By time I finished class Tuesday night (my last one before next Monday) I pretty much had a total mental breakdown. Emma is certainly not used to spending this much time fulfilling formal obligations. Even when I was in school the last time, studying to become a paralegal, I was only working about 20-30 hours a week. When I worked on my B.A. I only rarely worked more than 32 hours a week (and those were usually really easy jobs that I could do HW at sometimes). This time, however, I’m working full time AND the curriculum and expectations are WAY HIGHER than anything I’ve ever done before. I cannot recall a single time in either undergrad or my paralegal certificate program when I was assigned 300 pages of reading in a week. Couple all of this with the fact that as I move more and more towards my eventual goal of becoming a therapist, my motivation and appreciation for my current job is plummeting faster than Donald Trump’s approval ratings with anyone who has a sense of common decency
This past weekend definitely exacerbated this freefall of “giving a fuck” stock prices towards my career in the legal field because the class I had was all about the steps to becoming a therapist. We talked for hours and hours about so many different aspects of becoming a licensed Marriage and Family therapist, not to mention finishing the M.A. program itself. In approximately 2 years, I will begin working as an actual therapist, even before I’ve finished school. It will likely be working for free at first (because let’s face it, who wants to pay for a student therapist?), but I will intake new clients, begin to see them on a regular basis, and develop therapeutic relationships with them as they navigate some of the hardest stuff in their life. I will begin to do the work I believe I was always meant to do, but there is a catch. It’s the same catch that’s always there in any field you ever try to work in… you need past experience.
What?! Before I can even volunteer my time to work for free as a student therapist, I have to have experience in the mental health field?
Well, okay, maybe I don’t HAVE TO HAVE experience, but when I’m competing for a limited number of practicum sites with every up-and-coming clinical social worker, psychologist, and MFT from my own school and others around the metro, then having experience makes that a lot easier. True, there is a chance I could get a practicum, finish the M.A. and find a decent job that helps me become licensed after 4000 hours of work, all without any relevant experience, but it’s like I’m in the professional mental health hunger games, and the odds are definitely not in my favor. I’d be like the out of shape kid who’s only skill is remembering entirely too many details about the different types of Pokémon. I’d definitely be one of the first to die. (envisions throwing poke-ball only to be struck in the chest with an arrow).
Anyways, so what do I do now? How do I get experience? Well, there are really only two ways, right? First, you can volunteer your free time. There are definitely a lot of places that take and need volunteers in the mental health community. It wouldn’t be hard to find somewhere to volunteer, but since I’m working full time and going to grad school full time, which we’ve discussed is already an unprecedented and difficult situation to navigate, is volunteering really even something I could manage? Can I really add another five to ten hours a week on top of the already at least 55 hours a week I’ll be doing for the next 2 years? (work, class, reading, papers, studying for tests)
Can I really sustain 65 or more hours of things to do every week for another 100 weeks? If I did that, I think I might end up on the wrong side of the “severe and persistent mental illness” equation that many therapists work with. I did it for one week and nearly fell to pieces, I’m not sure I want to repeat that another 100 times. So, what’s option two? Yep, you guessed it because you are a smart cookie and remember that the title of this post is about job hunting: finding an entry level job that doesn’t care (as much) if you have zero experience.
That’s right, Emma has taken to the cruel, dark, and often confusing and confounding streets of job hunting. Can we get a collective “Uggghhhh, cover letters… FML” groan of despair from the audience? Thank you.
Yes, cover letters are the worst damned thing that anyone ever fucking decided was something people needed to do. Cover letter??? Really?? You want me to explain to you in less than 500 words why I’m different from the other candidates because you are too time-crunched to actually review any of our resumes? You want me to somehow articulate to you in less than 500 words that I’m changing careers and need to get some damn experience before I’m lying face-down next to a pretend Poke-ball in the hunger games river called No experience = No job? How do I do that without you immediately thinking “they have no experience, Next!!”
You said entry level on the job description. You said it was a great place to begin a career in the field of mental health. You said you offered training to help me get started… but you actually just want someone with experience?! You said entry-level… I don’t think this word means what you think it means. It’s that familiar catch 22 of you need experience in order to get the job you applied to in order to get the experience you need……….
