Congratulations, You’re Hired! Navigating the Capitalist Workplace and Its Violence as a Trans Person

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Article published in The Funambulist 13 (September-October 2017) Queers, Feminists and Interiors. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

To Romain and other colleagues,
in memory of our shared misfortunes

First day on the job. Anxiety of the unknown mixes with the relief of finally having access to employment. Thanks to some string pulling, of course. The transition from one social gender to another left me with no other way of entering a job market already unfavorable on the basis of my race. I’ve learned from prior experience that papers identifying me as female — which is to say, not corresponding to my male appearance — arouse suspicion not because I represent a sexual marginality, but because I become a double racial marginality: a Black man, undocumented. This is where the totalizing dimension of racism comes out in full. You’re Black, and that’s it. This thing we are supposedly “hiding” — the lack of valid identification — is inextricably tied to race, which is where the discussion begins and ends. A legendary duplicity; liars, swindlers, and profiteers. Even more so because the West is convinced of having invented race outside of the gender and sexual binaries — hierarchies made to facilitate a criminal economy — when in reality race was the primary weapon used to destroy all the diverse and varied expressions of gender around the world. So it is simpler for them to think of myself as undocumented, rather than trans. Not a problem as I see it, at least.

The mandatory white shirt for my new job as a supermarket cashier barely conceals the constricting binder — which flattens my chest — that I have had to wear for years, despite how bad it is for my asthma. I can’t wait to be rid of it. Though this won’t happen immediately. The supervisor who conducted my interview warned me: “It’s best that your co-workers know nothing about your situation, so we can avoid creating a disturbance in the team. It’s for your sake that I’m telling you this.” Right, of course, for my sake… Behind the hypocrisy of this manager, far more interested in preserving his company’s profits than my safety, there is all the same a certain truth: violence is sure to follow any discovery of my “situation.” It’s necessary therefore that I do everything in my power to make sure nothing is ever glimpsed underneath my shirt, as well as the inverse, to make sure that some forms are detectable where “nothing” would appear as suspect. This is a vastly different reality from homosexuality, from having to be careful about what one says or doesn’t say; for us trans people, it’s our bodies in their materiality which evoke transgression. This is why it is high time for the critique of “coming out” and its Eurocentric character to finally open up to the transgender reality and bypassing the debate between homonationalists and antihomonationalists, where only the experiences of “real men” — white and non-white, rich and poor — are considered in the discussion, the injunctions of one side and the resistances of the other. Cisgender men, of all races and classes, have more access than the cis women and trans people of their respective social groups to sexuality — regardless of whether it is to a version which has been normalized or one which remains transgressive, in private or in public — as well as to possibilities of negotiating within the interstices of societal norms. And those among them who are poor and/or non-white are not the only ones who are being destroyed by white bourgeois heteronormativity. It is therefore time to broaden the discussion.

After a general presentation about the company and what it expects of its employees, I’m given a tour of the premises, most of which is devoted to the spaces reserved for the staff. Cafeteria, rest areas, offices. Then the locker rooms. And here a thundering reminder of the sexual order. A locker room for women, a locker room for men. It is discretely explained to me that it hasn’t yet been decided which one I should use. The obvious thing would be for me to use the male changing room, since to the entire team I have presented as a man, my use of testosterone helping to that matter. Though this has not managed to persuade the reluctant Director of Human Resources: “If she — excuse me, he — is assaulted, we can be reproached for having allowed a woman, you see, into a male space!” Why not the women’s locker room then? It would be much harder to fit in there, though I understand that in this case the fear is that I could be the one doing the assaulting. Between perpetrator and victim, they don’t know how to categorize me. One thing is for sure though, that rape haunts their vision of me in the midst of their workforce. I, the trans person, remind them of the ugliness of a reality in which they condone and encourage violence most of the time: the threat of rape is used as a call to order for women, and in particular for the most vulnerable among them — and most often by their superiors within the context of work, rather than in the common conception of rape being perpetrated in a dark alleyway at three in the morning by a complete stranger. Those in the margins of the sexual order disrupt the division of labor along a strictly hierarchical binary of man/woman (in addition to the racial division), and it’s not by chance that trans people are massively excluded from the official labor market. Work is in itself a violence which exposes and exacerbates oppressions, and for it to be sustained, we are made to discipline ourselves and one another. For me, the trans person, I experience this in a specific way.