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Gender Bias in the Workplace

I came across this interesting article in the New York Times: Before That Sex Change, Think About Your Next Paycheck.

You might expect that anybody who has had a sex change, or even just cross-dresses on occasion, would suffer a wage cut because of social stigmatization. Wrong, or at least partly wrong. Turns out it depends on the direction of the change: the study found that earnings for male-to-female transgender workers fell by nearly one-third after their gender transitions, but earnings for female-to-male transgender workers increased slightly.

As a cisgendered female who has always worked in traditionally male jobs, I find this interesting, but not surprising.

I was also amused (but not surprised) by the last two paragraphs:

Ben Barres, a female-to-male transgender neuroscientist at Stanford, found that his work was more highly valued after his gender transition. “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today,” a colleague of his reportedly said, “but then his work is much better than his sister’s.”

Dr. Barres, of course, doesn’t have a sister in academia.

Diane Schroer’s Recent Title VII Win and ENDA

Jillian Weiss, an attorney and law professor who writes an excellent blog on transgender workplace issues recently posted an excellent article on The Bilerico Project with her thoughts on last week’s decision by the federal district court in Washington, D.C. in Diane Schroer’s sex discrimination lawsuit against the Library of Congress. In a landmark decision, Judge James Robertson held that the Library violated the federal ban on sex discrimination in employment (contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) when it withdrew its previous offer to hire David Schroer, an anti-terrorism expert and former Special Forces officer, as a terrorism analyst when they learned that she intended to complete her transition and begin work as Diane. Among the arguments that the Library made in its defense was the claim that the exclusion of gender identity and expression protections from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in the House of Representatives last year proved that Congress never intended the ban on sex discrimination to protect against discrimination based on gender identity. Fortunately for all of us, the court rejected that argument. However, the argument that Judge Robertson used to reject that claim is weak and, as Zoe Brain pointed out in her comment on the same article, not very convincing. There are, however, much better reasons to reject the Library’s claim, which I put into my comment on Dr. Weiss’ article:

I’m an attorney and my practice is limited to appellate work only (criminal appeals in my case, but the rules for interpreting statues are the same whether you’re talking about civil or criminal law). The argument that the exclusion of gender identity and expression from ENDA last year indicates Congress’ understanding, and intention, that sex discrimination under Title VII doesn’t cover gender identity discrimination is an obvious one. In the end, however, it’s completely bogus.

Ask yourself, how is the belief or understanding of a completely different Congress almost 45 years after Title VII was enacted relevant to what Congress intended sex discrimination to include back in 1964? It’s not the job of Congress to decide what laws they’ve already passed mean. That’s the job of the courts.

Two other important factors further undercut this argument. First, if you review the congressional record from 1964, you will see that sex discrimination was added to Title VII with the explicit intent to defeat it by convincing the majority of Congress that it was too radical to vote for. So, there’s no evidence in the record that Congress intended sex discrimination to mean anything, let alone evidence as to whether they intended “sex” to apply only to biology or to include gender identity.

Second, what happened last year was simply that a single committee of the House of Representatives sent a bill to the floor of the House that didn’t include gender identity and that the House passed that bill. It was never passed by the Senate or signed into law. Consequently, while it may be proper to say that the House Labor Committee didn’t think that gender identity discrimination should be illegal, there is no evidence that the full House or the Senate agreed, since they were never given the opportunity to vote on that question. Divining legislative intent from Congress’ *failure* to do something without any explicit up or down vote on the issue is a perilous business.

Finally, I’m no conservative by any measure, but I agree with Justice Scalia that the first place we have to look in determining what Congress intended is what they actually said. It frustrates me to no end when the courts here in Arizona agree with prosecutors that, despite the explicit language in a statute, the legislative history shows that they meant something entirely different. At some point, what the legislature or Congress actually said has to mean something.

This is not an argument that, if Congress didn’t think about the problem in 1964, Title VII shouldn’t apply to it. As one person involved with the Schroer case (it may have been Sharon McGowan, the ACLU’s lead attorney) recently said to a reporter when asked if Congress intended Title VII to apply to trans women and men, the framers of the Constitution weren’t thinking about TV either when they talked about freedom of the press in the First Amendment; does that mean it shouldn’t have the same protections as newspapers?

Change is a natural process that preexisting laws must continually adapt to. It is the difficult but absolutely necessary job of courts to determine how those laws should be applied to situations that the people who adopted them never contemplated. That doesn’t make the process illegitimate; it just makes it very, very hard.

