Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Transgender Unemployment Is A Result Of Discrimination


Melissa Hudson says 30 years of experience in the Toronto business world hasn't been enough to land her a job, despite numerous call-backs on her resume for first-round interviews.

Hudson's difficulties in finding work started after she transitioned from male to female and she blames discrimination for leaving her bankrupt, fighting to keep a roof over her head.
"After transitioning I can't get anyone to give me a second interview," she said. "I've even had interviewers make excuses of why they can't conduct the interview once I show up."

Hudson's last job in the corporate world was at a logistics firm in Mississauga, where she was a self-proclaimed "suit-and-tie" business professional. But she decided to live openly as a transgender woman two years ago.
Her challenges were exacerbated by a cycling accident that left her in the hospital for months and a hospital-acquired infection after gender-related surgery, she said.
Hudson left her job after the accident because of a "toxic work environment" but hasn't been able to find other employment.
"It would have been possible to get through it and get back to work if my gender hadn't been an issue with employers," she said.
Hudson said she isn't alone in her experience.
"I have friends who are very qualified business people who are now worried about paying their rent. It's unbelievable."

Because of the relatively small size of the transgender community and difficulty in reaching members, advocates say transgender employment data is hard to find. But a 2011 report from Trans PULSE — a community-based research project in Ontario — found that only 37 per cent of transgender participants were employed full-time, while 15 per cent were employed part-time. Twenty-five per cent were students, three per cent were retired and 20 per cent were unemployed.
The results were based on surveys of 433 trans people who lived, worked or received health care in Ontario.

Eighteen per cent said they had been turned down for a job because of their gender while 32 per cent said they were unsure if their gender influenced the hiring manager's decision. Thirteen per cent said they had been fired or constructively dismissed for being transgender.
"If you look at the numbers of transgender women who are unemployed, if you look at their credentials, background and business experiences, and that level of unemployment, there is systemic discrimination," Hudson said.
"I never in a million years thought this would happen in Canada," she said. "That's how clueless I was."

Trans PULSE researcher Greta Bauer, who is a professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at Western University, said the project showed the "substantial" underemployment and unemployment in the community.
"Despite being very well educated, we found that trans people have a median income of $15,000 a year," she said.
"It's surprising how often we hear from people that they were told bluntly, 'You won't fit in here."'
The job hunt can also be complicated by university transcripts or references that are under a different gender or name.
Twenty-seven per cent of respondents said there were instances when they weren't provided references because they were transgender.

"Very often trans folks have higher levels of education than the general population and yet higher levels of unemployment, which shouldn't co-relate," said Donna Turner, spokeswoman for Rainbow Health Ontario, an advocacy and research organization focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Turner said societal discrimination often filters into the business world.
"For a lot of people, the types of stories that we hear are that someone starts to transition in the workplace and then they get laid off for other reasons."

In 2012, Toby's Act made it illegal to discriminate against someone in the workplace because of gender identity or gender expression, amending the Ontario Human Rights Code.
But despite provincial legal protections, Turner said transgender individuals are dissuaded from filing discrimination complaints because of the cost and time it takes for cases to be heard.
Hudson said there is also another reason why transgender women don't complain about negative experiences.

"It's complete and obvious discrimination, but it's very hard to prove."
Savannah Burton, 39, had a better experience in the workplace while transitioning because of union support but is considering other job options because of her interactions with the public.
After 13 years in Toronto's hotel industry, she is now pursing an acting career because she feels she is being judged on a daily basis by her customers.

"It really wears you down. You get uncomfortable, you get self-conscious," she said.
Nicole Nussbaum, a Legal Aid Ontario lawyer who identifies as transgender, said she has seen frequent cases of employment discrimination during her career, but there has been some progress.
"Several years ago, trans people were more invisible, the lives and experiences of trans people were more invisible," she said.

Nussbaum said gender-inclusive corporate policies are becoming more common — TD Bank Group for example has a best practices guideline for transitioning in the workplace.
It includes notes on day-to-day workplace issues such as washroom access and the appropriate use of gender pronouns, while also encouraging transitioning employees to seek out support from management.

Nussbaum added that there is a "reinforcing cycle" where employers who don't have inclusive policies are less likely to attract transgender applicants, or have an environment where transgender employees are comfortable being open about their gender.
Putting policies in place, she said, doesn't only protect transgender individuals, but enshrines the rights of others as well.
"Having an equitable workplace with respected human rights across the board encourages a more diverse workforce generally speaking," she said. "People who might be discriminated against on other grounds will feel like you are a good employer for them too."

