Category: inclusive employer, bank of america, LGBTQ+, transgender, transitioning, personal stories, LGBTQ+ Inclusion, Transgender Awareness
“When I Was Met with Love, Acceptance and Support, It Made My Vulnerability Worth It” ~ Christian Zarraluqui on Transitioning
myGwork spoke to Christian Zarraluqui, Private Wealth Investment Management Specialist at Bank of America, about his journey transitioning, how organizations can support their employees as they go through this and what he wants to see from allies.
Christian Zarraluqui, Private Wealth Investment Management Specialist at Bank of America
Hi Christian, thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
My name is Christian Zarraluqui, my pronouns are (he/him/his) and I am a transgender man. I currently work on the Merrill Lynch side of the institution as a Private Wealth Investment Management Specialist. I have been at Bank of America for 12 years, all of my professional career.
And how was your experience transitioning? Did you get the support you expected?
At work: I had an amazing transition experience here at the bank. I have known my manager and colleagues at this office for about 8 years now and had a chance to establish very close relationships with them. I was also set on having a very progressive transition because it was important for me that my family and those around me went through the experience with me. So, within a year - I went from wearing heels and skirts to wearing trousers and keeping my heels under my desk reserved only for when clients came in. And that soon transitioned into men’s dress shoes and trousers and then to bowties and suites. So, by the time I cut my hair and started having these conversations a lot of my co-workers already felt like they thought it might be the case. And those conversations became a lot easier especially when they all expressed feeling like they had been on this journey with me. My direct manager was also extremely proactive in creating a space where I felt safe. She took it upon herself to reach out to our employee networks and connect with specialists that work with teams that have an individual transition. She also disclosed it to the entire management team with the specialist and made herself a point person in the event anyone had questions so that I did not have to carry that alone. But most importantly she was present, and I felt it. We had ongoing check-ins every two weeks so that I could update her on my process and progress. She was truly one of my biggest cheerleaders.
At Home: Telling my parents was my biggest challenge through this process. Especially telling my Mum whom I had always had this incredible connection with. In 2018 I decided that I would not begin the New Year without letting them know and being my most authentic self to some of the people that mean the most to me. So, on November 30th, 2018, just a random day; I went to visit them, and they hugged me, and it felt like they weren’t hugging me anymore and I was tired of that. I looked at them and said I need to tell you both something that I am certain about. I am a man, and in the coming year, I will be starting my transition. And I would love nothing more than to share that with you both. And they sat and stared with what looked like so many questions to things that I didn’t have many answers for. And we hugged - really hugged - and cried for what felt like hours. And then…. We went to dinner like nothing ever happened and didn’t talk about it again. But I had done my part, I let them know who I was and where I was headed. And I left that door open for whenever they were ready to meet me there. And one day, a couple of months ago, my Mum was here at my house and out of nowhere she looked at me and said… ‘Chris, you look so handsome – but most importantly you feel so happy, and I am so incredibly proud of you.’ It took some time for my parents to express their support verbally, but I always felt it even during the times that I knew they were struggling.
And truly I went into both of these situations without any expectations of the outcomes. I wanted to be myself and this journey was for ME. So, when I was met with love, acceptance and support it made my vulnerability worth it.
Do you think the T is visible enough in the LGBTQ+ community?
I think we are getting there. Social media has provided a lot of exposure in this regard. I feel like before that we were bound by who we knew and by what the media on TV would portray. And as we saw on “Disclosure” (Netflix series) that if you have not watched I encourage you all to do so. I feel like now with social media and YouTube people are beginning to put themselves out there and try to connect with one another and the community.
What is your advice for allies to support the trans community?
Be open-minded, I can confidently say I am the only transgender person that 90% of the people in my life know. Most people that I know and interact with had very limited information on a transgender person and what their experience might be like. But they were open enough to listen and learn through my experience. Some of those people that knew nothing about the subject then are the same ones who now tag me in articles or check in on my progress or celebrate the changes that they see in my photos.
