Living in the trans community has plenty of challenges, from dealing with internal confusion and family tension to hostility in the community. On top of that, it’s also difficult to find a job, even when the labor market favors job-seekers.
Herine Palacios with Sol Collective organized the first Trans Job Fair in Sacramento on September 6. They wanted to help people trying to earn a living while also expressing their true identity. Palacios was inspired by a similar event in Los Angeles called Transcend, which was the first transgender job fair in Los Angeles, organized by the St. John’s Transgender Health Program in March. At the Sol Collective event, about 35 employers and more than 200 job seekers attended. Palacios hopes to start planning a follow-up event in a larger space to accommodate demand.
Insight guest host Randol White spoke with Herine Palacios and Ayotunde Ikuku from the Gender Health Center about the challenges facing trans job seekers.
Ayotunde Ikuku on changing their appearance for job interviews
Holding the intersection of someone who is black and queer, I know that I have a really good resume, and I interview really well. Actually, I haven't even had the opportunity and space to be out as my full self until I started working at Gender Health Center. Before that I was a caregiver. Like a lot of jobs, there is a strict binary when it comes to taking care of people. For example, people either want a male caregiver or a female caregiver. I'm a non-binary person, so I don't fit into that binary category. So where do I go? How do I serve my clientele? I had to go as how I present, often where people will assume [gender], based on my beard. You can do that for some time. But it really does weigh on you when you can't be your true self, especially in a place like work where you're going to spend the majority of your time.
Herine Palacios on discovering their non-binary identity
It is a little murky for me, so I understand the confusion. It started when I was younger, I would change my names a lot. I got expelled from school. So when I when I got a chance to move schools, I changed my name. I did that anytime I started somewhere new. Whenever I would go into a coffee shop, they asked for your name, I would change it to different ones all the time. For a long time, I didn't think I was queer. My gender would flip flop. I went by Lorelei for a while. I went by Matthew with some people. It changed so much and I didn't understand it. It felt really uncomfortable to use the name that I was given legally. I was attracted to femme people as well. I didn't think I was queer, which as an adult, seems really weird. Because I'm like, of course, you were queer. [Eventually] I got to choose my name, the one that fits me best. And it's one that's androgynous and can also change to Heri, which is more masculine. And now that I have shaved my head and started chest binding, I do feel more present in my masculine self. So I use “They-Them” or “He-Him.”
Ayotunde Ikuku on how masking gender identity impacts self-esteem
I think it deteriorates it and almost creates this dual personality within you when you're an oppressed person. You have to be this ideal, cookie-cutter, whatever your employer wants during the workday. And then you have to go home and play another role. You're having to constantly switch the mask to where you don't really really know who your true self is. Or it's hard for you to feel your true self because there's not a safe space to do it in.
Herine Palacios on discrimination within the LGBTQ community
A lot of people looking in think that the LGBTQ community is the exact same thing as the trans community. It's just not true. Just because we are marginalized people doesn't mean that we are all marginalized in the same way, or that we're all going to get along. Even within the trans community, the statistics on impact and oppression with trans people of color is way different than white trans people. It's way different with a fat trans person versus a thin trans person, a passing trans person and someone who doesn't pass. There are so many nuances in there looking in, you don't see unless you're really in it. You are depending on people who are also being traumatized by the system. We're all hurting.