Poverty: The Lynchpin of Trans Discrimination

2 Mar

http://money.cnn.com/2013/02/22/pf/transgender-unemployment/index.html?iid=F_Jump

They say money makes the world go round. Certainly, it is a game changer for trans people. When you have money you can find housing in safer neighborhoods, you can take a cab instead of walking after dark, you can afford flattering clothes and cosmetics; you can pay for an education and skills upgrading, you can eat healthy foods, you have better access to health care, and the list goes on. These things are a struggle to nearly impossible without money.  While this is true for everyone in our society, it is especially true for a trans people, who are at increased risk of violence because of their gender identity or gender presentation (Transgender Law and Policy Institute) and need additional health care (for sex reassignment surgery, hormones etc.). For them, these financial matters are magnified beyond that of the rest of the population.  It is in financial areas that trans discrimination is both visible and reinforced. It is in the different economic realities of trans men and women where the results of educational and employment barriers are visible, as well as the causes of these same barriers.

While there have been more trans stories reported in the over the last few years, they are usually very limited in scope. Mainstream media tends to focus on violence and outright discrimination (Hate crimes and murders or  access issues) when they get it right or view as scandal and spectacle (Beauty pageants etc.  )  when they get it wrong. Economics is rarely the focus of trans portrayals in the media.  While it is very important to highlight violence and discrimination cases, or (more rarely), to have cases of happy, successful transitions, there is much more to our reality than this. This is why I was very glad to see the CNN report linked above about the staggering barriers to transgender employment, and the very real economic barriers our community faces every day.

The CNN article includes examples of stories I have heard again and again from people in the local trans community. Each of these stories highlights the fact that we need to address the systemic problem of poverty in the community. One such story in the CNN article, that of Keisha who was kicked out of her house at 16 and forced to live in a homeless shelter, is a familiar one for trans youth.  Many trans youth do not come out to a friendly environment at home and end up homeless or in shelters where they are unable to continue education. Without education a person’s economic future is bleak and we need to provide shelter/housing solutions and economic supports that allow trans youth to continue their education in a safe environment.  The story of Jennifer Chavez is also a typical story for those who come out in the workplace later on in life. Few workplaces have policies in place to accommodate transition on the job or policies to specifically address the kinds of harassment a trans person coming out is likely to face.  A huge portion of trans people I know in this situation have had to leave their jobs and take jobs at a lower base salary with less seniority and security, if they are able to find jobs at all.

Perhaps the most insidious problem is highlighted by Rebecca Juro’s case; not getting hired at all. Most of the trans people I know who end up unemployed or who are just entering the work force face this issue. Trans people will drop dozens and dozens of applications, seldom ever finding a job. As was highlighted in the article, frequently the job continues to be posted but the trans person simply is not hired. While a lack of job history or difficulty finding work references is part of the problem, but it is only one of many roadblocks. Sometimes the trans person gets to the interview phase, but for those who don’t pass well or have inconsistent gender marker on their documentation that is where it ends. It is really hard to prove discrimination in these cases because employers can usually find some excuse to say that the trans person was not the best choice or did poorly in the interview. Even when the discrimination is clear, most job seeking trans people don’t have the money to pursue legal action. This is a very real problem faced by trans people every day.  A major study of barriers facing the trans community in Ontario, the Trans Pulse project reported that “while 71% of trans people have at least some college or university education, about half make $15,000 per year or less” (Trans Pulse Project) . This statistic is so far off the general population that it is hard to attribute it to anything but bias.

I worry for my friends; I worry for the next generation of trans youth and I worry for myself. I see recent surveys that say that 97% of trans people face harassment and discrimination in the workplace (National Transgender Discrimination Survey ) and 47% experience negative job outcomes. Is that my future? Am I going to accumulate student debt for a nursing diploma only to be unemployed or underemployed? I am already going back to school in my 40’s because I have been living in poverty for over 20 years so this is very real to me. I was unable to fully transition as much for economic reasons as any other reasons and have never been in secure living situations to do so. Economic supports, housing supports, workplace policies for transition and harassment, and employment incentive programs for trans people are needed as much as anti-bullying policies in schools and gender inclusive washrooms in public places. The playing field is not level and we need public policies in place and media attention to our situation to give us the opportunities to show what were capable of. We deserve the chance to make our lives better, to succeed or fail based on our performance, not our appearance. If money does indeed make the world go round, it is time that we got the chance to be part of the trip.

