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Tracking Trump, Week 4: Feb 12-18 2017

It’s been a weird, wild, week in Trump kingdom. For those accusing Trump of fascism, here’s a week of indications, although whether these point to fascism, authoritarianism, or populism is disputable.

Sunday

On FACE THE NATION, Trump senior advisor Stephen Miller said the following about Trump’s intended executive order on immigration:

We’re considering new and further executive actions that will enhance the security posture of the United States. I don’t have any news to date to make on it. But I think the point, John, is that the president has enormous powers, both delegated to him by Congress and under the Constitution, his Article 2 foreign affairs power, to control the entry of aliens into our country and he’s going to use that authority to keep us safe.

The gist of this is that Miller attributed almost superhuman powers to his boss.

Now, the President is known as “the most powerful man in the world”, but according to the US Constitution, the U.S. presidency, which is the “Executive Branch”, has to harmonize with the other two: the “Legislative”  (i.e.,  Congress) and the “Judicial” branch (i.e., Supreme Court and subordinate federal courts). Moreover, the Constitution gave overarching control to the Congress (including the power to remove the President under circumstances which Congress itself defines). The President, too, is answerable in all his actions to Congress.

Miller overlooked that.  More critically, Miller continued:

We have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become in many case a supreme branch of government.

Since when – and who decides – that the “judiciary that has taken far too much power”? Regardless, Miller says:

Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.

“Our opponents”?  Leaders of fascist and authoritarian regimes tend to furnish themselves with a panoply of real and purported enemies. Trump’s enemies are “the whole world”. Also in dictatorial fashion, Trump declares that “his powers…will not be questioned.”

Fascism is dangerous to host country and to the world. That same day:

Hezbollah terror leader Hassan Nasrallah delivered a speech in Lebanon and addressed US President Donald Trump, whom he called a “fool.”  According to him, “We need to thank Trump for exposing the true face of American society which is racist, criminal and sheds blood while contriving plots against our nations here in the Middle East.”

Monday

Vice President Mike Pence, the vice-president who was supposed to stand in for Trump’s political deficiency and provide logical stability, seems to lack Trump’s confidence and to be isolated from Trump’s shadow cabinet that is headed by chief strategist, Bannon. A NY Times investigation revealed that national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, lied to Pence about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the United States about the lifting of sanctions imposed in the last days of the Obama administration. Worse still, most of Trump’s inner circle seem to be incriminated in the Russian mess, with the trail leading to the President himself. So what does Pence do? The Washington Street Journal reported that Trump sent him to the statue of Douglas MacArthur at West Point to mime how to polish shoes.

An overlooked snippet described a White House atmosphere of overt partisanship – conditions that existed under no other Administration:

At an all-hands meeting about two weeks into the new administration, Ms. McFarland told the group it needed to “make America great again,” numerous staff members who were there said. New Trump appointees are carrying coffee mugs with that Trump campaign slogan into meetings with foreign counterparts, one staff member said. Nervous staff members recently met late at night at a bar a few blocks from the White House and talked about purging their social media accounts of any suggestion of anti-Trump sentiments.

Trump’s regime, University News wrote, mirrors the rise of European fascism. That same day, Geert Wilders, a controversial far-right Dutch politician reiterated his pledge to de-Islamize the Netherlands. Massoud Shadjareh, head of the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission, associated rise of such sentiments to “fascist ideology” that is being promoted and allowed to become legitimized in the world:

The reality is that we are seeing the rise of fascism on the back of Islamophobia and hatred of Muslims and this is extremely worrying because this level of demonization always leads to genocide and ethnic cleansing

Wednesday

Conway tweeted another message indicating she parrots Trump: “I serve at the pleasure of [Trump]. His message is my message.” She broke the rules and gave what she called a “free commercial” on Fox News for Ivanka Trump’s fashion line: “Go buy it today, everybody.” Spicer said she had been “counseled.” How? Trump okayed her actions.

Note how both she and Miller (as well as Spicer among other members of his shadow cabinet) assign absolute power to Trump.

Thursday

The New York Times:

Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election”

Again, one wonders where Vice President Pence is on all of this. Poor guy! Supposed to lead the government, and seemingly ousted from Trump’s confidence.

Meanwhile, the American law enforcement and intelligence agencies give Trump a tough time, so what does the leader do?

President Trump plans to assign a New York billionaire to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies, according to administration officials, an effort that members of the intelligence community fear could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview. (NY Times)

In short, the President aims to stifle their independence – or, put another way, their unbridled autonomy.

