the philosophactivist

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Joys of Job Hunting while Trans- Part 2

This weekend I immediately knew exactly why I didn't get hired. 
Because I'm trans. It's happened to me many times in the last few years, which is why I'm so certain. It always starts out the same...the HR Director calls you, becomes enamored, and you make it to the next round of interviews and woo everyone. You do well on all the screening and tests and they're excited. And then either I show up, in person, dressed in my usual “masculine” clothing and there's a shift, or another person comes in to interview me and even after all the smiles and the “go ahead “of the first two folks there's a shift. It's always something like, 'I'm not a good cultural fit' or there were better qualified candidates'...but this time I guess I was more sensitive to the shift that happened in the room on that fourth interview.

Maybe because the shift was so abrupt. I'd just spent all this time smiling and laughing and talking about my past as an organizer and how my food justice background fit in great with the company and she was practically talking like I'd already gotten the job. She was talking about me sitting on the diversity council and these different committees the company has. She also said I'd scored higher than anyone ever on the quiz they gave us. They also dug my creativity in the 2nd interview.

And then, she called in her white, male boss.

He came in and looked at me. I didn't think he'd be a “problem.” He barely looked at my resume, thumbing through it, he asked the same questions she'd asked and apologized for it. Then he saw “TBTS” and that I'd “worked” there. He asked what TBTS is. I thought, well, surely someone had read my detailed description of my position with this resource guide for trans folks, I mean I'd come this far in the process. But my gut told me, this was not going to be cool.

I told them what it stood for, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves and that it was a resource guide for gender non-conforming folks. The interviewer who'd just interviewed me, my would-be supervisor kind of just stared but was trying not to make a face. Her supervisor's face changed visibly and he ended the interview right there and they said they were going to step outside and talk. I knew right away that this wasn't going to be good.

She came back in and her tone had changed. She asked if I had any questions. I said most had been answered in the last interview and she started apologizing for the long interview process, which I found odd. Then I remembered to ask her about start dates and she skirted around the issue and I knew for sure then that I hadn't gotten the job. They'd told us orientation dates at the last interview orientation, why was she not telling them to me now? She walks me out of the back room and tries to be nice and ask what I'm going to do for the rest of the day and kind of rushes me off saying she'd be in touch by Monday. She'd mentioned earlier that her boss's boss was out of town and they still had to go over the other pool of applicants together.

I walked home feeling confused and defeated. The next day (a day earlier than when she said she would get back to me) I got an email and I knew before I opened it that it was a rejection letter.

“[Legal Name that I'd told them I never use]thank you for your interest in growing a career with[company name].
The search to locate an ideal candidate for the position at [company name]has provided [company name]with many outstanding applicants such as you and we sincerely appreciate your time and effort. At this time we are proceeding forward with other candidates.
You are welcome to apply for any open position at [company name].”

So after rocking out three interviews and testing well, there were mysteriously better candidates.

I'm not setting foot in that place again. It's sad because there aren't any quality health/food stores around here and I will have to go out of my way to avoid not being a patron of this place.

I feel shame for even being upset about not getting this job. This is the very place that made me feel uncomfortable when I first moved to this side of town. I always felt like people were watching what I was buying, like, “oh...I didn't know brown people eat kale!”

I kid you not...a few weeks ago I had my headphones on (because it makes me feel more comfortable in that environment) and I was reeeeally focused on the particular section I was at and out of the corner of my eye I see a little old white lady flagging me down. I mean, trying really hard to get my attention. I slowly turn my head to see what's going on and she says something about liking my hat or my outfit or something.


Has your privilege and entitlement gotten you to that point? The point where you think everyone must stop what they're doing to acknowledge you and listen to whatever it is you have to say about their wardrobe? I've also had other choice moments of feeling uncomfortable that are too many to mention.

So why did I apply here?

You really want to know? I needed the money and I was close to doing work in the “informal economy”. You know, where a lot of trans folks end up. Those positions that are always hiring people like us.