And what about organizations – how can they ensure they are trans-inclusive??
Inclusive healthcare. An extremely important part of a person’s transition is the healthcare aspect and what is available to them. The trans community differs a bit in this space from the rest of the LGBTQ+ community. Although I completely agree that you in no way need to take hormones to be more in line with a specific gender. Most people in the community do have goals that would be facilitated through an inclusive healthcare program. When organisations make it a point to partner with healthcare companies that are inclusive of us, it makes a big statement with regards to how they feel about being diverse and inclusive.
Bank of America has inclusive healthcare partners. And one of my goals was to freeze my eggs before starting testosterone. The provider that I have, fully covered egg removal and freezing if you identified as transgender. But when I went through the process, no one knew how to process that policy because no one had ever done it before! I was the first transgender individual with a large provider that had ever tried to go through this process. It took about 8 months for them to establish one and I was successful at the harvesting and freezing. But imagine my story if I didn’t work at an organisation that has healthcare that is inclusive.
Why is Trans Awareness Week important to you?
This year was the first time that I was out and felt aligned with who I was during Trans Awareness Week. And it was such an incredibly powerful feeling, I FELT SO PROUD. There are so many people out there that at this moment can’t be out and visible. Trans Awareness Week focuses on and highlights all different types of transition journeys. And it gives them a voice and offers education and support for this community.
What can we all do to push for awareness of trans human rights all year round?
I think that something as simple as starting conversations or meetings by introducing ourselves with our preferred pronouns can begin to create ongoing awareness. It’s a call to action that I believe is simple enough for us all to do but makes a huge impact with regards to being an ally.
Have you always been out in the workplace?
Yes. I identified as a lesbian for a long as I remember, I had known since I was in high school. So, when I became employed by the bank, I was open and out to my co-workers. But I didn’t feel the need to be very involved in being an active part of the community because in my eyes I felt represented.
However, years down the line when I realised that I was transgender, the definition of being “out” in the workplace was much different. I started to look around me and I didn’t know one person who was transgender. I actually came to meet my first transgender person ever here at work. When it came time for me to transition, I remembered how brave she made me feel. And I decided to be not only out but VISIBLE and active for those people to be able to see themselves represented.
Do you have a role model that you have been able to look to during your journey?
Tricia Russell was the first transgender person that I had the privilege of being in the same room as. And at the time she was sharing her story through what the bank calls “Courageous Conversations”. I was in absolute awe. To me, she was perfect and powerful yet so vulnerable. She was visible and this was about 4 years ago when it was even less common. Honestly, to this day, I can’t remember all of what she said, but I still remember how she made me feel – Brave. And she made me feel brave because at that moment I realised that I wasn’t alone. And she gave me the courage to start my disclosure journey.
Do you think it’s important to come out in a job interview?
This depends on how I feel in the conversation and the type of role that I am interviewing for. I like for a person to get to know me before they know about intimate aspects of my life. Now if I were interviewing for a role that dealt specifically with the LGBTQ+ community then yes.
Do you feel supported at Bank of America?
Yes definitely. They have inclusive healthcare providers and family planning counselors. That have specialists in the LGBTQ+ community. They also have dedicated teams in the employee network that specialize in transgender employees and assist in their management as well as their teams through their transitions. My organisation also has a mentor programme that connects transgender employees that are established in their journeys with employees who are starting their process to create additional support. There are even teams within our network for employees that might be parents, grandparents or even siblings of a transgender family member that help provide guidance and education to them.
How do you personally support your trans colleagues?
By being visible – I know when I started my journey this is what I needed. I wanted to see myself when I looked around and when I finally met someone similar to me, I know how impactful that was. I feel like by being visible I help encourage authenticity and make it safer for more people to be comfortable and visible so that our colleagues are exposed to people with all types of journeys in life.
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