You’ll still be you – Support for transgender customers and colleagues
6 MIN READ
The Gender Recognition Act (2015) gave trans people in the Republic of Ireland a way to get full legal recognition of their preferred gender but awareness of transgender issues remains low.
‘People generally want to help,’ Gordon Grehan from Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), says, ‘but faced with a trans person they are often afraid of saying the wrong thing and offending them and that makes communication difficult.
‘They just need some knowledge about the issues faced by trans people and the right language to use.’
‘I grew up in a place called Glengormley, just north of Belfast,’ says Kirsty, a transgender woman who works in Bank of Ireland (Northern Ireland).
‘I was quite geeky. Even growing up as a teenager in the 80s, I liked computers and things like that.
The earliest memory that I can put a date on was when my sister got married just before my 8th birthday. Coming up to the wedding, my much older brother kept on telling me I’d have to wear a kilt.’
Inside, I was secretly delighted…
‘But I knew I couldn’t give any inclination that I would like to do it so I was like ‘no, no, I won’t wear it!’
So I know I’ve been experiencing these feelings since I was at least seven years old and perhaps even before.’
I just always had this wee nagging voice in the background
‘I remember being in primary school and the girls in my class would have a dressing up box and looking at the box and thinking I can’t dress up like them. I knew, back then, that I wanted to do that.’
Kirsty was aware that if she showed any inclination to dress up like the girls she would be bullied so she kept her feelings to herself.
She used to secretly add an ‘a’ to the end of her old male first name – Kirsty was assigned male at birth – changing it into a female name.
‘I used to do it in pencil then rub the ‘a’ out,’ she says.
‘I was dressing up in Mum’s clothes when I was a teenager but that stopped when I went to university. This was the days before the internet so you couldn’t shop online.
I was nowhere near confident enough to go into an actual bricks and mortar shop and say ‘I’d like that dress, please.’
Kirsty stopped until the internet came along. ‘I got my first PC with internet access in 1999, at which point I was married for six months.’
It just came out one night
‘I was trying to tell my new wife something and her response was ‘oh, is that all? I thought you were going to tell me you wanted to dress up in women’s clothes or something!’
I don’t know where her comment came from but it obviously made a massive impression on me.
I said, ‘well, actually, that does have its appeal’.
With her permission, I bought a few things online from a catalogue and had them sent to our home address and I would dress up a little bit in the evenings.
Just the two of us, at home with the blinds closed. Me in skirt, tights and heels.’
But then we had a child
‘I thought, ‘I can’t do that now I am a Dad’,’ she says.
After four or five more years it came up again. ‘You can’t keep it down because it’s just part of you.’
Inside I felt myself to be female
She searched online for ‘transgender support’ and found a support group in Belfast.
‘I went there and they had changing facilities so I could go along in my male clothes, go into this wee room, and transform myself.
I did this for two hours on a Wednesday. Then the butterfly turned back into a caterpillar and went home again.’
May 2014, was the first time Kirsty went out in public – ‘presenting female’ in the terminology.
‘Essentially,’ she says, ‘I was dressed as a woman, wearing make-up and a wig (my hair wasn’t as long then as it is now).
The sky didn’t fall on my head…
In Kirsty’s words: ‘The world didn’t end. Small children didn’t stop and stare. None of that happened. The worst I ever get is a bit of side-eye now and then but even that is relatively unusual.’
She says she knows trans people who have had serious problems but considers that she has been lucky.
‘Over the course of the next 2 or 3 years, I became more and more comfortable going out as my female self.
The difficulty was I was married with two kids. But I had to transition because I couldn’t continue living as a man and we had to separate.
My ex-wife is a very supportive person and she continues to be supportive of me. We have a very good relationship and even though we are divorced we are still friends.
But she is not a lesbian and she does not want to be married to a woman. I moved out, I have my own house and it’s been that way for about a year and a half now.’
Our two daughters, at the time, were 14 and 7
Kirsty and her ex-wife had a conversation with their older daughter first.
‘The first thing we said was, ‘Mum and Dad are going to get divorced’ and we could see our daughter’s bottom lip was going.
My ex said ‘it’s the reason why we’re getting divorced that you have to understand. Daddy’s transgender.’
And my daughter just looked at me and said, ‘that’s okay’.
Those are her exact words. ‘That’s okay.’’
We were worried that she might be bullied
Kisrty said to her daughter, ‘I worry that your friends might make fun of you and you might fall out with them.’
She said to me, ‘if they were the sort of people who would have a problem with this they wouldn’t be my friends in the first place.’
A couple of weeks later, we told the young one
She just said, ‘but you’ll still be the same person’ and she gave me a hug.
Kirsty says that she knows that she is very lucky. She has friends, she says, that haven’t had any contact with their children in years either because the children can’t accept their transition or their ex-partner can’t accept it.
I then came out to my brothers and sisters
Kirsty has two siblings in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic of Ireland and came out to them each individually, face to face, over the course of a weekend.
