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A Smear of Trans Blood on the Glass Ceiling

glass-ceilingMy forehead is still trickling a bit of blood and the bruising hasn’t quite subsided all the way just yet. I should have seen it coming, but didn’t. I mean really, I’ve talked about it, written about it, and joked about it and still ambled on in my merry way until I smacked right into that invisible barrier head first and fell to my knees. In my defense, it was a lot closer than I had expected it to be, and someone had cleaned it so perfectly that I never even got a glare of reflection. Some sticky fingerprints or dead birds laying around it would have been nice. That way one might think twice before making a great leap of faith and end up crumpled on the floor ashamed and just a little bit broken. Should I not have expected that being trans? Let’s talk about that a little bit.

I’ll be flat out honest here. I have no idea whatsoever if my gender identity was much or at all a factor in what happened. It could just have easily occurred if I went for the position as ‘Michael’ and I would have been just as surprised and crushed. I have no reason to think it because the company has been great and very supportive of my transition and I do not feel like I have been discriminated against in any way, shape or form. At the same time no one really knows what lurks in the hearts of others, and I was reasonably (no, paranoid) sure that some members of the interview panel are a little uncomfortable in my presence. These are things I will never really know, but it does make me wonder.

I decided to do some intense research on the subject and posed a half-assed question on the Association of Transgender Professionals Facebook page. If anyone would know about glass ceilings and career stagnation, it was this mighty collective of transgender corporate acumen. The overall theme of the responses was “Consider yourself lucky you have a job”, “Get used to the view, you aren’t going any higher”, and “Have you considered an exciting career in fast paced over-the-phone sales?”. Ugh. Fuck that. Not just the last one; all of it.

As trans people, many, if not most of us, sustain significant blows to our sense of self-worth simply as a function of our existence. Even aware of this, I consistently rate myself far lower than my peers and superiors  rate me in any type of feedback and often feel unworthy even when there is no justification for it. I’m sure this is also one of the factors that contribute to the high suicide rate. While some consider this putting on an air of victimization, in reality it has more to do with feeling wrong in one’s own skin for years and decades, followed by the ubiquitous stares and awkwardness that follow transition. Even the most robust of egos is not immune to such a Chinese water torture of subtle but persistent pounding. Knowing this, however, begs the question; are we unintentionally limiting ourselves, or worse, shooting ourselves in the foot?

While there is no doubt whatsoever that being trans carries with it negative connotations in the minds of others who have the power to limit or empower our success, I have to wonder if we are often complicit in steadily boosting them up while that ceiling is being installed. Is it not then possible that with confidence and conviction in our own intelligence, skill, experience, and talent that are completely exclusive of our trans state of being, we can overcome the innate obstacles external perceptions bring? I’m not going to lie to you here; I really like this idea. Yes, it bites that misinformation and prejudice persist regarding who and what we are, but so many other demographics, different in superficial characteristics alone, have managed to push past being entrapped by complacent acceptance of other’s opinions.

I am still sore and bleeding. I do still feel the tilt of the world that is making it difficult to feel steady on my feet. I’m also getting up and dusting myself off, just a wee bit smarter than the day before. I lost that round and it hurt, but I’m not close to being done fighting. Whether I decide to make another great leap up where I’m standing at this moment, or choose to shift to the side, pick another target and move so quickly they never see me coming, I’m not giving up. I will never accept that this is the best I’m ever going to do when I know I can do more. The shackles of my own making are coming off; they are doing me no good. I will not yield.

About michellelianna

I'm a transgender woman now in the maintenance stages of transition having all the electrolysis and surgery one can reasonably be expected to undertake. While busy exploring my new world, I took to blogging about it with dubiously popular results. I don't have quite as much to say as I used to, but I'm not quite done yet either.

17 responses »

  1. When I came out at work, essentially by negotiating time off to recover from an orchiectomy, I got canned 2 weeks after. My career was already in the toilet and that pulled the chain to flush it down. After a brief stint elsewhere on very unfavorable terms, I’m ineligible for unemployment, have been evicted, and will be on the street as soon as the cops show up to throw me out.

    • Nadia, that is just horrible! I pray that things turn for you quickly sister. Based on your area of skill sets, I would not disallow the possibility of finding something else, especially in your area. Are you on LinkedIn? Transgender professional networks are popping up all over and if you want to email me using the ‘contact Michelle’ function up top there, I would be happy to do what I can to help. I’ve redone a lot of resumes in my day. 🙂

  2. Hi there are using WordPress for your site platform? I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!|

  3. I know what you mean: I’m starting to look for other work, and am also concerned about if/how my status as trans will affect things. (It’s not that I can’t move up in my current job, I just don’t like it that much.) All of my paperwork is in order, and I’m consistently “read” as male, but it’s still something that worries me.

