Transness, Class, and Assertiveness: A Personal Case Study

Just a quick starting note - I can't remember whether I've mentioned in a post here at Shakesville, I know I have in comments, but I'm dealing with a bout of fairly intense depression lately, which is why you regulars will have noticed my increased and unwonted (and, yes, unwanted) quietude. This is part of my attempt to return to my previous position astride the proverbial equine.

I got a contract offer on Saturday night, from a company I worked for before, nearly two years' worth, in fact. When I left that position, I started my own business, doing translation and writing (and I can't resist: if you have need of either of those services, I am definitely available, contact me for details).

One of the major issues I'd had with the company that made me feel exploited was that I was being seriously underpaid, somewhat voluntarily. It was a startup, and I knew that, and was willing to take a low wage in the hopes that their product would turn out to be a smash, and we'd all get to be stinking rich. Despite the low wage - and I'm talking barely the minimum wage, here, for a professional linguist and translator, also doing tech writing and graphic design and web design - I enjoyed the work.

But the other major issues kept interfering: they not only wanted me full-time, they continually called me at the weekend, in the evening, no boundaries. Since I worked at home 95% of the time, and they could call me there during business hours, they kept calling outside of those hours.

And here's where things got bad for me, and this part's my fault.

See, I didn't stand up for myself. And it's taken me a while, but I now know why that was, and it's helping me a lot in being a lot more assertive this time.

First, I go back: we were poor growing up. Very poor. We moved to Canada as economic migrants from the UK. So I go through the world resting on that base: I do not have middle-class privilege, and this is one place it shows. I began to notice it when I had a long relationship with a partner from a prosperous farming family - church elders, council members, that sort of people. And noticed our different approaches to situations. My partner moved in a world which was, to some extent, made easier by a set of assumptions that said, "The government and its various arms work for me."

I'd grown up with the set of assumptions that said, "The government and its various arms do their best to keep us from getting anywhere we aren't already." I'm partially disabled. Once when we were travelling, there was a huge lineup for customs examination, a good hour's wait, all of which was to be standing. This was very challenging for me. I asked someone whether I'd be able to go in the line for PWD, and was refused when I pointed out that my family would come with me. I meekly turned back and stood in line again. My partner went over and said, "We're going in this line, alright, my partner can hardly stand, and won't make it through this line."

And we went in the short line. This is one of those little insidious ways that privilege works so that people don't even see it: that feeling that the world is predisposed to treat you at worst decently.

I couldn't have done it, then. I can now. I couldn't have turned back and insisted on my right to be in the line to which I clearly had a right. Now, I can. Oh, yes I can.

The other piece that went into my meekness was transition. Before transition, I played sports, I was in the military, I had all the confidence and privilege you'd expect for someone perceived to be a man, who was also white and relatively educated.

And transition? It just shattered that shit, smacked it into a thousand busted little pieces. Many of them fell out of the frame - not all, though, and I still find a few little shards of old privilege poking me now and then, as unpleasant as ever.

Everything I'd ever known about how to move in the world, how to walk, talk, stand, sit, answer the phone, get home late at night, how to meet people as friends, as lovers, how to find work, how to cope with a 30% wage cut...all of it smashed into little pieces.

I couldn't get references from old employers; in 1992, no one was being kind to transitioners, believe me. They said they'd give me references, but only in my old name. I could have a reference if I wanted to out myself to every potential employer. You can imagine the likelihood of finding I went without.

This, as well as a thousand other things, "taught me my place", as they say: don't insist, freak, or we'll out you to everyone, and you know how that'll go.

And so I added a "please don't mess with me, I'll give you what you need" attitude to show to the world.

Any wonder, then, that when my boss would phone me at 9pm on a Friday night, and tell me he wanted $PROJECT to $STATE by Monday morning, I'd say, "Okay, I guess," instead of not picking up the phone? we are, Monday morning. Saturday I got the offer. And I'm going to negotiate. Because though I do need the contract, I'm not going to tell them that, and I'm not going to make myself vulnerable to that kind of exploitation anymore.

I'm setting a limit for the hours I'll work for them in a month; I'm setting a limit on how many weekend or evening hours I'll work out of that lot. Neither will be anywhere near as high as they'd like them to be. And I'm not budging.

I may not have much power, but if there's one thing Shakesville has taught me, it's that small power wielded confidently looks a lot more like big power.

Have teaspoon, will travel.

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