Stories

Thriving as your true self: An employee’s gender identity journey

The path to affirming one’s authentic gender can be emotionally draining and physically demanding. This Pride Month, we share the story of one Biogen employee and how a supportive workplace and strong social network made all the difference, allowing her to thrive professionally and personally.

Kali first realized that her gender was not aligned with the one she was assigned at birth when she was in elementary school. Her first attempt to reveal her identity was met with harsh criticism – so from that point on, she shielded her true identity from others. “I hadn’t really received any support externally for being who I was,” she reflects. “That always made me keep it close to the chest.” 

Not being able to be herself took a toll on her overall emotional and mental health. Kali was not alone as studies show that higher levels of depression symptoms and anxiety are found in transgender people.1 Being able to be one’s true self with family and friends is also associated with positive mental health in diverse transgender populations.2 

Five years ago, Kali decided she needed to be true to herself. She surrounded herself with friends and family who supported her and encouraged her to move forward with her gender transition. At the 2019 Pride Month events in Boston, Kali finally decided to formally transition. Soon thereafter, Kali joined Biogen as a contractor, and she assumed she would begin the process when she moved to a new company. But after the company offered her a full-time position, she began her transition process.

A welcoming reception

Initially reluctant to tell most colleagues about her transition, she was heartened when her manager offered her full support and reached out to Biogen’s Human Resources department on her behalf. “We formed a small team and discussed how I wanted the announcement to occur,” Kali said. “It made my coming out very supportive – so much, in fact, that it went better than expected. I spent two hours just responding to all the positive emails and words of encouragement.” 

Kali said the reaction she received affirmed her decision. “There are people at Biogen who really care about these issues and care for you as a person so you can be who you want to be. It doesn't change who you are, but it's about the world perceiving you the way you want to be perceived – and that is incredibly rewarding.” 

“We aspire for every employee to feel a sense of belonging at Biogen,” said Kendra Thomas, Biogen’s Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion. “Ensuring our workplace is inclusive and open to diverse ideas is key for employees to have these types of discussions with their managers and colleagues. I’m proud that my team could support Kali during this transformative time in her life.”

Challenges and words of wisdom

Her gender transition has not been without hardships along the way. “You have to keep coming out. I’ve had to think about when I tell my family, when I tell friends. When do I update my legal documents? When do I update LinkedIn? Do I correct someone who misgenders me? When you come out, you have to prepare for the positive or negative responses to that,” Kali explained. “For every step, you have to evaluate and say, ‘Do I have the emotional capacity to deal with this level of visibility?’”

For others considering a gender transition, Kali has pragmatic advice: “It's really up to you to make that choice; you should never feel pressured.” To support a colleague undergoing gender transition, Kali suggests being respectful and compassionate. Because every gender transition is different, she says to avoid making assumptions. It can be a long, sometimes stressful process, and simply acknowledging that the person may have a lot going on and considering their needs goes a long way to help them.

Before Kali transitioned, she felt like she was doing what she could to survive, but now she is able to thrive.3 “I’ve had such an excellent experience with support from everyone,” she said. “Honestly, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”

References

1 André Hajek, Hans-Helmut König, Elzbieta Buczak-Stec, Marco Blessmann, and Katharina Grupp. “Prevalence and Determinants of Depressive and Anxiety Symptoms among Transgender People: Results of a Survey.” Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland). 2023 Mar; 11(5): 705: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10000997/

2 Jaclyn M. W. Hughto, Hamish A. Gunn, Brian A. Rood, and David W. Pantalone. “Social and Medical Gender Affirmation Experiences Are Inversely Associated with Mental Health Problems in a U.S. Non-Probability Sample of Transgender Adults.” Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2020 Oct; 49(7): 2635–2647: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7494544/

3 Ann Hergatt Huffman, Maura J. Mills, Satoris S. Howes, and M. David Albrittond. “Workplace support and affirming behaviors: Moving toward a transgender, gender diverse, and non-binary friendly workplace.” International Journal of Transgender Health. 2021; 22(3): 225–242: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8118231/

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