That same day, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released its annual census of hate groups and other extremist organizations and reported:

The number of hate groups in the United States rose for a second year in a row in 2016 as the radical right was energized by the candidacy of Donald Trump.

Friday

Is Trump’s regime authoritarian? At the end of one week, John Sidney McCain had this to say:

  • “[The founders of the Munich conference] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarianism.”
  • “They would be alarmed by the hardening resentment we see towards immigrants and refugees and minority groups — especially Muslims.”
  • “They would be alarmed by the growing inability — and even unwillingness — to separate truth from lies.”
  • “They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

McCain is Republican. His party runs the country. He reported what he saw.

The media, whether objectively or otherwise, has time and again put the Donald in his place. On Friday, Trump called the Times and several other media organisations “not my enemies [but] enemies of the American people”.

Granted that the media dislikes Donald, but why is it then the Nation’s enemy? (shouldn’t it be peculiarly Donald’s)? Or does the President think of himself as the United States of America? Alternately, does he want his supporters – and maybe the country as a whole – to pillory the press?

He made a similar claim at a rally in Florida telling supporters the media was “part of the corrupt system”: “When the media lies to the people I will never let them get away with it”, he added.

Again, the man seems to think he has super-President powers.

Conclusion

 

So, in this fourth week of his Presidency, Mr. Trump has declared war on the intelligence agencies and the media. It looks like the judicial branch may be next.

We Are, and Will Remain: An Armenian-American Lesbian’s Quest for Space in her Mother Tongue

“I am Armenian-American.”

What, in my case, does this sentence mean?

It means that about a century ago, after escaping from genocide in the Ottoman Empire, my ancestors immigrated to this continent, where I was born. In my case, this applies to both sides of my family. Others are of mixed roots, Armenian and odar (“foreign,” i.e. non-Armenian), and have no less of a claim on the above term than myself.

“I am Armenian-American” also means that these roots, in some measure, matter enough to me that I would choose to continue claiming them as my own, despite a gap of a century from them. It means, in my case, that despite my birth on these American shores, that I can claim two languages as my native tongue: one a language of world politics and commerce, the other an endangered tongue of a scattered people. Others, with equal claim to this identity, do not speak Armenian. Some in the community deride them for it, but in doing so these detractors forget their own Turkish and Kurdish-speaking grandparents. One’s primary, or sole, language is not a determinant of their ethnic identity.

“I am Armenian-American” means that, in my case, I pass as white and am thus afforded highly conditional privilege that can, and does, evaporate in an instant. This is, for example,  the case in airports, where as soon as an official reads my non-anglo name, I am invariably subjected to further searches and probing questions.

“I am Armenian-American” means that, in some measure, I am neither wholly Armenian nor wholly American. I am a little too alien for white Americans, with my non-anglo name, my taste for “weird” foods, and my occasional, decidedly non-English exclamations of surprise or disgust. I am a little too assimilated for many Armenians too, with my (slight) American accent, my lack of interest in putting my Armenianness at the perennial forefront, and my minority, non-Christian religious affiliation with Shintoism.

I’ve long since given up on choosing one or the other: I exist somewhere in the liminal space between these two identities. And that is enough.

But our identities as humans are multifaceted and complex; we exist at the intersection of many identities. Another one of mine is my sexual orientation as a lesbian.

I am Armenian-American and I am lesbian. And here, one might say we reach the proverbial wrench-in-the-works. But I prefer to think we reach an interesting crossroads.

The Armenian diasporan community strongly tends toward two affiliations: Christian and conservative. Its conservatism is of both social and political bent. Homophobic and transphobic violence in the Armenian community is well documented, both within the country itself as well as in the Diaspora. Were the words of some self-styled defenders of the community to be believed, there are no LGBT Armenians. A chilling irony, given how easily they erase us, reject us, and even kill us. Yet all the same, we exist, we survive, and we struggle to be heard, acknowledged, and respected by our community. As one of our people’s sayings goes, “we are, and we will remain.”

But we have a challenge: language.

***

Armenian language is ancient and rich. It even preserves terms, largely unaltered, from long-dead tongues like Akkadian and Hittite. Armenian literature, in the 16 centuries since its alphabet’s creation, is full of soaring prose and moving, lyrical poetry. But when I was coming out to my family and wanted to do it in Armenian, I came up short. Armenian simply does not have a broad body of language with which to discuss gender and sexual diversity.