The store called me back the next day after I'd completed my online application and I convinced myself that it would be great to work at a whole foods-like store while I also was picking up hours at the local farmer's market associated with my last food justice job.

Never mind that I had the sneaking sensation that I would be perpetuating this age-old assumption in Austin that brown people are here to serve white people. It's like...wherever you go, brown people are cleaning up after them, serving them meals, etc. So when they ask you if you work there when you know damn well you don't...well you know where that comes from.

There's this expectation that you, as a brown person, should be subservient. You don't see black and brown businessmen here hardly ever. Why? Because they aren't a good “cultural fit” just like I'm not a good “cultural fit”. And when they say that you aren't a “good cultural fit” that generally means that they can't say racist jokes comfortably in front of you or they feel like they won't be able to “relate” to your “people”. It means they can't make fun of queer people or other marginalized folks without getting called on it or fired. So better not to hire you at all.

I think there's also some HR theory somewhere that says that you can't hire a brown person unless you hire one or two others at the same time. Some kind of pseudo-critical mass. So when I looked around the group interview the other day, I thought, 'Uh oh'. But, then I saw that the others were mostly light skinned Latinas and I was a little more relieved. Dark brown, light brown- it's still pseudo-critical mass, right? Ahhh but I was the only female-bodied person in a tie and a men's dress shirt. But I made it through that interview. It was when I was alone in the fourth interview with the white man that all my identities...brown, queer, trans- oh and let's not forget the natural hair- became too much! Overload! I couldn't possibly be a good cultural fit.

I was down and out for a bit. Kicking myself for caring. Kicking myself for forgetting that this is how it goes for me. I thought long and hard, and the only paying jobs I've gotten in the last few years have been 1) Americorps VISTA and 2) phone interviews.

Would I have gotten those jobs had I shown up in person? I think we know the answer. They may have chosen another candidate who didn't challenge their perceptions. Or maybe they would have hired me to get “liberal” and “progressive” points. “Hey Bob...I totally hired a brown person today. And guess what! They were trans too! With natural hair!” *High 5s Bill and Randy*
Friends are down to help me fight this. They want me to go to the EEOC, the company's HR department, lawyers,etc. but I honestly don't have a lot of fight in me right now. I'm looking for jobs. I'm trying to survive. This is how they get us. They know we can't afford to deal with their bigotry.

And say I did fight this. Then what? Would they give me a job? Would I want that job? An elder told me the other day that the best thing I could do is get hired and through my work ethic prove that they were wrong about me. But, I'm over that. I'm not here to convince people that I'm a human being that deserves respect like everyone else. They have trainings for that.
I'm not here for that.

It reminds me of something a student said in a workshop I facilitated on Power and Privilege. A student, a black woman, said that it was the black man's responsibility to not be like the stereotypes that are out go above and beyond the stereotypes. I asked the two other black men what they thought, and they agreed. I was shocked...but not for long. 

We can't survive with that mentality.

No. It is not our responsibility to prove to anyone who has these biases and prejudices that these false assumptions and expectations are, in fact, wrong. That makes absolutely no sense. White people aren't preoccupied with that. I feel like it's brown folks who are always wondering about what it means if they speak, dress, or act a certain way. I find myself constantly monitoring what I wear out in certain parts of town, if I wear my hair out in certain places, if my hands are visible enough in stores, if my clothing will attract the wrong kind of attention from cops or suburbanites, and the list goes on and on. I don't know what it feels like to not have these mental checklists regarding my appearance and its affect on other people's behavior. I just don't.

So then the shame. How dare I walk in to this bougie store full of white upper class people and expect them to see me for who I am. How dare I buy into the hype. How dare I think I'm human and not just some invisibilized object that serves, speaks when spoken to, or who moves out of the way when they want me to. A nobody who accepts that I can't have certain jobs because of who I am. My identity in itself is just too political. Why don't I erase some pieces of me, so that I can belong?

