Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image Image

OutServe Magazine | March 3, 2013

Scroll to top


Transition Advice

Transition Advice

By Brynn Tannehill

Brynn Tannehill

Like everyone in the military, at some point I had to leave. Transitioning from military life to civilian is hard enough. Transitioning genders at the same time adds a degree of difficulty that even Greg Louganis would cringe at. I left active duty in 2008 after 10 years in the service. I left the reserves in 2010 as Lt. Cmdr. Bryan Tannehill. Less than two years later I was Brynn Tannehill, civilian defense contractor.  Somehow, despite all the horror stories within the trans community, I managed to stay continuously employed, stay married, and maintain most of the relationships that mattered most to me.

Some of this good fortune was due to sheer, dumb luck. The fact that I am still married and still hopelessly in love is mostly due to the resilience, intelligence, and adaptability of my spouse. Some of it is due to the work I put in to make sure I was making good decisions along the way. Good planning, and good decisions, had the most to do with why I am still employed. Since almost everyone in the military who gets out has to find a job at some point, tips on how to handle your transition at work seems to be the most generally applicable place to start. Finding a spouse who will stick around for your transition is all on you.

Here are my thoughts and advice:

Know the battlespace.

What does the corporate culture look like?  What sort of rating does the company have on the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index (CEI)? Does the company include gender identity in its corporate equal opportunity charter? What does the local office look like in terms of personality?  It is entirely possible for a company to have a 100% rating with the HRC, but be a terrible place to transition.  If local leadership is hostile towards LGBT people, it does not matter what corporate policy is, transition is going to be rough at best. Conversely, if local leadership is supportive, even if corporate level policies are not, this makes transition much easier.

Know your Rights.

Just because your company doesn’t include protections for gender identity, it doesn’t mean that local or state ordinances won’t provide them either. Even if local and state law don’t provide protections, you still have rights via the courts and case law. The EEOC and the Justice Department have both established that being treated in a discriminatory fashion for being transgender is a form of sex discrimination, which is covered by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Recent decisions such as Glenn v Brumby, Smith v City of Salem, and Schroer v Library of Congress have established via case law that discrimination based on gender expression violates both Title VII of the Civil rights Act and the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.

Even if corporate policy and local laws do not protect you, you still have legal recourse via case law and EEOC policy.

Start saving now.
Transition is very expensive.  Most companies do not pay for SRS, and only a very small fraction pay for Facial Feminization Surgery (FFS). In a world where professional appearance may be everything, trying to transition without it may be a losing proposition if your goal is stay employed in your field. Fortunately, the military is a good place to start building your savings, especially if you deploy frequently. Tax free pay, combat pay, hazardous duty pay, and living in the field (or on the ship) all allow you to maximize income, and keep spending to a minimum if you are careful. My transition was basically paid for by a one year unaccompanied tour in the sand box during which I spent almost nothing, and lived on free food to the maximum extent practical.

So skip buying that new Mustang GT you wanted when you get back from deployment, and sock it away for future transition related expenses. You will need it given FFS and reassignment surgery can run upwards of $50,000, and other transition related items can add tens of thousands more. Additionally, the horror stories about trans people going broke happens to those who haven’t maintained some sort of financial cushion.

Make sure the right people control your clearance.

This one comes from personal experience. If at any point you change your name, and you are still in a position where you need a clearance, you will need to have that name change reflected in JPAS. When you leave the military, make sure that your security officer, or base security, releases control of your clearance so your new employer can pick it up. Only the controlling authority can make the name change. If the POC contact information listed in JPAS is outdated, and you have long since moved on to the civilian side, getting your name changed in JPAS can be several months worth of hassle. Worse, if you apply for a job in your new name they might not be able to verify you have clearance.

Have a plan:

At some point, you almost certainly have to come out to your employer. Hopefully, by the time you do you will have evaluated the battlespace, and gotten familiar with your rights, be they corporate, local, state, or case law based. When you do go to your employer about your intent to transition, work through HR. When you tell your HR representative that you have been diagnosed with GID, this is HIPAA protected information, and giving this information to anyone else requires your authorization. When you bring leadership in the company into the loop, do what you did in the military. When bringing your superior information about a problem, be ready to tell them exactly how you propose to address the issue. This can be timelines, training materials, suggestions on who else in the company they can contact for further information who has dealt with a similar situation, and ideas about how the transition should be handled with regards to the work environment.

When I came out to the VP in charge of our office (former Air Force E-9), I had all of these things in writing, in a very nice looking packet. He appreciated it, and that professionalism set the tone for the rest of the transition work done at my company.

Planning is everything.  The plan is nothing.

General Dwight Eisenhower said this almost 70 years ago, and it is still very true. No matter how well your plan for transition is, circumstances change. I had everything set up with my company to transition over a 14 month period. This included training schedules, surgery dates, meetings with HRC people to develop training materials, checklists, GANTT charts, you name it. They worked great right up until the Air Force cancelled the Global Hawk program. I lost all my research funding, and most of my team was being laid off. Suddenly, I had to use the planning and knowledge to cram my transition into 3 months of job hunting, surgery, name changes, legal document changes, covering my butt legally as I came out to a new potential employer, and a million other details.

The moral of the story was that because I had been so meticulous in laying the groundwork beforehand, when everything started to fall apart that knowledge and groundwork gave me the flexibility to accelerate everything by a factor of five.

It’s not as bad as you think:

Colin Powell wrote this as one of his “rules”.  I kept his list of rules on my desk for years, and it wasn’t until I had finished transitioning that I realized he was right. Almost nothing about transition had been as bad as I expected. Not at home, not on the job, not in terms of legal protections, nor in terms of how many relationships I lost.

I didn’t tell my (then) supervisor about being transgender until after I left the company. He was a retired Air Force Colonel, and I knew him to be a very conservative and religious person. I honestly expected a very negative reaction from him based on a host of profiling factors. After I left one employer as Bryan, and quietly started at another as Brynn, I finally told him what was going on in my life. His response surprised me.

“I don’t give a ****.  You’re my friend. I’m just glad I don’t have to sit through another one of those hour long, guess-who’s-coming-out-now, diversity meetings. When you’re recovered from surgery, let’s have lunch.”

* Read Brynn’s Frequently Asked Questions regarding transgender.