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.


  1. I don't have much to say, besides offering my condolences. I've been unemployed for 3 years and despite the privileges I have, it's been hell. My partner has the same problem with prospective employers as well and i know i am lucky. The only reason we've made it due to our community. We found a trans-owned urban farm that provides us with food, and small change. It's not much but we can afford toilet paper and get organic.y grown veggies once a week. The work you do here is important, and if you need any prayer magik from a witch, let me know.

  2. I would be tempted, given your background with herbalism, to make up little signs saying something to the effect of "Free Ethnobotany Pop Quiz - did you know x culture has been using this herb/food for... x years before it became popularized in north America?" And so on. Or "Free recipe - X cultural group combines this food with these herbs and eats this dish on this day of cultural significance to symbolize prosperity for the coming harvest". I'd post these in the store. Or, even more political - "I can barely afford to shop here but I can't get fresh organic food in my 'hood, so to make the best use of my limited funds, I make this..."

    There is a particular organic and whole foods store founded in Austin that I am not a fan of. I have heard similar stories to yours pertaining to older people, people of size and people with disabilities (all groups I belong to).

    Toi - thanks for sharing your story. Sending vibes of financial success your way.

  3. Fuck. On this job hunting while trans journey with you - I am writing a blog of my own and would like to repost you - is that ok?

    Good luck to you. I'm glad you're here.