Source: The Canadian Press

Friday, 15 August 2014

Celebrating Life


Hello Andrew,
I must admit, I've only recently discovered you and your writing, but I read your column on the dehumanizing effects of our political divide and I found it quite poignant. I was intrigued enough to look further into you and your work, and I must say, with all due respect, I just don't understand your obsession with "partying." The juvenile antics, unkempt image, and "partying" themes cheapen the quality of your ideas and, to be frank, make it very hard to take you seriously. I guess I just don't get it.
Sincerely,
Intelligent Observer

Dear Intelligent Observer,
The very nature of partying is to provide a life-saving release from the constant pressure to "take things seriously." Seriousness of the sort you're describing is precisely why things like partying are crucial to our mental and spiritual health. I take joy very seriously, and partying is the formal pursuit and celebration of joy itself. I'm having a party to celebrate life. I'm having a party to celebrate partying itself.
It seems to me that people often equate intelligence with seriousness, and stupidity with playfulness. These people also tend to overvalue a sort of stoic distance and lack of excitement and enthusiasm as somehow being a sign of wisdom and advanced thinking. An austere and somber attitude doesn't make someone smarter or more intellectual. Sometimes people are overly serious because they're afraid of looking unkempt, unimportant, uneducated -- they fear they'll "make a fool out of themselves" if they don't remain dower and stiff. In my opinion, if more people aspired to the level of life-mastery and self-actualization that a true fool has attained, there'd be much less conflict in the world. Fools realize that the most ignorant people are usually the ones most violently accusing others of being ignorant. Fools realize that in most cases, understanding is overrated. Most importantly, fools realize that no one really knows what's going on, starting first and foremost with themselves.
You can enjoy something without having to comprehend it. You can appreciate a melody without knowing what notes it consists of. You don't need to "get" me or what I do. I'm not here to be understood, I'm here to be experienced. I'm not here to impress you. I'm here to party with you.
I don't understand why people have such a problem with partying anyway. Much like music, smiling, and laughter, partying is one of the few activities enjoyed by all people across the globe since the dawn of civilization. Despite how popular celebration is, partying still gets a bad rap for being "low" behavior. People think it's irresponsible or somehow morally wrong to enjoy life in a pure and playful way without some "higher" purpose to it. But that is the whole purpose -- the beauty of partying and joy is that it doesn't need any additional purpose -- it's an end in itself. And that end is the experience of joy in the highest order.
Partying is fully immersing ourselves in the best and most immediate aspects of this incredible gift called "being alive." Joy brings out the best in us. Partying allows us to experience the best of that joy and be truly ourselves. Partying allows us to be close with other people that we wouldn't necessarily connect with in other circumstances. To look over and see a total stranger lost in blissful happiness, smiling from the depths of their soul for no reason except that it feels good, and to understand exactly what they're feeling because you feel it too. That is the magic of partying. That exhilarating pleasure of not-having-to-be-yourself! That sheer delight of really being free! That glory of being in love with life! That feeling of feeling really, really good!
What's all the rest of this madness for otherwise? What are all our ceaseless efforts for if not to earn us moments of pure euphoria and elation? Are we not meant to be in a state of energized enthusiasm about our own existence? Isn't that an evolutionary survival technique anyway -- so that we want to stay alive and press on -- because we have joy to look forward to? I'm pretty sure that the end result of all our work, all our battling, and all our pain and suffering isn't to see how serious and grim we can be. The darker the world, the more we must increase our efforts to stay in the light -- and to defend that light from the encroaching shadow. If there is such a thing as evil, it wants nothing more than to have us believe that feeling joy is wrong.
We must be brave enough to wholeheartedly deny all the forces working to crush our spirit. We must not let devastation and death remove the joy from life. Existence is confusing and challenging enough as it is. Taking it too seriously and removing the few opportunities for unadulterated cheerfulness does not alleviate us of this burden -- it weighs us down further and saps our strength until all we can do is plod along towards the void without any relief. The more appropriate response to life is to remain at play and in awe, not to mock the severity of our collective plight, but to truly stay engaged in the bewildering and ferocious grandeur of this adventure we're on together. Whether we like it or not, we were all invited to this party and we must work to have the best time we can while we're all here.
Having the strength to smile, to stay close to joy, and to stay close to each other will see us through our darkest and most challenging ordeals. It's not as easy as being glum and cold, but it's worth the extra effort. Believing that joy is wrong is the most violent disrespect to our inherent nature as loving, pleasure seeking creatures. Let us elevate ourselves and embrace our highest and mightiest capacity for happiness. This life is our chance to unleash as much joy onto the world as we can. Let us make that joy together. Let us cheer each other up and cheer each other on. Let us party and party as hard as we can. After all, we can't save the world in a bad mood.

