For as long as she can remember, Rachel Elser, a Process Operations Lead in Syncrude’s Project Operations (RFO), wanted to identify as female.

“Growing up in Fort McMurray, I had very little knowledge of the queer community,” says Rachel. “Other than a vague awareness of the terms ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,’ it was never a topic of discussion in my household.”

When Rachel was only eight years old, she became a victim of bullying. In efforts to manage bullying and knowing she wasn’t going to wake up one day with a different anatomy, she buried her gender curiosity. “It changed my ability to express myself and how I connected with others. My voice to advocate became very small as I sought a safe environment and battled thoughts of suicide.”

Suppressing her thoughts on gender, Rachel succumbed to how others saw and treated her – as masculine – and focused on reaching adulthood, hoping it would bring a future of happiness as others had promised and transformed herself into a shell identity as an attempt to survive.

“I continued to struggle for the next 20 years of my life. I focused on progressing down the same road and the belief that it would all work out.” At the top of her list was an education, a career, a house, love and family. “The way I looked at it, once I obtained those things through a mainstream society lifestyle, I would also find happiness and validation.”

Soon after, Rachel’s focus shifted to her career. She was successful and felt valued, accomplished, respected and included. By the time she was in her mid-30s, Rachel had a promising career and home to call her own. She found love and started a family.

“I survived and was by all accounts thriving. But as an individual, I was dying.” Rachel’s unhappiness in herself came across as angry and distant to others. She was very selective on who she associated with and who she chose to open up to.

Reflecting on that time in her life, Rachel shares, “I now know that a large part of what I was battling about myself was internalized transphobia – a discomfort with one’s own transgenderism due to internalizing society’s normative gender expectations.” This boils down to thinking your own feelings are wrong due to a lack of knowledge or understanding.

Over the past year, Rachel has experienced many highs and lows in a cycle of hope, excitement, anger, resentment and shame, as she worked through her issues towards gender identity. Her focus has been on making up for 30 years of lost time and learning to express herself in a true and honest way.

“I have found a new excitement and am feeling grounded in identifying as transgender. My life is full of hope, my identity is still evolving and the pride in myself is ever growing!”

October 11 is National Coming Out Day and it holds particular importance for Suncor this year as it marks the introduction of the a new guidebook on gender transition in the workforce for employees.

Rachel was instrumental in the development of the guidebook. She says, “It has been an amazing privilege to support our organization’s drive to develop a gender transition in the workplace guidebook.”

Learn more about our seven employee inclusion networks who work together to foster an inclusive culture and drive positive change in our workforce.