Tag Archives: transitioning

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)

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.

Why I do what I do #1: Becoming a nurse

2 Jul

I would like to dedicate this post to Kate Donovan for inspiring it with a twitter conversation. You are an amazing person 🙂

I have been working very hard the last while to get into nursing school. I am sure I will update that on this blog when it comes through

A few people have asked me about why I want to be a nurse and I have given a variety of answers. There is a few standard buzz lines I have for the people who ask in passing. I want to help people. I find the medical profession very interesting. I have come to have a love of sciences and I thought this would be a chance to use them to earn a living. Nursing is a nearly guaranteed job if i’m willing to relocate.  Nursing is a profession where being trans is less of a barrier. All of these answers are to a varying degree true but its more than that to me.

Let me explain a couple experiences I have had. Shortly after I started transitioning I was out for my daily walk and I hurt my ankle very badly. By the next morning it was quite swollen and I needed to go into the emergency room to have it checked out. I was really self conscious walking in there, I was just starting to leave the house in woman’s clothing and the anxiety still made me feel like I wanted to puke. I was also not very convincing at this point. I had no concept of makeup and I hadn’t had laser yet so I had very clear “shadow”, I was also dressing in somewhat gender neutral but feminine leaning clothing because I was fearful of being laughed at, and I also was still very heavy (325 lbs) and had no breast forms. I had started hormones but they had no effects yet. After sitting in the waiting room for hours and feeling like I was being stared at by everyone I got called in for intake. The nurse asked me what the problem was, examined my ankle then proceeded to take my medical history. After asking about medications and me listing the hormones she asked me why I was taking those and I said that I was transgendered. Her reply?

“Well, you look nothing at all like a woman”

Experience number 2. I had surgery on my other ankle a couple years ago and it was fused and pins put in. Unfortunately the pin came loose and came out the side of my ankle so I had to go back in for some cleanup surgery.  My name change came in after the surgery appointment but before the surgery itself. I thought I had taken care of that at the pre surgery appointment but apparently not.  Everything went well getting signed in at the hospital, and getting brought into the surgery room, I was called ma’am and miss and even a very flattering young lady (i’m not either).  It came the moment where they needed me to sign the final consent for surgery and it had my male name on it. At that point the nurse looked at me with disgust, she started calling me sir, and him and Mr. It was humiliating. Fortunately my doctor came in to clear up the situation and called me Anna and used female pronouns.

These are very important examples of why I want to be a nurse. Having a health care professional treat you with respect and dignity no matter who you are or what your past is can be vital in making someone feel safe enough to access medical care. Trans people let illnesses fester, become ill, and can be dissuaded early in their transitions because of bullshit like this. It can KILL people. I want to be there to be a smiling face. Nurses are usually at the front line of care for a patient. I want to give love and acceptance and make people feel safe, trans or otherwise. Everyone deserves dignity.

Let me give you one more story that is close to my heart. It happened much earlier and will explain why nursing has been a goal for many many years. I was 19 years old and had gotten very ill with a mental illness. I had lost my school year and found myself admitted to a psychiatric ward for care. I felt hopeless, I felt ashamed, and I saw absolutely no future for myself. There was one nurse there named Becky. She talked to me and took time with me and her kindness and gentleness finally got me to admit to the gender issues I was facing. She didn’t laugh, didn’t frown, she didn’t judge in anyway. She asked me what would make me feel better. I said I wanted to shave my legs. It was one of the only things I felt safe doing that wouldn’t show at home with my parents. Sharps on a ward tend to be frowned upon especially since i was on suicide watch so she went and got permission, stayed past her shift outside my shower so I could shave my legs. She even provided tips which have proven very useful over the years. I never forgot her. I felt human and not like I was sick. She made such a difference in my life and she put herself out to do it.

That is what I want to do. I want to be a nurse. I want to make things better because I care. If I can make a difference for one person it will be worth it.

Thank you Becky, wherever you may be.

Late vs Early Transitions: the Dangers of Labels and Assumptions

22 Jun

Firstly a shout out to Erica for her post http://inchoaterica.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/who-will-come-to-find-you-first-your-devils-or-your-gods/  that made me get off my butt and write this.

In nearly every trans space I spend any time at all a specific narrative seems to be tossed out and used to divide the crowd; late transition versus early transition.  It usually starts in the form of such and such believes this because they started late/started young and they just don’t understand what its like for us. People are then labelled as being in one group or the other. There is an assumption that everyone in one of these camps have similar experiences because of it. Its bad enough  that this is used to divide the community but even worse its serving to erase certain trans peoples experiences perhaps even most.

