Recently a younger trans brother of mine came to me to dump some pre-interview nerves.
He and his wife moved up to the Puget Sound area a few months ago. They had a great opportunity that really benefits them and she finally gets to be closer to her family after many years here in Oregon, where she came to go to college.
Finding a steady, good paying job was proving to be a real challenge for him, however.
The job he secured with the REI warehouse, before they even left Oregon, had proven to be unsustainable. He just wasn’t getting enough hours. The work was dull and unchallenging, so letting go of the job wasn’t any real issue for him.
He had spent years working in the health care industry, in several different capacities, before the move. The pandemic left him feeling pretty battered and ready for a change, despite the fact that he’s very good at what he does.
He was excited about the possibility of working for a local cider company. As he talked with me about his upcoming interview with them, I could feel the gears clicking in his his head.
“So they have this whole DEI section on the application.” he stated.
“Oh yeah? Sounds like they might be a pretty progressive place to work.” I responded. “If they ask you about diversity, what are you prepared to tell them?”
“Well I can speak from an Indigenous standpoint.”
“That’s a good start.” I agreed. “You should definitely do that. Especially given the fact that you’re up there on the Sound.” My next question hung in my head for a few seconds. Eventually I just kind of burped it out. “Are you at a point where you’d prefer to be stealth?”
It’s always an awkward question, even between trans folk who know each other’s histories. He’s been passable for many years now. No one ever questions it. It truly can be a non-issue for him if he chooses it to be. Some trans folk prefer this and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this choice.
Historically, though, he’s always been more like me. It’s no secret. We don’t go blaring it out to the world, however neither of us have ever had an issue with owning what we are.
But…dang…a brand new location. A brand new circle of people to meet where he can start fresh without having to drag out all the trans baggage…to be quite honest that sounds like a good deal for a young guy making his way in the world.
“I don’t lead with it.” he said. “But I don’t hide it either. If someone asks me, they’ll get the truth. I’m not ashamed of it. I just don’t want that to be my defining characteristic, you know?”
This is one of those things that all trans people face at one time or another. Some of us are able to slip under the radar pretty well. Others of us aren’t so lucky. In either regard however, we are always put into a Catch-22 position where transphobes are concerned.
If we don’t say anything, we’re considered deceptive.
If we do say something, we’re accused of being attention seeking or manipulating woke culture to give us some kind of assumed (but actually non-existent) advantage.
It can be paralyzing to some people, even here in the decidedly queer friendly Pacific Northwest. I couldn’t even begin to imagine what it would be like in more hostile environments.
“What do you think I should do?” he asked. “Think I should lead with it?”
“Not really lead.” I offered. “But you may want to find a nuanced way to let it be known. I mean, in an interview, you’re not the only one getting interviewed, Bud. You’re interviewing them just as much. I would hate to get a job that I thought was great, only to find out that it’s unfriendly, or maybe even unsafe. You know?”
These are the facts of life for trans people, especially those of us in professional positions that are more buttoned down in nature. It’s a constant balancing act and it can grow very tiring.
This is why you see some of our younger trans folk being as aggressively open as they are. Aside from the fact that it’s nothing to be ashamed of, this group has come to the conclusion that it’s generally just easier all around if we all know what we’re dealing with right out of the gate.
I totally get this line of thinking. It’s one of the reasons I made a decision to purposely not attempt to go stealth when I finally decided to officially transition.
While I don’t lead with it, I do talk about it regularly. Understand, however, that I don’t wear my pronouns tacked onto my lapel for my sake. It’s been quite awhile since I’ve been misgendered by a stranger. I would, in all actuality, prefer to just be “that guy Jonah”.
The thing is, I have deep and wide roots around here. I haven’t given up my family. I haven’t turned away from people I’ve known for decades. These people knew me as someone else for a long time. They slip sometimes and misgender or deadname me.
While I feel fairly safe where I’m at, this can still be a dangerous disclosure for trans folk, so…I do it for those who would be surprised to find out I’m trans and would feel as if I’m somehow dishonest about who I am.
Oddly enough, these people are the same type of people that called me “bull wrestler” in middle school, followed behind me in college and talked just loud enough for me to hear “is that a dude or a chick?”, joked about me being “just one of the guys…literally”.
Can you feel my eyes rolling? Like…rolling right to the back of my head?
Here’s the irony of it though…all of these people were actually correct. They were mean-spirited as hell about it, but they were correct. Some days it chipped away at my self-esteem, other days it clobbered it, because I honestly tried to fit into that cisgender heteronormativity. I married a man…a damn good man. I had kids. I lied to a lot of people. I hurt a lot of people with that dishonesty. I hurt myself with that dishonesty. And so much of it was done to try to satisfy those smug assholes who actually recognized me and called me out for what I was.
And then they get mad when I admit that they were right and I permit myself to actually be who I am.
This is the hilarious paradox of it all.
I’m happy to just be myself and let others be themselves, but there are those noisy ones that just aren’t ever going to be happy with anything so they work overtime to try to strip others of their joy.
I’m old though. I’ve got some battle scars. My skin is thick and I don’t fear things like “not getting that job” because I’m queer. I don’t want to work for some place that expects me to chop out huge parts of my life to satisfy some tightly wound, exclusive culture. That sounds like pure torture. I’ve worked hard and long to get the joy I have in my life and I’m not about to relinquish it to anyone.
I wish I could tell every trans person to be dauntless…to own their differences and understand them to be just as relevant a part of the vast collection of diverse life that this planet contains. We’re not quite there yet, however.
What I will remind you all is this…I’m repeating it here…
You are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Take that power, hold it close, and wield it wisely.