I count myself as fortunate.

I am supported by an amazing family and friends, a fantastic team, and a company that understands that being yourself allows you to bring your best to work.

At Cisco, it isn’t just policy or a marketing pitch to “be you, with us” – it is our culture, and that culture is what makes it so much easier to truly be yourself here. We support one another and we have each other’s backs – and I have felt that first hand from Cisco leadership to fellow co-workers since being diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria.

Transgender Awareness Week, which begins today and concludes with the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, is very important to me. It’s important because I identify as a woman with a trans history and have medically transitioned in recent years. Mental and social transition is something that takes much longer and this is where every person has the ability to impact a trans or non-conforming person’s life.

My personal story began at age 11. I had an inkling that I did not fit into the stereotypical categories and crowds presented to me. With no Internet to research, and my Encyclopaedias giving me no answers – I internalized a lot. I was shy, and even if I had been gregarious in nature – I didn’t know how to talk about what I was experiencing.

I was a disengaged child. Not knowing where I fit in society, I didn’t perform well in school. But by the time I turned 17, I knew what the difference was.

It was at this point of realisation that I began to panic and look for solutions. I spent many years searching for a cure or a way to stop myself from having these thoughts. I looked for ways to try and align with ‘normal’ people and blend in. Nothing worked.

That’s when I visited a gender specialist.

I was advised during this consultation that I was suffering from a medical condition known as Gender Dysphoria, or the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.

More commonly people may refer to me as being trans or transgender, although I personally feel this does not represent the condition.

Initially, the diagnosis settled me – after years of searching for an answer, I finally had one. Knowing that there was a medical condition associated with how I felt was important, and helped to resolve many things for me personally.

Naturally, after the diagnosis was made, there were many options for me to consider. Not all people with Gender Dysphoria seek medical intervention, and there are many reasons for this. For me, however, I knew that to live a full and complete life – transitioning was something I had to do.

I spent much of my life absorbed in my work, quietly fighting off demons in my mind and hiding them from those around me. Even in saying that, my life has been interesting and full – but I made it this way so that I’d remain occupied.

It was at this point when my “ah-ha!” moment occurred!

After nearly an entire life of seeking solutions and looking for answers, there was now a path to follow – and I could see it too! This path was going to enable me to be my true self, the person I always should’ve been, and the person that could express themselves as they wish.

Transition is not something to be taken lightly. It’s a hard process – medically and mentally –and you need a good support system around you to get through it. If I could advise anyone who currently has similar issues, and this is not restricted to gender dysphoria, it would be to seek assistance – talk to someone – open up your heart, because a happier place is waiting for you. It’s okay to not be okay.  The first step is the biggest but once you are over it, things do improve.

I am very fortunate that I live in a part of the world that allows and adopts diversity and that I am surrounded by people who care about my happiness. My mother especially has amazed me, and at every stage – she categorically raises her game.  I am also fortunate in that I work for Cisco – an employer that actively supports inclusion, diversity, and being your true self.

Cisco has been here each step of the way, too. Through seven medical procedures within an 18-month period, Cisco allowed me to have the time I needed to attend medical consultations, have surgery, and recover. What they’ve enabled me to do is truly remarkable.

I have just started a new role at Cisco, and I am so excited about the challenges and opportunities that await on this new team. I am not hiding away either! My role is customer facing and each day is different, and I firmly believe that it is my experience and knowledge that earned me this position.

Today, I am me, Cheryl McKay, it’s that simple – and my whole life is in front of me!

My journey has been a hell of journey, but I am happily through to the other side. I used to say that I am the same person with a different identity – but, that’s really not the case.

I’m not the same. I’m a better person because I am my true authentic self, and a better employee for Cisco thanks to their support.

During this week, and especially on November 20th, it is a time where the Trans community and our allies come together to remember the dangers of ignorance and bigotry. Around the world throughout this week a list of names will be read. These are the names of those who have been murdered because of hatred – simply because they were honest with themselves enough to express who they really are.

This is an opportunity to reflect, to remember those who have died and to honour those who refuse to live in the shadows, and in many cases, to pay tribute to those that have taken on the largest mental and physical challenge of their lives.

Consider that everyone you meet may be fighting a harder battle, and that kindness can go so much further than hate or intolerance. Truly, a kind word or a smile could make someone’s day, week, year or life!


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