The Few Who Shine

What’s with some people?

There are the kinds of people who can only handle a limited amount of pressure in their lives and then crumble and fall under the heavy weight. They are the ones who, even when the little black cloud that once hovered and rained over their every deed, refused to turn their face to the clear blue sky and become encouraged by the sun’s warmth.

These are the people who, in an auto accident, completely freeze and though may remain uninjured, are worthless in coming to their feet to help out others who are in worse shape. They end up becoming an added burden to the problem instead of rising up to shine over others. If they are witness to the accident, they may pull over but only stare in awe and amazement while others risk their lives to pull the injured to safety.

Why do some people’s fatalism make them indifferent in pursuing a path toward happiness?

Then there are others who, no matter what life throws their way and regardless of their economic status, their positive spirit rarely fades. Though they have their share of adversity, nothing except death eventually befalls their enduring spirit.

Their spirits illuminate the darkness that surrounds them.

Take for example, a recent visit I had to my state’s Department of Economic Security. I had an appointment with the state acting on behalf of a less fortunate relative who needs the state’s help in receiving healthcare and monetary assistance. The building is typical for a large government facility, its massive brown rectangular shape outside opening to reveal dozens of cubicles on the inside for its employees. Upon entering, I had to take a number and wait my turn among the many downtrodden and disadvantaged people.

The playfulness on the children’s faces was a sharp contrast to the sullen droopy faces on the adults who nervously awaited their turn. Oh to be a child without worry again!

After several minutes of waiting, I was finally called by an employee to follow her back to her tiny square with desk and chair inside the bright fluorescent monolithic room. As I sat down, Maria greeted me with a warm round smile. I explained to her that I was not the person on the application but was present and acting on her behalf because she could not be present for the meeting.

While answering question after question, I began to take notice of Maria’s cubicle. Its 7′ x 7′ space was full of bins and folders full of applications requesting state aid, but it was surprisingly clean and tidy, and there were awards posted in frames all along the inside walls. Yet the awards were given to her by her employer for “Most Organized Employee” and “In Recognition to Your Years of Service to the State.” Also on the walls were hand written certificates drawn by her three daughters in crayon like “Best Mommy in the World” and “Mom is #1.” One would think she had not accomplished anything substantial, but I began to see differently.

Throughout the meeting, I would ask her questions about her working with a state agency for eleven years and about her children. All the while she maintained a posture of grace and had an amazing bright smile despite her having to deal with the less fortunate on a daily basis.

“Doesn’t it get to you? I mean, working for the government like this, and having to deal with so much despair and people demanding assistance?” I asked her politely.

“No, it doesn’t. Management sometimes gets to me,” she joked. “But I love living in this community. I love taking care of my daughters, and I love helping people. I even love my job and I take pride in my area here. My coworkers always laugh at me because I’m so tidy.”

Just then, the phone rang and she answered what seemed like very direct questions with a stern “yes” and “no.” Then she told the person on the other line who I was and gave them the case number. She promptly hung up and looked over at me with a sigh.

“Who was that?”

She sighed again. “It was someone from the state at their headquarters in a different city calling us at random to find out what we’re doing and making sure we’re staying busy.”

I was bothered by that. I thought she would be too. But she seemed to shrug off the inanity of a micromanaging agency and completed the paperwork cheerfully. As I got up to walk out, I thanked her for her kindness and encouraged her to never let anyone or anything take that away from her. I told her that I knew her simple smile and gentle spirit would be a tremendous source of comfort to those who sat in my chair. My words seemed to impact her with an affirmation she wasn’t used to hearing.

There was clearly something different about Maria that blew me away. Her teflon-coated optimistic spirit really made me think about my own personal difficulties, and I wondered what I could do to walk with the same light she had in her life.

Maria, and those with kindred spirits like hers, give me purpose in my circumstances.

I may struggle with transition. My circumstances may create chaos in my life. No one ever said being true to myself would be easy. No doubt there will be days where I’m tempted to give in to sit on the curb and watch the accidents surrounding my life injure and terrorize my family, my friends, and me. But I am alive, I’m still breathing, and I need to find that same illiminous spirit that has lurked in the shadows of my heart for too long.

It’s time to be like Maria.

It’s time to get off the curb.

It’s time to shine.

CBS Sunday Morning: The Sex Change Capital of the U.S.