So, for a long time, I stuck to English, while my parents responded in Armenian, with horror, guilt-tripping, and accusations of disloyalty to family and nation. It was not an optimal situation, but I made do.

That I was unable to properly express myself in Armenian was galling. There were but two terms of which I was aware at the outset: miaseragan for gay, pokhaseragan for transgender. This is a start, but it is not nearly enough. Added to this is the further complication that there do exist other words, but they are overwhelmingly pathologizing.

I refused to accept this state of affairs as unchangeable. I still do. While we LGBT+ Armenians in the world can, and do, articulate our identities in our mother tongue regardless of the vocabulary’s imperfection, this shortcoming of vocabulary makes that a greater challenge than it needs to be.

And while I have the good fortune of another language with which to express myself, I refuse to be erased from, or hamstrung in, my mother tongue. In my case, to have my parents control the storm of Armenian-language family discourse on my identity was incredibly chagrining.

As I now live outside any of the Armenian diaspora’s major population centers, and as I was single for many years, I could afford to put this off in some measure. Then I started dating other women, my frigid relations with my parents began to slowly warm, and I felt a newfound sense of urgency. Even if I lived outside the diaspora, I simply had to be able to express myself to my parents, and to do it smoothly and clearly. If I had to coin new terms, I would. If the space did not exist for me in my mother tongue, then I would carve that space out myself.

So, with all of this in mind, and fueled by righteous indignation at heart, I took what I saw as the only sensible course of action:

I got to work.

Poverty Encourages Eating Disorders

Content Notice: this article discusses poverty and eating disorders.

It’s easy to find ways poverty negatively affects someone. As one of many examples, it affects education, which limits job opportunities, which often leaves financial stability as nothing but a dream. The root of many of these problems is people believing that those who have been dealt the shittiest hand when they were born, somehow already deserved it.

But there are also more subtle things it can cause, such as a predisposition to eating disorders.

Growing up poor is, to be frank, complete and utter shit. I could go on for hours about all of the various ways it’s shit, but let’s talk about food. Poverty affects your food choices. Poverty affects your eating habits. Through these two things, it can affect how your body processes food, and how your brain interprets hunger.

Food Quality

Your meals will tend to consist of the most cost-effective food you can get — or, if you have the money to spare, the second most cost-effective. Now we’re gettin’ fancy. But here’s the thing: You are often literally getting the food that was not deemed high-quality enough to go with the “normal” food. You are getting the rejects and the junk food, because that’s what’s in your budget. Next time you’re in a grocery store, look around: what is the cheapest food? What is the most expensive food? If you compare these, you’ll often find that the cheapest food is typically of lower quality or considered “junk food,” and the most expensive food is generally higher quality or “healthy snacks.”

Processing Hunger

Food becomes harder to come by, so you tend to eat whatever you can get your hands on. You disregard whether or not you’re hungry at that very moment because fuck you, I am not going to be hungry tonight. A refusal to be hungry can lead to problems processing whether or not you are hungry.

As The Washington Post reported:

Those who grew up in higher socioeconomic households exhibited normal consumption behavior—eating when they were hungry, saying no thank you to the snacks when they were full. Those who grew up in lower socioeconomic households, meanwhile, ate no matter how hungry they were.

Not Eating

Sometimes, you wind up simply not eating. You skip meals in an effort to afford other necessities such as transportation and housing. Or maybe you can afford none of that, and you’re just completely and utterly fucked. (Hi, been there. Many times.)

When you skip meals, you tend to eat larger meals afterwards. Doing this repeatedly can sometimes result in a vicious cycle, where the duration between meals and the amount you eat at each meal both grow considerably, to the point that it’s unhealthy.

Conclusion

Being poor can directly influence the quality of food you have access to, how you understand hunger, and in some cases, whether or not you eat at all. In this way, living in poverty makes developing an eating disorder considerably more likely.

Transgender Day of Remembrance 2016

Content Notice: This article discusses suicide and the 2016 US presidential election.

Once again, Transgender Day of Remembrance has passed, and I am faced with the fact that at least one of my friends has committed suicide every year since I first became involved with the transgender community nearly four years ago.

We never really get the chance to properly mourn our losses, because they just keep coming one after another with no hesitation between them.

As is the case every year, there were periods over the past year where I became uncomfortably close to being part of that group.

This year is worse than normal.

