I live in the South, in the boonies. I have to drive 31 miles to work everyday. I drive past houses and stores with confederate flags, cars with NRA and Bush/Cheney stickers. A shooting in a local gay bar made headlines when I was in high school. Southern Virginia is not necessarily a place people associate with liberal thinking.
I went to a small women’s college. By the time I figured out I wanted to transition, I was a senior. If I had transitioned while on campus, I would have been denied graduation despite my cum laude standing after four years. If I had transferred to another school, most of my credits would not have transferred with me, and I would have spent another year getting my degree, another ten thousand dollars worth of loans for an education I had already completed. I chose to stay. And now whenever I apply to jobs, I must put the name of that women’s college on my resume, effectively outing myself before potential employers even meet me. As a writer, I have a decent list of credits, all for LGBTQ* websites, also effectively outing me.
I applied to be a part-time reporter at my local small newspaper recently. Despite my background in both photography and writing, I heard nothing back. The job was reposted. At my current job as a school photographer, I am not out. I left my coworkers and boss as Facebook friend requests instead of accepting them after listening to them discuss Christianity and gun control on the way to a job. If you go back through my photos, you can see me pre-transition. I didn’t want to jeopardize the only money I have coming in.
The first part of my transition was spent at Best Buy, where some managers backed me and others refused to switch pronouns. I then got a job at Wells Fargo, where they were phenomenal. I found support through management and was treated equally. They even changed my name on emails even though I had not had it legally changed yet. I loved the environment there, but I was working in a call center on overnights. We were promised the ability to bid for shifts after six months, and they reneged. I left. I spent three months looking for another job, living on savings. Finally, my best friend got me a job working at the group home for intellectually disabled adults where she was a house leader. Even though I had not started T or had top surgery, the clients never messed up my pronouns. They never forgot my name. It was a great place to be, a safe place to transition. I spent almost three years there before changes in scheduling wore me down. Working for six days in a row in situations where you sometimes have to restrain individuals or learn to manipulate your way through situations where individuals can begin hitting each other without your intervention, it’s rough mentally, especially for someone who is introverted. I loved my job, but there was no time to recharge.
After applying to multiple jobs in the same industry, my girlfriend told me the toll was getting too high both on myself and our relationship, and we agreed I should quit and continue to apply elsewhere. I applied to so many different companies. I had worked my way up to supervisor before I left and had worked as a shift lead for a year beforehand. My resume looked good, so why didn’t I get any call backs?
It really messes with my head when I begin looking for new jobs. Are people discounting me because I don’t have the requisite experience or because I outed myself in my resume? There’s a certain amount of fear now which comes with applying for jobs. I could accidentally leave out my college experience, but I would forget. I can’t not talk about literature most of the time.
Most of the time, I feel like transitioning has limited my options. I love this place. It is so gorgeous: surrounded by mountains and some of the best hiking in the U.S., a simple drive to DC or to the beach. Most of the time, the winter isn’t too bad. But I feel like I could have so many more options in a liberal state, in a place where there isn’t so much blatant sexism, racism, and discrimination against LGBTQ* people. It’s so easy for a potential employer to mark your name off a list before they even meet you. There’s nothing preventing them from allowing their prejudices to take over in hiring. In some instances, there is recourse once you are hired, though it can be hard to prove. I have had friends who were either fired from their jobs once their bosses found out they aren’t straight. I have had friends leave jobs fearing for their safety after coworkers have discovered their life outside of work. Most people don’t have the time or money to fight this discrimination. And who wants to fight for a job where they are going to face hatred all the time?
I recently got a job as a pizza delivery driver because I need to bring in more money. School photography only pays about seven months out of the year. I know I shouldn’t look at myself as a failure, that being a delivery driver or working in the food industry or retail is not something to be ashamed of, that society unfairly degrades the people who devote their lives to working in fields many see as rungs on the ladder up. I often feel like people are judging me for failing to obtain the dream life of a 9-5 job where I can make enough money to pay rent, buy a new car, go to Disney World. But there are so many people who don’t want that life. There are people who choose to work in low paying fields because they enjoy it. But there are also those who become trapped in retail work or the food industry because people refuse to give them a hand up. Their resumes don’t stand up and so they can’t find work in a different field. The perception of people in these industries needs to change. You cannot pull yourself up by the bootstraps when discrimination stands against you. As a trans person, I belong to just one class of people facing hiring discrimination. It is a disheartening reality. We hope society will transition and change, but until then, I will not forget this is not my personal burden. Others face this situation as well. And we must work toward change for all classes of people, not just our own.
Have you faced hiring or work discrimination? Please share your story in the comments below.