(For my regular readers I want to apologize for not having blogged in a while. School has been much more work than expected and I have a new and wonderful fiancée that I will be sure to blog about in the future)

Trans Awareness Week Video Featuring Me and my Friends!

22 Nov

This is a link to a video done for trans awareness week at Western University here in town. It features me and a number of my closest friends. I would be the one with the “Out and Proud, Free of Fear, Trans and Strong” sign.

http://vimeo.com/53919796

For those Christmas charity pots:

4 Nov

The Salvation Army is an extremely unfriendly organization to the GLBTQ community. Check out this and  this and  this and very much this if you want to know why I say that.

I strongly urge you not to donate to them this Christmas. There are clearly better charities to give your money too. I have also stumbled onto an interesting to campaign that give you a way to tell the Salvation Army that you are making this choice.

Give money to a GLBT friendly charity, print out a few of these, and put them in those Salvation Army kettles when you see them this Christmas. Maybe the Salvation Army will finally see that hatred of the GLBTQ community is no longer acceptable in our world.

A letter to the bathroom bigots:

26 Oct

To all of the people who don’t want me in your bathrooms Roseanne Barr ,  Rob Anders  and all the rest:

The bathroom issue seems to come up somewhere on nearly a daily basis. All of you claim to be well meaning, protecting woman from a possible danger that we could theoretically pose. You say it’s all about safety. Let me tell you a bit about safety.

I have never ever in my life felt safe. Not once that I can bring to mind. This in varying degrees is the reality for nearly all of the trans community (I would never claim to speak for everyone). It is not just physical safety either; I don’t feel economic safety, emotional safety, or social safety.

We have realities you don’t face and don’t seem to understand. In many jurisdictions we can be openly fired from our jobs or, even in the places where we can’t, we are driven out of our jobs or excuses found to fire us.  Housing is uncertain even in places where we have protections. So many times you are living with hostile neighbors, landlords who find excuses not to help you, or in neighborhoods where walking as trans is very dangerous. When we face abuse or homelessness there are huge number of shelters where we are simply not welcome or not safe. We attempt to go to school and face bullying and a curriculum which ignores us or vilifies us.

It all reinforces itself. Many of us end up undereducated, underemployed, living in poverty, with few resources and inadequate supports. Even when we miss those outcomes we still have to deal with the hostile stares if we don’t meet cis standards of proper appearance, or have to pull out an ID with the wrong gender tag on it. We often can’t even share our own past and life experiences without risking someone realizing our trans histories and treating us with scorn or worse.

I want you to think about that bathroom bigot. Imagine a life where the best case scenario is often invisibility and praying a bad outcome doesn’t occur. Imagine never feeling secure. Imagine not even being able to go to the bathroom without risk; an absolutely basic bodily function. Then you tell me that were the ones making people unsafe.

On a certain petition…

24 Oct

PLEASE NOTE: I would kindly ask that you read my entire post and my reply in comments at the end before attacking me. I very much see the other side to this issue and don’t automatically claim im right. I do want you to try to see where im coming from before you accuse me of things I am not saying though. Respectful debate is welcome, attacks because you did not fully read are not. I am also a bit sad I have to add this note.

I keep getting sent a petition online about declassifying gender identity as a mental illness. You may have seen it; it’s the one with Jenna saying trans people aren’t sick. I really do understand the intent of the petition but I wanted to bring another perspective.

