Rebecca Juro

Beck To Work

Filed By Rebecca Juro | March 22, 2008 10:26 PM | comments

Filed in: Media, Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: transgender, workplace protections

You may have been wondering why you haven't seen much in the way of postings from me in the last several weeks (or not). The truth is that I've been looking for a new job during this time, and about a month ago, something that hadn't happened for almost three years finally did, in fact, happen: I was hired.

It's the bottom of the totem pole, yet again. After my disastrous experience with my last employer, I felt it best to completely eliminate that job, and therefore the relevant managerial experience it represented, from my resume. As a result, I'm back to journeywoman retail worker status. I'm a part-time employee at this point, but I'm already working around the same number of hours as the fulltimers do. My hope is that they'll eventually offer me full-time and later, I'll be in a good position to move up in this company.

It's one of those "big box" retail specialty stores, one of the better ones. What's most interesting to me, as a twenty-year-plus retail veteran, is not what they sell as much as how they sell it. It has to be the single most positive place I've ever worked.The entire culture of the company is geared toward success as a team, as a company and as a store. It's a good culture model for retail, one I've seen work well elsewhere. It's also a component important enough that when it's lacking a store suffers as a result.

It's by no means perfect, of course. None of these massive-sized companies ever are. This particular company employs a lot of teenagers as low-level crew, and if there's anything I've learned from over twenty years working in retail as both crew and management staff, it's that when you hire children to staff your stores, it should be no surprise when those staff members behave in manner consistent with their age. While some teenagers certainly are mature enough to not only do a good job, but also conduct themselves professionally in the workplace, others clearly are not, and it's often not until these kids are hired and working that you can really discover which is which.

With my experience, I find myself placing personal bets with myself as to which of these kids will stay with the company through college and maybe even into adulthood, and which ones will quit, or start having attendance or performance problems that will eventually result in their being fired. The latter are easy to spot, especially for someone like myself who's managed crews of teens before. It's the kids for whom everything in their lives takes priority over their job, school (understandable), family events (questionable, but also understandable to a point), friends and entertainment (inexplicable, especially when an employee calls out because of a purely social event), or call out sick but then somehow show up the next day perfectly healthy and ready to work, who are the ones I put my money on to not be able to make it over the long haul.

Of course, these kids don't live on what they make on the job. Mom and Dad are paying for the essentials, for the most part these kids are working for pocket money. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it does help explain why their work ethics are often so bad. What's even more inexplicable than the teens attitudes toward their jobs, however, are the parents.

When I was working as a manager, it was often my job to call these kids at home when they didn't show up for their shift. While some parents understood completely why attendance is an issue, other parents would defend their kids, assuming that all that was needed for them to be excused at the last minute was an OK from Mom or Dad. I had parents coming into my store enraged that their child had been fired for poor attendance, or would just call the store and tell me that they were taking the family somewhere on vacation, so sorry their child would not be coming in this week, and they'd be infuriated when we'd tell them that since their child had not arranged to take the time off in advance, they would not have their job waiting when they returned. So many of these parents refused to make a distinction between their child's school and their job, insisting that parental permission should be all that was needed to excuse their son or daughter from work for as long as they deemed necessary. When I would point out that such an excuse would likely not fly with their own employers, these parents would insist that it was different for them and demand that we make an exception to the rules because they, the parent, authorized it, and if it was good enough for their high school it should be good enough for us.

As someone who lives off of what she makes in this industry, I personally find this kind of attitude incomprehensible. Add to that my own personal issues with finding an employer willing to hire me for reasons that have nothing to do with my resume or work performance, and I find myself with little or no patience for those who don't take their jobs seriously or value just having one to go to in the first place.

Funny thing is, this is actually a good thing for me. By starting out yet again in the same relative position as these kids, I look far better by comparison. I show up on time, I work hard, I take every opportunity to learn more about my job, and thus far, at least, I've never missed a day of work. I've risen through the ranks in retail three times thus far, and I fully expect I'll do it again once I've been working at this store a while, become fully up to speed on what I need to know that's specific to the company I'm now working for, and have clearly demonstrated that I'm not only reliable in the general sense, but I can also be counted on to do a good job in any position they put me in.

I'm also fortunate in that the trans thing just doesn't seem to be an issue at this company in even the slightest way. HRC has rated this company one of the best for LGBT workers (yeah, yeah, I know, but in this case they happen to be right), and that shows itself in every aspect of my experience on the job thus far. Knowing that makes things much easier, as I can operate on the presumption that it's my doing a good job and showing how capable I am that will determine my success with this company, not how I happen to show up for work. And again, it doesn't hurt that it's easy for me to shine in comparison to many of those on my level. It's how I've risen through the ranks in the past in both genders, and it's how I'll do it this time.

One of the great things about this job is that my gender is never questioned in even the slightest way. I don't kid myself that it's because I pass perfectly. Anyone with half a brain, and certainly anyone who works with me for any length of time has to know I'm not your average female employee. Yet, I've never heard a slip of a pronoun, an unkind or even cautious word, an editing of a conversation, or anything that could lead me to believe that I'm seen as anything than a woman, not from the staff and not even from the customers.

Even more interesting is that I don't feel pressured to check myself either. It's not that I would ever make my transsexual status a topic of conversation, but at the same time if it were to come up somehow I wouldn't feel any pressure to edit myself. A gay man I work with often refers to his boyfriend in conversation, and once, when we were discussing the Middle East and how LGBT's and women are treated there, I joked that I could only imagine how they'd treat someone like me. The joke got a chuckle and the conversation moved on, as if it were completely normal and natural. Even at another store where I was treated well, I could never make such a joke. Such things were known, but never referred to in just wasn't done.

