Being transgender in the oil and gas industry today

Gary Parkinson, EnQuest

Credit: Stephen King

Born and raised in Wiltshire, Gary (63) has represented Great Britain in canoeing, cycled around the world and now works as a medic on offshore installations, currently on the EnQuest Heather Alpha for MCL. But it hasn’t all been plain sailing. Being transgender, Gary had a hard time growing up and struggled to feel comfortable in his identify at work. That was until a colleague at EnQuest reached out to learn more.

I realised I was transgender from a very early age. Growing up wasn’t easy, and I tended to keep my gender issues to myself. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my identity with anyone until I was in my mid-20s.

After I left home, I served as a nurse in the RAF for 11 years. As an accomplished canoe racer, while working with the RAF I regularly took part in regattas and races across the world, representing Great Britain. For a spell while in Japan, I also worked with the country’s women’s Olympic canoe team as a coach.

I love a challenge. And so, in the 1980s, my partner and I decided to cycle around Europe. We sold and gave away everything we owned (including the cat) and cycled through Europe for a year. But we were enjoying the trip so much that we decided to extend the route, finding ourselves in Thailand, and then Japan, before arriving in North America and flying home from Los Angeles. Over a period of six and a half years, we covered 36,000 miles and about 40 countries.

In pursuit of a new challenge and a different quality of life, I went to Aberdeen in search of work opportunities in the offshore energy sector, quickly securing a position working as a medic for a drilling company – flying out to The North West Hutton for Santa-Fe the next day.

Over a period of 40 years, I’ve worked on floating and fixed platforms, dive vessels and an onshore project in Mongolia. However, throughout this time, I struggled with my gender identity, which is very much a part of me. It’s not a lifestyle choice and not something I can simply put aside. I was unable to feel comfortable in my identity at work for decades, until a few years ago when a senior manager reached out to me directly to talk about it.

I was incredibly grateful when my manager at EnQuest asked me into his office to talk about my identity one day. He asked how I’d like to be addressed and how he could best support me at work. The conversation had a huge impact on me, boosting my confidence and making me much more comfortable in my working environment. Before then, I never experienced this level of support or opportunity to talk about my situation – either inside or outside work. It was always a taboo subject.

The offshore industry can be perceived as a ‘macho’ environment. However, the vast majority of those working in the industry may be unaware or simply not know how to talk about more sensitive issues, such as gender identity and sexuality. Nonetheless, they are incredibly compassionate, supportive and tolerant.

We are all unique individuals and have our own stories. Only by taking the time to understand who you are working with, what they require to feel valued and supported, and what their needs and fears are, will you get the best out of those you work with.

For those working with people who are different, never be afraid to ask questions and take the time to listen to them. Ask how they are, about their family and home life. Understand what makes them happy or unhappy. It will build an understanding of the complete individual. After all, everyone is ‘normal’ until you get to know them.

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