Rachel’s story reminds us why vulnerability at work matters

Today’s blog post is incredibly special to me. It’s actually not written by me: It’s by Rachel Rowan, our Chief of Content and someone I’ve been lucky to call a friend and teammate for over 12 years.

I asked Rachel to share something with you that I think shows what it means to be a team and to create an environment of belonging and care. It is a beautiful, vulnerable, meaningful story that takes a lot of courage to share, and I’m so grateful that Rachel said yes. 

I’ll let her take it from here . . . 

“A few months into the pandemic, my partner of more than six years—the love of my life—began to question their gender identity. It had been just the two of us in our home for months, and the time away from society and all its rules and expectations had allowed them to look deeper into themselves than ever before. By late summer of 2020, my partner began to seriously consider transitioning from male to female.

I felt like my world was crumbling. I kept saying to myself that if it were anyone else in my life, I would accept and encourage this transition unequivocally, but this person’s—my person’s—identity affected me, too. We were engaged to be married, and now, when that happened, I would be married to a woman—instead of the man I met. It was a huge, uncontrollable, unexpected shift in my life, and I had no idea how to handle it.

At the time, my partner was not completely certain whether she wanted to transition. She was experimenting—wearing different clothes, painting her nails, wearing makeup—but she wasn’t “out” to anyone else yet. I was the only person she had confided in, and I wanted to respect her privacy. I didn’t think her gender identity was anyone else’s business, so I resolved not to tell anyone—not even my parents or closest friends—until my partner made her decision.

That is, until I told Kristen.

In a shaky voice message, I revealed that there was something really big happening behind-the-scenes in my life that I wasn’t ready to talk about yet. I wanted to tell her because it was affecting my mental health and my ability to work: For days at a time, I could concentrate on nothing but my own grief. I was mourning the life I’d thought was ahead of me while trying to imagine what my new one would be like, and I knew I couldn’t possibly show up to work as my usual, productive self.

Kristen respected my wishes for privacy. She didn’t press for details and assured me that when—or if—I was ready to talk, she would listen with an open heart and mind. She encouraged me to take the time I needed to process, even if it meant putting work on the backburner.

I was so grateful. I remember taking a deep breath and allowing myself to really sit in my grief and my pain. It was such a relief to know that I didn’t need to feel guilty about not being able to keep up with work—especially because I knew I couldn’t in that moment even if I tried.

Months went by and still, I told no one about my partner’s “gender journey,” as I called it. Almost every night, my partner and I had deep, emotionally exhausting conversations about what she wanted, what we both needed, and how we were going to navigate this together. I did my best to walk the line between being emotionally honest and open and being a supportive partner, but it took a huge toll on me. I had chosen not to let anyone in—in large part because I was in denial—which meant I had no one to lean on.

Throughout those many months, each time I met with Kristen and our team (via Zoom, as always), I had alluded to this hard situation going on in the background, but I didn’t elaborate. Until finally, one day, I couldn’t hold it in any longer.

I don’t remember exactly what I said or how I said it, but I do remember speaking candidly about my partner’s gender journey. I talked about the effect it was having—and would continue to have—on me. I remember feeling really anxious about how everyone would react. We had talked about so many things as a team over the years, from our childhoods to our families to our deeply held personal beliefs, but transgenderism had never come up. I couldn’t be certain that everyone on the team would be comfortable with or even open to the concept. But I couldn’t worry about that. I needed my team to know what was going on in my life and how hard it was for me because I needed their support.

And of course, of course, I was met with compassion, love, and empathy. Afterward, I felt almost silly that I thought I might get anything else. A situation like this is exactly what all our work as a team has prepared us for: We show up for each other and extend compassion and grace, even if we can’t understand what someone else is going through. Each person assured me that they would be there for me throughout the entire process, no matter what happened. 

Sitting there, by myself, on the other side of the Zoom screen, it felt like a giant hand was lifting a physical weight off my shoulders. Someone finally knew about this huge thing I’d been living with for months and months. I finally had someone who could listen to me and understand how I felt about the whole thing instead of me playing the listening role.

It might sound unbelievable to you that I would choose to share such a huge life event with my coworkers before I told anyone else in my life. It sounds a little unbelievable even to me, years later. But the reason I opened up to my team was that I knew I would find support there. I knew that, individual feelings about transgender issues aside, my teammates would respect and listen to me.

And thank goodness. Had I not been able to talk to my team, I would’ve had to show up at work pretending to be my old self while I was going through this massive transition of my own inside. I would have spent so much energy trying to hold it together for my team that I would have had no energy left to do the healing work I desperately needed to do with my partner and, later, my therapist. I am so grateful that I had a team that supported me in the ways I needed most. They didn’t see my vulnerability as an excuse to underperform but as the honest, human request for grace and support that I meant it to be. And because of that, I was able to face one of the toughest moments of my life.

Today, my wife, Mattlynn, and I are happily married. She is thriving as a woman, and our relationship is closer, more honest, and more emotionally open than I ever dreamed it could be. The process of getting here has not been smooth or easy—not in the least—and I had to fight through my own denial, judgment, and fear to get here. And I certainly haven’t done it alone: Mattlynn and I each have our own therapists and support groups, and we are grateful to have amazingly supportive family, friends, and, of course, coworkers. But it was absolutely, 1000% worth it to get to have a life with the person I love.”

THIS is what it means to be a team.

THIS is what it means to be vulnerable. To allow others to see you. To support one another. To create space for humanity at work.

Thank you, Rachel, for your courage in sharing your story. I am so happy for you and Mattlynn and the beautiful life you are building together, and I am so grateful that our team could be a safe space for you to share your beautiful truth.

And for you, dear reader, I hope Rachel’s words inspire you and get you thinking about all that a team can be.

Big hugs,


Related Posts