Monday, December 12, 2011

Gender makes me paranoid

Actually, let me revise. It's not gender per se that makes me paranoid - it's homophobia and homophobia's close-yet-evil-cousin, transphobia. There are the obvious reasons why bigotry against queer folks makes my skin crawl - like the fear of verbal and physical violence or the disillusionment that comes from being a citizen of a country that openly refuses to extend to you all of the rights that other citizens enjoy.

And then there are the reasons why homophobia and transphobia cause me such great anxiety that while possibly obvious to other queer folks, may not be obvious to even the most progressive-minded ally. I hate homophobia and transphobia because they limit my ability to give others the benefit of the doubt. Despite my ridiculously optimistic nature, I find myself expecting the worst from people and hoping for the best instead of expecting the best and preparing for the very rare occasions when the worst happens. In my last post, I touched on my love/hate relationship with travel through the rural U.S. This anxiety stretches beyond rest stop bathrooms. Earlier this fall, my partner and I spent a weekend in rural Pennsylvania where I had a mild allergic reaction that turned out to be nothing, but for a few tense moments, we debated whether and where to take me to a hospital and worried what would happen when we got there. It may be that hospitals in rural southern Pennsylvania and the folks who work there are totally open-minded and wonderful and our concerns unfounded. But I was fearful of the experience - not necessarily because I expected the very worst, but because I expected the very awkward and extremely unpleasant. Gender makes me paranoid.

My paranoia extends to the economic realm. I'm currently what I would call "under-employed." I work full-time, but I say I'm under-employed because although I am doing work I enjoy for a worthy movement, I'm not paid near what my work is worth because I am stuck in some kind of intern limbo, or "interngatory," as I like to call it. I digress. The point is, my under-employment spurs me to be in a near-constant state of job application. Over the past fourteen months, I've had a number of interviews after which I've been told that I was very close to being hired (second choice in at least one case), but have been offered no permanent employment. This may be due to no other reason than that the economy sucks and there are literally hundreds of individuals with similar qualifications to mine applying for every job I've sought. Still, I can't shake the feeling that people are put off by my gender ambiguity when I show up for interviews. My partner, Barbara, and I have had a few conversations about this. I hate feeling this way because it makes me bitter and mistrustful of others, and may be totally off-base. But racism and sexism frequently happen in employment application processes because people like to hire folks who are similar to themselves. Why would heterosexism and transphobia be any different from other forms of institutional discrimination in this regard? I imagine that seeing an openly queer, gender non-conforming person show up for an interview makes some people uncomfortable, even if they would never voice that discomfort. I worry that it's easier for prospective employers, who are almost universally cis-gender and largely white and straight, to establish a rapport with cis-gender applicants, even if they can't quite place the reason. I worry that though some employers say that they welcome LGBT applicants, deep down they don't want someone who looks like me representing their organization. Gender makes me paranoid.

Unfortunately, "paranoia" doesn't fully reflect the ugly reality that I'm not actually paranoid. Paranoia implies a tendency towards hyperbole and irrationality on the part of the paranoid. I'm not exaggerating, nor do I think I'm irrational. My fears are based not just on my experiences, but on queer people's collective experiences. Consider the following:

  • Transgender individuals are unemployed at twice the rate of general population. Trans folks of color are unemployed at startlingly high rates. As of 2009, 26 percent of black trans folks could not find work.
  • 97 percent of transgender folks surveyed in 2009 reported being harassed or mistreated at work. NINETY-SEVEN PERCENT.
  • 9.4 percent of lesbian-headed families with children live in poverty as opposed to just 6.7 percent of heterosexual married couples with children. This gap is even more pronounced for elderly lesbians compared to elderly heterosexuals.
  • Between 22 and 64 percent of transgender individuals reported annual earnings of less than $25,000 per year in 2007. In 2009, 15 percent of trans folks surveyed lived on an annual income of $10,000 or less per year - twice the rate of the rest of the population.
  • 83 percent of heterosexual report being in good or excellent health. Only 77 percent of people who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, and only 67 percent of people who identify as transgender can say the same.
  • Queer folks are significantly more likely than heterosexuals to experience psychological distress in their lives.
This stuff doesn't make me paranoid. It makes me freaking pissed off.

You can find all of the stats referenced above and more by checking out the National Center for Transgender Equality's 2009 survey here and the Center for American Progress here and here.

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