Tamara Hansen had been working at Scotiabank for over 30 years when she made the choice to come out as transgender and publicly transition. She wasn’t sure what to expect from the process — and was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming support she received from the bank and her coworkers. Now, she’s speaking out about her own experience to help others on a transition journey.
By Shelley White
Tamara Hansen’s decision to come out publicly as transgender did not come without trepidation.
“When I decided to do this, I was petrified,” says the 60-year-old delivery manager specialist at Scotiabank in Toronto. Tamara had lived “in the closet” for most of her life and had begun her journey of transitioning privately.
“Transitioning is a long, drawn-out process over many years. It’s very expensive, there are all sorts of health implications that may or may not arise, and at the end of it there’s no guarantee that you’re going to have the results that you had hoped for,” she says. “I chose to go as far as I could before I made this public so that I had the opportunity to back away without causing any negative impact in my career or with my family life.”
That all changed in 2018. Tamara says she had “tested the waters” with some of her friends to gauge their reactions. “By the time that I had opened up to about six or seven, it was quite clear that everybody was very supportive of this,” she says.
But she had no idea how her workmates would react. Tamara had been working at Scotiabank for over 30 years in a variety of roles, and she was familiar with Scotiabank’s policies surrounding LGBT+ employees. She knew they were strongly inclusive and supportive, which gave her the confidence to reach out to her vice-president at Scotiabank and human resources (HR) about her intentions to come out.
“Going into this, I fully expected that I would be stick-handling it and I’d have to justify what I was doing every step of the way. But HR and the workplace accommodations team stepped in and they drew up a plan,” she says. “From that point forward, it happened very quickly.”
Once Tamara agreed to the plan and the timeline, HR got in touch with Morneau Sheppel, the human resources services company that implements Scotiabank’s employee assistance program.
Morneau Sheppel put together formal group training sessions which would be conducted for Tamara’s entire division, about 250 people. “It was totally unexpected,” Tamara says. “It felt to me like everybody just bent over backwards, whether it was management or workplace accommodations.”
Tamara had decided to take a week off to get herself mentally ready, and the training sessions took place on a Friday before she returned. Tamara says it soon became clear that the training sessions, and the news about her transition, had caught everyone by surprise. “By about 11:00 am, I started getting emails,” she says.
“First, you’re not alone, and secondly, trust your friends and co-workers and family. Although it’s not something that’s talked about day in and day out, we’ve come a long way as a society. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the reactions.”
The following Monday morning, she walked through the door of her workplace for the first time as Tamara.
“It was 100 per cent acceptance,” she says. “It was, and still is, very emotional, but on a very positive note.”
HR also put Tamara in touch with other transgender employees, something she said was very helpful.
“Being hooked up with somebody who’s gone through this, that was huge,” she says. “You get to have their perspective on it — what worked, what didn’t work, what to look out for. Just having somebody to talk to, it creates a positive guiding light.”
Tamara says that being able to live openly as her true self has changed her life.
“I have never been happier than I am now,” she says. “You go through life and you’re conditioned to believe that this is the way that life is. You think you’re happy. You think you’re doing good. And then all of a sudden this happens, and the joy is just overwhelming.”
Tamara says that although she does get “stares” when she is out in public occasionally, she considers herself very lucky because she hasn’t experienced any abuse or harassment. And now she feels it’s important to speak up about her experience. She wants to be part of a positive narrative about transitioning, a motivating story to help guide people — especially older people — in their own journeys.
“Trans people who have been suffering their entire life in a secret closet, living a dual existence, they need something to hold on to, to help them be their authentic selves,” she says. “I’ve got an opportunity to spread the word — be a model, if you like, of how it can be.”
As this year’s Pride celebrations approach, Tamara says she’s looking forward to the festivities in a different way than in years past. Pride Month happens in Toronto between June 1 and July 1, culminating in three days of parades and celebrations on June 21st to 23rd. It’s one of Canada’s largest arts and cultural festivals, with an annual attendance of over 1.6 million people.
“For years, I considered myself as being part of the LGBT+ Community, but I kept myself presenting male in public until I was ready to come out. So I shied away from attending Pride events and being part of the celebrations,” she says. “This year is going to be exciting.”
Although Tamara says she recognizes that LGBT+ people still face barriers in Canada and abroad, she has a message for others who might be on their own transition journey:
“First, you’re not alone,” she says. “And secondly, trust your friends and co-workers and family. Although it’s not something that’s talked about day in and day out, we’ve come a long way as a society. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the reactions.”