(A few months ago, Allie Andrews sent an email to all her NERSC co-workers with some personal news: the software engineer they have known for the last 13 years as Matt Andrews is a transgender woman. Here is the story of her coming out to her Berkeley Lab colleagues.)
I decided to send out the email because I’m in the process of transition (from a man to a woman) and at some point I had to come out at work. I spent a fair bit of time considering how to do that. It was something that had been percolating in the back of my mind for a few months, but I hadn’t come up with the courage to sit down and write anything. Then all in one burst it just kind of came out.
The response has been wonderful. I got more replies to that email than any other email I’ve ever been involved in. Everything from congratulations to personal stories about coming out experiences in families. There was one person I’d never even met before who was touched enough that they wanted to share the experience of having their father come out to them and how difficult that was but at the same time how it ultimately brought them together. It felt really good to get that support from people at the Lab.
Certainly coming out at work is very scary. It’s my livelihood. I have a 9-month-old daughter who has changed my life. Your priorities change as a parent. It’s fine to take certain risks for yourself, but you think about how that will affect the rest of your family. I really didn’t expect repercussions in terms of my employment, but it’s always a worry. The unknown can be very scary.
Another issue that worried me a lot about coming out was the restroom situation. Moving forward I didn’t want to continue using the mens’ restroom. There are no gender-neutral restrooms at NERSC. I brought it up with HR, and they agreed I could use the women’s restroom. That was very supportive.
Also, before I sent the email, I told Deb Agarwal (of the Computational Research Division), who’s a friend of mine, that I was coming out, and I mentioned my concern about restrooms. She in turn told (Computing Sciences ALD) Kathy Yelick about this issue because Kathy had asked her if there was anything to be done to more supportive of diversity at the Lab. It turns out that the new CRT will have one gender-neutral restroom on the computer room level, so no changes needed to be made to the building plans, but the issue has been raised before management at the Lab, so perhaps it’ll help to ensure that similar accommodations exist in future Lab building projects. It’s one of the small things that came out of my coming out. Hopefully it will be a benefit for those who come after me, especially for people who identify outside the gender binary—people who don’t identify as strictly male or female—for them the bathroom issue is even harder.
After the email went out, it was a huge relief. The biggest thing I didn’t quite understand, but that has been a wonderful surprise, is how much I worried about my identity and how people saw me. All of that has changed. I can be myself and not wonder, oh, what is somebody going to think? It’s all out there now. So that was a huge relief.
Like I wrote in my email, “By asserting to the world that it’s OK to be me, I hopefully say to others like me that it’s OK to be them too.”
-Allie Andrews, software engineer, National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC)