One year ago, I finally came out as transgender here at Cisco, and because I play a public role, that then meant coming out to my extended family and the greater world as well. In many ways, the last (and some might suggest the biggest) step in this decision came about because I work at Cisco – where I am a security architect and engineering manager for our Global Security Sales Organization (GSSO).
Starting over was not my desire – I enjoy my job, my family, and the success I have achieved. But transitioning my gender, my name, my pronouns, and my presentation was something that would inevitably mean asking the world to see me differently. The stakes can feel much higher for transgender people, even when they may be in an LGBTQ+ friendly space, and I am very grateful that my transition turned out to be fairly smooth. And, that my coming out at Cisco could more accurately be called, my “Showing Up” at work.
Since I work remotely, I’m typically only with my peers every few months for larger events. So, in October 2019 – I just came to work, presenting in my gender, with no advance warning. I steeled myself to answer questions, hoping I was prepared for whatever came my way.
What I didn’t plan for was what happened: we all got together and did the job that was there to be done. Yes, some friends checked in with me and politely asked questions. Some people may have just been ignoring the changes. But all of us did our jobs and my voice was still heard.
Within days, I was in a Cisco badging office, changing my preferred name, picture and gender markers within our company directory. That’s when our employee relations team took note and made sure everything else went as smoothly as possible.
From helping my team to ensuring I understood the resources available to me within Cisco, they were there for me. For the next few weeks, I was able to focus on my transition and my job, and through the whole experience I never felt at risk.
I might not recommend the “dive into the deep end” approach for everyone. Every journey through transition is unique and personal. Cultural and legal support is not yet universal. But honestly, it was the supportive culture at Cisco and the allies that came from so many different directions – that ensured my transition felt safe.
My pronouns changed, but my pace did not waiver – within days of making my transition public, I was speaking at Cisco Live in Cancun and Barcelona.
I’m now living and working openly, being treated equally, and I still have my voice. Cisco was the first place I made an “official” change in my documentation. After coming out at Cisco, I knew I could to the rest of the world and my extended family. Only after transitioning at Cisco, did I know I had it within me to legally change my name, have my gender marker changed and be fully expressed.
For me, sharing my story is about providing visibility to those who are still afraid, still questioning, or are still on a journey that leaves them feeling unsafe. I spent years reading stories of people who found transition difficult, scary, or even impossible. Those stories are heart wrenchingly real and are extremely important for making transgender issues visible.
What I needed most, however, was confidence. I wanted to know it could happen for me, and maybe without as much difficulty. What I really sought when transitioning was someone willing to acknowledge their own gender transition – to be visible – to know before I came out that I had allies. I’m glad that I’ve found so many of those allies here at Cisco.
I hesitate to standup as someone who can speak to even a small piece of the transgender experience. But I don’t shrink away from it either. I wear my transgender flag pin, I put my pronouns in my email signature, I’ve been known to accidentally out myself when telling a story from my past. But I am not afraid. This is who I am, my true self – and I am visible.
I am Willow Young.
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