Wednesday, September 14, 2016 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

In my Center Stage profiles so far, we've focused specifically on people that defied the odds to make their dream careers reality, but obstacles at work aren't only packaged in terms of career transitions. 

Today we're talking about a different challenge -- the challenge of transitioning from female to male -- and how claiming your identity, interacting with colleagues and finding (and keeping) a job is affected when you're transgender.

I met Nate, now 24, in 2013, shortly after I moved to Philadelphia. He was still "Natalie" then, identifying as a lesbian and finishing up his degree at West Chester University. I had been close with his older sister, Gwen, while working at Disney and was celebrating an early Christmas dinner with the family. "Natalie" was quiet, but sweet, and I remember we bumped into each other a few more times, once at an Express store, but our conversations were always brief. 

Last year, when Gwen was coming up to Philly right around the time of the Pope's visit, I remember us chatting about getting together, and I asked if Natalie was going to join us. That's when Gwen told me that Natalie was actually Nate, that he had come out as transgender, and that he had recently moved to Florida.

I've been really interested in issues of gender and sexuality over the last several years, so when I was thinking about ways to continue bringing new perspectives to my blog and heard Nate was willing to share his story, I was thrilled. 

Normally, I conduct interviews with my blog subjects and compile their answers into a post, but in this case, I thought it was really important to let Nate's words stand on their own. It takes a tremendously brave individual to talk so openly about such a personal, emotional subject, so I truly hope that you enjoy reading this story.

GABBY BILL: Thanks so much for being willing to talk to me. Tell me -- when did you realize you were transgender and how did you come to terms with that revelation?

NATE SINNAMON: [I started my transition] last spring around March or April, but it had been something I’d been thinking about for an extended period of time. I’d been taking these gender studies courses [in school] and relating a lot to the people I was studying. I don’t know what point it was really where it all clicked for me, but once it did, it just kind of spilled out. When I first told [my girlfriend] Jillian, we were figuring out the next steps in our relationship. I told [my sister], Gwen, because she was pressuring me about trying to find a job. I was like, ease up on me because I have a lot going on in my life. It was this really strange period where it was really awkward for her, because she was trying to help me get a job at Disney, and she was putting my name out there to colleagues as "Natalie." I hadn’t even come out to my parents about it.

GB: So when you found out that you got your internship at Disney, you had interviewed for it, and accepted the role, as Natalie?

NS: Yes. I had said that was the way I wanted to go. I wanted to be Natalie until things unfolded. When I accepted the position, my leaders were under the pretense [that I was a woman].

GB: When did you tell people you were transgender? How did that go?

NS: I waited to tell my managers until I had completed Traditions (a Disney onboarding program) and knew my name tag could be "Nathan" and that I wouldn’t have any problems. I emailed them and said this is what’s going on, and from that day my direct leader called me and made sure there wasn’t anything else she had to do. She was going to work on getting my email switched over, and Gwen reached out to people and came across someone in the trans network to connect me to. She was my outreach person that I went to when I had a question about my transition at work. 

GB: So that sounds like it went pretty smoothly. Were there any challenges that arose in the process?

NS: The challenge, I think, was knowing that there were people [at the office] who knew me before I started transitioning, and a lot of people had heard about me from Gwen. There was a lot of confusion when I accepted the role and she would talk about "my little brother starting" and people thought it was Jeff (their other brother). And then, she'd have to go, "Oh, sidebar, he’s a guy now." 

[There was also some] awkward territory where anyone who was looking at Rostr (a Disney contact system) would see me listed as "Natalie (Nathan)" and I’d be outed immediately. Thankfully, I brought that to HR's attention quickly and got the process changed in the system for future people. I think particularly with transgender situations, it’s not something that’s outlined yet in manuals for leaders, so it’s not always easy finding resources. My team was very understanding and it wasn’t anything anyone had a problem with. Part of that is just Disney in general, but I was extremely lucky. 

GB: That's definitely tough being "outed" rather than having the space to share that on your own terms. How do you handle discussing your transgender identity today? I know you're in a new role at a new company...

NS: It’s a really hard thing. Internally it’s a struggle, because I don’t want to be stealth. I don’t want people to think I’m embarrassed or ashamed of my identity, but it’s also not something a ton of people accept. [Things like this] could affect your career. At work, at this point, I don’t bring it up, I don’t say anything. If it came up, I guess it depends on the person. I take it upon myself to educate people and be a voice for the community. It’s important to have visibility. But moving forward I don’t know how much of a factor it’s going to play. At Disney, I was really open because everyone on my team knew about it. From the beginning it was this thing everyone knew about, so why act like it doesn’t exist? I remember during one therapy session the therapist was talking about another F to M trans guy and he was having a lot of struggles in the workplace. The more comfortable you are about it and the more you’re like, "it is what it is," [people are] going to follow your lead, because it’s a lot of unknown territory. If you’re uncomfortable and shy about it, everyone else is going to be uncomfortable about it. All my documents are changed over, and I present as male and its seamless now. It wasn’t even a question as I was filling out my acceptance letter and I-9. It’s this weird thing that nobody knows I’m trans. I’m excited to see how it progresses and see how I become more comfortable with it.

