her work and the meetings she had to attend. She didn't even want to get up and go to the bathroom. However, during lunch, she went out with two company employees. One of them, pregnant, started talking about kids, gestation, maternity leave, and other things about which P.M., new to the female universe, had no idea about. She felt she had to share with them that she was going through a transition and revealed how nervous she was about all that was going on in her life. They were very welcoming and made her feel comfortable.

Many similar situations took place, and P.M. had to slowly learn how to handle these new interactions. Transitions take much longer that you’d think. It doesn't end with hormone therapy and surgeries.

At first, I was so insecure. Everything’s different: You’re talking about new topics, living something completely new in a whole new world. To be honest, I didn’t feel confident until not long ago.

Despite dealing with it more easily today, P.M. doesn't like to talk about it. Even if there’s so much more information available nowadays, there are still many people who think it’s odd. “Gender identity is a personal matter, and I have the right to decide who I want to share it with,” she claimed.

Besides having to adapt to her new body image and feelings, she also had to get used to external factors, such as sexism, which she now experiences firsthand – and transphobia. The most sensitive part of this new experience, where she still considers herself to be in transition, is romantic relationships. That is where she saw deeper prejudice.

People always say they are not prejudiced, but when you ask them if they would ever date someone who is transgender, the answer is no.

Many of her relationships ended the second she said she was transsexual. “I feel transgender women fall into one of two categories: Either we are discarded or sexualized," she stated.

Fear is another reason why she doesn't like to talk about it. In addition to having been a victim of transphobia herself, P.M. has the numbers to justify this fear: Brazil is the country that most kills transgender people in the world. In 2016, there were 144 deaths, per the Rede Trans Brasil survey. Moreover, the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics estimates for 2013 indicate that the life expectancy of the transgender community is about 35 years, less than half the national average of the general population.

This harsh reality many are forced to face led P.M. to discover that her mission in life is to enlighten people about the transgender community. Therefore, whenever she has the chance, she visits other companies to discuss gender identity. For her, the more information people have, the closer we are to building a world that respects diversity, others’ pain and joy. She started this transformation with those who were closest to her. Her father, who had once been left speechless during his daughter's courageous announcement, can now translate the pride he feels into words.

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