This is the stereoptype I have gotten both from people who self identify as one or the other and from people in the other “camp”:

Late Transitioners: Came out late in life. Tried to live for years as men often going into very masculine professions to cure their feelings and having families for the same reason. Denied who they were till very late. Tend to have very conservative views of gender roles. Tend to be bad at “passing”. Tend to be judgemental and urge caution to younger transitioners. Kept secrets for years. Always tend to wear dresses and skirts or very masculine clothing based on MTF/FTM. Seek out stereotypically feminine/masculine hobbies.

Early Transitioners: Came out young. Always pretty much knew what they were. Challenge assumptions about gender roles. Out and living as themselves from a very young age. Fit in as chosen gender role better. Tend to be impatient in dealing with others around their gender issues. Judgemental of older trans people. Insensitive to barriers for older people who could not transition.

What is even worse is that both groups come to believe this whole story as the truth of the transition expereince. They even tend to gloss over aspects of their own lives that dont fit as if they never even happened. They get very antagonistic when you challenge the fact that there are experiences that dont fit with this simple framework.

What happens to people who don’t fit this narrative?  Well in my case I get ignored and belittled by both sides. Older transitioners will tell me that I got to see life from both sides of the coin. That I can appreciate my male experiences and female experiences. It makes me want to scream. I never for a single moment felt male. I ALWAYS knew exaclty what I was.  They will also assume I want to live out a certain standard of feminity. I have been told that I can be myself and wear skirts and dresses if I want…I dont wear skirts and dresses because I find pants and shorts more comfortable and practical most of the time. I am not denying myself. This is me.  Also, I didnt keep secrets, many people clearly knew, I just wasnt allowed to say anything. No guilt here on that count.

Younger tranistioners? They treat me like I am a failure. Why didnt I just transition? Why did I keep secrets? As I said above I had no choice at all. It was secrets my life was just denied me. It was more like a prison sentence than a choice. They also treat me like a threat. Like I am an embarressing conservative barrier to their future. I support them, I am just trying to live my own life and would never claim to know whats right for them. Unfortunately they still other me. As if I dont feel enough rejection in the non trans world.

My history is non standard. I came out really really young but was stopped from transitioning. Same thing happened later. I didnt try to marry, didnt try to push away who I was because I knew I couldnt. I did eventually get to place where I could transition. Does that make me late or early? Does it matter? I am Anna not a label. My experiences are not the same as yours. I still want support I still want community.

I think nearly all of us don’t fit any kind of dominant idea of transness. We experienced out lives differantly, it erases our pasts, our family life, our disabilities, our colour, our ethnicity, our place of birth, our date of birth, our education or lack thereof, our poverty or wealth. We are not a single narrative. We never will be. But we do need each other. Stop dividing, stop making assumptions, learn about each other and show support.

Society already divides us, alienates us. We shouldn’t be doing the same

(Thanks also to WilloNyx for the proofing/editing)

The Pink Panther and Me

20 May

I thought a good subject for my first blog post would be to explain the title of my blog. It’s also a good introduction to who I am so that people will know what they are getting into reading this blog.

I am a trans woman. I have been transitioning full time since January 1st 2011. I have been on hormones for 7 months as of this post. It took me a long time to come to the point of transitioning, a really really long time.  I know for many people a later tranisiton is because they arent sure, or the dysphoria is mild till they become an adult, or they have a spouse/children to consider. For me it was none of those things.  I have no spouse, I have no children, and my dyshoria has always been acute. I knew who I was and what I wanted to be from my earliest moments but something got in the way….something stopped me from becoming the person I need to be. It all started with a pink panther.

My very early memories as a child were mostly happy. I am smiling in all my pictures  as a child. I had an insatiable love of reading, I used to look for every fact book I could and tried to show how grown up I was by learning everything I could. I mostly played with my sisters toys and would occasionaly dress like her when I could but I didn’t think anything of it. I knew Daddy didn’t like it so I just didn’t do it when he was home. I watched a lot of TV and loved a lot of music. I would pretend I was Stevie Nicks or Olivia Newton John in my room and dance around. I also had a passion for stuffed animals. Any stuffed animal.

My parents liked to go to the fairs around the region I lived in during the summers and would take me and my sister along. My sister never wanted to stay with Mom and wanted to spend her money on rides but I would stay behind and go where she loved, the games. There was all kinds of games, spin a wheel, pop a balloon, toss a big die and bet to win a cheesy carnival prize. You would always end up spending more than the cost of whatever you eventually won but you would always end up with something. Mom and I would have fun and I would walk away with a stuffed animal. My sister didn’t want them, she was older than me and was way too cool for kids stuff like that. I loved them. They were soft and cuddly, unbearably cute, and I could play pretend games where they were my friends.

