Saturday, January 23, 2010

A Day Late And Dollar Short

I'm sorry, but this is not going to be a happy story.

Several times now, I have heard a respected member of my trans-gender support group, mention that the company I spent 37 years working for, now includes trans-gender medical costs, including GRS, in their employee's health insurance coverage. Each time I heard her say that, it felt like I was being kicked in the teeth, by a horse!

Every day for 37 years, I cross dressed as a male, went to work, and faked it all day long! Never once during those 37 years, did I ever hear that my company supported TG transition in the workplace, let alone that they were willing to pay for it! Sometime after the turn of the century, I do recall the company coming out with an official policy of acceptance of Lesbians, Gays and Bi-sexuals, but never once did I ever hear the word, Trans-gender mentioned. I thought, "Well, that's certainly great for the lesbians and gays, but what about me?" I worked with and for, some of the most trans-phobic men you would ever want to meet. Without a very public commitment to trans-gender employees, fully and openly supported by local management, how could I ever dare to come out?

I never saw the slightest inkling of such support. In fact even though I never presented as a female, I was harassed. Apparently my co-workers thought I was gay. They loved to tell jokes about gays whenever I was around, and several times they even left the local BGLAD number on my pager (at the time, BGLAD strictly referred to Bi, Gay, Lesbian, and Associates at DuPont. There was no mention of Transgender then). So you can imagine the shock of hearing those words from my support group sister. And yet, she was right. I just looked it up here . Now I don't know when the official corporate policy of supporting trans-gender employees came out. The link provided is from a survey in 2004, when I was still working, but I certainly wasn't aware of it at the time. Knowing that the company fully supported me, would pay for my transition, and that local management was supportive of that policy, would have gone a long way towards giving me the confidence I needed to overcome the trans-phobic environment I worked in every day.

My current feelings regarding this extremely tardy disclosure? Quite frankly, I'm pissed!(that's angry here in the US, not drunk) Extremely pissed, in fact! I'm also extremely hurt! In the mid eighties I visited a very kind psychiatrist at Richmond's Tucker Pavilion, a local mental health facility, because I had just read the writer, Jan Morris's book, Conundrum, about her transition from male to female, and I couldn't stop crying! Her life, while unique in its particular circumstances, was nearly a carbon copy of mine in substance! So much so, that eerily I felt like I was reading my own biography! I searched every bookstore in town for her story, but ultimately had to go to the state library to find a copy of it. Whoever has checked that book out since, has seen my tear stains on its pages, and probably added their own as well.

Sitting in my psychiatrists office, with tears streaming down my face, I told him of how I read Morris's biography, and how it paralleled my own life. I saw him several times. God love him, because he was very sympathetic. He agreed with me that I was transsexual, but he didn't specialize in trans-gender care, and knew no one in the Richmond area at the time who did. All he could do was give me the address of Duke University Hospital, who he thought was still doing experimental trans-gender surgery. I was just discovering myself after a couple of decades of being locked up in a very dark closet. I wasn't on hormones, hadn't lived a real life experience, and was not even considering putting myself under the knife at the time. This was back in the mid eighties, and incidentally, when I went back to work, the clerk for our section innocently mentioned something sympathetic, about my trip to Tucker's. I was shocked to know that she knew I visited a mental health facility, and for a while was very paranoid that my secrete had been revealed. Subsequently, I found out that she was responsible for coding my disability pay, and learned that I had been treated for depression. I don't think she ever knew what the diagnosis was, but I was left to wonder.

In the 37 years that I worked at DuPont's largest manufacturing facility in the entire world, we averaged 3,000 employees on that site. Not once did I ever hear of a single transsexual working there! I did subsequently learn of a girl who transitioned after taking an early retirement, and and financed it with money she made later as a real estate agent. I have nothing but contempt for my former employer now, especially their local management, for not making it perfectly clear to all employees, that trans-gender care was covered, and that all trans-gender employees would be fully supported in the workplace! So much for corporate policy, when local management is not held accountable for disseminating, and enforcing it!

For years I languished in purgatory, thinking that my dreams could never be fulfilled in this life. Now at 61, I wonder how many years of my life were deliberately wasted, by local redneck managers, who just couldn't stomach the idea of employees transitioning from one gender to another on the job. I held a semi-management position for the last seventeen years I worked there, and I can testify to the willful resistance of recalcitrant local managers, to comply with corporate policy directives, that they didn't like, and corporate HQ's cowardly reluctance to to make them tow the line.

Melissa (Doing a slow burn, but not for you, my lovelies! XX)


chrissie said...

Not surprised you are hacked off, honey.

Do you have a legal case? That might well be worth checking.


Melissa said...

Oh, Chrissie! What a sympathetic sweetheart you are, but do you have any idea what it takes to fight a multinational corporation? They can drag you out in court for years, bankrupting you in the process. Unfortunately for me, it's all water over the damn now. I'm just glad that younger sisters have the unequivocal, publicly documented right to be themselves on the job!

Melissa XX

caroline said...

