For International Transgender Day of Visibility, Sarah Valentine shares her positive experiences of her transition at work, supported by her PCS rep and colleagues.
On Transgender Day of Visibility, I find myself poised to do something about it. I find myself in a position where as a human being I must stand up and be counted, as we are at a troubled crossroads in which disinformation and double speak are forming many people’s opinions.
I’ve heard and seen all too often how hard it can be for trans and non-binary people. The truth is, I had it easy; but shouldn’t we all?
In today’s world far too many of us live in fear and I’d like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that you don’t have to be fearful of someone if they are trans, and you don’t have to be afraid to transition if that is what you want to do.
I am transgender. My name is Sarah and for a huge part of my life I was scared to admit this to even myself. Even though much has been done with the Gender Recognition Act, Equality Act and ongoing reforms to recognise trans and non-binary people, stigma and fear still exists.
While it is a rational fear in that it can be justified by countless examples of discrimination, harassment and abuse, it is also an irrational one because quite simply, How wrong can it be to be yourself?
Transgender Day of Visibility is about spreading the message that it’s OK to be you. When I joined DWP and PCS (on day one), I quickly began to realise that it was going to be now or never to begin my journey and my transition to be me.
In a site of some 300 people of all ages and beliefs my journey started on day one where I realised that PCS could really help me. I had a visible rep who was clearly not afraid to challenge others and constantly made it clear that equality matters.
My rep helped to reinforce issues such as privacy, dignity and respect. I approached her and, despite my initial fears that this was far too weird for anyone to understand, she was immediately supportive and reminded me that this is about me and I control my journey.
Thanks to her support and advice, as well as great guidance from many PCS members within Proud and the a:gender network, I was able to ensure clear guidelines were set out and followed. Negotiations were made, plans were put in place and the wheel started turning. By having a rep who helped set the tone from the very beginning, and a fantastic mentor of a manager who to this day has constantly supported me, things had gone smoothly so far.
I was now about to come out to a huge open plan office with no dark corners to hide in. I was paranoid that the woman in the corner would call me the spawn of Satan, that my friends would no longer speak to me and that the world would hunt me down for trying to be me. I was expecting the worst, despite reassurances from my rep.
So to bolster my confidence or prove myself right before I fully transitioned, I decided to attend the PCS LGBT seminar in Leeds as a first voyage (as Sarah). I ended up meeting some wonderful people and receiving a tremendous amount of emotional support from people who didn’t care about my past, but accepted and welcomed me as a fellow delegate, union member and human being.
My experience emboldened me to get ready and I subsequently transitioned at work with training, co-facilitated by a fellow PCS union member, rep and equality ambassador, helping state the message from the beginning,
“Hi, I’m Sarah. This is me, it always was, I’m just a wee bit more colourful and a big bit happier.”
I stood up, came out of the shadows and I was abundantly welcomed by my colleagues who constantly emailed their support and approached me with kind words, bringing me to tears on numerous occasions. To get rid of any awkward elephants in the room, I ran awareness sessions, which turned out to be “we’re here for you sessions”. I was no longer standing on the edge of a cliff, but had climbed a magnificent mountain, and the view was fantastic.
Since then I have become a team leader, a union rep and I’m working hard to ensure that the world can see that being trans isn’t about being different, it’s about being yourself and being able to say “This is me”.
PCS is all about putting equality at the heart of everything we do. To me, this isn’t just a politically correct statement but a true one that the union has spent a great deal of time working on.
I see it everywhere within the union, whether at branch meetings, seminars and during training. Without the support of PCS, without the work put into equality I wouldn’t have had the resources to inform management, to guide them and find the acceptance I so very much needed before I transitioned.
Thank you to PCS, Proud, as well as a:gender, for seeing me as me and letting me flourish from feeling like a freak-show hiding in the corner, to being a leader within my organisation, an active member of the union, and a champion for others.