Firstly, I would say that most trans people would agree that gender identity issues do bring with them a great degree of mental distress. We live in a society that does not accept us, frequently we lose family and friends, have high rates of poverty, and are often the targets of bigotry and violence. This has led to very high rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental illness in the trans community. One need only look at the extremely tragically high suicide rates to see that trans people are suffering as a whole. I think that makes it fair to classify gender dysphoria as a serious contributory factor to mental illness much in the same way that diabetes contributes to a host of associated illnesses. Having gender identity does not automatically cause mental illness but it certainly increases the likelihood that you may experience one.  That alone makes me reject the point of this petition but I have a much bigger issue that really bothers me:

What is wrong with being mentally ill?

Much of the thrust of this petition seems to imply that being associated with mental illness is something to be avoided at all costs. That is an extremely ableist position to my mind. I have dealt with mental illness for years and it does not invalidate me as a person. It is not something that makes me someone you should avoid. Being mentally ill is just a condition I live with much like I live with being diabetic. Seeing my community put out a petition that says there is something wrong with me really bothers me. I have dealt with years of stigma from being trans and I would like to remove that stigma; but it is wrong to stigmatize another community to make us somehow acceptable.

Currently there is a new push to have gender dysphoria treated like cancer, a condition that needs treatment but isn’t a mental illness, but allows us to have coverage. Ask yourself why you are making this distinction and what it says about attitudes towards the mentally ill. Perhaps instead of this petition we could put some working into de-stigmatizing both mental illness and trans identities.  Everyone’s acceptance and success is conditional till everyone is treated with respect and dignity.

A brief message for the men

9 Sep

Rant ahead:

Ok, I am not sure what it is with my moms neighborhood. It is supposed to be more middle class then where I lived before (which was very poor). I am facing way more harrassment here however and its not for being trans its for being a woman. Today I had about my 5th situation with guys passing me on the street and slowing down to make sexually harrassing comments. At least this morning it wasn’t at night and they werent drunk.

Guys who do this – its way beyond not funny. If you want to terrify a woman this is a really good way. You wonder why woman are uncomfortable around men? Why we are careful when and where we walk? It is guys like you combined with very real threats out there.

Stop it. Now. Learn to be a human being.

The Current Debate on Rape: Doing More

21 Aug

After Todd Akin’s horrible comments on rape recently; the subject has been front and centre in the news and in the debate on twitter, facebook and most social media.  I have never seen the subject so front and centre in the media and honestly, as someone who dealt with childhood sexual assault and a very recent sexual assault, it has become very hard for me to follow the media without dealing with stress and flashbacks. I realized however that I couldn’t avoid it at the moment so I have decided to turn that in to a plea for something more.

In spite of the effect the debate has on me it is a very necessary debate. Attitudes people hold on the subject of rape, especially our legislators and health care providers, need to be questioned and exposed. Unquestioned attitudes on the subject have led to blaming, shaming, and a lack of empathy and understanding. They have also led to something else which is the focus of my blog: a serious lack of services.

After my recent sexual assault many of my PTSD symptoms returned and I needed to seek out services to help me cope and recover. I can tell you from experiences that those services are extremely lacking. I live in one of the better spots to get treatment and still the waiting lists are months. Many people who experience sexual assault need services much faster than that before self-harm, suicide, and various other serious health and personal consequences descend on their lives. Even now months after trying to access services I am still waiting on an appointment just to get a referral to a trauma specialist. Even beyond therapy there is a lack of shelters, a lack of crisis lines and services, and a serious lack of public information and public safety programs to prevent and deal with the sexual assaults.

What can we do? First donate money to your local shelters, sexual assault centres and services, and to education and prevention programs. Secondly, you can volunteer. Most of the services I just mentioned need people to help, staff a crisis line, hand out fliers, help with rides, or any multitude of tasks. Thirdly, if you don’t have money or are able to volunteer many shelters and services can use donations of clothing, food, or toys. Lastly, you can be aware of the local crisis lines and provide an ear for people you know so that you can put them in touch with these services when they need it.

The only one thing I ask before you donate or work with these services is that you make sure they are trans inclusive. Many locations refuse to serve or shelter trans clients and we frequently need these services very badly because many of us lack a support network do to loss of family and friends. Make sure you put your money with services that respect all people.

Don’t let this just be a debate in the media and internet. If this issue is important to you I urge you to do a little more.

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