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From being in hiding to being me: a reflection on Transgender Day of Visibility

photo of team member, Ava Wright for Trans Day of Visibility

My experience with transitioning gender at Maple Leaf Foods and why it matters.

By Ava Wright, FSQA Manager

My name is Ava Wright, I’m a manager on the Food Safety and Quality Assurance (FSQA) team and, today, my pronouns are she, her, and hers. But those haven’t always been my pronouns because I am a transgender woman.

First off, it’s important to note that this is my story and doesn’t necessarily reflect the experiences of all trans people. But, telling my story, revealing this aspect of me, is important to me. My hope is that if it helps someone – even just one person who’s transitioning, or who has a loved one who’s transitioning, or if it makes just one team member feel more informed – then it’s worth sharing my story.

In Hiding

Growing up, femininity seemed to surround my childhood. Yet, I also felt this pressure to conform to the expectations society places on specific genders. So, I conformed, for decades. In so doing, I suffered severe depression for years, about five years before the pandemic. I knew I was hiding from myself.

Just as it did so for many others, the pandemic forced me to take a good, hard look at my life. That’s when I realized I needed to transition, that I could no longer live as my assigned gender at birth.

Looking back, I realize that I’d always been interested in transitioning, affirming the gender I feel rather than the one I was assigned. Learning about being trans, transitioning, access to gender-affirming healthcare… all of it was so eye-opening – and hugely helpful.

Being me at Maple Leaf Foods

I couldn’t have asked for a better ‘transition team’ that was my manager and HR partner. They were fantastic in helping me figure out how to make the process work for me, making sure people were engaged and supportive, and that what we communicated reinforced their support of me.

After I came out, my peers supported me, too. One of the actions that touched me the most was their commitment to using my new, proper name and pronouns. It showed that they accepted and valued me for who I am. Transitioning was incredibility tumultuous and disruptive to my personal life, so it made all the difference to have an inclusive workplace. I am deeply grateful for the incredible support I received from my co-workers, leaders, and the Maple Leaf Pride & Allies Employee Resource Group.

What I wish I knew then…and what I wish all people knew

Often people have questions about someone transitioning but are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, how to behave, or how to ask. Here’s my advice:

  • Google it. It’s natural and understandable to have questions. It may even be a way of expressing acceptance. But, while some transgender people are open and keen to share, others are not. One of the better ways to demonstrate acceptance is to become better informed by Googling the questions you may have rather than asking the transgender person to educate you. Happily, too, the company makes a wealth of resources available.
  • Some topics are off-limits at work. Being curious is a good thing, but some topics and questions are too invasive and personal (e.g., anatomy, “an operation”, etc.). Consider: if you wouldn’t ask a cisgender person (someone whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth) about it, then why would it be okay to ask a transgender person? Google is a better option.
  • Pronouns and names matter. Confirming pronouns and using them correctly means a lot. If the transgender person has a new name, practice it. It really helps. It demonstrates that you accept, respect, and value the transgender person.
  • You are not alone. There are fantastic groups that support people transitioning, caregivers of transitioning children, spouses and partners of transitioning people, etc. Within our company, the Maple Leaf Pride & Allies Employee Resource Group provides a community who are passionate about fostering a safe, welcoming, and empowering environment.

March 31 is Trans Day of Visibility, an annual awareness day celebrated around the world, dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to ensure trans equality.

I’ve benefitted from a lot of people’s hard work, here within Maple Leaf Foods and around the world. In affirming and living as my true self, years of depression – the dysphoria that caused a lot of stress and manifested as physical ailments in my body – just disappeared.  It’s like I’ve got a new life all over again. Sharing my story is my way of giving back.

I’ve been with Maple Leaf Foods for a long time. Like others, I’ve been on that journey with the company, watching and contributing so that our ambitions and intentions translate into meaningful, long-lasting change. Because ensuring that people feel they belong and are valued for all that they are is one of the most important things we can do. 

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