Which identity was it this time?

I’ve been the plaintiff in a discrimination lawsuit for the last couple years. The short version is, my employer found out I have an invisible disability and spent the next four weeks stringing me along in a complete farce of an interactive process of reasonable accommodation. The discrimination was largely based on my disability, but I learned recently that my gender presentation also played a roll.

TL;DR I was asked during an interview how I would explain my gender presentation if a client asked me about it, a question I’m guessing most gender-conforming applicants are not asked. In an internal email to HR explaining why I was not being offered the job, the interviewer cited “personal disclosures during the interview” to explain her concern that I “would not be able to maintain appropriate boundaries with clients.”

First, some background:

At the time, I was much more overtly gender-queer presenting. My hair was quite short and spiked, I wore a binder, and I generally dressed in masculine attire. I hadn’t even heard of the term PGP yet. I just looked different.

I was initially flagged by the first of what I’d later learn was a long string of profoundly, almost comically incompetent people, a nurse, whom I’ve been calling Nurse Wartortle. After reviewing the health history form I’d been asked to fill out, Nurse Wartortle told me I wasn’t “normal” because I was “too young to need medication.” She told my employer, who then sent me to alternate interviews.

In one of the two places she sent me, I was informed during the interview that they had been told I lacked this health clearance and that I could not do an essential component of the alternative job. I tried to explain a bit about my disability, so that could have been the “personal disclosure” they referred to in the email explaining to the HR director why I was not being offered that job.

However, as I mentioned above, it could also have been my answer to their question about how I would explain my gender presentation to a client if they asked. I don’t even remember what my answer was, beyond that I believe I self-identified as “gender non-conforming.” It’s such a weird thing to consider. Before I went back to school, I never would have thought that in the current age, in the metropolitan area I live, my choice of attire or presentation or self-description would actually impact what other people thought of me. But then, at that time I saw nothing but the potential for some kind of puerile, happy-ending inspirational story of how I had this difficulty, and just when all seemed lost I got a diagnosis, and with it insight and a surgical treatment. And look where I am today!

But of course, it did not work out that way. It makes me feel like these identities I have, the labels we’ve been discussing on Queereka lately, drag, trans, gender queer, gender fluid, non-binary, etc., that none of them are truly real until they’re detrimental to your well-being. I guess it goes back to the idea that these are social constructs and not individual constructs.

It’s just not enough that it’s real to me that I am disabled or or I am gender queer or I am an atheist. It’s when these labels get taken as true by others, beyond the point you’d be willing to take them for yourself. The ones that aren’t as appropriate a fit may fall away in the rush to protect yourself from the consequences of being like that. The ones that still fit, that you can’t escape from, are not more, not less, differently? true than the ones you pick out for yourself, since they’re the ones that keep coming up, again and again, as relevant to your social interactions with others.

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Yessenia is a graduate student studying to be a speech therapist with an emphasis on traumatic brain injuries. She spends far too much time correcting the wrong people on the internet, lifting heavy things and training her cats. She's a proud internet atheist and trolls only for the greater good.

1 Comment

  1. May 7, 2014 at 12:26 am —

    As a non-heteronormative person with a long-term health issue, I feel ya. We have these anti-discrimination laws, but most of the time there’s no way to enforce them. Without enforcement, it’s almost as if the laws didn’t exist.

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