Your friend,
Andrew W.K.

Source: Village Voice


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Empowering Femininity


Early on in my first book Whipping Girl, while discussing the tendency within some strands of feminism to discourage women from engaging in acts and pursuits that are considered feminine, I argued that “We should instead learn to empower femininity itself.” While many people who read the entire book appreciated my stance on femininity, I have found that those who disagree often take that particular quote out of context. Admittedly, it is rather easy to twist the phrase “empower femininity” to make it sound like I was simply calling for more Barbie dolls and glitter nail polish for everyone.
Of course the reason why it is particularly easy to ridicule the idea of empowering femininity is because we (all of us, as a society) already harbor dismissive attitudes toward anything considered feminine. And the very point I was trying to make is that we should move beyond this knee-jerk tendency to dismiss and demean feminine gender expression.
So to counter those who wish to smear the notion, here is a brief outline of ideas I forward inWhipping Girl (and specifically in the chapter “Putting the Feminine Back into Feminism”) that I believe will help us empower femininity.

Recognize that feminine traits are human traits
In our culture, a trait is deemed “feminine” if it is often associated with women. Common examples include being verbal and communicative, emotive or effusive, being nurturing and having an appreciation for beautiful or aesthetically pleasing things. Similarly, other traits are deemed “masculine” solely because they are often associated with men (being competitive or aggressive, physical exertion or using brute force, being silent and stoic and being mathematically or technically oriented). What all of these traits share is the fact that they are allhuman traits that are found to varying degrees in all people regardless of their gender. Most of us express some combination of traits from both the feminine and masculine categories.
I would argue that there is nothing inherently wrong with feminine traits—like all human traits, they are often useful and play important roles. However, in our male- and masculine-centric culture, there are several forces that conspire to undermine feminine traits and the people who express them.

Traits that are viewed as feminine are considered to be inferior to those deemed masculine
This discrepancy is obvious in the adjectives that we commonly associate with gender expression: the assumption that masculinity is strong while femininity is weak, that masculinity is tough while femininity is fragile, that masculinity is rational while femininity is irrational, that masculinity is serious while femininity is frivolous, that masculinity is functional while femininity is ornamental, that masculinity is natural while femininity is artificial and that masculinity is sincere while femininity is manipulative.
Not coincidentally, many of these stereotypes are identical to those that people have historically projected onto men and women. Over the decades, feminists have fiercely challenged these inferior connotations when they have been used to undermine women, and we should now challenge these same connotations when they are used to undermine people who are feminine (the majority of whom also happen to be women).

Feminine traits are misconstrued as being performed for the benefit of men
We see this in the way that the quality of being nurturing (a human trait that is coded feminine) often gets distorted into the myth that it’s the woman’s job to take care of the man in heterosexual relationships. But it’s perhaps most evident in the way that people who appreciate beautiful or aesthetically pleasing things (especially with regards to their own manner of dress and self-presentation) are often presumed to be simply trying to attract or please men.
The women I know who dress femininely are also (far more often than not) generally interested in other forms of visual beauty—they often decorate their homes, compliment others on their dress and comment appreciatively when they see things that look appealing to them (whether it be a particular hue or color combination, a fashion or style, a work of art or architecture, flowers and other natural objects and so on). So it is difficult for me to see this notion—that when they express this interest with regards to their own style of dress they must be doing it to attract male attention—as anything other than highly misplaced and entirely sexist. Not to mention the fact that stereotypically masculine men often never even notice when their female partners are wearing a new outfit or have a new hairstyle. And not to mention the fact that there are women who dress femininely but who are certainly not trying to attract the attention of men (e.g., femme dykes), and men who dress femininely even though such gender-non-conforming presentation is not traditionally considered attractive to most straight women and queer men.
This myth—that feminine dress is primarily designed to attract male attention—exists for a single reason: It enables the societal-wide sexualization of women. After all, if we believe that she wore a pretty dress today because she is trying to pique men’s interests, then suddenly catcalls, sexual innuendos and ogling seem legitimate (because she was essentially “asking for” that attention). And if she says that she is not interested in a man’s sexual advances, well then she must be sending “mixed messages,” because she was clearly trying to “tempt” or “tease” him given the way she was dressed.
A huge swath of our culture is dedicated to making women feel like their self worth is inexorably tied to how attractive they are to men. While critiquing that system is legitimate, dismissing people who are feminine (under the assumption that they buy into that system) is misplaced and often invalidates their autonomy (e.g., the fact that they may have dressed that way for themselves and not for others). It also overlooks a number of sexist double standards that lead us to perceive feminine dress differently from masculine dress. When a woman gets ready for a date, we often say she gets “all dolled up” (the assumption being that it is a frivolous and artificial process), while when a man does the same we usually call it “grooming” (which sounds so practical and natural, like animals in the wild). And while some feminists may complain about how feminine fashions often “show off women’s bodies for male enjoyment,” that completely ignores the fact that a man can go completely topless and no one will assume that he is doing it for anyone else (rather, people will likely assume it is a personal choice based on the fact that he is probably overheated!).
Articles of clothing (or the lack thereof) have no inherent meaning. Any symbolism or connotations they seem to have come directly from our culture or personal assumptions. Rather than critiquing feminine styles of dress, we should instead destroy the sexist myth that feminine dress exists solely for the benefit of men.

