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. While media engaging with certain transgender bodies and experiences has become more consistent in the past few years, it 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 (queer and trans people of color). It’s ridiculous that this analysis is so often overlooked, 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’s easy to see capitalist society is not inclusive of our identities.
Discrimination in the Service Industry
A lack of employment options and opportunities for queer, trans, and GNC folks ends up pushing many of us into dangerous, low-paying jobs. Many of these jobs are in the service industry, where it can be easier to find open positions given that the service sector is 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, as well as people of color, who experience negative aspects of the service industry more frequently and more intensely than other workers on average.
Transgender and GNC service industry workers often face unique struggles rarely addressed by unions or workers’ rights groups and movements. For QTPOC, racialized oppression and trauma are additional layers of struggle in their lives.
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. 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 their identity, financial or otherwise.
- Not being able to find mental health professionals in processing trauma and other mental and emotional struggles, which if found 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 discriminatory employers.
- Being more likely to be paid less in both tips and wages.
- Fewer opportunities for career advancement.
- Greater difficulty finding friends or co-workers who will back them up, support them, and lend a hand when they are being unfairly treated by a customer, another co-worker, or by their boss.
- Fewer available jobs that are safe and comfortable.
- Not being able to be out at work for their safety.
- Having to conform to present as the gender they were assigned at birth to keep a job or maintain a livable income.
- Witnessing their boss and others above them take the side of those who are violating their space or privacy, threatening them, or enacting violence onto their body or mind in other ways.
- Having to consistently work in, during, and through trauma in triggering situations.
More Radical Reads: Gaslighting on the Job? 7 Ways to Know if Your Workplace is Abusive
For trans people in particular, employers’ refusal to address these issues perpetuates the idea that you can only be trans and safe as long as you have money. Trans people are expected to have surgery, pay for it themselves, and hide from society until they’ve “completed” this process.
It’s rarely socially acceptable to be yourself, especially for QTPOC. You’re expected to constantly go out of your way to keep from reminding anyone that you’re anything other than cis and/or white. Even then, your safety is still never guaranteed. Employers expect that you don’t need any help and you don’t ask for any help. You’re viewed as acceptable only 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.
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.
More Radical Reads: 4 Covert Ways the Workplace Can Be Hostile
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.
Under capitalism, it 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: photo of a woman with brown hair, brown eyes, and long acrylic white nails who is working inside a cafe. She leans over the counter holding a cup of espresso and gazes into the distance with a pained, contemplative expression on her face, her left hand holding her face. Behind her is blurred barista machinery. Source: The Broadly Gender Spectrum Collection]