Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.
When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist are explicit in their hatred, I know how to conduct myself (hide, run, ignore, placate). When the People Who Wish I Didn’t Exist PRETEND to be open, accepting, and inclusive, I fall prey to a false sense of safety and do things like come out at work, only to majorly regret it a few months later.
This happened to me in 2016 (along with an ugly break-up, the death of a friend, bike theft, the loss of beloved pets, slander, and more…good riddance 2016!). I was working at a therapeutic organization that supports the mental health needs of young adults. One would think that the helping professions would be more inclined towards inclusivity and diversity- they certainly pay enough lip service to these concepts- but my experience has shown that such organizations are often more hateful and exclusive than other companies; they just hide it well.
Paying lip service to inclusivity without doing the work necessary to actually create a safe enough work environment is extremely dangerous. When I first started at the aforementioned organization, I was pleased by the rhetoric around diversity. I’m a fairly obvious queer person with a shaved head and gender-bendy clothes and my supervisor made it clear that he was in support of my identity. So I came out. I let staff know that I am attracted to same-sex partners and, when that went fairly well, let them know of my trans identity several months later. I’m embarrassed to admit that my naivete prevented me from recognizing that staff would more-or-less “approve” of my sexual orientation (it’s “OK” to be a white cis lesbian in most progressive cities in the USA these days-thank you assimilation) but would recoil in fear and loathing at my trans identity.
Oops. Big mistake. Lesson learned.
From the moment I started to assert my gender, I was met with hostility. Staff members who previously expressed feelings of friendship and connection withdrew and made microaggressive comments in staff meetings. Curious about what I heard? Check it out:
- How can I support what I don’t believe in?
- You need to grow a thicker skin
- I can’t get on board with your pronouns
- Your gender isn’t real
- What do your partner’s genitals look like? Yes indeedy, a member of the leadership team asked me this
My colleague who is QPOC has it even worse. They experienced (and continue to experience) racist, transphobic, and homophobic harassment from clients. What is leadership doing about this? Nothing.
I presented a training on gender inclusivity and diversity to the leadership team and while they raved about the content, they didn’t do anything to change their toxic environment. It was during this training that I found out admissions personnel hid my gender from prospective clients, using binary pronouns ON PURPOSE in case the freaky trans employee scared off profitable bodies.
The scariest aspect of all this: This organization markets itself as an inclusive space for LGBTQ clients. WHAT?!
Let me repeat: Give me explicit discrimination over implicit hate any day.
If I understood from the moment my employment began that I was working in an environment that liked to be superficially inclusive but hid a wellspring of hatred and transphobia I NEVER WOULD HAVE COME OUT. Because I thought I had the support of leadership, I asked for gender inclusive practices to be instated (such as the naming of pronouns during community meetings) but I had no idea that cis staff and clients would be allowed to express hatred and microaggressions towards trans staff and clients who outed themselves.
What happened when I brought these issues to the attention of my supervisor? I was told I was being “theatrical.” In all fairness, he apologized for that remark, but I think it illuminated a truth of feeling that lurked beneath the surface.
The bottom line is that racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia abound at this organization, but administration and leadership refuse to examine their own roles in the creation of this hate culture. Why is it OK for a cisgender staff member to tell a transgender client WHO IS IN RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION AND DEPRESSION that their gender “isn’t real?” It’s not OK, but it happens.
One of the reasons I am not naming this transitional residential therapeutic center is because this issue is not unique to this particular organization. It happens all the time in the helping professions and I have said before that it is unacceptable.
- If an accountant commits a microaggression towards a client it sucks; it’s familiar, it might spur us to seek tax support elsewhere, but it won’t offer undue harm to our mental health (any more than the other daily microaggressions we experience from strangers)
- If my postal worker tells me to “pick a gender,” I feel hurt and confused but my recovery from substance abuse isn’t called into question
However, when your “mentor” at rehab tells you your gender isn’t real, it has an impact. This person has power over you. They are in charge of your health and well-being. They are your guides on your path to recovery. And they just told you you don’t exist. Good luck moving through your depression after that.
For queer staff members of the helping professions, such implicit biases lead to a false belief in safety which leads to vulnerable admissions of identity which leaves one open to attack. I came out at work, in part, because I wanted to support our queer clients. I thought my role as an out trans person would be a beacon of safety for them. I was wrong. My false sense of safety led to a false sense of safety in other staff and clients. Yes, other people came out and asked for support. And yes, they were met with microaggressions and hostility. I still feel responsible for that.
So how do we create our own safety?