  4. I am thankful to be employed, but realistically, I do not make enough money to support a family and save anything for emergencies/the future. Still, the job hunt scares me–even though my paperwork is order, I know that discrepancies might show up; I don’t know if those will get my applications tossed in the garbage or not.

    I had one campus interview that went really well, but I was in the middle of getting my legal name changed on all my documents. When I explained the situation to the HR rep, I heard nothing else from the college.

    I don’t have much chance of moving up where I am, not because of being trans (well not too much), but because I don’t have the same background as the other administrators (who had military or law enforcement careers before coming to this job). At my age and with a family to support, I’m not willing to get the background, even if I could.

    • Honestly, this is the exact type of thing that worries me. I’m beginning to see that the only way we will emerge from this situation is focus on educating the public at large until ours is just another recognized demographic. We may never overcome all the prejudice and misinformation, but being understood as just another aspect of the human condition would be nice. I hope your luck in your hunt improves greatly and you manage to find yourself in front of an interviewer who either gets it or never looks at you as anything but another person.

      BTW – thank you for always commenting. I’m not super great at always responding, but I read and take to heart every single one of them. Thank you!

  5. I Can definitely say never in a million years would I have my job if I Id transitioned already. They don’t even hire women.

    • They can’t not hire women. It’s illegal.

      • its a small number of people in the company, which makes some anti-discrimination laws not apply and also harder to prove discrimination. A woman as also worked their once before, but they have no intention of doing that any time soon.

    • That is a rough situation you are in Emily. Have you begun transition, or bearing an uncomfortable work environment for the time being? I’m sorry for what you have to go through, and really appreciate you weighing in on this. 🙂

      • I’d actually assert that my situation is far from rough.Pretty soon i’ll be the 4th most senior employee and two others already know I’m trans and are very supportive. I make an insane amount of money there for my age (20) and i’m also a full time student so its helping me save up for ffs. right now I have a close circle of friends who are all supportive of me and I’m 3.5 months on hrt. So really things are in a fairly awesome place right now. I do have to deal with telling my parents and that is a bit of a nightmare to think about. So long as they don’t act super negatively and try and disown me, there are far more people who deserve sympathy more than I.

        If any of this interests you, Its an area I will be frequently blogging on.

  6. “I have no idea whatsoever if my gender identity was much or at all a factor in what happened. It could just have easily occurred if I went for the position as ‘Michael’ and I would have been just as surprised and crushed. I have no reason to think it because the company has been great and very supportive of my transition and I do not feel like I have been discriminated against in any way, shape or form.”

    And that’s where you should have stopped typing.

  7. Yes! I Love the post and the last paragraph is so very valuable. I am “between situations” getting ready to start back over in college on Monday. Not long after my picture perfect transition at work we had a management change and the tilty floor you mentioned started to lift steeply under me. I had two options; work hard to adapt to a dramatically changing job and a newly re-focused job description, or work hard to get into another field after 30 years as a Techno-Geek. With roughly 40% of the trans world unemployed, and another huge percentage that are under-employed, I realized that I needed to be doing something where I had more influence over the situation. So if I fail I know that I failed and I wasn’t just Failed Out by dint of the fact that I’m trans.

    Will it work? I’ll let you know in 4 years when I pop out with a masters in Psychology and start setting up a practice. Could I have made it work where I was? Mmmmmaybe? I was lucky to be working somewhere that was open to me transitioning so I got a fresh start there.

    Am I better off because I transitioned? Heck Yeah!!! My transition may well have been a factor in how things panned out in my workplace but it also gave me the strength to see beyond where I was and the conviction to decide where I wanted to be. It feels like being trans is a constant obstacle and It’s scarey to face job search prospects. But being transitioned gives me much more strength to handle starting over.

    Now if I can just find a way to be optimistic about being a chubby 53 year old woman starting over in the workplace…

    • Dianne, you are awesome! Thank you so much for sharing, and honestly, I’m looking in the same direction. The beauty of this is that I got to give you advice about coming out at work, and now will have the opportunity to turn to you and get advice about attempting to start over. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we managed to join forces and conceived a nationwide or international (I wouldn’t be the same without Becky) network of trans for trans mental health practitioners and researchers? Just wool gathering here, but at the end of the day, I have to do something.

      Thank you for always commenting. I’m the worst about keeping in touch, and I warms my heart when people don’t give up on me. 🙂

      • I Love it! “Trans Without Borders!!!” And I’m here for ya Sis. Tomorrow I have an on campus job interview and I’m approaching it with the attitude that the university would be more “gender blind” than most any other employer in the state. But it will still be my first post transition interview so it’s a smidge daunting.

        So no self limits and full steam ahead!!!


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