But all of that is pretty standard for anyone out there trying to find a job. True, the economy is “better” and it’s easier to find work than it was 5 years ago, but I have a somewhat unique hurdle to overcome, I’m transgender. Well, if you are reading this blog then maybe it’s not all that unique because you might have faced it yourself, but for anyone who hasn’t experienced it this is a VERY REAL hurdle to overcome. Coming off of the heals of my 99 problems entry last week, it’s important to remember that my legal name is still Robert and my legal gender is still male. Don’t worry, I’ve filled out the paperwork I need and figured out which courthouse/room I need to go to in order to file it, but I haven’t done that yet since I was busy spending 75 hours on work/school.
So what does this mean when applying for jobs? Well so far it’s meant a whole lot of confusion both for myself and I’m sure for those reviewing my applications. Do I apply as Emma? Do I apply as Robert? Do I apply as Emma (Robert)? Do I put down male? Do I put down female? If I put down Robert and male, won’t I just shock them when I show up in a skirt, wig, and makeup? If I put down Emma and female, then won’t I have to explain things when they try to do a background check on me? If I put down Emma (Robert) do I put down male or female? Either way, won’t I be shooting myself in the foot by opening the door immediately to discrimination based on transphobia? I know that in Minnesota it is against the law to discriminate based on gender identity while screening candidates, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the time, and it is so hard to prove when it does. If they don’t give you a reason why and reject you before even interviewing you, then you can’t really PROVE that it was because you were transgender.
I applied to 6 jobs this week alone, and I was already, within 24 hours, rejected by one of them. Why did they reject me? Was it because I didn’t have enough experience for the entry level job? Or was it because I applied as Emma (Robert) the female? Did the hiring person take one look at my resume/cover letter/application, feel confused why a Robert was calling himself Emma the female and say, “don’t even want to begin dealing with that mess, NEXT!!” ? Or did they give my application a thorough look through and decide that I didn’t meet what they were looking for in work experience/education?
If it was the first scenario how do I prove that? how do I even begin to go about suing them for discriminating against me because I’m in the midst of gender transition when they didn’t say anything outside of their generic form-letter rejection? I, like countless numbers before me, have no choice but to accept that there is nothing I can do about it either way. If they legitimately weeded me out or discriminated because of my name/gender situation, the result is the same. I didn’t get that job and will never really know why.
Things, however, become even more complicated when you look at it from a legal responsibility angle. Technically, I’m supposed to give my legal name and gender on the application. I am supposed to say Robert the male. To do otherwise begins to look like fraud because I’m intentionally being deceptive to secure an unfair gain. One could argue that saying I’m Emma the female when I’m legally Robert the male gives me an unfair advantage to be considered as something I’m legally not. But what happens when one socially unfair act is in contradiction to another social unfairness? It could be unfair for me to say I’m Emma the female but if I put Robert and show up as my authentic self, Emma, I could be discriminated against rather harshly. Which deception is the lesser of two evils? Who is the actual person they are going to hire? Robert or Emma?
This is the dilemma I’m currently facing, and I don’t really have an answer to it. I’m actually going to go about it in three different ways to see which one is the most effective. I have applied as Emma (Robert) the female and I have applied as just Emma the female. I think I’m going to apply to the next one as Robert the male and let the cards land where they may if I get an interview. Until I get a court order to change my name and sex, then I kind of have to be in limbo with this. There is no right or easy way to do it. To be considered for who I am instead of how I’m labeled means I’ll likely have to implement some degree of deception. I’ll either have to lie and say I’m nothing more than Robert the male, or I’ll have to lie to say that I’m legally Emma when I’m not. This struggle is something many trans people face all around the U.S. and even oversees. If it’s not easy or straightforward to legally change your name/sex then you have to make hard decisions on who applies and who shows up to the interview.
I’m starting to see just another way that “passing” becomes a survival mechanism out in the world. If I could just pass as Emma the female physically and legally, I suspect that my life would be easier. The binary stratification of our society dictates that in order to operate successfully inside of it, you must adhere to its rules, otherwise face the consequences. How does an out and proud transwoman find traditional work when the majority of the traditional system is built to put a person like myself into poverty and unemployment? I have the job I have now because I was Robert the male when I applied and was hired. Had I been Emma (Robert) or Emma-but-legally-Robert, would they have hired me? Would they have offered me a job within 24 hours had I shown up to the interview in a skirt and blouse when they had expected a suit and tie? I can’t guarantee that they would have. If I had Futurama’s what-if-machine I think it would be interesting to watch that scenario play out. Sadly we don’t live in a wacky animated future so I’m forced to navigate the path ahead in darkness, completely unsure of myself.