- Don’t assume that organizational lip service regarding inclusivity is backed by training, professional development, or policy in any way
- Be wary of cis-het white people who claim to understand multiculturalism and diversity without offering any education or training on such topics to staff
- Remember that it’s not your job as a queer person to educate everyone else on inclusive practices. You can point out areas that need improvement if you feel safe enough to do so, but know that leadership teams and management are the ones who need to work to create a safe enough environment
- Form groups with other queer and marginalized employees. Share experiences. Support each other. Do not tell management you’re doing this
- Take your time in coming out. Do what feels right to you, not what you think might be in the best interest of clients or other staff
“Ninety-seven percent (97%) [of trans people] have experienced mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job including: invasion of privacy, verbal abuse, and physical or sexual assault” (National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 2011).
Nice to know I’m just a statistic.
I’m starting a new job next week. As of now, I am uncertain of how to show up. I could let everyone misgender me without correction which feels rather craptacular, or I could come out and risk hostile encounters. There is a trans adolescent client at this organization and I already feel the pull to come out in order to stand in solidarity with him, but I think I will assess the situation over time before making any decisions. This makes me sad.
And thus I begin 2017…
My spouse and I have both recently obtained new employment (yay). One of these days I might write about the tumultuous year following graduate school in which I could not get a job in my field for 18 months. My spouse got a job 10 days after graduation, but if you’ve been following my blog, you know that that job offer was rescinded after xe came out as trans. Xe didn’t find another job for 5 months! We have been asking the questions: Are our employment struggles a result of the economy? A result of being queer*? Or the result of our profession (we are therapists)? I suspect the combination of all those things made for a perfect storm called “I-can’t-get-a-job-despite-being-uber-qualified-and-undeniably-awesome!”
But all that changed last month when I landed job #1 and my spouse landed job #2! We have a job each! What?! After 3 years of graduate school where neither of us worked very much and another year of scary unemployment, one job each is certainly something to celebrate!
So here we are, in our new jobs, asking the question: When and how do we come out?
I have heard people say things like, “It isn’t anyone else’s business whether or not you’re queer*, therefore you don’t have to say anything” or “It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal. Just let people know as it comes up” or “Your work shouldn’t be about your sexuality and gender identity.”
True, true. All true. Except all of those statements leave me feeling rather yucky so I’m going to address them one by one.
1. It’s not anyone else’s business whether or not I’m queer
OK. But my colleagues talk about their personal lives. They refer to husbands and wives or talk about dating woes. My queerness* may not be their business, but I would like to participate in conversation with people on occasion. I do not want to hide my sexual orientation or my spouse’s gender identity. So do I just refer to my spouse as “xe” and wait for people to ask questions? Or do I refer to my spouse as “xe” and follow it up with “just FYI- my spouse is genderqueer and uses the gender neutral pronouns, ‘xe, xyr, xem?” I know not.
2. It shouldn’t have to be a big reveal, just let people know as it comes up
Well that is easier said than done. Even if I let people know “as it comes up,” it is STILL a big reveal. There is still an awkward moment of people either looking at my buzzed head and men’s department thrift store shirt with a “yeah-we-knew-that” look or they raise their eyebrows with surprise that they quickly try to mask, making said eyebrows dance on their foreheads like confused caterpillars, or they say something charming like “you know, I don’t care what anyone is. It’s all the same. We’re all just people.” I suppose all of the above responses are better than getting fired or reported to the authorities or taken out back and stoned, so I guess I should be grateful.
3. Your work shouldn’t be about your gender and sexuality, it should be about your clients and students
Yup. I agree that my personal life should not be the focus of my work, but I also strongly feel that people need to see positive queer* role models in the world. If I do not explicitly come out, I will most likely be assumed to be straight. Or worse, I will be assumed to be queer* but hiding it. My queerness* is not something I want or need to hide. I am proud to be queer* and I feel that the people I serve and the people with whom I work need to know they are in relationship with a queer* person. Otherwise we’re not moving forward. We’re hiding behind excuses.
So this all brings me back to the sticky point of how to tell the professional world that I am queer*. I have mostly been waiting for moments when it arises in a relatively organic way. It’s still awkward, but it seems to work-ish.
Sometimes I get really upset at the inequities in the world… no, more than upset. Sometimes I cry into my Americano, sometimes I rage and yell a call for action, sometimes I refuse to back down but stand my ground in the face of hate and discrimination.
Today, I am wearing the most amazing lavender corduroy pants and I choose to laugh at the closet from which I must repeatedly come out.
Sometimes lavender pants and laughter are the best medicine.
I listen to the espresso machine whirring, the babble of conversation around me, the top 40 music; smell the smells of coffee and sugar. I sit quietly at the table, a waterfall of tears threatening to tumble from my eyes.
Because I am doing research on violence against queer* people and have stumbled upon some horrors of information.
