4 min

The abridged resumé

As if finding work wasn't hard enough already

MAKING IT WORK. Being trans means having to come out to former employers and total strangers. Credit: R Jeanette Martin

Being a transsexual is full-time work, but the pay isn’t great, really not enough to live on.

I have been forced to take on other work. Unfortunately, being a trans-sexual is not really the kind of job experience that most employers look for on a resumé. I spent several months unemployed or underemployed looking for work. In the process I came out to many total strangers and old employers, and yes, was eventually successful.

Employers don’t know I’m trans from my resumé. They know that I am queer, that I have had a long involvement in the women’s movement, that equity is important, that I am a feminist and that I have spent seven summers working for companies that have “women” or “girls” in their title. In short, they expect me to be a dyke. So when I arrive at the interview in my best hire me outfit, neatly dressed, beard trimmed, looking for all the world like a young 20-something fag I am often met with some surprise.

It’s been pointed out that if I simply wanted to present as a fag I could leave these female-oriented jobs off my resumé. How then would I then explain what I did for seven summers? Where activism is important, should I just leave off attending the UN Conference On Women for the International Lesbian And Gay Association? For jobs where writing is important, do I ignore the book I co-wrote because it’s called Recipes For Wild Women? There would be too much missing, too many gaps and I would seem painfully inexperienced.

Jobs that only require an application seemed like an attractive alternative. At UPS you apply in person, fill out the application and are only asked for the last few years of your employment. So far so good. I listed a co-worker and a friend as references.

I hadn’t counted on the mandatory physical. The doctor was less than charming. As the exam went on he became increasingly unclear as to my sex, and eventually asked me to pull down my underwear (so old-fashioned to believe you can tell someone’s sex by looking between their legs). He left the office immediately and as I dressed and I could hear him loudly discussing his shock and disgust with his receptionist in front of a full waiting room. It was mortifying. He did however report that I was fit for the job, and I went on to courier training.

There, I discovered that at UPS the only facial hair men are allowed is a moustache and was told to shave. I don’t have a moustache. The only facial hair I grow is a charming little goatee, which I am convinced helps me pass immensely. I needed the job, but was not willing to shave.

I considered arguing that legally I am a woman, and as the women’s dress code makes no mention of facial hair I was fine. That, however, would’ve condemned me to the women’s change room, the women’s uniform and probably female pronouns, – not exactly an improvement.

At the very bottom of the dress code, in tiny print, it said that exceptions would be made for religious and medical reasons. Great. I began by explaining my religious and medical reasons to the local human resources representative and eventually it escalated to correspondence with a company lawyer in the US. It concluded with a written agreement including the line, “the employee agrees to be treated by UPS as a male in all things” twice. I was quite pleased, put on the uniform in the men’s locker room and got on to the work of delivering packages.

I continued applying for professional jobs. Finally, an organization with an equity focus asked me to provide two supervisory references. I didn’t have two bosses who I had worked for as a man, so gritting my teeth I phoned two who had known me as a woman and had given me excellent references in the past.

I had worked for Sue for four summers at a camp for girls. After some light banter I told her about the job I was applying for and asked her if she would be willing to provide a reference. She agreed. Pause. Then I explained that I was different from when I worked for her. She said she knew – she had seen me on television.

“It doesn’t change how you work with youth,” she said, and agreed to use male pronouns. Sometimes acceptance is more overwhelming than rejection and I was deeply touched by her support.

My conversation with my second reference was more of a challenge. I had lost the job at the second place for transitioning. However, there too my old boss agreed to provide a reference and refer to me as he.

Still, I worried that they would slip up and call me she. I worried that as they both had “women” or “girl” in the name of the companies that this would cause suspicion in my new potential employer. I wanted the job so I decided that I should come clean.

I phoned and explained that I was trans and what that meant to the executive director. She was respectful and polite (and probably already knew). She took the references, checked them and offered me the job.

In my first month all staff took part in an all-day workshop on anti-oppression. It’s a diverse workplace where women outnumber men on staff. Most of my co-workers are immigrants to Canada and people of colour; they know what discrimination and intolerance feel like. It’s a warm and supportive space.

They all know I’m queer and some know I’m trans although neither word appears on my business card. I know that I am lucky.

But it took months to find this job, longer than I have ever been without work before. More interviews, more phone calls from employers that lead nowhere and more applications than ever before in the past. Yet, here I am. Staff and youth know that I’m queer, but that’s not what defines my work here.

Here, I’m the simply co-ordinator of the Newcomer Youth Centre.