On Money and Power: A Different View
As a queer-identified person with a transgender wife, there is absolutely no question that we have sometimes felt the sting of discrimination. There have been times when we’ve been rejected by family members, or by people we thought were our friends. There have been times when we’ve questioned whether the reason we didn’t land a particular job or were laid off had more to do with who we were than our qualifications, skill level, or the current economy. There is no question that the life of a transperson is often difficult, but our experiences have shown that it’s not as bad as some people think.
Recently, Ashley posted several articles that outlined the difficulties she and other transfolk have encountered in finding employment, health insurance and appropriate health care. While I certainly don’t want to minimize her experiences or the experiences of others, we’ve found that it is possible, and not that difficult, to find decent employment, insurance and health care.
We’ve all heard the horror stories. We see them on the Internet, in the newspaper and even occasionally on television. We know bad things happen to good people, and those are the stories that make the evening news. Stories of happy, quiet and content transpeople who transition and make successes of their new lives rarely make headlines. They just disappear into the larger society and move on.
How do I know about these people? It’s because we and our friends are part of that group.
As soon as we formally started our business, we inquired about health insurance. Our agent told us that most insurance companies need to see that a business has been operational for at least a year before they are willing to issue a group policy, so we took advantage of our COBRA coverage until our business could qualify on its own. As soon as we could, we transferred to the new policy, and were both immediately covered. The fact that my wife was trans seemed to be a non-issue, as she had transitioned on the job with a previous employer and her eligibility for health insurance coverage transferred with her.
As for health care, we’ve had some amazingly positive experiences. When my wife left the big city and moved over 250 miles to live with me, she initially kept her primary care physician, because she was very experienced in trans health issues. The commute quickly became difficult so I went in search of a new doctor. We picked a small clinic near our home, and I made an initial appointment. While I was there, I asked the doctor if we could speak “off the record.” When he seemed willing, I told him about my wife and her medical needs, and asked if he would be willing to see her. He agreed, and was amazingly supportive and helpful, despite not having any prior experience with transgender medicine. A number of years later, my wife ended up in the hospital needing emergency surgery, and the staff was mostly friendly, courteous, respectful and helpful. They made sure that paperwork was filled out correctly so that we had no insurance billing problems.
In all honesty, I don’t think that our experience has been unique. Even though we live in a relatively small town, we know of six transpeople. All of them have had successful and productive lives before, during and after transition. Two became successful lawyers after transition, one is currently in law school, one more transitioned on the job while working in law enforcement and later retired, one was a retired college professor, and another worked as a technician for a local utility company. Of this group, only one (the technician) had significant problems on the job, but many of her difficulties were exacerbated by her often angry and negative response to those problems.
When my wife transitioned on the job at a large technology corporation, she was scared, but she approached the situation with a positive and empowered attitude. She was open and willing to do whatever self-advocacy she needed to do in order to make the process as easy as possible for everyone. Sure there were the usual discussions about bathrooms, pronouns and the one person who missed the memo and was terribly confused when “he” returned from vacation as a she, but in the main her experience was positive. It took a certain amount of careful planning and preparation, but it all worked out very well in the end. When she resigned to move in with me, her employer expressed considerable regret that she was leaving.
As much as it would be easy to say that being able to “pass,” or blend in flawlessly in your chosen gender, is the key to a successful life, in my experience that’s not always the case. Some of our friends pass very well, others do not. In our group, the most successful are those with the most education, life experience and skills. Even those without fancy college degrees are doing well. Our friend who retired from law enforcement, who also happens to have the double whammy of being extremely tall and transitioning very late in life, now works in a managerial position with a local publishing company. Despite her relative lack of education as compared to the lawyers in our group, she has a job that she loves and is able to afford her own home, a new car, and all the trappings of a middle class life.
As for my wife’s ability to pass, she falls somewhat in the middle of the road. Some people she meets will never question that she is anything other than authentically female and would be surprised to learn otherwise. Others figure it out almost immediately and quickly ask questions. We only volunteer information to our closest friends, but when asked a direct question, we answer honestly. Even so, it seems the majority of our clients have been more interested in the results we can bring to the table, rather than asking embarrassing questions about our lifestyle.
I think the key to post-transition success has more to do with attitude than anything else. In our circle of friends, the happiest and most successful are the folks who were the happiest and most successful before their transition. Their positive, optimistic and empowered attitudes carried them through the most difficult parts of their lives, and enabled them to advocate for themselves effectively.
While I will agree that money does equate to power inasmuch as it applies to being able to buy the things we want and need, I don’t believe for one second that the cards are completely and irrevocably stacked against trans men and women. The opportunities are out there, but it takes considerable preparation and planning beforehand. Transitioning at the lowest point in life, with no emergency fund and no backup plan probably isn’t wise. Likewise, if you live in the middle of a conservative bible-belt town, you might be well served by moving to California and establishing yourself before you take the leap.
Trite though it may seem, I think we often make our own reality. And, just like in real estate, location matters.
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