People are literally killing themselves to avoid the repercussions of what the President-elect is promising, and the negative things he has already accomplished. And, as every time the trans community has been in danger, the only ones who consistently stand by us are other marginalized groups.

The country is going to be led by someone who has consistently actively encouraged violence against marginalized groups, with the Vice President-elect being just as bad. They’re fucking talking about putting people in internment camps. The VP-elect advocates for conversion therapy.

I’m drawn back to this quote from my article about Transgender Day of Remembrance 2015:

When the only ones who reliably stay beside us are others who are similarly targeted, it is unsurprising that our progress moves slowly and is paid for with the lives and safety of those who are most vulnerable. Often, this is trans women of color.

Likewise, when the only ones who reliably stay beside us are others who are similarly targeted, it is also unsurprising that progress can regress so quickly.

I am very afraid right now, and so are a lot of other people. Please do your best to take care of and stand by each other.

Mental Health Triggers

Content Notice: The following article discusses PTSD/cPTSD, eating disorders, depression, and OCD.

Mental health triggers are things which, when encountered, can affect a person’s ability to function by triggering a mental illness. The term is most often used for PTSD and cPTSD (trauma triggers), but it can apply to other illnesses — including eating disorders, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, among others. The effects are most often mental and/or emotional, but can also manifest physically.

Everyone’s triggers are different. For me, things that remind me of past abuse can trigger flashbacks or panic responses (cPTSD), and sleeping too much can cause a depressive episode. For other people, it could be sudden loud noises and sleeping too little. It varies from person to person.

How the same person responds to the same trigger can also vary depending on the circumstances. E.g., my cPTSD-related panic responses tend to manifest differently at night (shaking, hyperventilating) than during the day (dissociation).

Trigger Warnings and Content Notices

Trigger Warnings, as well as the more general Content Notices, serve two purposes: first, to allow someone to choose whether they want to engage with potentially-triggering content, and second, to allow someone to prepare themselves before engaging with it.

Some people respond to requests to do this by saying it’s “coddling” — but I’d argue it’s the exact opposite. First, choosing to not engage with potentially-triggering content is an entirely valid decision, and anyone who says otherwise can go fuck themselves. Second, trigger warnings and content notices allow people to engage with content they would otherwise avoid, because the heads-up allows them to properly prepare for it.

“Triggered” Jokes

A recent trend is for people to joke about being “triggered” when they in fact are not. I will put it bluntly: by making jokes about being triggered, you are making it harder for people who have triggers to be taken seriously. You are actively hindering their ability to participate in society. This is not fucking okay.

Conclusion

Mental health triggers are complicated things. They vary from person to person, as do people’s responses to them. The same person can respond to them differently depending on context. While they often manifest emotionally or mentally, they can also manifest physically. They exist for more than just PTSD.

Trigger Warnings and Content Notices allow people who have mental health triggers to more safely engage with content they otherwise may have to avoid entirely, and avoiding content because of what it contains is always a valid choice.

Mocking people’s mental health is not okay.

Clothes

The behaviors exhibited by groups with large influence, such as companies that spend a lot on advertising, can influence the public’s perception of certain groups to perpetuate marginalization.

Case in point: How clothing companies treat and present women above a certain size.

When looking at clothes, it quickly becomes clear that they are largely designed by people who feel that women with larger bodies should be ashamed and hide. The fact that excessively-baggy, box-shaped shirts are basically all that’s available in plus sizes? That’s what this is. We aren’t supposed to feel proud of how our bodies look, because they’re not one of the Approved Shapes And Sizes.

Sometimes I’ll feel this immense shame and anxiety about how my body looks, and every time I examine it I come to the same conclusion: these feelings are not an attribute of my body, they’re an attribute of how society treats it. As much as I hate to admit it, the way I feel about my body can be strongly influenced by how the world around me perceives it.

Only being able to find clothes that hide the shape of my body, instead of accentuating it, very clearly presents a message I do not agree with: that people with bodies like mine are inherently unattractive, and our bodies should be hidden in shame.

It’s devastating how easy it is to start believing this, how easy it is to hide yourself because of this, how easy it is to perpetuate this. I try my best to not only avoid perpetuating it, but actively fight it. And, frankly, it’s really fucking hard.

These ideas are forced on you from birth. It becomes ingrained, and it takes so much to fight this toxic idea that bodies like mine are inherently bad, and sometimes I forget and I believe the message the clothes on the rack are screaming so clearly.

I’m here to remind you that they’re wrong. My body is lovable. Your body is lovable. There are no exceptions.

