Subject: Seeing ourselves as others see us
Date: Sat 28 Nov 1998 - 14:52:43 GMT
I dropped into The Gazebo, the TG chatroom on AOL, and there was a newly
minted TS lawyer there who was going on about how we needed to have legal
rules against discriminating against people who are TG. Strong laws are the
Some people, including myself, took an opposing view, that laws are not the
answer. It would be hard to prove systemic discrimination against transgender
because there are so few of us, and no law would guarantee any indvidual a
job. Employers, after all, have few open slots, and have to pick the best
candidate based on a whole range of criteria, including appearance.
This inflamed the TG lawyer. It seems wrong to her to choose anyone on
appearance where appearance isn't clearly part of the job. I wondered where
appearance isn't part of a job -- it certainly is part of the job for lawyers.
YELLING AT US, she told us how hard it has been for her, how she can't trust
anyone, even transsexuals, and how she will probably be dead by the end of the
year. She was in pain and was agruing that there should be some legal remedy
to her pain and frustration. That's understandable of course, but not really
a legal position. It made me wonder how that pain, anger and frustration read
to the people who were thinking about hiring her. I know she believed that
she was great, in skills, attitude and appeaerance, but people often see what
we believe we have covered up.
I was on a panel once with a 6' 230lb transsexual with a lantern jaw, and she
told the room that she was discriminated against now because she was a woman.
The moderator asked if she might be discriminated against because she was
transsexual, and she said "Well, nobody ever mentions transsexuality, so I
have to assume it's because I am a woman." The audience looked on, aware that
the fact this woman had gone though puberty as a male was evident on her body,
and in her attitude.
Being TG means learning to insulate ourselves from the heat we take for being
queer, being transgressive. We have to find a technique that allows us to go
though the social pressure designed to enforce normativity. We create our own
vision and our own world, often by learning how to ignore the messages that
other people send us. We begin to believe that we can control our world, that
people see only what we want them to see, and not our isolation, history,
biology, rage, anger and pain. When people confront us, we believe that they
are just trying to hurt, mock and humilate us, not that they are genuinely
trying to give us feedback, tell us how others see us in the world.
I hate the free-floating, third-hand fear that comes around employing TG
people. "Well, I don't have a problem with it, but one of our clients or
other staff may at some time in the future, and I don't want to have to deal
with that conflict, so I guess we should just pass. I'm sure you will find
something even better!"
That fear of the fear of others usually goes unsaid, impossible to pin down.
In the hiring process, there are lots of options, and it's usually easy to
justify our choices without mentioning TG, or maybe even without being
concious of it as a factor -- we just have a vague "discomfort" with that
candidate. Without a smoking gun, of course, it's hard to prove that it was
class based discrimination rather than just the choice based on an indvidual.
There are, however, good reasons not to hire some TG people, anyway. Their
cultivated insenstivity to others, their desire for activism that may lead to
confontation, their unresolved anger and rage, can all be negative forces in a
workplace. Indvidually, not all TG people are healthy and healed, and in
fact, we might be able to prove statiscally that they are more challenged than
I wish that this new TG lawyer could see both sides of the argument, beyond
her indignation and rage. It's only by seeing the world as her employer has
to see it that she can start to give real benefits and advantages to that
employer, that she can show she will be a real asset to the office.
When women first entered the executive workplace, there was a joke: "For a
woman to succeed in business she has to be twice as good as a man. Luckily,
though, that's not hard." It was true of blacks too, that excellence was
required to get over the free floating fear.
Bella Abzug hit the nail on the head when she said "Our goal isn't to get a
female Einstein recognized in the same way as a male Einstein, it's to get a
female schlemiel promoted as fast as a male shlemiel." It's true, we just
want a fair break.
But until we can get the social stigma and free-floating fear of TG people out
of the way, we have to be gender-people, just like Jackie Robinson was a race-
man in baseball -- a "credit to his race." We have to become "a credit to our
(trans)gender" in order to get simple opportunities, and I am afraid that
means leaving our anger, pain, fear and rage at the door.
When we want to be seen as a creditable lawyer, and then want to use the law
as a club to express our rage, hitting those who hurt and spurn us, we give a
mixed message, a message that others can probably read in some way or another.
We need to get clear, to find other places to vent, so we can do the work and
show the world that TG people are just like everyone else, no need to be
afraid of them.
We need to see ourselves as others see us, to put ourselves in their shoes,
and work for the good of the organization, not just our own good. For people
who have learned to disconnect, dismiss, and disclaim the feedback of others,
though, just so they can claim their own hearts, this is a real challenge.
(who is beginning to believe that nobody really cares about these little
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