31/03/2017 05:25 BST | Updated 31/03/2018 06:12 BST

Working In The Construction Industry Gave Me The Courage To Come Out As Trans

In 2014, as I took the train to London for Balfour Beatty's LGBT network launch I knew that my life would soon change forever. At 43 I had finally come to the decision that I could no longer hide who I really was. I had to come out as a transwoman; no matter the consequences.

For 20 years I had known this but suppressed it. Like most LGBT people who are yet to come out, I was petrified about the impact it could have on my family and career working in the construction industry.

The impact of not coming out was considerable, particularly for my health. For a decade I suffered from severe panic attacks and anxiety linked to my Gender Dysphoria. While I spoke to my GP, who just prescribed me medication, I still did not feel comfortable to say what the true cause of my anxiety was, even in such a confidential space.

Looking back, Balfour Beatty were the catalyst to me changing to be my true self as I continued to hide and lead a double life until one day I saw a notice at work that they were launching one of the construction industry's first LGBT networks. I don't know why I felt drawn to attend the meeting after so many years suppressing myself but it just felt right to go.

On the train to London I was very nervous. At the end of the meeting I summoned the courage to go up the HR Director present and tell her: " I am a transwoman, I want to come out at work."

I will forever be grateful to the support I received from her and those at Balfour Beatty. Together, we made a plan of how I would come out. I first spoke to my family and close friends and following a meeting with my Managing Director a meeting was called with the entire office where it was announced what was happening. It was incredibly emotional; my Managing Director has since said he found it as touching as when he delivered his daughter's wedding speech.

After the resounding support from my work colleagues I decided to post on Facebook to share with the rest of the world that I was an open transwoman.

The reaction from people varied. While my parents were initially shocked, and things were difficult at first, they are now fully supportive and call me Christina. My marriage, however, broke down and I ended up getting a divorce in 2015. I had to work hard to educate my children, but thankfully I now see them regularly and they too have accepted me as the person I am.

Some of my closest friends, who I had known for decades, I no longer speak to. However, their loss is my gain. I now have a much stronger and loyal network of friends and being able to be truly myself is priceless.

Balfour Beatty continues to be a bastion of support and, as surprising as people may find it, I have not had any negative experiences working on construction sites as a transwoman - no one bats an eyelid.

I am proud that today I am known as one of the first transwomen to come out in the construction industry. Having people tell me that they have felt able to begin their transition process, and be open at work because of me, makes me realise that, while difficult at times, my decision to transition was the right one.

My advice to other transpeople on Trans Day of Visibility would be - be yourself. There are so many of us who continue to hide, understandably because of the transphobia that still exists within society, but from my experience the worst of your fear comes from your own mind; you will be surprised at the level of support and care that exists should you look for and want it. The more of us who feel able to be our authentic self means the more those who resist our right to exist and be ourselves will have to change and adjust. I believe I already see that happening now - the mindset is changing and the support is growing.

The world in the past three years has moved forward at an amazing pace and it has been really heartening to see the progress that the trans movement is making. However I know that we still have so far to go and realise that my experience has been an incredibly lucky as not all employers are like Balfour Beatty. Because of that I will keep on driving the movement forward, raising awareness and promoting the needs of the trans community, because their fight for true equality is my own battle too.

Christina Riley, 46, is a Senior Planner at Balfour Beatty and Chair of the company's LGBT Network