I should probably add that I didn’t really have any friends in my neighborhood other than the girl next door. Even she would only be friends when we were home since I was that weird boy that no one liked. It was ok with me though, I was happy and I had my friends. By the time I was 7 or 8 I had collected at least 50 stuffed animals, probably more. There is a couple of old pictures of my in my room, sitting in my bed absolutely surrounded by them. I loved everyone of these toys I owned but my clear favorite was the pink panther. He was cute and he was pink (I love pink) and his cartoon was the neatest one I watched on TV aside from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I love cartoons too, I am still a sucker for a good cartoon. I always went to bed with the pink panther clutched under my arm and I felt safe.

I sort of liked school too. I got really good marks and the teacher liked all my silly jokes I got from my joke books. The other kids didn’t like me so much because I wasn’t very boyish. Really I wasn’t boyish at all. I tried to hang around the girls and I would say things like “I want to be Wonder Woman” when we were talking about our favorite superheroes. I got beat up a lot. Pretty much every day. A black eye, bruises, bloody nose, scrapes and lots of pain. It didn’t worry me, I could just go home and play in my room and I didn’t have to worry about them. Mom started freaking out though. Dad decided I needed to learn how to defend myself. That went badly. I didn’t really want to for starters but I did it anyway with much complaining. Eventually I just told myself I could learn to fight like Wonder Woman and I was pretty good at it too. One thing Dad didnt consider though is that bullies don’t like losing fights. They came back in groups and I ended up getting hurt worse. Dad and Mom decided I needed help so they sent me to the school guidance councillor.

This was a long time before “it gets better”; when you were bullied the problem was with you not the bullies. The guidance councillor interviewed me. He sent me to see a specialist. The two of them decided that my issue was a problem with my gender non conforming behavior. This needed to be fixed before I could be happy (no one actually asked me if I was happy btw, I sitll maintain I was) so they sent me to yet another specialist in Toronto. I am pretty sure that it was the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, now CAMH home of Canada’s most prominant gender identity clinic. A gender identity clinic with a very checkered past (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenneth_Zucker)

I was sent home and it was decided that I needed to learn to be a man. No more gender deviant behavior. It was the only way to make me happy. My toys were thrown out, I was only allowed to watch appropriate TV shows, no more playing with the girl next door, I was made to go to hockey games with my brothers and I was forced to join boy scouts where I could learn to be manly after school with all the kids who bullied me during school. That day I came home and my toys went away is one permanantly etched on my brain. More than anything I remember the garbage bags being loaded with stuffed animals. As a cried and begged to just keep one I watched as my pink panther was put in a garbage bag and taken from my life forever.

I stopped being happy that day. Before that I could cope, I could escape. I could enjoy a bit of pleasure and childhood as myself in my own room. After that I was lonely, empty, sad. I couldn’t handle the bullies anymore because there was no escape. I would hurt myself. I got fat. I cried. Worst of all I gave up. I saw no future. I tried again to transition 11 years later at 19 but I as soon as it became difficult I assumed it was impossible and I gave up. Every time I tried after that day to persue my gender identity I would either put myself in danger or I would fail and end up hurting myself. This was my life for over 30 years.

In 2010 I hit rock bottom. I was 325 pounds, unable to walk from diabetes complications, getting daily nursing care and having severe constant anxiety attacks. A couple of things happened though. Firstly, a brilliant and wonderful surgeon fixed my ankle when I thought I would never be able to walk on it again. Secondly I found an old picture book. It had a picture of a young child on a bed holding a pink panther and smiling. I remembered that I could actually be happy and I wanted that. It had been so very long but I wanted that.

Since that day I have changed my life. I have lost over 140 pounds and am nearly off all my diabetic medications. I look really good too. I look much younger than my age. I also started transitioning full time. I knew I needed to be me or I was just going to die so I came out to Mom, my best friends, and all of my family. It has been really good for me being the woman I was meant to be. I smile. I like myself sometimes. I started going back to school and am hoping to enter a nursing program in January to finally get a job and have a life. It’s not all roses. Bad things still happen. I still have nightmares. I still face crippling anxiety at times. I do, however, see a future for the first time since I was that small child. That child didn’t deserve losing the life they lost. I feel like I’ve ben dead since that day and im just walking up. In spite of the challenges and the backsliding I keep trying to move forward, for that kid no one spoke up for, and for a pink panther that deserved to be loved for a life time.

P.S. Someday I will buy myself another stuffed pink panther. No one will take it away this time.