What should I do if I can’t tell someone’s gender?

Not give a shit.

Glad I could clear that up for you.

 

Also, you shouldn’t really be assuming gender anyway, because it’s literally impossible to always accurately guess it. There’s also the problem where gender and pronouns aren’t directly tied, and what you probably want to know is what pronouns to use.

Remember: If you don’t know someone’s pronouns, it’s usually safe to use singular they. However, if you can ask or they tell you, only use the pronouns they say to — to use anything but what they want you to is just fucking rude.

Be sure to follow @trainsgendering and @_inatri on Twitter for more helpful advice about Not Being An Asshole To Transgender People™.

Reconciling The Past

I have a problematic relationship with my past. This is not just in the sense that I have a good memory, and those memories often find themselves in my focus at the most inopportune times. Nor is it necessarily in the sense that I’ve done horrible things I’m not willing to admit. My problems with the past stem from the fact that the past exists, and there’s nothing I can do about it. It evokes the need to flee or to reconcile, and that is immensely problematic for me.

A few weekends ago I went to Hamilton for the bridal shower of a friend I’ve had since high school, and it made me think a lot about the past. I wouldn’t say I’m a stranger to Hamilton, I go back at least once a month, but I tend to stick to places that were never really associated with my childhood, and I tend to hang out with friends who grew with me as people. Having to go to this event and potentially see people I haven’t seen for more than 3 years meant that I would need to reconcile these two points in time and explain the gap, which means having to explain my transition.

I’ve often thought I would love to erase the past. Take the good, bad, and mediocre elements of my upbringing and just throw it all into a shredder. It’s extra weight I can’t seem to shake free, and as a trans woman this is simply a huge extra burden I have to deal with. No matter how hard you run, how well you can disappear, your past will be always be just another weapon that transphobes will try to use against you at every opportunity. Hate groups like TERFs (Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists) and MRAs (“Men’s Rights Activists”) revel in attempting to dehumanize you by trying to throw your past in your face. This is something that weighs heavily on me and many other trans women I know. There were times when I lied, denied, or covered up to prevent my identity and activities from being known. Times when I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t who I am, that I was normal, whatever the fuck that even entails.

I was raised Catholic. I attended Catholic school throughout my entire education. Though I made some lifelong friends, Catholic school made me hate myself. If you are lgbt, Catholicism will try its hardest to change you. After a few years of listening to anti-gay rhetoric, attending mass, guest speakers, and mandatory theology courses, you’ll try to hide your identity from your peers and from yourself. This is exactly what I did for nearly a decade. I started dressing en femme in grade 7 and by grade 10 I had quit that not because I felt comfortable in my assigned gender but because I feared all the things I was told would happen to me.

There’s a lot of nostalgia for childhood in western culture. If you were to watch coming of age movies, you’d think that high-school was the most important time of your life. To me, high-school is a mixed bag. I’m so happy I met my friends, they’re fucking wonderful in every damn way, but it’s an institution that made me hate myself in a very vulnerable and suggestible time of my life. Because of this, I’m completely torn. Part of me would like to burn the whole damn thing to the ground, but without it I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Despite the hardship, or maybe because of it, I turned out to be someone I’m immensely proud of.

As much as I want to forget those 4 years ever existed, I also want to send a selfie to every jerk-ass little shit I ran into in the hallways. I’d love to see the look on my uptight teachers’ faces. I’d love to find out that there were other people like me who were just living under the radar and I’d love to hear their stories. There were at least a couple thousand students enrolled at my high-school, so it’s statistically likely that at least 50-100 of them were gay and maybe 5 or 6 were trans. Coming to terms with my past instead of running away means I could swap stories and learn about the experiences of my peers. Finding others who share your struggle is often cathartic.

My past is painful, but it’s my past. While hate groups will always attempt to weaponize it against me, it could also be something that builds community, provides perspective, and helps me connect with others I may have not connected with before. I still dread events like the bridal shower, but I’ve accepted that some good could come of it. There are still things I can gain from connecting with my past provided I don’t let the bastards get me down.

Our Heroes Are Garbage People And We Are Too

I have a problem with heroes, and I bet you do too. Whether or not you pay attention to someone’s Twitter, Facebook, or their interviews, someone you like is invariably saying shitty things about you.

