Lately I’ve been puzzled by the number of people who seem to think it’s possible to have a conversation about gender equality and transgender liberation without discussing economic injustice and racialized experiences. One reason this thought is so common is because of mainstream media, which (while engaging with *certain* transgender bodies and experiences more consistently in the past few years) almost always excludes the voices of queer, transgender, and gender nonconforming (GNC) people struggling to maintain any financial security.
This burden is often exacerbated significantly for QTPOC. It’s ridiculous that this perspective is so often over-looked, as so many of us share in these identities and experiences. The number of queer, trans and GNC folks who struggle financially shouldn’t be surprising either, as it is easy to see that capitalist society does not exist to be inclusive of our identities simply because it can’t.
A lack of employment options and opportunities for queer, trans, and GNC folks ends up pushing many of us into dangerous and low paying jobs, many of which are held in the service industry where it can be easier to open positions, being one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S. These jobs are undesirable to many people, but are more dangerous and difficult for people of marginalized and oppressed identities such as queer and trans folks, and people of color, who experience negative aspects of the service industry more frequently and more intensely than other workers on average.
Not only do transgender and GNC service industry workers often experience these struggles more often, but many of us also have to deal with a unique set of worker struggles and experiences as well. Our identities, as well as, these unique struggles are rarely addressed by unions, and workers’ rights groups and movements. It’s also important to remember that for QTPOC, these struggles are experienced in addition to and alongside racialized oppression and trauma existent in their lives.
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Below is an incomplete list of the issues many queer, trans, and GNC folks are forced to deal with in order to work and support themselves. Many of these points are not service industry specific, but can be experienced more intensely and consistently by queer and trans service industry workers. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it’s a start to naming the struggles queer, transgender, and GNC folks are forced to face in the service industry that almost always go unrecognized by the media, and by most unions and other worker advocacy organization and centers.
I encourage you to read this list with the additional racialized experiences and challenges QTPOC face:
- Lack of legal protection and support for queer and trans people who, on average, experience higher amounts of violence, harassment, and exploitation on the job.
- Loss of job references and professional networks during or after coming out and/or transitioning.
- More frequently lacking familial or personal support due to your identity, financial or otherwise.
- Not being able to find professional assistance folks in processing trauma and other mental and emotional struggles that could help them be able to work with more consistency more easily.
- Not having proper legal identification for beginning a job.
- Having a harder time finding and keeping a job due to unwelcoming or unsafe work environments and transphobic employers.
- Being more likely to be paid less in both tips and wages.
- Fewer opportunities for career advancement.
- Greater difficulty finding friends/co-workers who will back you up, support you, and lend a hand when you are being unfairly treated by a customer, another co-worker, or by your boss.
- Fewer available jobs that are safe and comfortable.
- Not being able to be out at work for your safety.
- Having to conform to present as the gender you were assigned at birth to keep a job or maintain a livable income.
- Witnessing your boss and others above you take the side of those who are violating your space or privacy, threatening you, or doing enacting violence onto your body or mind in any way.
- Having to consistently work in, during, and through trauma in triggering situations
The lack of discussion and representation of these issues in worker’s rights movements and transgender and GNC visibility movements as well as in the mainstream media perpetuates the idea that you can only be queer, trans and safe as long as you have money, as long as you get surgery and pay for it yourself and hide yourself from society until you have “completed this process”.
Society tells us that if it is okay to be queer and trans, it is only okay if: you put all the energy you can into presenting as a binary-gendered, cis individual; into avoiding reminding anyone that you are not this, that you do not have money, that you have trauma, that you have the body that you have, that you love yourself unapologetically, that you are a sexual being, that you know your life is yours.
If you are a QTPOC, it is rarely societally acceptable to be yourself if you are not going out of your way to keep from reminding anyone that you are anything other than white, and even then, there is still never a guarantee for your safety.
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At best, the messages we receive from those who surround us are that it is incredibly rare to be safe and accepted as a queer or trans person, when it should be appreciated and celebrated. Especially if you are a QTPOC, it can only sometimes be okay or safe to be yourself in this society if you don’t need any help, and don’t ask for any help. It can sometimes be okay, as long as you don’t take what is “not yours” (defined by misogynist, racist, transphobic capitalism) even if you need it, even if it is owed to you.
In a capitalist society, and in the service industry especially, it is only ever okay to be queer or trans as long as you smile the way they want you to smile. As long as you work twice as hard so they can say that you’re almost pulling your weight for now. As long as they can use your body and your story to inspire themselves or to capitalize. As long as they can congratulate you for existing so they can feel like they’re being sensitive. As long as they can look at you when we’re feeling bad and smile at each other thinking, ‘at least our lives are not stuck sitting down there with theirs’.
Wave goodbye to your customers and thank them for coming in today because to a capitalist, it’s can only ever be okay to be queer and trans as long as you make sure to shut up, work the hardest, and always continue to smile.
[Feature Image: The back of a person with medium black hair is pictured sitting at a desk facing a computer. Source: Pexels]