Reflections on being trans in the workforce. [~1,000 words]
What do I even put down on a job application? Like, if I mark down my gender as F, am I liable for fraud? I don’t know where to go to get my legal shit handled for transition or how I’d pay for it, and as far as the government’s concerned, I’m an M. So do I put it in a cover letter? A little paragraph right before the call to action about how, oh, bee tee dubya, I’m one of those crazy trans women you’ve heard about, so please bring all of your transphobia, both unconscious and otherwise (i.e., intentionally malicious), to your decision on whether or not to call me for an interview. Did I mention it’s been almost three whole years since my existence was declassified as a disorder???
At that point, it’s like one more fountain of anxiety I have to add to the Versailles-like garden that’s already shooting off in my head. (Meanwhile, King Louis XIV strolls through the grounds, wearing a powdered wig and whistling a jaunty tune.) Job applications are scary enough for me. I hate selling things, maybe especially myself. I hate spin, maybe especially for the purpose of commercial gain. And I hate that work is this necessity I can’t stop stressing about due to the income imperative, maybe especially because I have work I want to do, but it doesn’t pay bills.
I’ve only started to achieve clarity on my gender in the last year or so. That was around when I realized that it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility for me to be a trans woman. Gender was always a huge source of confusion for me, and my knowledge of myself goes back to at least age seven. But the idea that I could actually transition? That I could manifest physically the woman I’ve always been? The actual reality of that opportunity? I’ve only had that for about a year.
Before then, I’d been working [in] man[-mode] for years. As a handyman, as a grocery clerk, as a valet. I’d done all these things as the boy everyone told me I was (and fuck me if that wasn’t a mixed message to try to rebroadcast–that static on that signal was blinding). I never had an aha! moment or a lightning bolt epiphany. It was more like once I saw the possibility, I couldn’t stop seeing it. I was still fighting myself, battling with internalized transphobia. Ending that battle was a huge step towards the meager level of self-love I’ve achieved at this point. And the inception of the possibility to transition, to be myself–that was what broke the damn. But of course, I didn’t suddenly come out once I felt all this. I’ve even worked two more jobs as my assigned gender, the latest even as I scheme for hormone replacement therapy and plot a new name. And the stress has almost broken me.
There’s a reason they say misgendering has a direct effect on trans people’s health: it does. Obviously, the malicious use of the wrong pronouns is problematic. There’s a special place in hell for the Twitter trolls who still deride Bruce even as Caitlyn lives her life. I’m personally not so bothered by the slip of the tongue; really, I don’t even mind if people use the wrong pronouns or apologize as long as it seems like they’re aware of themselves and move on with what they were saying. Intent counts big there.
But a daily shift of he/him/his is a brutal exercise in tender flagellation when you want to come out but don’t feel safe doing so. That’s what’s led me to realize I can’t work from inside the closet anymore. It’s too painful and there’s no outlet for that pain other than a cloud of negative energy around any workplace where I would force this artificial sense of my self to punch the clock.
I think that’s why I don’t find it surprising that trans women have to find a means for survival in the underground economy. Because aside from the intense personal stress of coming out to people who think they know you, there’s the very real possibility of retaliation on the part of employers. Sometimes, that comes in the form of minor day-to-day bullshit; you can be forced out like any other employee who a manager wants to fire and is trying to manufacture a reason for termination. But more significantly, it was only 2012 when federal law was interpreted to mean that gender identity was protected from employment discrimination. And that ruling only applies to federal employees. Only 20 states offer the protections for trans employees in all employment.
Maybe once we get up to 50% of American states outlawing employment discrimination based on gender identity, that’ll help. In the mean time, trans people across the country will either stay in the closet or hide in stealth mode, which seems like basically the only way to get an aboveground job before the whole acceptance show started a few years back. The reality is that you can lose your job for being trans in much of America.
My point is: the anxiety of the application & interview process is debilitating when you have to figure out whether or not every single person you meet hates you based on instinct alone. If you’re lucky, their hate for you comes out as sexual fetishization, but this isn’t exactly helpful in a professional setting unless you’re engaged in that underground world. If you’re really lucky, it comes across as benign ignorance hiding behind the label of Ally, which is nice but ally can mean a lot of different things. Good luck coming across as an ideal candidate when you can’t stop twitching every time a stranger talks. Cause even some of the good ones say shit that will pull your tender heart out between two ribs with tweezers and then smash it while the person holding the hammer looks concerned and nods in time with the pounding.
I’m lucky to be in a major city. The volume of trans-friendly workplaces here has got to be higher than where I came from. But work, jobs, industry[, capitalism]: it all seems to be about who you know. And I don’t really know anyone here.
I still barely even know myself.
Copyright 2016 Lucy Diavolo.