Stevie Maybanks: Experiences of Transitioning
The first uniformed firefighter in the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to transition in the workplace opens up about her experiences and hopes for the trans community
Stevie Maybanks was five years old when she began questioning her gender identity.
“I was playing dress-up with my Godmother’s daughters,” she recalls. “I remember my mother calling me from downstairs and as I trundled along in high heels a wry smile appeared across her face as she told me to ‘get that stuff off’. That was the moment I realised how right it felt.”
It would take Maybanks over thirty years to reveal her real identity. The first transgender woman to transition while working for the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS), Maybanks hid her gender, learning how to compartmentalise different aspects of her life until she could finally unveil her true self.
“In essence I have been patiently waiting for the right time, circumstances and employment,” she says. “Most importantly, I was waiting for my children to be of an age where they could both understand and accept my diversity.”
To distract herself from waiting, she kept busy. Indeed, Maybanks has accomplished more than most, securing a myriad of qualifications, including: Military and Outdoor national Governing Body awards, Level 4 Coach in Sea and Inland Kayaking; Advanced Instructor in Diving and Powerboating; Fire Service Instructor in Breathing Apparatus; Safe Working at Heights and Swift Water Rescue; as well as numerous developmental education qualifications. Maybanks even built her own home, which she shares with her wife, Jennifer. And the work came easily to her. “I have always been highly motivated and set personal goals to work towards to avert my mind,” she says.
Maybanks joined the Royal Marines at 17, then worked as an outdoor educator, and a fire fighter for the SFRS before moving into her current role as a Local Support Officer in the training and employee development unit. When it came time to communicate her gender identity at work, she says her strategy was simple: “As with life, transition is all about planning.”
She started with a risk assessment, predicting every possible outcome. She then contacted SFRS’ equality and diversity manager and occupational health department. After that, she informed her immediate line manager, while the equality and diversity team dealt with senior management. With support from her wife, she drew up a memorandum of understanding along with input from SFRS, covering a variety of subjects. It included a date to inform all colleagues and stations that fell under her training remit, as well as a statement that would be read out to employees.
“I felt it was important to let colleagues know that I had been attending a gender identity clinic (GIC) for many years and had a definitive diagnosis of gender dysphoria,” she says, “so they knew this was not some sort of temporary delusion.”
Maybanks was supported at every turn by SFRS, including being given her choice of uniform, a confirmed start date for her new gender, and an email change to reflect her name, while contact information for organisations such as the Scottish Transgender Alliance and Stonewall were tactfully placed around the station for anyone seeking more information.
“I need to give credit where credit is due, in my experience the SFRS have been faultless, my definite employer of choice,” Maybanks says. “I would have no hesitation in recommending the organisation as an inclusive workplace for the young trans community.”
After decades of concealing her identity Maybanks is finally content.
“Embracing my gender identity has given me peace within myself and I am lucky to share it with the special woman in my life,” she says. “I now have a constant desire to smile at everybody, to laugh and to dance because I am at last happy.”
Asked what more employers can do to support trans employees in the workplace, Maybanks says employers need to develop trans-friendly policies and procedures for coming out and transitioning. She also recommends developing a visible network of trained trans-allies to mentor anyone undergoing or considering transitioning. She stresses the importance of drawing up a memorandum of understanding, so both parties know where they stand. Though not legally binding, this carries a degree of mutual understanding and respect and outlines both parties’ responsibilities and requirements.
Maybanks recommends considering how other employees will be informed – and by whom. She is also keen to stress the importance of incorporating employee awareness and education programmes to cover trans-related subjects, as well as the adopting a zero-tolerance bullying policy – something she says is key to combatting transphobia.
She adds: “It’s crucial to consider if the individual would be more confident in a redeployed position, and always ensure you refer to Occupational Health. Also give thought to logistical matters, such as possible implications for workplace pensions and health insurance.”
Maybanks touches on a current challenge facing trans employees: toilet facilities. She says “gender neutral toilets and changing facilities should become the social norm”.
The politics of gender identity has gained stronger footing in popular culture, with the likes of Caitlyn Jenner, Laverne Cox and Janet Mock regularly commanding headlines. Maybanks views such media attention positively, as it shines a spotlight on the issue of equality and diversity. However, she is concerned that Jenner’s media presence may have distracted the public from the true representation of the trans community. She feels it is important to not lose sight of the lives of ordinary trans people.
