I think many would be surprised how little of my transition has involved or required complex discussions of gender: instead, it is a story of our partners and colleagues at Stearns Weaver Miller, my former colleagues at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, co-counsel, opposing counsel, judges, court staff, and even a jury when I feared discrimination instead showing open-mindedness and kindness.
To find my fears unfounded has been humbling. I should have expected better from those around me. After beginning at Stearns Weaver Miller in 2007 but long before the announcement of my transition, in 2008 and 2010, I voluntarily admitted myself to the hospital for two bouts of mania, each lasting about two weeks. The discretion and consideration surrounding my health and privacy was astonishing.
Not only my partners and colleagues at Stearns Weaver Miller knew I was in trouble, but our clients Alan Levan, Jack Abdo, Jarett Levan, and Seth Wise at BBX Capital (and so many others there) must have known because after completing major tasks for them I became unavailable.
Though I now know no one could figure out why I would suffer from mood disorders, no one pressed. They just gave me the time and space I needed and then helped me to return to work.
In early 2015, immediately after the end of a six-week trial on behalf of Alan Levan and BBX Capital, I disclosed to Gene Stearns, Alison Miller, Jay Shapiro, and Rick Schatz at our firm that I needed move to New York City to transition, where I had a nine-year relationship with a therapist and referrals to world-class medical support. My introduction to that conversation, as well as the many other in person conversations I had over the next few months ran along the following lines:
I’m about to tell you something deeply personal. I’ve always treasured you as someone I could work with toward shared professional goals without the distraction of disclosing this issue, but I’m transgendered and I need to transition. And that has some obvious practical consequences for work, like a name change. And I’m pretty sure that people will notice when I show up to court in a dress.
Despite the joke I added at the end in an attempt to inject some levity, all were shocked, most into initial silence: but none said a negative word, and several volunteered referrals to medical services. They didn’t know that I had already developed a relationship with a therapist that would enable me to tap into the leading experts in the field. I’m enormously grateful to all of those medical professionals but mention none by name because discretion is important to their continued work.
I then moved to New York City and immediately had sessions with a second psychologist and a psychiatrist, in my own adaption of the Benjamin Guidelines, now known as the WPATH Standards of Care. For me, the personal consequences for relationships and my career were as significant as any decision to have gender affirming surgery—so I accelerated the process of obtaining additional opinions. All said I was ready, though I remained frightened.
On February 1, 2015, I sent the following email to our litigation department:
I’m working out of New York and more limited hours (at least for me) for a period of time to address health concerns. I’ve always appreciated this firm as a place where we can discuss cases, ideas, arguments, and clients’ issues, while respecting one another’s privacy. I continue to do so as the firm provides me the flexibility to do this. As we all are, I remain available by email and cell phone.
The outpouring of concern for my health and respect for my privacy bordered on overwhelming. Over the next few months, over the phone, I discussed the transition with the colleagues with whom I worked the closest—both inside and outside the firm.
On April 24, 2015, Caitlyn Jenner had her interview with Diane Sawyer in which she disclosed she was transgendered and would be transitioning.
The week after, I called Alan Levan to disclose to him, and his response was perhaps the most touching I received. He said he and his wife had watched Caitlyn’s 20/20 interview and: “I suppose I would say, if appropriate, congratulations.”
On May 18, 2015, I sent the following email with the subject line “Transition” to all of the attorneys at Stearns Weaver Miller:
I appreciate your patience while I’ve been working from New York City. Although a deeply personal issue, the reason for my absence is my decision to take the steps necessary to present in a way consistent with my gender identity. As some of you already know, I’m transitioning to present as female. There are many steps involved but one of the first is changing my name, and you should know that going forward I will be going by the name Grace Lee Mead. The name Grace is aspirational in many ways—I personally hope to better display it and of course it is something we all require from each other. Grey is also still fine.
I now trust you with what I’ve known about myself since early memory. Those who’ve known at the firm have already permitted me the flexibility to work from New York, where the support for transgendered people is the best in the world. The respect for my privacy by everyone has been phenomenal. That, combined with the experience of working with most of you for years, makes me confident of your support as I openly present the way I must. I’m only a phone call away and hope you know that you should feel free to call me anytime.
A transition is a transition, and no one passes in the beginning all the time. You receive funny looks; at times, you’re discouraged from using safe restrooms; some regard you with disgust; and strangers can be unkind. But then I had an insight—whether I pass or I’m read I always need carry myself with at least the pretense of confidence and attempt to show courtesy and kindness. It worked.
That summer, uncertain of how long the physical process would take and whether I’d be comfortable outside of New York City, I interviewed with a handful of law firms there. I don’t think any were aware I was trans, but one can never be certain.
Throughout 2015, I continued to work, by telecommuting and flying back to Florida for mediations and court appearances. We filed an appeal of what little we had lost in the December 2014 trial for Alan Levan and BBX; I wrote a journal article on an obscure corporate law issue certain to put any nonlawyer to sleep; and I continued working on behalf of other clients.
At the beginning of 2016, both because it was the best professional opportunity and because of the kindness shown by everyone at the firm, I moved back to Miami full-time and returned to Stearns Weaver Miller where I still work.