Gender Transition in the Department of State: Yes You Can!

Gender Transition in the Department of State: Yes You Can!

Posted Wed, 11/30/2011 – 3:29pm by vicepresident

Hi everyone – today I’m very glad to share a posting from a guest blogger, GLIFAA member Robyn McCutcheon of Bucharest.  I hope you’ll enjoy Robyn’s guest post, which I am pasting below.

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Look for Robert Allen McCutcheon in the GAL, and you won’t find him. Check the Embassy Bucharest telephone directory, and there is no such person.  He’s gone, vanished, no longer exists within the Department of State.  Better look for Robyn Alice McCutcheon instead.With Peter Chordas (MED), Dina Bernardin (CLO), and Sgt. Joseph Belcastro at the Marine Ball.With Peter Chordas (MED), Dina Bernardin (CLO), and Sgt. Joseph Belcastro at the Marine Ball.

Yes, it is possible to transition gender within the State Department, and it can be done at an overseas post.  I am living proof.  In my mid-50s and with State being my second career, I have known I was transgender from my earliest years even though I did not know the word.  I attempted to come to terms with being transgender in college in the 1970s, again in 1990, and a third time in 2000-02.  Each time I was forced back into a closet, unable to overcome the obstacles both within myself and in society.  When I began again to walk this path in 2010, I did so with dark memories of those earlier attempts.  Would I have the courage and strength to see this through, perhaps the last chance in this lifetime to live as myself, not as an artificial construct for others?

I had an advantage this time.  Thanks to lobbying by GLIFAA, gender identity had been added to the Department’s EEO and anti-harassment statements in the summer of 2010.  In theory, at least, I would not risk my job and career by openly declaring myself transgender.  In theory, I would not suffer the immediate dismissal that so often has been the fate of transgender people in U.S. society.  Chloe Schwenke, a senior adviser at USAID, had transitioned, as had a member of our Locally Employed (LE) Staff at Embassy Islamabad.  Still, I knew it would not be easy.

My first step shortly after arriving in Bucharest in October 2010 was to approach our MED unit.  I was very fortunate that the unit was headed by a supportive nurse who had some familiarity with LGBT issues.  She helped and encouraged me to seek out resources both in the US and in Romania.  ACCEPT, the Romanian LGBT advocacy NGO, has turned into a second home for me.  GLIFAA and the Washington, DC, Metro Area Gender Identity Connection (MAGIC-DC) have also played an important role in guiding me along.

In March 2011 I attended the First Romanian Transgender Congress, writing a reporting cable afterward on the status of transgender people in Romanian society.  By the spring I was in the classic double life that any transgender person in transition goes through, Robyn in the evenings and weekends and “good old Bob” in the workplace.  In June I began hormone replacement therapy through Whitman Walker Clinic in DC with support from the Embassy MED unit and a local Bucharest endocrinologist.  My appearance began to change due to the hormones and endless hours of electrolysis for facial hair removal.

A key event took place in May, when the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) published guidelines on the employment of transgender individuals and gender transition in the Federal workplace.  State adhered to these guidelines formally in June.  Within days of this we formed an informal Gender Transition Committee (GTC) at Embassy Bucharest headed by our HR Officer and including our EEO Officer, the Management Counselor, and representatives from the MED unit and the Regional Security Office.  Our incoming Deputy Chief of Mission joined the GTC when he arrived at post in August.  Public Diplomacy was included on the committee later in the process.  By September we had worked out how and when we would announce my transition to the Embassy community.

Robyn's First Day at Embassy BucharestRobyn’s First Day at Embassy BucharestTransition day was November 10.  As planned, I announced my transition at a department staff meeting and followed this with a personal message sent by e-mail to all Embassy staff.  In the afternoon our weekly newsletter, the Dacian Dispatch, carried a “Farewell / Welcome” message unlike any every seen before in Bucharest.  It said, “Farewell Robert Allen McCutcheon” and “Welcome Robyn Alice McCutcheon!”

I have been living and working full-time as Robyn since that day.  The reaction of all staff, both American and LE Staff, has been very good, with expressions of support coming from the most unexpected places.  On Saturday, November 12, it was Robyn who went to the Marine Ball, dancing and finally living the childhood dream she thought could not happen in this life.

My old clothes are going to charity, and in the mornings I join the Bucharest commuters, just one more professional woman on her way to work.  As I enter the Embassy, the words I hear are, “Good Morning, Ma’am.”

We have just passed the annual November 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance when we recall those who have lost their lives, have been discriminated against, or have been repressed for being transgender.  I observed that somber day with friends at ACCEPT and then walked out into the sunshine of a Bucharest autumn, more proud to represent my country than I have ever been.  U.S. society has changed and evolved in my lifetime.  It is possible to transition gender and not lose everything, and it is now possible to do so in the Department of State.  What a happy, wonderful time it is to be alive!

The author can be found in the GAL as Robyn McCutcheon, or you can write to us at glifaa@glifaa.org and we can pass your message to her.