(by Michele Angelique)
Many transpeople find themselves changing employment at some point during their transition. Often it’s been lamented that the only opportunities for t-people are in the entertainment business. Obviously, this situation has to change. Unemployment can be a source of added psychological stress during transition, a time which may already be fraught with challenges. This issue must be addressed in order to find ways in which transgender people can be financially secure, either through employment or entrepreneurialism. Let’s examine various sides of the issue, and find progressive ways to facilitate solutions.
Whether or not to transition “in the workplace” is a question facing many transpeople. The answer often depends upon the employer’s perceived tolerance toward such a change, the peer culture within the workplace, and how financially dependant the transperson is upon the employer. These factors lead many transpeople to remain “in the closet”, and live a double life in which they attend work presenting a different gender than they spend the rest the time. This condition leads to emotional stress and paranoia for the transperson that their employer should learn of their secret. Unfortunately, many cases have told us that all too often this fear is well-founded.
A close friend of mine was living the double life, and one evening she was spotted by some co-workers while out en femme. Within a week, not only had she lost her job, but word had traveled to competing firms in the city which might have hired her. The result for her was to be forced to start from scratch rebuilding a career in a different line of work altogether.
Another close friend decided not to live the double life anymore, and decided to come out to her employer. On the surface, it seemed a risky revelation given that she works in a “manly-man” type of business, and 95% of her co-workers are blue-collar males. However, she decided to have a meeting with her managers and tell them of her transgendered status and intent to transition permanently. She explained that she would like to begin coming to work wearing makeup and female clothing. The owners and management of the company were supportive of her, and sanctioned the requested changes.
She has since been going to work looking incrementally more feminine, while always remaining in the bounds of prudence. She dresses similarly to the women in her workplace, as her goal is not to receive extra attention or be a distraction to others, but rather just to be herself. She’s now happily doing just that. Her 50+ male co-workers have been respectful and accepting, some have even asked sincere questions wanting to better understand her transition. Her story gives me hope because sometimes an abundance of tolerance may exist in places where we assume there would be none.
The problem is, it is difficult to determine whether a company will be trans-friendly or not, until you take the plunge and ask the question. For some people, asking that question is just too risky, so it never gets asked.
I propose that we begin building a page on GenderEvolve that indicates the names of companies known to be trans-friendly. We can collect t-friendly employer names from the transgender community, and we can also contact companies and find out if they qualify to be listed on our page. If anyone reading this knows of trans-friendly companies, please respond in the comments section of this article or to firstname.lastname@example.org .
The Transgender at Work (TAW) project is a focal point for addressing workplace issues for the transgendered. TAW provides resources for innovative employers who want to set their company employment policies to help their transgendered employees to be at their most productive, without spending energy hiding an important part of themselves and pretending to be something they are not. Transgender at Work (TAW) focuses on voluntary cooperation between employers and employees. While civil rights laws are important to understand, and provide useful examples of language, advocacy for laws is outside the scope of TAW.
Resources for transgendered employees: http://www.tgender.net/taw/tg.html
The other career option for a transgender person is to become their own boss. This is the ideal solution for maximum personal freedom. There is no reason a TG-owned business must be based on, or have any relation to, transgenderism. There is no limit to the type, nature, scope of business that a transgender person could undertake, it just depends upon individual skills, visions, talents and financial resources to get started.
The first question to ask yourself when thinking about starting your own business is “what do I love?”. Think of what activities or causes make you the happiest. Ponder any and every avenue that might enable you to do these things that you love, in the context of providing valuable goods or services. If you can earn a living doing something you love, you will feel like you’ve never worked a day in your life.
The next question to ask yourself is, “what am I good at?”. Any business that you own should enable and challenge you to operate at your best. Honestly evaluate your strengths, identify your top five strengths, and look for ways to build upon those. Similarly, identify areas that may be required in your business but are not within your realm of skill, and think about ways to support those areas. You may wish to partner with others, or hire consultants to fill in the gaps.
The third question to ask yourself is, “who else would value these things?”. The types of people that fall into this category are your potential customers. Think of ways you might be able to get their attention with your product or service. Consider the demographics of these potential customers, such as age range, income, family status, cultural genre, location, habits, education, lifestyle, and preferences. Put yourself in their shoes, and imagine what might compel you to make a buying decision.
Take the information you have gathered in the above three questions, and put them together. You now have a basis for a potential self-employment business opportunity, and can begin seeking to fill in the details. Here is a valuable resource portal to guide you through the rest of the process of starting your own business. http://www.entrepreneur.com/bizstartups/
In conclusion, many transgendered people may find the best solution to be self-employment, although the transgender employment situation is one which is bound to change over the coming years. Employers will become more aware, and human resource policies will be written that prevent discrimination against transgendered people, in much the same way that sexual discrimination policies have evolved to prevent harassment of women on the job. It is my hope that we will be able to gather an ever growing list of trans-friendly employer names to add to our special page on GenderEvolve.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
(by Michele Angelique)
Posted by Michele Angelique at 10:19 PM
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