Transgender at work – Nicole Lemsky was born in the body of a man but identifies as a woman – and has done ever since she was a child. As an employer, Bayer fully supported the chemical engineer’s decision to come out.
On her last day of work before her vacation, she wore a shirt and pants, and still went by Thomas Lemsky. She came back to work as Nicole Lemsky. She was dressed in a patterned blouse, black cardigan and flat high-front pumps, and wore her long hair down with subtle makeup and jewelry. “I did get some looks from my co-workers,” says Lemsky, thinking back to late March 2014, when she made her first appearance as a woman at Bayer in Dormagen. Everyone was really supportive, however, and – more importantly – a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders.
Lemsky is trans. She was born in the body of a man but identifies as a woman. Nevertheless, she continued going by Thomas Lemsky for many years when working as a chemical engineer in Bayer’s Dormagen laboratory, all the while becoming increasingly depressed.
By this point, her family and friends knew who she was on the inside. She had already been living as a woman in private for a few months, but was still going to work as a man. “It felt like I was wearing a costume every day, which got harder and harder to bear.” It soon became clear that something had to change.
The process of coming out at work
Over the years, she had been in regular contact with self-help groups. They advised her to find people in the company who would support her coming out. She first spoke with the social counselor at Bayer, before consulting the company medical officer and finally the Chair of the Works Council. “The three of us met to discuss my situation. The next step was to inform my supervisors and the HR department.”
By the end of this meeting, a letter had been drawn up by the relevant managers, which was sent to employees by email while Lemsky was off work for a few days: “Mr. Thomas Lemsky has informed us that he identifies as a woman and already lives as such in his private life. From now on, he will also be living out this identity at work as Ms. Nicole Lemsky.” The email also expressed the company’s best wishes for her new situation, and the expectation that she would be treated with all due respect.
To help her colleagues understand the reasons behind her transition, Lemsky wrote a personal open letter in which she explained: “All my life, there has been something inside me that wasn’t clear to me before, but I’m now ready to embrace it.” Even as a child, Nicole didn’t feel right. She didn’t feel like a boy, like Thomas.
A boy who feels like a girl
Thomas wants to do ballet, but his parents won’t let him. He secretly uses his allowance to buy girlie things and hides them inside a hollow speaker. He makes endless attempts to “become normal”, to be the good boy his parents want him to be. He eventually gets rid of all his hidden treasures.
While in the army, he lives as a man, but secretly wears women’s clothing under his uniform. He later meets a woman while working in the Bayer laboratory. The two of them grow closer and eventually get married.
During the wedding, he can’t help but think he’d much rather be wearing his wife’s dress than his suit. The couple later welcomes a son – but their marriage falls part, and suddenly Thomas finds himself raising a child on his own. He gets to know another woman in a chat room for single parents. She has a son, too – and the four of them start a new family together.
In 2004, Thomas happens to watch a television show about transgender and transsexual identity – and for the first time, he understands what’s wrong with him. He starts researching online to find out more. When his wife sits down at the computer the next day and begins typing “Transrapid” into the search engine, looking for information about the magnetic levitation train, it automatically suggests the word “transsexual”, bringing up a whole host of explicit websites.
She’s appalled, and the relationship hangs in the balance. Thomas writes a long letter to her explaining how he feels. Luckily, she’s understanding, and the two of them stay together and even get married. But they keep his feelings a secret for many years. He starts seeing a psychologist and suppresses his feelings while becoming increasingly depressed.
The consequences of suppressed transsexuality
“I was on the brink of a catastrophe,” says Lemsky today. There were even many times where she had contemplated suicide. During this time, the couple went on vacation for the first time without the kids. The plan was to pack women’s clothing so that Thomas could live as a woman for a few weeks. However, he decided against it so as not to burden his wife. This actually annoyed her, however, and she asked: “What would it say about our marriage if I couldn’t handle that?”
After some long, hard talks, the couple decided it was time to tell their family and friends. Their sons took the news well, as did some of their friends. His wife loves him for who “she” is. She loves the person – even as Nicole. “That’s when you see who your true friends are,” says Lemsky.
The transformation – from Thomas to Nicole
Lemsky went on to wear skirts and makeup in private, began hormone therapy at the age of 48, officially changed her name, came out at work and eventually underwent gender reassignment surgery.
Looking back on it, how difficult was coming out at work? “I was certainly anxious. I didn’t know how my co-workers would react,” says Lemsky, who is now actively involved in BLEND. “But what other choice did I have? I’m grateful for the support I received from Bayer along the way.”
LGBT+ At Bayer