“There is a need for a broader representation of trans people’s stories, which are rarely seen by the public,” she says. “We need to show that trans people are regular people with regular jobs. They eat, drink, love just like everybody else. They too can and do offer so much to society.”
Media coverage of trans celebrities may suggest that we are ease with gender fluidity as a society, but even in a country with as pro-LGBTI legislation as Scotland, transgender people still need to be diagnosed with gender identify disorder in order to legally change their birth certificate. Maybanks’ view is that we should reduce the legal age at which people can acquire legal recognition of their true gender to 16, to coincide with the voting age for Scottish elections.
“The process for gender identity needs to be addressed as it is deeply medicalised, intrusive and demeaning,” she says. “It requires a trans person to live for two years in their acquired gender before being awarded a gender recognition certificate. We should be able to self-declare as in some other countries.”
However she’s keen to point out that this does not detract from the service provided by the NHS: “I have had outstanding dialogue, care and support from NHS staff, all of whom I cannot praise highly enough.”
She adds: “The Scottish Government is leaps and bounds ahead of many European countries, and yet they are in danger of being left behind by more progressive countries like Ireland, New Zealand, Australia and Malta.”
Scotland was once hailed as the fairest nation in Europe in terms of its legal protections for LGBTI people. However it was recently knocked off the top spot by Malta which achieved a score of 88.04% ahead of Scotland’s 82%, according to Human Rights group ILGA-Europe. Therefore it’s clear the fight for equality is far from over.
Vic Valentine, Policy Officer with leading charity, Scottish Trans says: “It’s important that workplaces know that supporting transgender employees is not simply about allowing them to change their name, or the uniform they wear. Going forward, it is crucial that employers show leadership to create real cultural change in their workplaces, so that employees of all genders can do their job in an environment that respects and welcomes their identity regardless of how they express themselves – ensuring that transmen, transwomen and non-binary people are accepted and included fully at work.”
Historical marginalisation of the LGBTI community means the statistics aren’t fully accurate, but it is estimated that between 0.1 and 5 percent of the population fall under the trans-umbrella, which according to leading charity Scottish Trans comprises cross-dressing people, trans non-binary people, trans men and trans women. However, not all people will necessarily identify with one of those more specific terms.
Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon cited a review of gender recognition laws as part of the wider 2010 Equality Act review to ensure they are in line with “international best practice”.
Campaigners said this would mean allowing Scots to change the gender on their birth certificate using a simple self-declaration. Children under 16 would also be allowed to do this, but would require the permission of their parents.
Maybanks has specific ideas about reforming out of date gender recognition by using appropriate language, such as replacing the word transsexual with transgender, and incorporating protection for non-binary and intersex people. She also advises that additional gender identity resources are required to support the growing number of trans people in our society, but acknowledges that investment would be needed to ensure waiting times don’t increase. However, Maybanks argues that this would be a positive investment for the future.
“If we remove ourselves from the trans debate and look at the bigger picture, Scottish people want a high standard of public services and therefore we need to accept that this needs to be paid for now and not left to future generations,” she says. “I accept that this is unpalatable for some, but it’s what’s necessary if we are to live in an inclusive, diverse, and non-discriminatory society.”
She adds: “We are all responsible stakeholders with a vested interest in a positive future for generations to come. We need to be mindful about what societal legacy we wish to leave behind.”
Maybanks considers her hopes for the future, in terms of achieving equality for the trans community. Short term, she would like to see gender neutral toilets in all new buildings. Longer term, she envisages all persons under the trans-umbrella being equally protected by law, as well as being fully accepted and embraced by society. “I would like to see a society where there is a place for all and there is more than two recognised genders.”
She adds: “As humans we have a responsibility and duty to be compassionate and considerate with all those we meet,” she says. “We should be supportive and conduct ourselves with integrity and dignity. After all, our time on this planet is very short and we each have a unique opportunity to make positive societal changes for the future.”
Maybanks is hopeful the world will rid itself of archaic ideas of gender conformity and that her experiences of transitioning will become common place. She stresses that this will only happen if society as a whole actively commits to pursing trans rights and equality for all.
“If our future selves could look at where we are now, we would say we can do better – and we must do better for now and future generations.”
Further resources and guidance about transitioning in the workplace, including an interview with Stevie Maybanks can be accessed below.