I really have to wonder if it's the company culture, the ever-evolving social culture, or perhaps something else entirely. The fact that even the customers don't seem to notice or care leads me to believe it's a bit of both . The day I went in for my orientation session with one of the store managers, I and the other new employees at the session were shown several videos, including one about discrimination and harassment, how to recognize them for what they are, why it's wrong and why it's not tolerated on the job. The video was shown in segments, followed by a discussion of each segment to drive home the points made. It was the first time I'd ever seen such a direct and significant effort made to prevent this kind of thing from happening in the workplace, and it fills me with hope that if one of the nation's largest and most successful retailers is already doing this, it'll increasingly become the standard as time goes on.

So, you may be asking, if I'm so busy at work now that I've been all but absent from Bilerico and my blog these past several weeks, how do I have the time to be sitting here writing about it now? Because lucky me, for the first time since I've been working there, I've actually got three glorious days off in a row. That gives me a little time to catch up on stuff, finish this piece I've been writing for the last week in drib and drabs as I've had time, and basically just relax a little.

It's nice to be able to think about the future in the longterm again. I could see myself staying with this company for a long time, and that's something I don't think I could have said about any other job I've had since I transitioned. For the first time since that monumental, life-altering decision, I go to work looking to prove myself based solely on my abilities and the quality of my work, not worried about how my gender identity and expression will be seen by those I work for, and how or if it might impact my opportunities for advancement or even continued employment. It may seem like a minor, or even silly thing to some, but to me it's almost as freeing as how I felt the day I began living full-time as myself.

Is it just me, is it the company I work for, or it is that society in general is just becoming more accepting and tolerant on the whole? Personally, I prefer to think it's all three, but in the end, it really doesn't matter. What matters is that I like what I do, I'm good at it, I can make at least a reasonable living doing it, and most of all, I can now look toward the future without being afraid of my past getting in the way.

All in all, it's a pretty decent way to make a living.

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Well, I have been open about being trans in my workd search here, and it is hard to say how that has affected things. On one job where I did have an interview, I think it did make a difference, though it is hard to be sure. Otherwise, nothing is obvious. I send out resumes and applications, and they seem to disappear down a black well.

I am a support technician. With almost ten years of experience at Dell and another two or so before that at Apple, I should be marketable. Some apllications ask if you have worked under any other name, so I have to put my male name down so they can check on my college and prior work experience.

Is that what is getting me passed over for positions that I am well qualified for?

Who knows.

Congratulations Rebecca! Go girl!

Articles like this one should encourage employers to take a chance on transgender employees. Work is a privelege. Obviously, you really appreciate being given an opportunity to work, and take your responsibilities seriously. You are a great advertisement for our community - Thank You!

Janis Walters | March 23, 2008 9:11 AM

Congratulations Becky!! I'm so happy for you that you have been given the opportunity to prove yourself and your abilities in the workplace.

I feel like diddly mentioned - all of my applications disappear down the black hole. Being unemployed for long periods of time with huge gaps in your employment history are giant red flags to H.R. personnel. That is what is probably keeping me and many others from getting to the initial interview stage.

Good luck on your job Becky. I know you will be a good example to the young people you work with.


Congrats on the new job, Rebecca!

In answer to your question, I think this particular company is the exception. How lucky for you to be working there. From your description I'm guessing I know which store it is. All the more reason to keep shopping there, imho. (It doesn't hurt that they always have cute purses and shoes.)

Congratulations, Rebecca!

I am going to take a copy of this with me to the NCTE Lobby Day event in Washington next month. It clearly indicates the need for an inclusive ENDA like the one we are fortunate to have here in Colorado an in other parts of the country. It is being enforced, at least here in Colorado, but it may not be in Austin, Texas where Diddlygrl said she lived in an earlier post. It is illegal to discriminate in Austin per a city ordinance.

Your observations about the teen age employees explain an important point: Some young people know of the need for responsibility, and some never do learn it. Some will learn this from supervisors and managers patient enough and skilled enough to teach it to those willing to learn. If a teen is irresponsible at work, they are often irresponsible in other areas of their life. By the time they finally wake up and wonder why their lives are so crappy, they wonder why they are victims.

Thanks for the well wishes, everyone!

Diddlygrl, I think most of my applications over the last three years have disappeared into the same black hole yours have. I don't think it's a coincidence that my applications have gotten so little attention and that my trans status and my outspoken commentary are so easy to locate by Googling me, either.

Serena, your guess is wrong. We don't sell shoes or purses where I work. On the other hand, if you're in the market for a nice wide-screen television... ;)

Shakay, very cool! I wish I could do Lobby Days this year, but there's just no way with both the finances and the new job. Hopefully next year.

You're right on the money about the kids, and fortunately we have some pretty damn good managers and supervisors at the store where I work to set examples for these kids. The problem in a lot of cases is the same one many of us had at that age: They think it'll be different for them than it was for us when we were that age. Sadly, it's that kind of thinking that ensures there will still be plenty of people my age working entry-level retail jobs well into the future.

I am not sure if they have the same type of things in schools now a days, but back when I was in high school, they had DECCA.

It was a school/work program that helped transition a teen from school to work by teaching them the needed skills for getting a job and preparing them for the differences between work and school. In your senior year you only went to school for about a half day and worked the rest.