Monday, August 07, 2006

what people should know about the trans job market

Lately I have had several very frustrating conversations with well- meaning people who did not understand why being transgender might make it hard to find a job. Then, last week, I discovered this job announcement on an FtM listserve. I think it makes a telling illustration. I have left out some specifics to preserve the dignity of this obviously underresourced organization.

Here is an excerpt from the job announcement:
"[An organization that focuses on trans and intersex education] seeks an Executive Director to oversee the organization’s operation and programs, raise funds for operation, and handle the administrative responsibilities. This is a full-time (approx. 40 hrs/wk) volunteer position with a stipend of $100 per week."

No folks, it's not a typo, they want an E.D. for $100 per WEEK.

Aside from the obvious, let me highlight some of what makes this job announcement almost offensive in its absurdity.

First, I should clarify that this is the only announcement for a trans-specific job in education that I have come across, ever.

Second, to contextualize the $100 per week stipend, I will tell you that the city in which this organization is located is among the 5 most expensive U.S. cities to live in.

Third, who can volunteer for 40 hours a week? This is not a rhetorical question. As far as I can think of, three kinds of people can do this:

  • People who are incredibly rich, and can afford to work without pay.
  • Students who can get academic credit for their work, and who are being financially supported through school by their families. Since they're students, they probably have no long-term commitment to the organization or the community.
  • People who are incredibly poor and have no hopes of finding a better job, or who receive public services, such as SSI/Disability, that they can't afford to lose by getting a paid position.

Trans people are far more likely to fall into the last category than either of the first two.

Finally, this position does not come with any health benefits. This could be a problem for any employee, but I think it’s particularly ironic for a trans person working in a trans organization. Trans people in general, and poor trans people especially, are disproportionately likely to need physical and mental health treatment - because of trauma related to transphobia, because of inadequate or harmful medical care in the past, and because the medical system all but requires us to be in therapy if we want any kind of physical transition.

Therefore, here is my re-interpretation of the job announcement:
"Wanted: Trans folks to do trans education, shit pay, rapid burnout. We know you want this job, because who else is going to hire you? - Your community has a 60% unemployment rate (http:// even in one of the most trans- friendly cities in the world (which is the only place where they even attempt to measure trans unemployment rates). Besides, at this job you will have a restroom you can use safely, and most people will probably call you the right pronoun at least some of the time. Sure it doesn't come with health insurance, but let's be real - health insurance doesn't cover trans-specific care anyway, or even trans-friendly care a lot of the time. What do you have to lose?"

I want to be clear that I'm not trying to disrespect this organization. That's why I didn't name them or their location. I'm sure that the organization is in as much of a bind as most trans people are. It is very difficult to get funding for trans-specific projects. For example, many state departments of public health have line items specifically for women's health initiatives or men's health initiatives. Who funds trans people's health? Some relatively progressive private funders have grants specifically for programs that empower young women, or that do violence prevention work with young men. Who funds programs for young trans people? No wonder this organization is looking for volunteer labor from within the community!

If neither the job announcement nor my commentary on it convince you, check out this handout from the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, showing factors that lead to trans people being disproportionately in poverty:

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