go a gender transition, in which we
cease to present as the sex we were assigned at birth and begin presenting
as the gender we identify with. Additional legal processes are necessary
to legally recognize a gender change.
The process may, but does not always,
involve physical changes such as hormone therapy, hair removal, or one or
During my transition, I switched
from a masculine to a feminine style
of dress, pierced my ears, changed
my name from my birth name to Lucy
Kimberly Sharp, changed the gender
markers on my legal forms of identification, and underwent (and am still
undergoing) the medical procedures
which I felt would support my transition. The purpose of my physical transition has been to support the social
one, as I personally felt I would be
safer and better accepted if my body
conformed to traditional notions of
More important than understanding the physical mechanics of a transition is understanding the broader culture transgender communities face.
While individual experiences vary,
transgender people as a whole still
face intense structural oppression.
90% of transgender people report
having faced harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination at work.
of us have hidden our gender identities, and 57% of us have delayed our
transitions to avoid discrimination.
41% of us have attempted suicide.
Transgender people are at a height-
ened risk of physical violence and
particularly sexual violence, which
50% of us experience.
While these are national statistics,
I do not believe Seattle is substantially different. While some trans-people
I talk to haven’t had any problems,
complaints of discrimination are
common. Since arriving in Seattle,
I’ve been the target of sexual violence
because I am transgender. I’ve also
had a transgender friend kill himself.
Seattle may be somewhat better than
some other places in some ways, but it
is far from paradise.
Nor is the Seattle legal community
insulated from this. Fear of discrimination may keep transgender people
from entering the legal field. In the
case of some transgender lawyers I
know, fear of discrimination by other
lawyers is a primary motivation for
concealing that they are transgender.
This context is important when
creating a welcoming legal environment for transgender people to
practice. Because discrimination
can be hard to observe in the moment, requiring literal mind-reading,
transgender people may be forced to
examine proxies in assessing how we
are likely to be treated. It also affects
the context in which interactions occur. Jokes at the expense of gender-variant people look a lot different
when your friends are dying from
Legal Protections for
When I began my transition, I was
relatively uninformed as to what my
legal rights were, and how these would
be handled in practice. The first law
firm I worked at didn’t seem particularly well-informed, either. In hindsight, many questions could have been
resolved by examining guidelines
provided by the Washington Human
6 including information on a variety of issues such as
restrooms, harassment, preferred pronouns and name usage. These rules
provide a good starting point in handling a workplace transition.
During one particularly stressful
moment in my transition I received a
call in which my CEO told me he didn’t
want me using my name, “Lucy,” anymore. I’d been coming out gradually
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