Trevor Boylston had started transitioning from female to male a decade before he started working at Boston Scientific, and he had no plans to reveal his true self to his new coworkers. Boylston has a stocky build and a beard and is married to a woman — “seemingly straight,” as he puts it. But about six months after he started at the medical device company, around the time Caitlyn Jenner transitioned, a coworker started making transgender jokes. And Boylston decided he couldn’t stay quiet any longer.
Navigating the world of work can be enormously challenging for members of the transgender community, and changing jobs is especially tricky. Resumes may reflect a person’s former gender through the schools they attended or jobs they performed, forcing candidates to reveal highly personal information right off the bat in a cover letter or initial interview. Job seekers may not be able to use an established LinkedIn page or references they’ve cultivated over the years under a different name, and changing driver’s licenses, professional certifications, and other documents used for employment verification can be a lengthy, convoluted process.
Then there’s the matter of potential employers’ health insurance benefits: Do they cover hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries? How about gender-neutral restrooms or LGBTQ employee resource groups?
And figuring out what and how much to tell new coworkers is also a potential minefield, especially while transitioning, which can take years.
Nationwide, transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed as cisgender adults (whose gender identity corresponds with their sex assigned at birth), and they make a third less money, with a much smaller proportion of transgender workers in management or leadership roles, according to 2021 McKinsey & Co. research. Seventy percent of transgender respondents to a 2022 Center for American Progress survey said they’d experienced workplace discrimination or harassment in the past year related to their gender identity or sexual orientation.
On one hand, there is a much greater acceptance of gender fluidity than there used to be, especially among young people, said Grace Moreno, executive director of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber of Commerce. But older generations are fighting even harder against it. Legislators have filed a record number of bills restricting the rights of LGBTQ people in the last few years, many of them focused on transgender youth, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and hundreds more have already been introduced this year.
Employers, however, are reaching out to the transgender community like never before, in part due to corporate America intensifying its diversity and inclusion efforts, as well as to demands from the labor force and the ongoing worker shortage. With an estimated 2 million-plus transgender people in the United States, and more than a million who identify as nonbinary, it’s a small but highly visible community. In Massachusetts, a 2016 law expanding anti-discrimination protections to include gender identity was upheld by voters in 2018, the country’s first statewide vote on transgender rights. The measure succeeded, Moreno said, in large part because it was backed by the business community.
“In Massachusetts, we’re doubling down, and it’s supported by the corporate sector,” Moreno said.
Eastern Bank, one of the founding members of the Massachusetts LGBT Chamber, last year trained employees to serve as notaries to better serve transgender and nonbinary people changing legal documents. The bank has also started allowing employees to self-identify as LGBTQ to get a better sense of their needs, removed gender stereotypes from dress codes, and now uses the pronoun “they” in place of “he or she” when drafting new corporate policies.
Traditional industries historically dominated by white men have an obligation to take the lead on these issues, said Kathy Henry, Eastern Bank’s general counsel and chief human resources officer. “We have a real opportunity to be as inclusive as possible to reflect the communities that we serve,” she said. “And trans folks are part of our community.”
The LGBT Chamber started holding annual job fairs focused on the transgender community in 2018, and it’s still one of just a handful of trans job events in the country. At the most recent fair, held last month in a Boston Park Plaza ballroom, 37 employers (with 12 on the waiting list) and roughly 500 job seekers turned out to discuss job opportunities under a shimmering chandelier.
Matisse DuPont, who identifies as nonbinary, was there on their first real job search, wearing geometric wire-rimmed glasses, black pointy boots, and perfectly manicured red nails. DuPont, 30, graduated from Simmons University with a master’s degree in gender and culture studies a few months before the pandemic hit and “floundered” in the topsy-turvy early 2020 job market. DuPont found work as a freelance gender consultant and trans educator while raising awareness of LGBTQ issues on social media and currently teaches gender and sexuality classes at Tufts University. But the time had come for a steady job.
“I’m really curious what corporate America is like,” DuPont said. “In a certain sense, this is a new place where trans people are starting to thrive.”
But the workplace can still be difficult to navigate for those who don’t conform to gender norms. A 2020 McKinsey survey found that transgender workers are three times more likely than their cisgender peers to delay or skip meetings, and when they do attend, 55 percent don’t speak up; 41 percent avoid talking to their coworkers altogether.
Dominic Glaude, 22, started his transition when he turned 18 and now identifies as a queer trans man. When he started visibly changing and using the men’s restroom, he suddenly lost his job playing drums at a Baptist church in the South End after being told the church was taking “another path.” For Glaude, who has his own audio engineering and music production company, being his own boss helps. But when he takes on a new job, he’s never quite sure how safe the space will be. “There’s a lot of cis white heterosexual men in audio engineering,” said Glaude, who is Afro-Caribbean. “I kind of just wait to feel out the vibe.”
Boylston, the Boston Scientific employee, acknowledges he’s lucky. He’s a white middle-class man who “transitioned into privilege.” But until then, the gender dysphoria he felt as a woman had a profound impact on his ability to build relationships and stay focused — and stay employed. After dropping out of the University of Vermont, he bounced from job to job: tour guide, EMT, bike messenger, movie theater manager, corporate trainer, security guard, customer service representative, massage therapist. He even joined the Army Reserves.
“I never felt whole,” he said, “so I kept looking for something else that would make me whole.”
And long after he started living as a man, and was working in an open, inclusive place, he was still hesitant to come out. But after confronting the coworker who made transgender jokes — who revealed that he didn’t know how to handle a family member’s transition, and then became one of Boylston’s strongest allies — Boylston decided to come out publicly. He got involved in the company’s LGBTQ resource group, and the connections he made there led to his current job in supplier diversity, ensuring that small and minority-owned businesses are included in the contract process.
“It’s been so rewarding to bring my full self to work,” he said.
Boylston has since become a motivational speaker, giving talks in schools, prisons, and companies. He always opens with the story of his birth, starting when the doctor told his parents, “Congratulations, it’s a girl!”
Then, after a pregnant pause, Boylston delivers the punchline: “Well, we all make mistakes.”
Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.