But I know more than anyone that I never can. I never will. I am brown. I am queer. I am trans. Many, many people in this world wish that I did not exist. They wish my words would fall on deaf ears. It's overwhelming sometimes when I think of how many people wish me not only jobless, but lifeless. How many people would take my life because of who I am. Because of who they think I am and what I represent.

It's a lot. And I don't want to smile. I want to feel this. I don't want to be delusional. I want to acknowledge this. And I don't want to just be content knowing that this job just wasn't for me. I want to be real and know that most jobs out there aren't for people like me.

But I'm here.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Joys of Job hunting while Trans- Part 1

As much as I wish that people were clamoring to hire me for a lucrative position at some ridiculously amazing think tank or organization, I have to be real and say that with this shining, stellar economy, pickin’s are slim. I can’t quite figure out which part of my identity is keeping me from landing jobs, either. Is it my skin color? Is it my visible queerness- i.e. transmasculinity? Is it the long list of queer-related or identity-oriented organizing on my resume? Is it the ethnocentric degree? All of the above?

Many don’t seem to realize the additional barriers present when I’m applying for jobs. Some think that it’s about toning something down. As if I could hide my transness, wipe off my brownness or have some skeleton of a resume, missing the last 5 years of the activism I’ve done. (Though you can be sure I've tried these things, unsuccessfully...all but wiping off the brownness, of course).

When did places start asking your gender (they mean "sex") and “legal” name? I didn’t realize how upsetting that can get after a few weeks. I mean…when I show up I’ve already set the stage for being misgendered and they’re calling me a name that hardly anyone has called me this decade. It’s annoying and it makes me feel shame. Shame for not paying the hundreds of dollars to have my name changed years ago. Shame for feeling shame that I don't look the way they expect me to look to call me by the proper pronouns.

Here's a true scenario-
at a four hour interview three girls and I showed up and the recruiter kept referring to our group as “ladies”.  “So glad we’re all a bunch of ladies…now I can talk about how proud I am that this company was started by ladies.” “Oh all you ladies get it…” etc. When I came into the back room for the group interview I panicked because they’d put our names on the desk and I didn’t see mine anywhere. I was just about to mention it when I remembered…hey, they probably put my legal name. I didn’t even recognize my legal name. Call it cognitive dissonance. It happens a lot lately.

I realize that I’m at an interesting impasse. As a "feminine-looking", masculine presenting person who has decided not to take testosterone or transition, people tend to just assume I’m a butch lesbian. The fact that I’m a different gender doesn’t really register, I find. I get it. But does the application process have to be so highly set up for me to fail? My cursor often hoovers over M or F. Well, if I say F…I’m lying and if I say M, they’ll think I’m lying when I show up at the interview.

I don’t want to put my legal name but it is still my legal name. I could just put what I go by anyway, but I’ve done that before and it’s been a bust. Prospective employers get upset when their paperwork has to be redone and they feel as if you’ve lied to them over something as “trivial” as a nickname. They don’t realize the gravity of it for trans folks. Sometimes we’ve spent decades trying to get away from a name that traps us in a gender that doesn’t match. I have no love for my legal name. It makes me feel hollow. It hasn’t been “me” in a very long time. Like- ever. So, having to always start there during the hiring process doesn’t make me feel all that great. In fact, sometimes I shut down. Sometimes I won’t apply at all. Sometimes I get really depressed and shame surfaces.

Some folks think that I should just be who the job wants me to be til I get hired. They think I should wear feminine clothing. Be less trans. But for me, that’s worse than just being me and not getting hired. At least then I know that the people who thought I wasn’t a good “cultural fit” were bigots. I remember being in my early 20s and having to dress the women’s dress code during the day and coming home and ripping off those clothes and throwing on an undershirt and basketball shorts or a dress shirt, jeans, and shoes from the "men's section" at night. It really began to mess with my head. Who was I? I didn’t want to keep up the charade so I completely started dressing in men’s clothing daily and I felt so much better. It was such a weight off my shoulders, not having to parade around dressed as a gender that didn’t resonate.

