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Trans at Northern Trust, an employee tells her story at Citywide Pride
by Liz Baudler
2018-06-27

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Northern Trust—which hosted a Citywide Pride event about trans employees on June 13 at their offices at 50 S. LaSalle St.—had an ideal representative in Denise Bowker, a longtime employee who had transitioned on the job within the past two years. With a Powerpoint full of graphs showing the timeline of her gender dysphoria, Bowker held the room spellbound for about an hour as she shared her life story.

After explaining the significant symmetry of the trans pride flag draped over the podium—"no matter which way you hang it, it's right," Bowker explained—she began her presentation with a photograph of a mixed-gender group of people.

"How many men and how many women were in this photo?" she asked the audience as it flashed off the screen. No one ventured a correct guess. "5 and 2," Bowker revealed, explaining that trans people "are always thinking about gender" because of safety and other personal motivations.

Bowker defined both gender identity and gender dysphoria, calling the latter "a constant, long term issue with your gender." She listed depression, anger, and anxiety as some of the symptoms of dysphoria, but called her own "way down low background noise" for decades, even if she also recalled later on feeling jealous of 50 percent of the population as she walked down the street. She remembered, at age four, standing in the kitchen as her mother emptied the dishwasher and asking her, "am I supposed to be a girl?." When her mother replied, "don't be silly," the young Bowker concluded, "I'll never mention this again."

Throughout the next decades, Bowker had a career, and raised a family. There were blips, like when she became aware of trans tennis star Renee Richards, or when on a trip to Hawaii, she realized how uncomfortable she felt with her body. She resolved to lose weight, knowing the back of her mind it would be if she ever decided to transition. Finally, in 2015, the inevitable weight of her identity and dysphoria caught up with her. After coming out to her sister, Bowker knew she had to address the dysphoria. The next logical step was coming out her wife, who, though they were divorced in the wake of Bowker's revelation, Bowker still called "my best friend."

In addition to her sister, Bowker credited a therapist, a book by Jennifer Finney Boylan, and a movie called Normal, about someone who transitions while working on the John Deere assembly line, with helping her face her transition. Hormones, she said, made her feel like "the clouds were parting." While she definitely faced challenges during her transition, including rejection from a close friend that made her temporarily stop her hormones, she said she encountered no obstacles in the workplace. Calling Northern Trust "awesome," she said she realized every obstacle she perceived was in her head.

"Northern is a totally accepting organization," she said. Gender identity is part of their company's employment equal opportunity guidelines, and insurance covered 100 percent of her needs. Northern Trust also had a transition guide, 10 pages long, that Bowker outlined in handouts for the audience. She described at as "9 pages for HR and managers, 1 page for the transitioner."

"Everyone's transitioning with you," Bowker said, saying that while the situation may seem like lot of work for managers and HR, it's their job, it's work they like doing, and it doesn't happen every day. She also recommends that C-level management be the ones who set the pace for comfort around trans issues. In response to an audience question about how to target trans-affirming companies, Bowker recommended checking both the HRC corporate equality index and the company's EEO statement.

Bowker never reveals her deadname, because she's found it gets her misgendered much more after people know it. Her tips for being a good ally include believing a trans person's narrative and using the correct pronouns, but also advocating for them when they cannot.

"Be their voice when they're not in the room," Bowker said. "If I'm not in the meeting, and if someone deadnames me or uses the wrong pronouns, correct them. Correct them if I am in the meeting: I don't want to be the bitch and bring it up." She was quick to add that her team has been great, rarely misgendering her since her transition.

On a more personal level, Bowker recommended just being a trans person's friend, talking with rather than at them in their initial stages of the coming out process, inviting them to social events, and even, if you share a gender, taking them shopping so they feel more comfortable in the store. Bowker said she knew she was lucky to live in an accepting place—she used to live in Indiana—and have great friends. And she has learned firsthand that the female tendency to desire lots of clothing options is no joke. She told the crowd that she last gave this a year ago, in a dress that she hadn't worn since, but she just couldn't bring herself to recycle it this time.

"I had to go out and get a new one," Bowker explained. "I didn't want to wear the same dress."

Related coverage at www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Out-Equal-holds-Citywide-Pride-kickoff/62835.html .


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