Jobs are hard to come by in the current economy. Finding anything over minimum wage can also prove to be more difficult and add to that being different and you have a recipe for unemployment beyond compare. This also leads to a record number of homeless transgender people. Could you imagine walking into a job interview and not even having a chance because you don’t look like someone thinks you should? It happens everyday to people like us.
In my transition I have met many people from different backgrounds. Some from the steel industry, others educated in accounting all the way to doctors and lawyers yet we all have a single similar problem. Acquiring and maintaining a job capable of paying the insane costs of transition. Imagine having a degree in accounting and a project management certificate and after transition only being able to find employment at a clothing retail store. Some are able to retain their job as one of my first transgender friends did working in a mill, but this is exception more than a rule.
Fighting for workers rights is not new, but for a transgender person they flow much deeper. Just finding a bathroom to use can cause issues. In my case, I have not had surgery so I am to use the male restrooms and the looks I get somedays can fall between scary and humorous. In the case of the mill, a special locker room was arranged just so this person could shower and change. Basically telling this person you don’t belong in either place. Sometimes though, the pains of employment can and have flowed over to the loving spouse who stayed.
I have a friend who I have known for years now. Sadly she has moved away, but I still try to keep up with her activities but it is a bit harder being hundreds of miles apart. Her wife was a pastor at one of our local churches and after her spouse started transition she made the brave decision to stay. This decision also cost her more than she could have ever imagined. She was told that she should leave but the love was to strong so she was later removed from her position because she would not divorce her vulnerable spouse. To lose your job because you loved and supported your spouse would be unheard of in any situation other than ours. Now not only is the transgender person seeking employment, but so is a spouse who did nothing more than love.
Is it all about the look or is it more? There are many types of people in this world but when your transgender there is one word that seems to define everything we do. “Passing” or “to pass” is when referenced if they appear how they feel. Are they male or female enough to blend in. Every day I see others asking if they pass and it hurts to think that someone who has to fight off one stereotype is obsessed with fitting into another. To pass in society is to blend in or be invisible. For someone to have no idea you use to be anything other than you. This is rarely possible with transgender people. Your history is always there in any background check normally causing an instant rejection before ever meeting the individual. Sadly, this is more common than you would think. Guess we can start to see where that 41% suicide rate partially stems from.
I personally have been very lucky. I applied to my company as Michael and worked there for almost four years before I changed my name. Now as Ali, I have had more opportunity to advance and grow. I do not feel inhibited by my gender anymore. I state this with a pang of guilt also. When I apply for a position knowing that I have an equal shot as the others, I think about my friends. I think about all of those who do not have the luxury I have at my company. It pains me to think that others out there struggle daily, just as I did at one point. Up until Tuesday when I was dressed for my interview in my black dress pants, black flats, and a cute shirt I was just worried about keeping my job. Now I am on a one tract mind to pave the way for other transgender people to have a better life, an easier time.
In the end it isn’t just about being ourselves. It isn’t always focused on us. Being transgender affects more than just the person. It affects wives, family, friends, and everyone else important in our lives. Maybe someday a transgender person will not have concern for her height or face. Some days it seems like we are all back in the times of segregation and the now hiring signs no longer say Irish need not apply, but they now read Trans need not apply. I feel this day is fast approaching. I feel that the rights of everyone will be equal at some point soon. No longer leaving a doubt that a transgender person was always a female or male, not just when they transitioned, but always.