‘They were all great. The interesting thing was what they thought I was going to tell them.
One of my brothers and one of my sisters thought I was going to tell them that I was a gay man and I had fallen in love with a man. Which I hadn’t.
When I arrived at my other sister’s house, she told me that she had had a dream in which I told her I wanted to wear women’s clothes – that wasn’t a million miles away.
My other brother told me he had had a dream in which I was adopting an orphan!’
The next thing was telling everyone at work
Bank of Ireland now have a policy on Gender Identity and Transitioning in the Workplace but when Kirsty first looked for one, in 2016, it hadn’t been developed yet. Kirsty helped inspire our work on the policy which was launched in 2017 on Transgender Day of Remembrance.
She found guidelines for staff working in Bank of Ireland branches in Northern Ireland to help them deal with transgender customers which she thinks are ‘really well written.’
‘That gave me encouragement,’ she says.
Then, in January 2017, Kirsty was having her annual appraisal and, at the end of it, her line manager, Liz, said, ‘is there anything else you want to tell me?’
I told her I was transgender and she said, ‘right, I don’t know anything about that but it’s going to be okay!’
Kirsty’s line manager, Liz, spoke to Kerry, the HR Business Partner for the UK and a week later the three of them met.
‘They came out for lunch and a cup of tea with me,’ says Kirsty.
With the help of SAIL, a support group for transgender families in Northern Ireland, they created a Transition Plan for Kirsty and Transgender NI, ran several transgender awareness sessions for bank staff in Belfast.
According to Gordon Grehan from Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI), ‘trans people often only come to the attention of their employers and other organisations when they transition to living outwardly as the gender with which they identify, and change their gender expression, name and pronouns (he or she or they).’
As Kirsty is in a customer-facing role, her customers also had to be told. She drafted up a letter to go to them telling them that ‘I would be living and working as a woman from this date and that my new name was Kirsty.’
The letter was sent mentioning that Kirsty had the ‘full support of the Head of Bank of Ireland Northern Ireland’ and all her customers were phoned in advance.
My first day at work as Kirsty
‘I came back to the office after 3 weeks’ leave in July 2017.
I had my new pass with my new photo waiting, I had a new email address in my new name, I had my card for the deli bar, I had my new work iPhone working in my new name, and I had access to our internal systems all in my new name.
Without exception, my clients have been great. They have either said to me ‘we’re really pleased and supportive of you’ or they’ve just carried on as if nothing has happened. In some ways, that’s almost better.
It’s been a hugely positive experience,’ Kirsty says.
Transitioning in the workplace
‘I went through 2 to 3 years not knowing of what was going to happen if I came out at work and I think it’s important that people who have these feelings see that a transition at work can be successful,’ says Kirsty.
I was 46 when I came out and started living full-time as a woman.
It’s not too late, no matter how long you’ve left it.’
Bank of Ireland customers who are trans and want to change their details
‘As far as changing my bank details is concerned,’ she says. ‘I went into the branch with my deed poll and account details and they changed the name on the account.
They ordered me new cards and cheque books. All they needed was ID showing my old name and my new name.
It really was as simple as that.
Attitudes to trans people
‘We are thankfully reaching a point where being trans has a lot less stigma than it used to,’ says Kirsty.
‘When I was 13, I knew I was trans but I also knew that if I told anybody my life would not be worth living.
If I was 13 now that would not be the case.
There is no doubt that the numbers of children coming out as trans to friends, teachers and parents is on the increase. But that’s because they can be open now.
It’s not that there are more trans kids, it’s that they are more comfortable coming out.’
Changing your personal details
Bank of Ireland personal customers in Republic of Ireland, please click here to find out more about changing the name on your account.
Bank of Ireland UK personal customers, please click here to find out more about changing the name on your account.
What is transgender?
BeLong To created a video featuring trans people, their parents and teachers giving tips on how to support transgender people. They have also created a video on the experience of being trans ‘What is Transgender’.
Where to get help if you or someone you know is trans
‘If you are an adult in Northern Ireland,’ says Kirsty, ‘the people to approach for help are Transgender NI and in the Republic of Ireland the people to approach are TENI.
In Northern Ireland, SAIL can give families advice on supporting a trans child while Mermaids in the UK also provide help for families. In the Republic of Ireland, BeLong To provide support and advice for LGBTI+ young people from 14-23 years.
Details of transgender support groups
SAIL NI is a support organisation for the families of transgender and gender variant people in Northern Ireland.
TransgenderNI is the hub of information for transgender, non-binary, questioning and intersex people and those who support them across Northern Ireland.
Transgender Equality Network Ireland (TENI) seeks to improve conditions and advance the rights and equality of transgender people and their families in the Republic of Ireland.
Gender Identity Research and Education Society (GIRES) is a British charity with the purpose of improving the lives of trans and gender non-confirming people including those who are non-binary and non-gender.