I was more confident and the guys I worked with saw this and respected me more. That’s a whole other conversation, though- being inducted into the boy's club (because I slept with women and then this being further cemented as a member when I started wearing ties). It wasn’t exactly what I was going for and once there, it definitely wasn’t what I wanted. Free lap dances at the strip club after work, hearing about them cheating on their wives or wanting to, hearing about how big so-and-so’s breasts were, all the time. Ah the financial industry! Full of bros and misogyny. Such not so fond times over a decade ago when men took me into their fold and thought they’d try to relate to my masculinity in every problematic way possible.

I guess that's another entry waiting to happen...
Stay tuned for part 2 of the joys of job hunting while Trans...I've still got interviewing to do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Tu Lucha es Mi Lucha: More than Acknowledging each others' struggles, Organizing for Immigrant Rights

A page from my journal this summer:

Yesterday, we went to Polk Detention Center and protested and had a vigil for Father's Day. There were about 100 people there- from babies to elders. The security officers watched the whole time and we were relegated to a fifty yard patch of grass (with lots of ant hills). It was sweltering hot- in the upper 90s- and humid. We made two 4 hour trips for a 2 1/2 hour demonstration, but we got some press. The Observer went on the ride with us and Telemundo met us at the detention center. Texans United for Families also sent out some press releases. 

The Larger Movement: Dignity not Detention- Expose and Close

It's all part of a larger movement, the Dignity not Detention Campaign, with the Detention Watch Network to bring awareness to expose and close these horrible immigrant detention centers owned by private companies who treat people as if they're nothing more than a way to make profit. Polk Detention Center is one of the worst in the nation according to recent reports.
Human rights violations and sexual assault run rampant in these centers and the DWN seeks to challenge the injustices of the U.S. immigration detention and deportation system. 

Families Torn Apart:

Having a Father's Day vigil 

Video here

Families are constantly being torn apart because of the assumption that this country belongs to anyone other than the First Nation's people. 

There are so many causes to work toward but only working on single issue battles is not going to bring about the revolution. We must organize across issues and support each other in our struggles. Indigenous, immigrant, black, brown, white, young, old, disabled, able-bodied, chornically ill and healthy, queer and straight.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. 
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Our struggles may not look the same but the roots are similar. The colonizers of this country, built on the extermination and subjugation of thousands, have never been kind to "Others". Othering is the basis of domination- othering is the basis of genocide. When you fail to see the humanity of people you deem different than yourself, it is easy to be a cause of their suffering - voluntarily or involuntarily.

The culture of this country is wrapped up in individualism. Those of us not born into wealth, entitlements, or privilege often find ourselves fighting with each other for scraps of the American Pie. We constantly have to try to go to sleep to catch a glimpse of the American Dream.

But what is this dream but the values and aspirations of a now-minority?  
Is it what our ancestors would have wanted for themselves or for their descendants?

When immigrants and migrant workers cross the border to escape genocide or to escape conditions in which they cannot survive (largely due to intervention from imperialist countries such as our own- see Harvest of Empire) why is it ok to allow for our law enforcement to detain them, separate them and their families, violate their human rights and/or send them back to those countries to die?

Why is this not our problem? 

I realize that when we, ourselves, are trying to survive that fighting for the rights of others can seem like more than we can bare- and that's because it is. We have to do this together. We have to come together and fight for our basic human rights. Not just for one group's rights over another. Not for a feigned sense of  "equality". Don't you see that we can never, ever be "equal" under this system? That would require shared power in a way that is just not possible with the way this country was built. 

When the "fathers" of this nation said that all men were to be created equal, they didn't mean immigrants or any other people of color or women. These folks, these others, were not even considered human. They were possessions. They were chattel and this was in the eyes of the law. 