On Sunday, September 7, CBS Sunday Morning did a fairly long story on Trinidad, Colorado, the home of Dr. Marci Bowers, one of the leading sexual reassignment surgeons in the U.S.  I don’t like the phrase “sex change” but the story is pretty straight forward and not at all sensationalistic.  I was in Trinidad in July to support my friend Mari through her surgery.  It’s a nice little town, similar to many other mountain towns I’ve visited in the West; the people were friendly; and the care at the hospital was, for the most part, excellent.  Marci is friendly and personable but, like most doctors, entirely too busy. From what I’ve seen, the surgical results were excellent, with only a few minor complications.  Here’s the video:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

If you’d like to learn more about Trinidad and how it has dealt with the attention that having a leading SRS surgeon (actually, for many years, the only SRS surgeon in the U.S.) in its midst, there’s a new documentary out called Trinidad that is now touring the U.S.  Look for it at your local LGBT film festival.

Transition at work, the dilemma

I know that most of the readers here have their own issues with transition at work, one of the more tricky parts of transition.  My particular situation is a bit complicated.  As most of you know, I came out to my boss around the middle of June, and he was supportive of my issues.  I told him at that time that I would eventually tell everyone else that works there, the other 5 employees.  And, as you know, I did tell them toward the end of July.   Now, everyone at work knows about me and I’ve been relaxing a lot more and not trying to hide the transition developments at work, they all seem to be OK with it so far, but they haven’t actually seen Amber fully yet.  After my appearance at the theater and the resulting fallout, I’ve been a bit more cautious about pushing my transition at work.  The problem is that our customers don’t know about me, and if the reaction from one of the workers at the theater is any indication, some of them would not want me to come to their place of business as Amber.  The other problem is that our business depends on the relationship with our accounts, they can go to another company like ours any time the want to, there’s plenty of competition for the business.   So, if I cost us an account because of my transition freaking out the owner of the business, the company I work for loses money.  Not good for my job.  The boss says that he’s supportive of me and my transition, but if it affects his business, the bottom line becomes more important than my transition, or my job, probably.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out.

If I transition at a natural pace, as my body changes, people see it and deal with it.   Of course, that takes just short of forever.   If I just start showing up at the accounts presenting as I would choose to do, I risk damaging the company’s income, and thus, my job.   I think about this a lot when I’m working at a place that I go to enough that they recognize me, how am I going to deal with things like going to the ladies room at the place, when they knew me from before the change?  That may be the biggest issue, even if my new appearance doesn’t freak them out.  I haven’t come up with a workable solution to all this yet, short of getting a different job where I can start as Amber, and that’s really impractical and unlikely at this point in time!  What’s a middle aged girl to do?

The Second Most Beautiful Girl in New York

The Second Most Beautiful Girl in New York

On a recent evening, I met the woman in question, the beautiful Jamie Clayton, at a bar in the Lower East Side. She is 5-foot-10, has long, wavy red hair, porcelain skin and big blue eyes. She sat upright in her stool, long bare legs draped on top of each other exposing upper reaches of thigh under a gray cloth miniskirt.

Read the full article.

MSNBC’s ‘Born in the Wrong Body: A Change of Heart’

[Update to the review: Josef has contributed to the discussion forum on the show here. Worth a read. ]

I knew that I wanted to write a post about ‘Born in the Wrong Body: A Change of Heart’ before it even aired, especially so because many of my friends told me they were reluctant or nervous about watching it for themselves. As someone who has not made a gender transition even once (let alone twice, or even three times!) I felt I could view it dispassionately and objectively.

However, after seeing it, I found myself affected in quite unexpected ways. The aspects that I expected to feel negatively about were just not there, and my overall reaction was very mixed – finding both positive and negative emotions rolling together leaving me … somewhat neutral. I have decided simply to write a synopsis of what we were shown, and leave it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions. I’m sure if this spurs you to watch the show, you can find it on YouTube, or coming up in MSNBC’s frequent re-run schedule.

I’m going to use the pronouns that (mostly) match the current gender presentation of the two people shown in the documentary. (If this offends you, I’m sorry – in a case like this, there simply is no “right way”.) Without further ado, here’s what we learn:

It was stressed up front that of all those who transition, only a very, very tiny proportion ever “go back”. In fact, I suspect the two subjects we follow were the only ones who could be identified and were willing to have their stories told. Most similar documentary programs feature three or more subjects to give a wider experience.
Continue reading

Ma’am or sir?

