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)