Obstacles at Work for Transgender Employees
Credit: Image courtesy of [David Castillo Dominici] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

     There are many obstacles in the workplace for transgender employees, some are obvious and some are not. Issues like the washroom, how your addressed and being treated inside the company are pretty obvious to most transgender people. However there are some issues that are not always apparent for the transgender worker; issues that face the employer who is hiring a transgender person. There are things that an employer must face on a daily basis in order to properly deal with a transgender employee and make it a profitable working relationship. Issues that a transgender person might not have taken into consideration while applying for employment at various companies. Things that may stop you from coming out at work and some things that cisgender people can do to make transition at work much more smooth. What follows are some of the obstacles employers, and transgender employees, face when hiring a transgender person.

  • Trouble: Employers want to hire employees that are going to do their jobs well and cause as little trouble as possible. Peace and co-operation in the workplace are crucial to being an efficient company; where human resources does not have to spend a lot of time dealing with disputes. Unfortunately, during this political, religious and social climate in our society, transgender people cause trouble simply for existing. People get upset about us even though it is really none of their business. There are disputes as to who can and cannot use certain employee bathrooms. transphobic employees will stir up trouble and the company also risks losing business also due to transphobia from the public. These kinds of issues are what an employer wishes to avoid and therefore they become huge barriers to transgender people in the workplace and though, through no fault of their own, they can face unemployment simply by transitioning at work or showing up for a job interview as a transgender person.
  • Discrimination: About 50 percent of transgender people face discrimination when facing employment opportunities. It happens from the very moment the interviewer lays eyes on you and if you do not pass well then its downhill from there. People fear what they do not understand and, sadly, most company interviewers have no idea what a transgender person is and their companies have no policies to deal with this particular situation. They are not going to hire someone who they fear or someone who might, stereotypically, cause trouble in the workplace.
  • Stereotypes: Transgender people have a mental problem, they are crazy, unstable, easily offended and simply men trying to get a peek into the woman's washroom. These kinds of stereotypes are devastating to a transgender persons career. They are everywhere, especially places one would not expect. I, as a pre-transition transwoman, was being wheeled into an operating theatre for a completely unrelated surgery and the surgeon made a very offensive offhand joke that not only degraded and stereotyped transwomen but stereotyped cisgender woman as well. "What is the hardest part of a sex change operation" he quipped. "Removing half the brain"...
  • The Heterosexual Assumption: People who grow up in a heterosexual world tend to believe that everyone is heterosexual, mostly due to lack of understanding and exposure to LGBT people; this is called heterosexism.  It is actually normal to be uncomfortable with something you have had no exposure to. Think of travelling to a new country and experiencing customs that are totally alien to yourself, some of the customs might go against your beliefs and therefore make you uncomfortable. If you grew up Catholic, went to catholic schools and catholic church then you would tend to believe everyone is Catholic and may even be surprised when your find out that some people are not Catholic at all. Because of the assumption that everyone is heterosexual, people who fall outside that spectrum and stand out as much as transgender people do, are thought to be deviant, twisted, wrong and in need of help; naivety can lead to bias in these types of situations and these assumptions make it difficult to get along in a heterosexual workplace. Making it incredibly hard for transgender people to be themselves in a safe environment at work. Heterosexual cisgender people would make things a lot easier if they just simply remember that when you assume, you make an ass out of you and me.
  • Jokes: People cannot help themselves, they will make jokes about anything that they think is funny. Often these attempts at humor are derogatory in one sense or anther towards a particular gender or ethnic group. We are told that these jokes are "harmless" and "only meant in jest" and therefore should accept the humor and just get on with our day. I cannot express how wrong this is! Jokes like that serve only to dehumanize a particular person or group of people and opens the door to open ridicule, harassment and yes even death. Jokes served to dehumanize the Jewish people during world war two and jokes about the Japanese served to make them less human and thus easier to kill. In this very same way jokes serve to make it easier to discriminate, harass and kill transgender people.; let alone hire them for a position in a company. These jokes always have the same theme and the most disturbing part is young people believe them, perpetuating the pain for yet another generation. Cisgender people can make the workplace much more safe and trans friendly simply by not participating in the joke culture; if you freeze out the joke teller by giving them no response it will subtly let them know that this kind of thing cannot and should not be tolerated at work.
  • Laws: There are few places in this world that have laws protecting LGBT people against discrimination in its many forms. There are many places in this world where there are laws against LGBT people and result in the imprisonment and death of many transgender people thought the world. Laws directly affect your ability to find gainful employment in a safe working environment. Lack of implementation of pro-LGBT laws and hate crime legislation still hampers LGBT people's ability to live in a fair and equal society.
  • People: By far the largest obstacle to transgender people finding gainful employment in a safe working environment is people themselves. Their attitudes, assumptions, stereotypes, fears and insecurities lead the myriad of issues we as transgender people face when simply trying to make a living.

     There are many obstacles on the road to gainful employment for a transgender person. Some of them fairly obvious and some of the not; even though they are in our faces on a daily basis. I have often heard the phrase "why do you have to shove transgender rights in our faces all the time?" from opponents of rights for transgender and LGBT people in general. The answer of course is because cisgender people shove our lack of rights into our faces day after day, week after week, year after year! Only by breaking down these obstacles can we, at long last, be treated as equals in the workplace and in the world in general.  Our day will come, brothers and sisters, our day will come!

The Transgender Handbook
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