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Faye Lynn celebrates the ups (a promotion, facial surgery) and endures the downs (a breakup, political worries) with help from Zurich’s PrideZ LGBTQ+ community.
The original version of this story was published in 2021. It has been updated.
Faye Lynn’s gender transition trumped the COVID-19 pandemic as the biggest transformation of her life over the past two years. Like the pandemic recovery, her journey has had its ups and downs
– and it’s not over.
In the months before the pandemic sent many workers home in early 2020, Lynn, an IT Audit Manager at Zurich North America, decided she had to act on the gender turmoil she had felt since second grade. Her marriage was ending. She told her son and moved to a new apartment. But beginning life as a woman wasn’t so easy as flipping a switch.
The social and medical aspects of her gender transition had started on New Year’s Day 2020, as she began hormone therapy and presented as a woman in her new neighborhood. But she was not yet ready to share her plans with most of her co-workers at the insurance company, who still knew her as the male colleague who had been demystifying technology, streamlining complex processes and mentoring many for the previous 15 years at Zurich.
So she would rise and dress for work as a woman, walk outside her home in Chicago and drive to Zurich’s headquarters in Schaumburg. There, she would change clothes again.
“I’d leave my house with a feminine appearance and when I got to work, I had to find a place to change back to masculine. Before going back home, I had to change back to feminine,” Lynn, now 45, said. “It was a little bit challenging.”
While the pandemic caused upheaval in many ways, remote work and masks simplified aspects of Lynn’s transition in the beginning. She only had to tie back her hair, which she was growing out, before greeting colleagues on-screen via Microsoft Teams. When she left her house, her mask hid parts of her face that she felt looked the most masculine.
But the greatest relief came in May 2020, starting on the day she told her manager about her transition. He asked how she wanted to proceed and helped her formulate a plan. In June, she told her team, asking them to start calling her by her new name.
“I totally understood there would be an adjustment period and told the team not to worry if they called me by my old name; I wouldn’t get angry,” she said.
“After that, I was able to finally be the real me in front of everybody.”
They expressed unequivocal support. Lynn was not surprised.
The pivotal role of PrideZ
From the first time Lynn attended a meeting of Zurich PrideZ — an employee network for the LGBT+ community – in 2019, she felt a sense of safety and comfort at work, despite the sorrow her decision would create in her personal life.
She was raised in a family with traditional values in Indonesia. She was approaching her 20th wedding anniversary. She hadn’t told any family members of the gender turmoil she had experienced since age 7, when she would express her feelings by writing fictional stories about strong female characters
, in the first person.
“I got involved in PrideZ after a year of therapy sessions, where I found out, ‘OK, I guess I’m transgender, not just someone fantasizing about becoming the opposite gender.’ I thought, with PrideZ, I was among similar people: LGBTQ. Not everyone was ‘T,’ but it was a safe space for me. I needed that support because at that time I was still in the closet. I wanted to be able to actually tell people who I was.”
At first, she just listened in PrideZ meetings. She didn’t know much about the LGBT+ community, but she was learning.
Studies produce varying estimates of LGBT+ representation in the U.S. population. According to a 2020 update of a 2017 Gallup study, an estimated 5.6 percent of U.S. adults identify as LGBT. In 2020, the survey for the first time allowed respondents to identify whether they are transgender. Among LGBT adults in the study, 11.3 percent identify as transgender, similar to the percentage identifying as lesbian. About a quarter identify as gay, and over half as bisexual. (Study participants can give multiple responses.)
One day, after hearing other people’s stories at PrideZ meetings, Lynn spoke for the first time.
“I said, ‘I want to tell you a little bit about me. I actually am a transgender woman.’ I just said it straight like that. I didn’t beat around the bush. My first coming out at work was with the PrideZ leadership team and then its members.”
She told her wife later in 2019.
“I told her I went to a therapist and this was the result. I expected her to understand because she was always very supportive of LGBTQ people. I thought she would accept me. Well, it began to set into motion her wanting to leave me. She was my everything, so I tried everything to stop her. We went to a therapist, but nothing would change her mind, even when I told her I wouldn’t transition if she stayed. When I finally knew for sure she was leaving no matter what, I was certain the only thing I could do was to move forward and transition.”
A couple of months later, Lynn told her parents and sister, who lived in the San Francisco Bay area. She expected the worst. “And it happened exactly how I thought it would,” Lynn said. They disowned her.
Her son, who was 12 at the time, was a ray of light in a time of loss. He took the news of his parents’ impending divorce very hard, with many tears. Lynn waited until after Christmas to tell him she was transgender.
“I told him on January 2, 2020, that I was a trans woman and would transition. At first, he was quiet. Then he looked at me and hugged me. I was very happy to have his support.”
He has never wavered even as he has become a teenager.
“He is literally like an angel,” Lynn said. “He told me, ‘You actually are a better person now.’ So everything is good with him.”
Through PrideZ, Lynn learned that Zurich’s policies and benefits are transgender inclusive, in part because of PrideZ’s advocacy and also because of the company’s commitment to diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging.