I used to be able to willfully ignore my heroes missteps, but they continued talking trash, especially on topics they know very little about. When I came out as transgender, it got worse. As much as I looked up to these people or enjoyed their work, they constantly insulted and offended me and individuals like me. It was completely disheartening. My so called heroes began to show their true selves, and their true selves were trash.

Maybe It’s Just Me

When I was younger, I often believed that my getting offended at individuals dehumanizing me was the result of my own sensitivity. I believed myself to be weak because I couldn’t roll with the punches. I know now that this was simply not the case, and the individuals I looked up to simply reframed the controversy to make it about me and individuals like myself. Framing in communication is an important tool, it allows us to utilize rhetoric without changing the facts, to promote certain interpretations of events and discourage others. In essence, it’s a means of steering the conversation towards one conclusion.

What often happens when someone in a position of relative power is attacked is that they will shift the blame and communicatively construct a reality where the victim is at fault. “I was making a joke.” “You’re just being overly sensitive.” “Hey, it’s just my opinion.” While the facts remain that someone made a mistake or used language that was harmful to an individual or group, the conversation shifts to be about the victim. Often time the victim’s only action is to point out that the individual made a mistake; sometimes the victim has had no action. If the internal logic is consistent, someone could basically reframe any issue and convince people that they’re right and the victims are wrong. “You are reacting to something I said so you’re the one at fault.”

Whether intentional or not, this often results in a skewed reality where an influential person has changed the conversation and minds of several of their followers. It often incites a hate mob, specially targeted at the victims of the initial comment. Furthermore, it promotes the internalization of oppression. When reality is skewed to be against a victim, they may begin to believe that they are actually at fault. If our understandings of reality shape what we believe, and reality is skewed against us, we take in, rationalize, and internalize that reality. The reality where victims are just weaklings becomes our own. This just leads to the further marginalization of people, simply because someone in a position of power can’t accept their mistake or understand the gravity of the situation.

What needs to be understood by individuals in power is that power dynamics play an important role. Being in a position of power shouldn’t make an individual infallible, and while everyone is entitled to an opinion, when all eyes are on you your opinion can have serious repercussions for marginalized individuals.

The Problem with Celebrity

Whether an individual is respected or seen as intelligent is irrelevant. If you’re asking an individual to opine on a random topic out of their breadth of expertise, you’re rolling dice as to whether or not your hero will let you down. This is especially the case when it’s a hotly debated topic and there’s no care and dedication into understanding the problem. Privilege, widely held social beliefs, age, and trust in meritocracy only compound these issues further. So while an individual may be regarded as the pinnacle of their field of expertise, ignorance, privilege, and other social factors, may cause them to share uneducated or harmful opinions.

This is emblematic of a society that values celebrity the way western society does. We still expect that everyone that has elevated in society based on their talent will somehow be a renaissance person. We give individuals a soapbox and a loud speaker, and expect them to tell us how to think, feel, or act, because they’re someone in society. It’s also a society that places the value of personal opinion higher than expertise, that gains enjoyment from shock value, where any mainstream opinion that condemns a minority is lauded by the individuals that do not match that identifier. This is not to excuse who share their terrible, harmful, and often times violent opinions, but the construction of society plays a major role as to how they were given a voice and why they haven’t been driven out yet.

This problem does not solely lie on expertise, however, ignorance and an inability to process new information also contribute to dangerous opinions. Similar to taking a driving test or getting a degree, we often falsely elevate individuals based on solitary achievements and not continued work or relevance. When you’ve made it, you’ve made it, or so they say. Individuals that were once considered groundbreaking, revolutionary, or relevant, are falsely raised above others and given an important voice in a community. Often their contributions are hailed as being so pivotal in the cultural zeitgeist that society begins to see them as infallible leaders. As time goes on and as society becomes less interested in the zeitgeist they stood for, their opinions begin to clash harder and harder especially if their opinions come from a time society has moved past. A once revolutionary, cutting edge, iconoclast can be reduced to just another member of the establishment and no longer concerned with the revolution.

Conclusion

We’re all just living garbage. Every single one of us is guilty of holding a contrarian opinion, having shitty personality traits, and being genuinely ignorant in many ways. However, when we elevate some trash above the rest of the pile because of their accomplishments, we risk creating a monster that can have very real, adverse effects, especially on marginalized individuals. When we give an individual a soap box on which to espouse nonsense and we enforce the lie that this individual is a person of real leadership in the community, we set a dangerous precedent that often reinforces taboo, prejudices, and flagrant ignorance.