Girls and women are encouraged, and often coerced, into being feminine
People who view femininity and masculinity as female- and male-specific traits (rather than more broadly as human traits), will often encourage “gender-appropriate” behaviors in other people. Sometimes this is done unconsciously or subtly (e.g., by simply expressing approval of gender-conforming behavior), and other times consciously and blatantly (e.g., by outright ridiculing or condemning people who are gender-nonconforming). This system has many negative ramifications, one of which is that it puts pressure on girls and women to express feminine traits but not masculine ones.
Feminists have understandably been concerned about this system, although sometimes the strategies that have been forwarded to counter it have been misguided. For instance, some have encouraged women to avoid the feminine and instead pursue masculine approaches and endeavors. But this strategy seems to presume that things that are coded feminine are inherently weak, irrational, frivolous, artificial, etc., in relation to those coded masculine. In other words, this strategy seems to accept these sexist double standards at face value rather than challenging them.
Other feminists have claimed that we must do away with all gender expression, both the masculine and the feminine. While I am all in favor of jettisoning compulsory femininity for girls/women and compulsory masculinity for boys/men, entirely doing away with all such behaviors seems unwarranted. After all, many of these behaviors (being nurturing, competitive, emotive, technically oriented, appreciating beauty or physical exertion) are simply human traits that are unnecessarily categorized as “feminine” or “masculine” by society. This approach also mistakenly assumes that people have no individual inclinations or tendencies with regard to these traits. In reality, many people find that, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth or how they were raised, they tend to gravitate toward behaviors that are deemed feminine, masculine or some combination thereof.
Most reasonable people these days would agree that demeaning or dismissing someone solely because she is female is socially unacceptable. However, demeaning or dismissing people for expressing feminine qualities is often condoned and even encouraged. Indeed, much of the sexism faced by women today targets their femininity (or assumed femininity) rather than their femaleness. It is high time that we forcefully challenge the negative assumptions that constantly plague feminine traits and the people who express them. That is what I mean when I say we must empower femininity.

Author / Source: Julia Serano at Ms. Magazine

Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Luxury of Invisible Privilege

Jackie Summers examines the way racism reproduces – and how well-meaning people feed the disease by denying their privilege. 
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“I’m no bully. I like niggers.”–JW Milam, acquitted murderer of Emmett Till

My grandfather was not a demonstrative man. When my father was a child, Granddad–a piano tuner by trade–sat my father down, and had a very somber conversation with him about how to avoid being lynched.
Likewise, my father was not given to words, or displays of affection. I was about 13 years old when my father–a professional jazz musician–had a similar conversation with me: how (not) to address officers of law, so as to avoid being shot.
I admit: when this generational rite of passage made its way to me, I didn’t fully understand the implications. The essence of this ritual can be distilled down to three basic precepts:
  • You’re a man now, and so responsible for your actions.
  • While other people are responsible for their actions, don’t give them any cause to justify their preconceptions about you.
  • Your mother and I don’t want to outlive you.
If you’ve never received a speech like this. If you’ve never felt compelled to teach your child he is perceived as a threat, regardless of his actions. If you believe the need for such things are outdated, hyperbole, or superfluous to the point of being overkill: Congratulations! You’re suffering from the luxury of invisible privilege.


