Kenneth Stram runs the Economic Development Office at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. "In San Francisco there are the best intentions," he told us. "But when you scratch the surface, there are all these procedural hurdles that need to be addressed." As examples, he pointed to job-training classes where fellow students may act hostile, or arduous application processes.
Giving a prospective employer a reference may seem like a fairly straightforward task, but what if your old employer knew an employee of a different gender? Do you call the old boss and announce your new identity? Even if he or she is supportive, experience can be hard to erase. Will the manager who worked with Jim be able to speak convincingly about Jeanine? And what about your work history — should you eliminate the jobs where you were known as a different gender?
Most trans people can't make it through the application process without either outing themselves or lying.
Marcus Arana decided to face this issue head-on and wrote about his transition from living as a woman to living as a man in his cover letter.
"It became a matter of curiosity," Arana told us. "I would have employers ask about my surgical status."
It took him a year and a half to find a job. Fortunately, it's one he loves. Arana investigates most complaints of gender identity–related discrimination that are made to San Francisco's city government. (Another investigator handles housing-oriented complaints.)
When he started his job, in 2000, about three quarters of the complaints Arana saw were related to public accommodations — a transwoman had been refused service at a restaurant, say, or a bank employee had given a cross-dressing man grief about the gender listed on his driver's license.
Today, Arana told us, at least half of the cases he looks into are work-related — something he attributes to both progress in accommodations issues and stagnation on the job front.
TG workers, he said, confront two common problems: resistance to a changed name or pronoun preference and controversy over which bathroom they use.
The name and pronoun problems can often be addressed through sensitivity training, though Arana said that even in the Bay Area, it's not unheard of for some coworkers to simply refuse to alter how they refer to a trans colleague.
Nine out of ten bathroom issues concern male-to-female trans folk — despite the fact that the police department has never gotten a single report of a transwoman harassing another person in a bathroom. One complaint Arana investigated involved a woman sticking a compact mirror under a bathroom stall in an effort to see her trans coworker's genitalia.
But a hostile workplace is more often made up of dozens of subtle discomforts rather than a single drama-filled incident.
Robinson told us the constant whispering of "is that a man?" can make an otherwise decent job intolerable: "It's why most of the girls — and I will speak for myself — are prostitutes. Because it's easier."
The second and third most common forms of work-related discrimination cited by respondents in the TLC survey were sexual harassment and verbal harassment.
But only 12 percent of those who reported discrimination also filed some kind of formal complaint. That may be because of the widespread feeling that doing so can make it that much harder to keep a job — or find another one. Mara Keisling, director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in Washington, DC, said that "it's a common understanding within the transgender community that when you lose your job, you generally lose your career."