Watch bp employee Paul's story
For 35 years, Paul has kept his gender dysphoria secret from all but a handful of people. Paul says, “I might have been born this way, but Emma – that’s what I call her – that’s the way I feel I was meant to be.”
Paul’s story isn’t uncommon, says Bobbi Pickard, a senior project manager in bp’s IT group and a member of the transgender community. “It’s a really lovely film,” she says, “and an important, brave thing for bp to make such a public stand for the trans community. It might also be the biggest step Paul has ever taken in his life.”
Having come out publicly in 2017, Bobbi knows all about taking big steps. It was around the same time that Stonewall switched its position to fully support the transgender community and it felt like the wider societal conversation was shifting in a positive direction. Three years later, though, Bobbi isn’t sure if she would make the same decision right now.
That’s because many transgender people – Bobbi included – face daily verbal and physical abuse for simply living their whole selves. Meanwhile, the LGBTQ+ community is growing increasingly concerned that proposed changes in UK government legislation will make it even more difficult for trans people to transition.
Despite what she describes as a ‘horrible’ external environment, Bobbi continues to share her own story inside and outside bp and she is thrilled that Paul has felt confident enough to take such a big step.
“Around 5% of the UK population is transgender or non-binary, so it’s important we keep sharing these stories,” she says. However, “there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the term trans. It’s an umbrella for a broad range of people with feelings of gender that vary from what many people would consider ‘the norm’. That includes transgender and non-binary people, cross-dressers and transvestites, among others. There’s a misconception that only transgender individuals experience gender dysphoria (the personal and extreme stress someone experiences from having a gender at odds with their physical self) but that’s not the case, as Paul’s story – that of a cross-dresser struggling with very strong gender dysphoria – highlights.”
And yet, so many people like Paul still feel unable to come out. “I probably hear from someone facing these issues every two weeks,” says Bobbi, “and the phrase that always comes up – and that Paul echoed in the film – is ‘I’m not in a position to come out right now.’
“That means there’s a lot of people trying to cope with the pressure of gender dysphoria who can’t be themselves day to day. That inability to express yourself causes physical pain. I know because I’ve been there. Emma is a huge part of Paul, but she’s also causing him pain. To do this film took so much bravery and a lot of credit has to go to my colleague Freddie Cormack for helping Paul feel confident enough to speak up.”
Having worked for bp for 19 years, Bobbi has seen things change for the better, with one recent critical change in BUPA coverage for UK staff. The policy now provides for gender dysphoria treatment, covering everything from gender reassignment surgery to the psychological counselling, voice therapy and hair removal that are essential part of transitioning. “That’s a big feather in bp’s cap,” says Bobbi. “I don’t think many other companies are offering such a good package.”
Meanwhile, Bobbi is also working with bp to update its gender transition guidelines to include more guidance for non-binary people like Paul. “What would be fantastic,” she says, “is if Paul could have two passes, two accounts and then he and Emma could live side by side, rather than him having to constantly hide part of himself.”
But while change is occurring, there is more bp can and should be doing, says Bobbi.
“I’m proud to be a role model and there’s good work going on at the ground level, but I would like to see bp being braver and more vocal, both publicly and right through the organization. We need all our leaders, not just our CEO and a select few others, to be knowledgeable about the issues and the data so that they can speak with authority.”
Bobbi herself speaks with a huge amount of eloquence and passion, but it takes its toll.
Nonetheless, Bobbi is determined to keep pushing for change across society and says she was delighted to be asked by Mermaids – the UK charity that supports transgender children and their families – to become a trustee this year.
“I didn’t have a good childhood – I didn’t really make friends until I was about 15 and got into music. That didn’t need to happen – we’ve known about the science of gender dysphoria since 1959. No other child should have to experience that loneliness.”