The statistics are terrible. In Canada, 67% of hate crimes perpetrated against gay people consist of acts of violence as opposed to only 39% of hate crimes against other social identity categories (e.g: race and religion). In the United States, queer* people are 41.5% more likely to experience an act of violence than white, heterosexual people.
Did you catch that? 41.5% !
The unemployment rate for trans* people is 75% and the average life span of a trans* person is 23 years of age.
The statistics suck. They are unacceptable. They hurt my body and make me want to scream in the coffee shop. But that is not why I want to cry.
In my research I stumbled upon websites and blogs that are specifically “anti-gay.” They mostly espouse absurd, ignorant information and are written very poorly, allowing me to roll my eyes and feel somewhat smug, but nonetheless, they feel like knives driven into my heart. I ask the question: Why do you hate me so much?
One of the blogs says that gay people are unhappy. That we all suffer from mental illness, suicidal ideation, internalized oppression (although the writer wasn’t savvy enough to use that phrase), and depression as a result of being queer*.
Um, not so much.
Those challenges are rampant within our community not because we’re queer* but because we live in a heteronormative world that does not allow us to exist easily in our own bodies. Because we experience discrimination, violence, and hate on a daily basis. Because people INSIST on blogging about why they hate us so much and how we’re evil sinners who are going to hell.
Well guess what? Our community is also full of love, joy, peace, family, education, intelligence, dance, fabulousness, glitter, women’s basketball (Go Storm!), rainbows, love, love, love… the list goes on.
What I want to say to homophobic people is that I LOVE BEING QUEER* and I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I wasn’t already queer* I would seriously wish to be. Sometimes I feel bad for straight people because they are missing out on the amazing experience of being queer*. As much as the violence and discrimination makes me want to cry into my Americano, I value loving who I love, seeing the world from outside-the-box, and not conforming to societal norms.
I should note, however, that I live in a rather progressive city in the United States. I have the freedom to speak out against micro-aggressions at work. I talk openly to family, friends, and colleagues about my life as a queer* person. I am super out-of-the-closet! Yes, I experience discrimination, but I do not fear for my life. Being queer* in other parts of this country does not allow the same freedom. Being queer in other parts of the world is a crime punishable by death. For that, I am truly sorry. That makes me want to sob into my Americano.
Stop the hate. The world does not need more hate, but the world could definitely benefit from more glitter and queer* basketball.
Picture this: You are offered a job. You tell the hiring manager you are transgender and use gender neutral pronouns. Three days later the owner of the company asks you to write a letter outlining how your gender will impact the company and its clients. Shortly after that, the job offer is rescinded.
Or more appropriately, WTF?
This is what happened to my beloved three months ago when xe was hired by New Vision Wilderness then un-hired when they found out xe was trans*. We are still reeling form the impact of this discrimination.
How is this OK? Should I write a reflection outlining the impact of my womanhood on my dance students? Or better still, should my assistant write an essay outlining how his Filipino-ness affects our cast? Since he’s not white, he really should explain himself and how he’s going to deal with his non-whiteness in our professional world.
No one would think that was OK!
So why would someone believe it’s OK to ask S to write a paper discussing xyr gender in those terms? I need to take a deep breath and not say what I want to say about New Vision Wilderness (because I hold myself to a higher standard). What I will say is that they are clearly ignorant, most likely transphobic and homophobic, and do not understand the law. Because guess what? IT’S NOT OK to offer someone a job then rescind the offer when you realize they are trans*! T’is illegal (at least in some states). And now there is a lawsuit pending.
I know that New Vision thinks S is out to get money but that is not the case. S wanted a job! And this one seemed perfect for xem. S was super thrilled to get a job 10 days after finishing graduate school and xe has been completely devastated by this situation. Having your identity attacked does not feel good. Being told that your gender “is a concern” and that you have a personal agenda by being that gender is hurtful. S has suffered deep wounds at the hands of New Vision and they need to know that what they did was not OK.
If an African-American person had been offered this job, then asked to write a reflection about how being black would impact the clients, then told they did not actually have the job because their race “was a concern,” then this lawsuit would be a no-brainer and New Vision would KNOW they had done something wrong (at least I certainly hope they would. It is possible I am being naive in my racial privilege). Yet New Vision doesn’t seem to realize how badly they hurt my beloved. They seem to think it was perfectly alright to question S’s gender and behave like bullies because xe is trans*. To date, they have neither apologized nor admitted wrongdoing.
The bottom line is it is NOT OK to discriminate based on someone’s identity. Unfortunately, only 21 states have sexual orientation on their anti-discrimination laws and only 18 states have gender. Luckily, Oregon has both and that’s where S’s lawsuit is happening.
This incident has really highlighted why the unemployment rate for trans* folks is 75%. Unacceptable.
People are people. All people have a right to live in a body. Discrimination is an act of hate. Stop it.