Lisa Hickey is on record as saying she’d like to “solve racism.” A nobler sentiment you’d be hard pressed to find, but exactly how does one do this? What if racism, like most social ills, isn’t an equation that can solve for zero? While our progress as an ethical society can be argued for progress or regress, there is (at least) one place we can look historically and claim advancement: modern medicine. Whereas cases of polio and measles once decimated entire populations, we can unequivocally declare significant progress in curbing the spread of infectious disease.
So what happens if we treat racism like a disease?
To be clear, there is no cure for polio. Massive vaccination programs are responsible for containing the spread of the disease. We can gain some insight into how we might approach racism differently if we draw parallels.
A virus’s sole purpose is to reproduce, but it needs a host to do so. Pathogens require certain nutrients to grow. And you can’t spontaneously develop a viral infection; you have to catch it from someone.
The problem with many deadly viruses is diagnosis. Viruses can lay dormant for years. You can contract a disease and show no active symptoms. Here is where the real similarities between racism and infectious disease lie: instead of thinking of racism as a social construct–a system of group privilege which defends the advantaged–many people perceive racism as individual words and acts of race based bias. As long as individuals avoid committing these, they aren’t racist.
This is racism in its dormant viral state. By this standard, no one is racist anymore.


If reading this line of argument makes you feel a sense of discomfort, you are likely experiencing what is known as “cognitive dissonance.” People want to believe they’re good people. When something enters their psyche that might contradict this assurance, it is easier psychologically to construct a reality that suits your belief system, than to reexamine your beliefs. The logic goes something like this:
Racism is bad. I’m (or so-and-so is) a good person, so I (or they) can’t be racist. This is the kind of mental gymnastics that allowed the Founding Fathers to not only own slaves, but make constitutional concessions for such. This manner of thinking can be used to justify any action as righteous, no matter how horrific.
This is the social equivalent of ignoring an enormous cold sore. The virus is manifesting, so you cover it with make-up.


If mental constructs can prevent one from acknowledging the existence of social constructs, just how does one diagnose for racism? You look for symptoms of invisible privilege. A very handy guide for this is the manifesto Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women.
In light of recent events, number 15–”I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection”–is of particular note.
This fairly comprehensive list tends to agitate individuals who’d prefer not to think of themselves as privileged. It impugns many essential, well protected beliefs about the self. So let’s try something a little more accessible.

Last week, two videos went viral on the internet. The first showed police arrest a man taking video of police activity. When the police approach him, he puts his dog into his car, and voluntarily puts his hands behind his back, submitting to arrest. When his dog jumps out of the open window of the car to protect him, the police shoot the dog.
It is incredibly telling that the outrage around this video focuses on the treatment of the dog, and not the human. If the obviously unjust killing of an innocent animal registers more deeply with your psyche than the unfair arrest of a black man, you might be showing signs of invisible privilege.

The second video shows a young man who’s stopped at a routine DUI checkpoint in Tennessee. He insists on his constitutional rights, much to the ire of the police officers present. If you watch this and believe he was completely within his rights, you’re correct. If you thought to yourself–as I did–that his actions violated everything my grandfather taught my father, that my father passed on to me, and had I done the same thing, I would likely have ended up in jail at best; at worst, dead–then you’re aware that while we are all promised certain inalienable rights, the extension of such rights is not, and has never been, equal.


Identifying invisible privilege as a symptom of the racism virus is important because it demonstrates how people who seemingly do no harm can still contribute to a harmful system. Curiously, people will more readily admit to having herpes than being racists, although the transmission of both diseases is social.
How ironic that the former carries less stigma than the latter.
Identifying privilege as a luxury is important, because luxuries are things that are enjoyed. If a virus actually benefits the host, what would be the motive for getting treatment? No one gives up luxuries voluntarily.
As with infectious disease, while you may never personally show symptoms or be impacted negatively, you can still spread the pathogen. In other words:

  • If you’re not racist but you’re a racist apologist, you’re part of the problem.
  • If you’re not racist but you’re racist tolerant, you’re part of the problem.
  • If all of your social interactions occur within the bubble of invisible privilege, and you genuinely believe your advantages are purely the result of meritocracy, you’re not a racist… You’re a carrier.

If you exist inside a system that benefits you to the detriment of others, and do nothing to challenge the status quo, you’re enforcing it. The antibody for racism is compassion.


Author / Source: Jackie Summers at Good Men Project

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