The transgender community is diverse — the word can describe anyone whose gender identity differs from that assigned at birth. Many medical treatments and procedures are available to support gender transition. Not all transgender people undergo any procedures; some undergo several.
“In my case I want to transition fully, which includes social and medical transitions and surgeries. Medical transition costs a lot. Most of us who are transgender cannot afford it,” Lynn said. “I’ve been planning for the future quite well since I was young, meaning that I save a lot. If I’m not with Zurich, however, I still will not be able to afford it. The insurance I have through Zurich is why I will be able to complete my transition.”
Following about a year of hormone therapy, Lynn recently had facial feminization surgery that has reshaped the contours of her forehead, jaw and neck, including the larynx or Adam’s apple. “I’m happy I don’t have to wear a mask anymore because now I’m confident my face will pass as a female in public settings,” she said.
“Those are the little things that a surgeon can do to help trans people like me so when we go out there, we don't feel like, ‘Do I pass or not? Will someone call me out or not?’ While some trans people may not care if people know they’re trans and even proudly say ‘I'm trans!’, there are others like me who just want to blend in. We want to go to the supermarket or whatever and walk among everybody else and they will see me as just a woman, and not a trans person.”
She plans to have a second surgery later this summer, previously known as gender reassignment surgery.
“Gender reassignment surgery has recently been changed to gender affirmation surgery. The reason for the change is that trans people’s gender never changes before or after surgery,” Lynn said. “The physical changes through surgeries are to affirm that one correct gender. For example, in my case, currently — before surgery — my gender is female. Once I get my surgery, that gender is not going to be ‘reassigned’ to something else. Instead, it will be affirmed.”
Navigating the changes
For some trans people, their sexual orientation never changes. But shifts sometimes occur.
“For me, it changed and I don’t know why,” Lynn said. “Now I am bisexual.” Earlier this year, Lynn began a relationship with a man, but it sadly ended after six weeks. Lynn consoled herself by welcoming a puppy into her household, a mini golden doodle named Peaches. “It was triggered by my breakup. I felt sad and lonely. I thought, I want someone who is loyal and who will adore me for life. And I thought, yeah, that’s a dog,” she said, laughing.
Along her journey, Lynn has completed the arduous work of changing her name, which involved waiting for a court date, juggling two sets of identification for a few months, and being told to submit documentation by fax to two financial institutions. “Fax? Who uses fax anymore?” she said. “Everyone has some kind of secure file transfer now.”
At the beginning of her transition at work, she methodically scheduled catch-up conversations a few times a week with old friends and colleagues to share that she was transitioning.
“My colleagues are very supportive. My two best friends are from Zurich,” she said. “And my ex is very supportive now that we aren’t married anymore.” Lynn has also made a new friend, another transgender woman, who she now considers one of her three best friends.
Lynn has earned a promotion at Zurich to a Senior People Manager role in charge of emerging talent in IT Audit. She is happy that coming out as transgender has not been a career-limiting move for her, but she knows not everyone is so fortunate.
In the U.S., support for transgender people had been increasing as visibility increased, according to the Human Rights Campaign, but new clouds have emerged.
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination, but no comprehensive federal non-discrimination law includes gender identity, and the political climate for LGBTQ people in the U.S. has worsened, Lynn said.
“Some states are passing or considering laws to ban gender therapy for kids or ban discussing LGBTQ in classrooms or to force people to use the restroom aligned with their gender assigned at birth. There are also fears about the U.S. Supreme Court potentially striking down other LGBTQ rights in the future, like same-sex marriage and equality for LGBTQ people at the federal level. We are going backwards,” she said.
Many in the transgender community continue to experience harassment and violence, and face inequities in access to jobs, housing and health care.
“We can only do what we can with our voices and votes and visibility. With visibility and education, you may move people in the middle a little closer to the acceptance side,” she said. “But for those who are totally against, there is no moving them.”
A need to help people
Lynn is doing her part to lift the stigma and increase equity. She agreed to extend her term as the Marketing and Communications Director for PrideZ and is preparing for Chicago Pride Fest. She has also shared her story as part of diversity discussions at Zurich, including being the guest speaker for Zurich Australia at a Pride event last year that she initially thought would be a panel format.
“But no, I was the only speaker. For about 40 minutes, different people asked me questions. And one of them was the CEO of Zurich Australia. I was really nervous at first; my hands were shaking,” Lynn said, laughing. “Thank goodness for Teams; they couldn’t see it.”
Her nervousness at the time was outweighed by another more enduring trait.
“One of my character traits is I need to help people — not just want to help people,” Lynn says. “This is probably not a healthy thing to do, but I measure my self-worth by how many people I can help. The way I see these opportunities, to be a panelist and this interview, is that maybe there are people who are afraid to come out, but when they see that Zurich accepts a trans person like me, maybe they will feel safe to finally be their true self.
“Also, as human beings, we often fear or despise what we don’t know and don’t understand. If others begin to understand that trans people are normal people, there is no hidden agenda, and we just want to be respected like normal people and have equal opportunities, then hopefully people will be more accepting and say, OK, they may look different, but inside, they’re just like everybody else.”
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