Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

III. Working While Trans

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

III. Working While Trans

Article excerpt

My education in what it means to be a working trans woman began in April 1997, the moment I told my boss that I planned to transition from male to female and would soon begin coming to work as a woman. One minute I was a trusted, reliable employee on the management promotion shortlist, the next I was an unwanted problem who had to be fired for insubordination.

I contacted the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights but soon discovered that while being fired for being a member of a racial, ethnic, religious, or even sexual minority was against state law, there was no such law prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or expression, and firing an employee just for being transgender was completely legal.

The coming out process had not been easy for me. I'd lost friends I'd cared about and now I'd lost my job. A failed suicide attempt a few months earlier had convinced me that I really didn't want to die, I wanted to live as the woman I understood myself to be. Now I was faced with a new challenge: Without a job and little hope of finding another one, I had no idea how I was going to fund my transition.

Friends suggested I consider de-transitioning just long enough to put some money in the bank and use it to pay for hormones and eventually surgery. I toyed with the idea for a while, but in the end I just couldn't bear the idea of going back to living as male, even for a little while. I was either going to live as the woman I am or I wasn't going to live at all.

It took me six years of applications and interviews that went nowhere before I finally landed my first job as a woman. By then I'd legally changed my name to Rebecca and appeared passably female to casual inspection.

I worked as a cashier in a pet store, and while I wasn't making much more than minimum wage, I couldn't have been more proud to be able to go to work every day and interact with customers and coworkers as a woman. It was the kind of job I'd have seen as a stopgap if I were still working as male, but as a woman on her first job, I was loyal to a fault. I was thrilled just to be bringing home a paycheck with the name Rebecca on it, and committed myself to being the best employee in that store. Even that, however, wasn't enough to keep me employed.

The store's assistant manager was the only staff member to have a problem with me, but he never hesitated to make it known to me or my coworkers. He'd ask me questions like "Do you really think you should be using the ladies room?" and tell me that he didn't feel I should be permitted to wear makeup or present as a woman at work because it was "deceptive" and "dishonest." He'd wonder openly, in front of me and other store employees, whether me presenting as a woman at work, despite all my legal documentation, was a violation of the company's personnel policies against dishonesty and misrepresentation. He made it his business to make sure I and everyone I worked with knew that he saw me as a fraud and someone who shouldn't be allowed to work there.

Finally, after months of his near-constant verbal abuse, I made the mistake of asking him if he had anything to say to me that was actually relevant to my job, and if not, to please leave me alone. Though I had one of the best attendance and work performance records of the staff, I was fired for insubordination.

Over the next few years, I managed to find work in retail here and there, but never jobs with the kind of opportunity for advancement that were made available to cisgender employees. …

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