Individuals we elevate above us have too great a power to influence discussion and place the blame for their shitty comments directly on their victims. They use reframing as a tactic to skew reality and convince other individuals that their victims are simply weak or too sensitive. They punch down at individuals that they hold in contempt and incite hate mobs to further destroy their victim’s lives and safety.

Furthermore, culture of celebrity treats the opinions of individuals with social power as infallible. We still wrongly believe than any individual who has shown mastery or expertise in one field, is magically endowed with expertise in other fields. We are also constantly disappointed by this fact as if we could not see that an evolutionary biologist might not have the firmest grasps on world affairs, or that an actress and comedienne may not have any understanding of medicine. We wish, that despite creating the exact situation we dread, that somehow this would not happen, that individuals we choose to elevate may meet our lofty expectation of omnipotence as if they were a deity. At least that way the idolatry would make sense.

Never meet your heroes. In fact, its best not to have heroes at all.

On Transition and Unemployment

Today marks the year anniversary since I was laid off. One year ago today, I was given my severance and told to hit the road.

It honestly wasn’t that bad of a day. I talked with my co-workers, wrapped up some loose ends, had an excellent burrito at Mex-I-Can, and had some hope for the future. I had just started a publication with my partners in crime who had stable work themselves, I was going to build an excellent guitar, I’d have some time off of work to lounge around and transition in peace. It honestly looked like it was going to be a good year, but it wasn’t.

Inatri started slow; honestly we were discouraged by the response to the second piece. My guitar came together but was a lot of hassle. My mental health started to change drastically come summer. My transition progress was slow and I wasn’t making the gains I wanted to. Lastly, when I started to look for a job, I found nothing. Most of my responses were instant rejection, or failure to contact.

As the months dragged on, I lost hope. Where before I had looked for jobs in my field of study, now I was just looking for anything. When I thought about commuting, it felt alien and weird to me. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling that normal, ever being one of the nine to five workers again. I began to feel strange and detached, like I was less than others.

Unforgiving Job Market

It’s not a good time to be unemployed, especially when so many are underemployed. In Canada, youth unemployment is 13.9%, but youth underemployment was found to be 26.4%1. Admittedly these are 2013 numbers; however, the unemployment rate in Canada has been a fairly consistent ~7% with a few dips as low as ~5%2. This may not mean much to a lot of people, as the youth bracket is defined as 14-28 years old, but I am at the top end of the bracket and this experience is consistent with my friends and I.

Because of high underemployment, job opportunities that would normally be available for the unemployed are now receiving interest and applications from the underemployed. These individuals are often looking to move up from their current position or to step sideways from a similar position into a new company or environment which would offer full time or higher paid work. We are overqualified for our jobs.

The jobs I was applying for over the last year, were not jobs in my field, nor were they jobs that suit my qualifications. I am a Political Science graduate looking for mostly administrative or secretarial work. I was laid off from an administrative job in finance paying $16 an hour with no benefits and no future. I was part of that underemployment statistic.

There is also a rather worrying shift in Ontario from full-time to part-time work, which dramatically increases underemployment. Furthermore, there is a growing trend of involuntary part time work; extra jobs individuals are taking to make ends meet due to a lack of well paid full time employment3. The shifting ideas of employment in Ontario have done me no favours over the past year. Competition for full time jobs is fierce, and that will not change any time soon.

Let’s be clear: I’m not applying for anything above my reach, I’m applying for entry level jobs. Most of the entry level jobs I’ve found have asked very clearly for experience doing that job. Most of the people I know have assured me that the experience requirement is just there to deter non-confident individuals from applying. More than once in the last year, though, I’ve been rejected on the basis of lacking experience.

One of these rejections was fairly recent. It was for an educational software company looking for QA testers. This is a basic entry level contract job for most developers. The required experience was one year as a QA tester. I did not have that on my CV, but I did make it clear that I have had similar experience with my former employer when our Oracle system went live and we had to create routines, test the limits of the system, and design processes as we were thrown head first into a shark tank. Seven hours later I got a rejection saying I lacked the required experience.

Whether or not my rejection was based on a different reason, the justification being used was the lack of experience. Lack of experience for an entry level job that, in essence, should require little to no experience but rather job training and mentoring. However, with a job market so glutted by capable individuals looking to move up from part-time or unsatisfying work, even in an entry level position experience can matter greatly. To get a job in this market, you need to have a job.

