On the few occasions that I have spoken openly about being trans, the rewards have been well worth it.
I don’t tell everyone I meet that I am trans. Why should I? For all intents and purposes I’m just another guy, slightly awkward, somewhat shy. Attention-grabbing isn’t my thing; I’d much rather work away in the background and let someone else claim the glory. But I also know that part of my healing process involves sharing who I am with the people who matter to me. And I’m learning, slowly, to be comfortable with who I am even if other people aren’t.
My First Post-Transition Employer
When I first transitioned I also happened to be unemployed. Having just finished a semester of university, and still in the early stages of hormone treatments, I hit the pavement in search of a job. Through a friend I landed an interview with a self-publishing company who was seeking the services of a prepress technician. That is, someone to receive manuscripts from would-be authors, lay out their book and design or assemble a cover. I had limited InDesign skills and even less graphic design skills (I had briefly volunteered at the university newspaper) but these were all things I could learn – and I did.
It so happened that I had interviewed with this particular employer 3 times before – as a woman. The fourth time was my lucky break – and it happened to coincide with my transition to manhood. I mentioned this in my interview – that if they called any of my references, they would refer to me by my female name and female pronouns. My interviewers seemed unphased by this piece of information. It helped that they had previously hired a trans person; they were not completely oblivious to the particular challenges I faced.
I worked there for a year and a half before I decided to move on. My father had died, my family had rejected me, and I was still wrestling with guilt over a close friend’s suicide. The work was no longer satisfying, the company was struggling financially, and I couldn’t function anymore. So I decided to go on EI. I asked my employer to lay me off and they obliged. I remain grateful for that.
The Government Funded Self-Employment Program
The thing about EI is that it doesn’t last forever. I was assigned a employment counsellor through one of the many government-sponsored employment agencies. My case worker was an eccentric man with a baritone voice who liked to cradle his junk with one hand as he explained to me the next steps of my process. I told him everything: about the years I’d struggled with depression, my mother’s reaction when I came out to her (she’d said it would’ve been better if I’d just died), my father’s passing and my feelings of unemployability.
He suggested that I might be eligible for government-funded re-training and we started the paperwork. Interestingly, he thought my trans status would cause less problems than my diagnosis of clinical depression. We would have to prove that I was too sick to work in a regular employment environment but healthy enough to attend school and work for myself. Not so easy.
All I’d ever wanted to be was a writer, but I had no faith in my abilities and didn’t see how I could make it work financially. I figured, if I was going to study something, I wanted to study something I’d actually enjoy. So I settled on attending the Vancouver Film School. They had a 12-month screenwriting program that also included learning how to write journalism, TV specs, children’s shows, documentaries and other types of creative writing.
As part of my application process I needed to speak with people in the industry and get them to say that they would hire me on their projects once I graduated. I looked up everyone and anyone I could find. I volunteered with an organization that screened documentaries in a restaurant setting. I befriended two documentary filmmakers who’d been in the filmmaking biz for more than 30 years. They said that if I got everything together for a project they’d consider coming on as a producer. I was elated. The way I saw it, even if I didn’t learn a thing from film school, I’d get a chance to network. And everybody knows that networking makes the world go round.
I completed the paperwork, put in the application to the school, including a writing sample about my life as a trans person. It worked; the school said yes. Now all I had to do was make sure that the government was on board. With my case worker’s support, I completed form after form, outlining my career plan and arguing that because of my challenging life experiences, I had plenty of material to draw on to succeed in the film business. I was approved; I was given a living allowance of $12,000 for the year and my tuition and text books were covered. A good thing, too, as the tuition wasn’t cheap: $20,000 for the entire program. There was no way I could’ve gone without the government support. I packed my bags and got ready to move to Vancouver.
I was eager for the next chapter of my life to begin.