Getting “ma’am”ed or “sir”ed can really make a difference in the mood of a day of a trans person!  Yesterday, I went to a service call to replace light bulbs on a juke box and as I was opening my tool box to get my work keys, the cute young (female) bartender came around the bar and said to me, “hey juke box guy,….”  Ouch!  I wasn’t presenting as female at the time (still working on that issue, I present as close to it as I can without augmentation or makeup) but it still bugged the crap out of me!  What an ego killer!

Now today, I went to a campground that we provide games to, to work on the plush animal crane.  There was a group of girls there, and a boy, all about 8-13 years old, that age group.  Anyway, as I was working on the crane, the kids were watching me, and I kept hearing “she” in relation to what I was doing.  Now, that was really weird!   Again, I wasn’t presenting as female in particular, but I wear a ball cap to cover my receding hairline, I have no visible beard shadow, and I have dark red hair now, to match my wig.   Also, I try to practice my voice in public to get used to the sound of it in my own ears.   My mini-boobs may have been showing a bit also.   I guess, for them, it added up to female.   I was interacting with them, I even traded them a couple animals that they had won for other animals that they wanted from inside the crane.   All the while, when the kids talked to each other, it was always “she” this or “she” that.  I left there feeling kinda weird, it’s the first time that’s happened to me.  It was nice, but really weird!  And, of course, it really pushed up my desire to properly look the part!  I think it’s going to be harder to be patient as I work my way toward full time at work.

Has anyone else run into these kinds of situations in public?

Children as a Weapon

Here is something I wrote on my personal blog, it is something I felt was important and needed to be shared here as well.

I have been thinking about children and transition again. I wrote about this before after I had read a blog post suggesting that not telling our children right away can be harmful to them. In the last week I have come across a few other things that have bothered me. For those who don’t know much about me, I have two young daughters, ages 2 and 4. To say that the topic of transition and children is one that is close to my heart is an understatement. I absolutely adore my girls, and I would do anything to protect them from anything I think would harm them. I am not over protective, but I am protective of them. They are part of the reason I left law enforcement, I want to be there for them. The other reason I left was because I could not go on being Mr. Macho anymore. Two years later, I came out and started transitioning.

Anyway, back on topic here before I veer off into a whole other topic. There were really two issues sets of circumstances that I read about. One involved a friend whose spouse insinuated that her being trans might be turning one of their children trans. The other situation involved some saying that they stopping transition, and putting it off until their children were grown. The reason being that their spouse and family said it would damage the children.

Both of these situations bring up some very strong feelings in me. In both of these situation, it feels to me that the children are being used against the transitioning spouse. Anyone of us who have children know how strong the parental protection instinct is. We want to protect our children, and we would never do anything to intentionally hurt our children. Our spouses and family know these feelings and emotions too. In some cases, they try and use these against us. After all, I doubt any of us would do anything to intentionally hurt our children. I know that I would not.

Why do family members do this? I think part of the reason is because of the strong emotional bond. The fear of losing our children. Many people hold off transition until late in life because of their children. I am in no way saying this is a bad choice. It is, however, not one that I can make. I have, in the short time since I came out and began transitioning, witnessed my children flourish even more. They are happier, more self confident, more loving, and just seem better adjusted. They do not yet know that I am trans, but they do know that I am happier and that I am more involved with them. I am no longer distant and depressed, I am now more fully engaged in life.

Some family members see children as a means to stop someone from transitioning. They fear losing the person they have known their whole life, they fear the transition process, they fear transsexuality, in short, they do not understand. I have heard time and time again how well children handle transition, especially when the non-trans parent is supportive. The difficulties arise when that spouse is negative and actively and outwardly resists the transition. In these cases, the non-trans spouse often tries to put the children between the trans spouse and transition. They use the children as a weapon against transition. The fear of the unknown can bring out the worst in some people.

I don’t know if there is an answer to preventing such reactions. Education is certainly a start. There are several resources about children and transition, such as:

http://www.colage.org/programs/trans/kot-resource-guide.pdf

http://community.pflag.org/NETCOMMUNITY/Page.aspx?pid=413&srcid=380

I think that any person who is contemplating transition, and who has children needs to be prepared. There are going to be enough fears about losing “you” and those may end up being projected onto your children. Be prepared to talk about the effect it will have on your children. My spouse asked me how I thought it would affect our children. I told her that I believed it would make them better more accepting people. That they would understand diversity more fully and learn to judge people not for how they appear, but for who they are. Not transitioning would have meant years of depression for me, and this would have not only taken its toll on me, but it would have had a negative affect on my children as well. Our children don’t care how we look, they love us for who we are. Why not let them see more of who we are.