And what about the interview? How will it be different as a transwoman? I can’t imagine that it would be exactly the same, not unless I found a truly progressive hiring professional who could look 100% beyond gender norms and the gender binary. Even if they don’t realize I’m trans, I’ll know it, and that will inherently change the way the interview goes. I’ll be concerned about my voice, about my appearance, about whether or not my facial hair is visible through my foundation, and whether or not they are wondering about the bits between my legs when they should be listening to me speak. I remember how nervous I was to interview at grad school as Emma, I can only imagine how a job will look.
Universities often celebrate diversity and believe it’s an integral part to achieving the best education possible, but employers generally care about money. Is this person going to make us money? Are they going to accept the lowest possible wage we think we should offer? Are they going to be disruptive or distracting to the other employees and therefore cost us money? Will we have to invest a lot of time in them? Are they going to be difficult to employ for any reason?
And what about money? It is no secret, shameful as it is, that men in this country make more money than women do for the similar or same work. It’s just a really, really sad fact of our current economic system (propagated by the inherent power disparities that are a foundation of the gender binary, I might add), so where do I fit? If women are seen as lesser than men in the binary pyramid of power game, and gender non-conforming people (aka those stigmatized by transphobes as sexual deviants or mentally ill) are even lesser than women, do they get paid even less? The statistics tell us that being trans really hits a person hard in the wallet, both by limiting access to jobs and reducing overall economic stability, so what can I expect going into all of this? Will I be paid as a man, a woman, or something else? Ideally it wouldn’t matter, but we don’t live in an ideal world.
Years of white, male privilege have given me opportunities to ask for and make more money than others in similar situations, but if I try to ask for the same in my current status of “other” will I be laughed off the reservation? “OMG Bill! That freak thought we were going to pay him the same thing we’d pay ourselves!!!” /uproarious laughter
In class the other day we watched a brief video about transgender issues because I have an amazing professor who has been really sweet to me and is really concerned with trans issues. In that video one of the trans women said something similar to the following (I can’t remember exact words 4 days later, sorry) “I bought some land, I built my own house, I raised a family, I created my own business out of that house and slowly achieved everything I wanted. Since coming out as transgender, however, I have slowly lost all of those things.”
I don’t want to be like her. I don’t want to slowly lose everything, because I shouldn’t have to. It really struck me because she was voicing the very same thing I’m discussing now, the social power she gave up by going from being a white hetero male, to a trans woman. I imagine she lost her house, business, and land (not to mention family) because of her reduced ability to succeed in the binary-stratified economic system. I can only guess, but I’m sure her business dried up because people didn’t want to work with a trans person. I’m constantly fretting over whether or not my transition will prevent me from succeeding as a therapist for that very reason. Will people want to see a trans therapist? I honestly don’t know. Only time will tell.
The point to all of this, however, is that job searching sucks for everyone, but it is particularly difficult and complicated for trans people. I’m almost positive I won’t be able to find a job until my name is legally changed and I don’t HAVE to come out as trans as part of the application/interview process. That’s the tragedy of all of this. The easiest way to succeed in our society is to “pass” and so many of us don’t or can’t. It’s an impossibly high standard for many and something that really shouldn’t be a standard at all. I’m just a person. A good, capable, creative, hard-working, ambitious and intelligent person, what more is there than that when it comes to hiring someone? The answer is, there shouldn’t be anything, but there is because our system still needs to grow and adapt to the trans revolution.
All I can do is hope that the future ahead is bright and happy. I deserve a great job, just like anyone willing to work does. I deserve to be judged on my merits, not on my gender conformity or your gender expectations. That first job missed out on someone who would have worked their ass off for them, and if they missed that because of my name/gender situation, then they are even bigger fools.
After-thought!! If my trans* readers wanted to email me about their experiences with jobs and job hunting as a trans* person to be shared with others, I think it could be really good to get some more voices in on this issue. Were your experiences the same as mine? Did you have a great experience? Did you have a terrible experience? Did you learn any important lessons that others might benefit from hearing? Email me! (my email is in the contact/follow Emma tab at the top)