You are much tougher than me luv. At least you survived and have a pension to show for all the torment, I gave up in a similar place and slipped away to the shadows and I am sure they were glad to see me go.

I try not to look back at past disasters but forward to get something from the time which is left.

Doesn't stop me hoping our tormentors live a long and painful life.

Caroline xx

Keri Renault said...

I empathize with your pain, Melissa, as do most transgender Baby Boomers. However, it doesn't surprise me that a change in policy toward covering "gender dysphoria"/transition was kept quiet at DuPont.

Sadly, gender transition is often something that is disclosed behind the scenes, one on one, case by case, between manager/HR and employee. Hopefully, HRC's rating guide to employers is making the issue less stigmatized and more publicized with each passing year of publication.

It's deeply painful to think we need credibility established before we attain universal equality, including health insurance coverage.

Federal passage of ENDA will be another huge step toward legitimizing equality for transgender employees.

We come from a generation that had to take transition head on in the crucible of overriding gender angst. Often alone and in the shadows. The proverbial matter of life and death which sadly ended in suicide for many who felt there was no hope of support.

I'm thankful to have life for all it's worth; to have fought my own good fight. You should be as well my friend. All any of us have is our life in the present. The past is gone and the future is but a dream. Being present is better than the tragic realities that have befallen many, and far too young.

You've come a long way, Melissa. Indeed haven't we all in the transgender community who write and live and advocate for life on our terms. Even the 88% of all transgenders that will never have the means or ability to undertake surgical transition.

Common Teri said...

Don't most retirement packages come with extended medical benefits? You may still be able be covered by them. Definitely worth checking into.

Anonymous said...

I can see how this makes you feel so pissed.
I guess the important thing is to look forward to what can be and not back at what could have been.
You have plenty of time left in life to shape your future.

Big hug to a really sweet and caring friend.
I hate to see you feeling down.

Naukishtae said...

Oh Melissa.. such pain.. even standing in your shadow.. you have made me cry..

alan said...

My first thought was the same as Teri's, though having seen them specifically change the "retiree" benefits in the 18 months I've been out, stripping away our vision and dental and changing our co-pays and such when they didn't change them for the active employees (who can still vote in the Union elections, though I'm still paying dues) doesn't leave me much hope.

GM made big announcements about their support gay and lesbian employees; the Union was supposed to be supportive as well. It didn't exactly work that way on the factory floor. A lovely girl hired in working next to me on the line in the early 90's, very out and proud; she was mostly shunned and talked about behind her back. Her truck caught fire in the parking lot...lots of other things occurred.

When she became a permanent employee she moved to a different part of the plant; I didn't see her as often. One night she stopped by my job on her way somewhere else to talk to me about her team leader. Someone who would stand behind her while she was running a job with 5 guns and tell her that there was no excuse for people like her to live; God should strike her dead...

She called her commiteeman who said it was her word against his unless she had a witness. I gave her $40 and told her stop and buy a Sony microcassette and slip it in her coverall pocket each night before shift. Within 3 days she had him on tape, she was moved, he was disciplined and her life improved much; as well the shock of finding out they could actually have something happen to them made a lot of others bite their tongues!

She is of many reasons you find me some of the places you do...


Melissa said...

@ Alan

I'm well aware of the dichotomy between corporate policy, and what is practiced in reality on the shop floor. When the local managers come from the same uneducated and often bigoted pool as the the hired hands, how can you expect them to enforce progressive policies, if corporate HQ doesn't hold their feet to the fire. Something by the way, that HQ is traditionally loath to do.

In the 37 years that I worked for DuPont, I have seen policy directive, after policy directive come down from Wilmington, only to be given lip service to, and then completely ignored by local management. In the early 90's, Wilmington cut local management positions in half, by forcing managers to retire early, or go back to wage roll positions. Within five years, local management, established more management positions than they had before the cut back. Wilmington would send down orders to cut all nonessential expenditures, and local managers would totally ignore the orders and throw money away like drunken sailors on all kinds of non-essentials. The same thing goes for benefits. Many benefits that employees think they have, are often very hard to collect on, because so much is left to the discretion of the employee's manager. I know I often had to take personal vacation time, or work extra hours to compensate for taking time off to take care of personal business, when one of our benefits was two paid hours a month, specifically for taking care of personal business. The boss simply wouldn't pay it. When my father died, I was devastated. We only got 3 days off for the death of a parent. I called my boss and told him I was in no shape to come back to work on the fourth day, and told him I was taking two sick days in addition to my 3 days of death benefits. When I returned to work, I found he had docked me two days pay! I was pissed, and said that I explicitly told him I was in no shape to come back to work after 3 days, and that I needed two sick days. I had to get his supervisor to get him to authorize my two sick days, that I had every right to take. I'm just glad I'm out of that stinkin' rat race!

alan said...

Sounds exactly the same as the things GM was doing at the time...

I got sent home sick one night, then charged UA the next day because I hadn't gone to the doctor when I got up the next day.

I'm glad we both survived!


Calie said...

I so relate to the title of this post.