So, the sharing of power cannot happen in a system that is meant to run only by the subjugation of others. It is fueled by inequality. This is why we are pitted against each other. So many people try to assimilate into the dominant culture's values only to find out that 100% assimilation can never happen. No matter how educated you are or how much money you accumulate or how much of your culture you leave behind, you are still seen as lesser than. 

POC have fought each other for years to be one step above the other...a few rungs down from "the man"...but this isn't equality. With structural racism (and all structural oppression) there can be no equality. As long as we turn our backs on human rights violations anywhere, there can be no equality. There will always be an "other" and a "lesser than" who is not seen fit to have a certain amount of power. Someone to be policed, criminalized...subjugated.

As a defense mechanism, the marginalized subjugate each other. The oppressed oppress each other. There's always got to be someone who is weaker.

Another look at Equality vs. Equity

Pretend "equal access"

ex: saying people of color and whites can all go to school so all have equal opportunity for education and therefore have the same access to good jobs.
issue: schools on the black/brown side of town may be of poorer quality and get less funding, therefore an education from one of these schools isn't exactly competitive with higher ranked schools.

"leveling the playing field"
ex: affirmative action: people of color and whites with similar scores and qualifications can get into college but because of a lesser percentage of POC applying to college (for many reasons) they may be given priority

Of course this brings up all kinds of emotions for folks around what they've "earned". No one wants to think that they haven't earned something or that someone got a free ride. 

Who has "earned" their citizenship? Who "belongs" here? Most of us are the descendants of immigrants or people forced to immigrate for various reasons. But is being here for two, three or four generations grounds enough to belong here more than someone else? Does that justify the exploitation of those who haven't been here as long - at the hands of Big Agriculture and other industries? Is it ok if some people aren't "equal"? Maybe we can't be bothered with their equality and we don't care about a sense of equity.

I notice that whenever I post something on my facebook pages about immigration or undocumented queer immigrants, that no one comments. Is it because people don't understand the issue or don't know much about the issue? Or is that people think the issue doesn't concern them? Or worse, do people really think that some do not deserve to be in this country no matter the reason or that people should go about doing things the "right" way? Citizenship that is. I can't be sure. Maybe it's all of the above.

All I know is- que tu lucha es mi lucha. I'm not struggling alone and I refuse to buy into some meritocracy saying that I deserve more (or less!) than someone else or that anyone has less rights than I do because of where they were born. Xenophobia kills. It permeates the fabric of this country, originating before its "founding". Sometimes immigrants are quick to assimilate into the American Dream, othering folks from other countries or their own country and believing that they deserve to be here more. 

Have you seen what is happening to the actual people who "deserve" to be here? Why do so few stand in solidarity with them? Why do folks get bent out of shape when we talk decolonization? 

And we're back to entitlement, no wait...merit...

The truth is that we all deserve basic human rights and until everyone has them...there is no true freedom. Another's exploitation will always be a threat to everyone's liberation. 

For the descendants of the freedom riders and fighters on this 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington. (a poem)

Silence and stillness 

as I write my own future into 

Carving my own path, the cosmos are listening
poised to conspire. 
The journey within, mirroring the journey without. 

The stars, my ancestors- 
swirling conspirators on this liberatory voyage. 
Chains dissolving with every moment of awareness. 

I am Free. 
We are Free. 

Not "at last"- 
no, always and everlasting. 

Spirit knows no cages. 

Enveloped in the stillness, 
my ancestors whisper songs about 
beyond comprehension to 
those who don't talk to the Ocean 
or sit with Trees. 

How can we know Freedom 
without acknowledging co-existence, 
and more importantly, 
that I am You. 

Though my path seems solitary- 
though my dreams seem singular, 
our wants, needs and aspirations are 

So when I sit in silence, 
writing my future into existence. 
I think about your future, too. 

As I carve my path, 
I think about your path, too. 

And the Universe conspires for both of us. 
Our journeys coincide. 
Our chains dissolve together 
as we realize that our struggles are not separate, 
our paths are not separate,