Throwing Trans Into the Mix

Things really get tough when you start throwing any marginalization into the mix. Transgender individuals face higher unemployment and more barriers to employment than cis[gender]4 individuals. As a demographic, 37% of us are employed full time, 15% are employed part time, and 25% are students. Our unemployment rate is 20%5. Bear in mind that’s the overall trans population; trans youth unemployment may skew higher since youth unemployment tends to be higher than the general population.

If finding a job were based on qualifications alone, the statistics would look very different. A study by Trans PULSE found that 71% of trans people in Ontario have post-secondary education6. That’s nearly 3/4 of the trans population who have qualifications and training above and beyond high-school. These are individuals with expertise in their fields, and diplomas to back them up. However, to get a job you often have to do an interview, and this is where being transgender will most likely ruin any chance you have at getting a job. In a TorStar article, a transgender woman noted that no-one would give her a second interview and that occasionally interviewers would make up excuses as to why they couldn’t conduct an interview5. I’ve had similar experiences myself.

There is a certain level of transphobia I’ve experienced in interviews. I am a femme leaning trans woman and because of this I feel immense pressure to conform to cis-normative beauty standards. I’ve only been on HRT for 14 months, my hair has not grown out nearly as long as I’d like, and I still see things I hate about myself when I look in the mirror. I feel like because of these, because of my failure to meet normative beauty standards, that I tend to be judged harshly by hiring managers most of whom only see gender through a binary lens. Since interviews are just as much about appearance as they are about qualifications, trans individuals who do not embody cis-normative beauty standards are often judged harshly.

Being a marginalized individual in any way makes it hard to be confident. Even if there’s no overt vibes of transphobia, I find it very difficult to be put in centre stage and judged on appearance, demeanour, and confidence. I don’t believe I conform to cis-normative standards and I don’t believe that people are taking my identity seriously. This very much hurts my confidence.

I’m very sensitive and care a great deal about what others think of me, so negative comments about my appearance, my gender, my genitals, my height, my weight, my lack of wardrobe, always have a huge impact on me. I take all of these comments to heart, even when I know they’re untrue and even when I know people are just looking to get under my skin. I internalize these thoughts and it completely erodes my confidence. Where I was once assured of the truth, the negative comments will eventually wear away at me where I’m simply full of self doubt, and this is baggage that tends to weigh heavily on me during an interview.

Conclusion

My experience is not unique, and this is a problem. In a generation that is constantly attacked as entitled and lazy7, we sure as fuck don’t seem to have a whole hell of a lot in terms of gainful employment and market power. Most of us are incredibly overqualified for what few jobs are available.

We were sold a narrative that the baby boomers would retire and leave a vacuum in the job market. This is yet to happen; the boomers have yet to retire8. What this means, however, is that we face incredibly high youth unemployment rates, almost double the overall population. It also means that marginalized individuals are more likely to be left out, competing for jobs in a market scarce of employment opportunities.

In a game that rewards confidence and conformity, being different often hinders an applicant’s ability to compete. Especially for trans people, the lack of conformity could become a huge hindrance to the pageant portion of a job application. Trans individuals may find themselves passed up for a cis applicant simply because they do not fit into a strictly binary and cisnormative model of gender, even if they possess similar or greater qualifications to a cis individual. Eventually, the discouragement faced by these individuals becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; when you’ve been turned away so often from interviews because of your appearance, you become less likely to apply in the first place.

I think it’s about time we start to think both about who we have as hiring managers, and how the hiring process is conducted. Hopefully when we’re given the reins of power we can have an honest discussion about hiring and decrease the amount of sway a hiring manager with appearance based prejudices could have on the hiring process.


Endnotes:

  1. Alex Paterson and Claude Dumulon-Lauziere, “It’s not unemployment, it’s underemployment,” Canada 2020.
  2. Canada Unemployment Rate,” Trading Economics.
  3. Robert Benzie, “Ontario’s job market undergoing ‘seismic shift’ from full- to part-time jobs,” Toronto Star.
  4. Cisgender, as opposed to transgender. Individuals whose identity (closely) matches the “sex designation” they were coercively assigned at birth.
  5. Transgender unemployment is a result of discrimination, advocate says,” CBC News.
  6. Helen Wolkowicz, “Transgendered Ontarians struggling with jobs and equality at work,” Toronto Star.
  7. Margaret Wente, “Inside the entitlement generation,” The Globe and Mail.
  8. Lydia Dallett, “Hard-Charging Baby Boomers May Never Leave Their Jobs,” Business Insider.