GB: How has your experience in the workplace changed since your transition?

NS: [Before I transitioned], I was out as a lesbian and as an obvious lesbian. All of a sudden, I was the top of the pinnacle as a white, heterosexual male. No one questioned my background or authority. Because I hadn't really started testosterone and I was still, in my own mind, having a difficult time passing before I had top surgery, it was always on my mind that people were wondering about my gender. That was debilitating, because I didn’t want people to focus on that. I wanted them to hear what my words were and focus on my thoughts. [But it was weird going from] gay person to the top of the feeding pool.

Another interesting thing happened actually with my new job. It was a very fast process -- phone interview, 2 days later, met with VP of production, 2 days later, that Friday, I got the offer. I had a follow-up call with HR, and they alluded to the fact that I was probably going to get an offer. I texted my sister and she wanted to make sure I was prepared for salary negotiations. I hadn’t even thought of that. Spending 22 years of my life as a woman, I wasn’t prepared for the negotiations, but after I hung up the phone with the HR rep, I had countered the offer and I thought, it’s so bizarre. I am sure the amount I was offered was higher than it would have been had I identified as a lesbian. They probably don’t think twice about how I countered the offer as a 24-year old guy. I’ve studied these topics for a few years, and it’s disheartening. I feel like I’m now benefiting from the privilege, and I get to see it first hand.

GB: What about the dreaded "bathroom" issue. Was that ever a concern?

NS:  I started using the men’s bathroom at work from the beginning. I addressed it [with HR] on the drive down, moving to Florida. I was talking to someone from Team Disney (HR) and asked which bathroom should I be using. They said, "As long as you’re presenting as male, you’re going to be using the men’s bathroom." And that’s what I was comfortable with. I asked if there were any gender neutral bathrooms and there were not. Probably in the newer buildings there will be family restrooms, but none were available yet. That was a little disappointing, because I wasn’t comfortable in my presentation yet, but it wasn’t ever an issue. I’d just head down and walk straight to the stall. I’m more comfortable now because nobody even gives me a second look.

GB: Have you faced any discrimination at all since your transition? I know you recently had surgery and probably had to negotiate time off for that. Any issues there?

NS: As far as time off, that was something that I felt really badly about. I do have a lot of doctor's appointments. I have therapy appointments that are required, I go to the endocrinologist, I need to have blood drawn. My leader was very understanding and said I could flex my time, so I benefitted from that, but I can see how people struggle with it. As far as medical coverage goes, I didn’t have any issues, my insurance covered my testosterone really well. My surgeon (for his top surgery) didn’t even accept insurance. It’s so uncommon for insurance to cover gender reassignment surgery because it’s seen as cosmetic and not medically necessary.

[In terms of how I was treated], there probably was a little bit more leniency or just respect. In my eyes I see it as, clearly this is someone that has been through a lot in their life, and they’ve taken on this huge undertaking. But I don’t think there was any discrimination. On the last day of my internship when we were celebrating the interns moving on, it was all about how I roll with the punches and I’m highly adaptable and a hard worker. It was reassuring to know that my work wasn’t any less than it would have been. 

GB: Do you think in some ways being transgender makes you a stronger employee?

NS: I am probably able to work better with women. I have shared experience with women, and I have an empathetic feeling and understanding, which isn’t something women always receive. I am probably a better partner whether they know it or not. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. I’m more confident at work now. I feel bad that I’m confident [because of the privilege], but it’s good that I’m confident, because I haven’t been my entire life.

GB: Is there anything else you'd like to share?

NS: I am very open about my transition on social media. I used Instagram, especially, as a platform to showcase my transition, because I can monitor who has access to my page. But as I’m getting more contacts at work, I’m getting more follow requests and that’s an uncomfortable thing for me. These are people I see every day, so I don’t want to ignore them or deny their request, but they’re not necessarily someone that knows I’m trans. So I say to myself, "I guess I’ll have to accept you, but now you’re going to know." It’s hard on Facebook. That’s where it mostly happens, and I have some control over excluding these friends when I post something, but that’s an annoying thing to do. How do I approach that moving forward? I don’t want to be in the closet online, because it’s my personal life, and I feel very passionate about it. Social media serves as a support system for the community in general. When I first came out, I turned to social media, and it was motivational for me to see where people were in their transition. It’s important for me to be on social media, but with work and colleagues it’s an awkward to place to be in. So, that’s something I’m trying to figure out.

If you're interested in connecting with Nate to learn more about his journey, you can send him a LinkedIn request or shoot him an email. You can also feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below.

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Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting