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Sarah Hodgson: ‘Kicking down the closet door is the most empowering thing I have ever done’

Sarah Hodgson: ‘Kicking down the closet door is the most empowering thing I have ever done’

I’ve been at Bank of America Merrill Lynch for nine years, but my ‘whole self’ has been at work for less than a third of this time.

I work as a reporting analyst in the bank’s Data Warehouse team in Chester, generating data for the Collections Department and working with customers who have fallen behind with their credit card payments. My job is to essentially ‘make sense’ of various numerical data and I enjoy it immensely.

I work in a fairly small team and value a career that allows me the freedom to manage my own time and work in an intellectually stimulating environment.

But for years in between number-crunching and numerous meetings, I was struggling to be myself. I kept my personality hidden, choosing to be the quiet team member behind the scenes.

Of course, as anyone who has tried to be someone they are not will tell you, this is a camouflage that becomes increasingly difficult and tiring to maintain.

It was time for me to do something about the stress of pretending to be someone I wasn’t, address the issues I was (just about) living with and move forward.

I’d reached a crucial point in my life and it was not a happy one. My increasingly withdrawn behaviour meant my work was suffering – I was unable to host meetings without additional support, I had no confidence and I struggled to concentrate.

This wasn’t how I wanted to live, so I decided to do something about it.

Shortly after this dark period, I began the transition to my true gender role. I haven’t looked back. Kicking down the closet door is the most empowering thing I have ever done, and today I feel like a completely different person. Most importantly I feel like myself.

Of course when I made the decision to transition my gender I knew that it wouldn’t be easy telling my colleagues and that there would probably be several who may not accept what I was doing or even begin to understand why.

However, the reality couldn’t have been more different. I work in an industry that is traditionally thought of as conservative in its views and traditional in its approach. But when it comes to personal support my experience at Bank of America Merrill Lynch couldn’t be further from this.

During my transition, I worried what people might think. From a work perspective, I was concerned nobody would trust my opinion or ability to get on with work.

This was not the case at all. Not only was my transition liberating, it made me completely re-evaluate my position in the team and the people around me. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the experience would be so positive – in all respects.

This has shown me the importance of speaking out and helping others. I pioneer a Chester arm of Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s LGBT employee network, which seeks to support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and raise awareness of the struggles and issues faced by this group.

Through the networking opportunities that this position offers me, as part of the bank’s Global Ally Programme – which encourages colleagues to stand up as allies and support their peers – I have doubled the number of LGBT allies in Chester.

Outside work, I’m also now involved in providing support for transgender people through various online forums. This has given me a great opportunity to use some of my own experiences to assist others. If I can inspire just one person to bring their whole self to work I know I will have succeeded.

The best advice I can give to those struggling is be confident in your decision. Be honest. Be positive. And perhaps most importantly, have faith in those around you.