Last summer, around this time of year, I sat in a cramped stock room and nervously surveyed the shelves full of chips bags which lined the wall. I consciously kept my back rigid and my hands clasped in a posture which felt reminiscent of a pedantic Victorian school mistress,
whose years of finishing school had taught her the correct utilization of fourteen different kind of forks. I was keenly aware of the man squatting behind a small desk, observing me. The man began interrogating as if he fancied himself part of the Spanish inquisition. He commanded the job interview with the serious gravity of one endowed with infinite wizard power.
“Oh man,” I thought, as he began espousing on the importance of communication skills in customer service, “he runs a newspaper stand, not the fucking CIA.” I suddenly felt sure that he had sawed several inches off my current seat’s legs so that he might tower grandly over his potential employees. He gazed at me thoughtfully, as though trying to read my aura, or trying to get a feel for how many midi-chlorians I had.
“So,” he intoned, “are you, like, a tomboy?” I stared, eyebrows raised and mouth slightly open. The carefully poised interview persona slid off and left me feeling naked.
Today, I regret my response to this invasive and unwelcome question. I could have politely explained that, when people reckon me as a “tomboy,” they are subjecting me to a hegemonic system and applying preconceived notions of what femininity “should” look like on me – a person who doesn’t feel like strictly adhering to the gender binary is particularly important, interesting or useful. I guess I also could have simply excused myself and left. Instead, I just muttered some kind of awkward affirmation. It was only after the interview ended and I was walking home that my “something-a-little-offensive-and-fucked-up-just-happened” senses began to tingle.
I do not think this man was intentionally being malicious or aiming to offend me. However, his curiosity in this scenario revealed him to be ignorant and insensitive like a great deal of straight, cisgender people out there. I have related my experience with a sense of humour because I find laughing to be preferable to becoming filled with rage (though I think being angry at being discriminated against is a totally legitimate response). However, I realize this kind of situation can be very unfunny, even scary, for LGBTQ job seekers.
There are startlingly few resources available for queer people looking for advice on doing job interviews. I have brainstormed a couple of ideas to stay safe. Please comment if you have any tips or pointers to resources as this is far from an exhaustive list. Also, feel free to comment
if you have any personal experiences of discrimination in a job interview situation that you would like to share. I think this is a worthy and important discussion for the LGBTQ community to be having!
Tips for sending applications:
1) While I wouldn’t encourage you to restrict your job search to employers who are visibly LGBTQ-friendly (especially in this tough economic climate), I also don’t think this would be a bad place to start. If you wanted, you could walk around and compile a list of all the shop owners who have little pride flags in their shop windows and apply to those places first.
2) Admittedly, this is a little weird and requires some lurking, but you could also apply to places where you know that other LGBTQ people work. Safety in numbers!
3) The internet is you friend. Check up on companies and see if they have diversity policies in place or if they have ever sponsored a LGBTQ or diversity focused cause.
Tips for Interviewing:
1) Like as if you were going on a blind date, tell a partner, friend, family member or roommate where you are going. Leave an address and the time when you expect to return from said appointment.
2) I need you to know that if the potential employer is making you uncomfortable, you can get up, politely explain you are no longer interested and leave. In fact, if you are really feeling weird, this may be your best option. Being unemployed and broke isn’t exactly a sweet deal, but no job is worth risking your own personal safety. Don’t get caught up in the employer/employee power dynamic like I did; recognize that you are an equal party in this contract. Plus, if you were to stay and DID get hired, you would potentially be working in a really unhealthy environment that could result in a lot of internalized racism, homophobia or transphobia welling up inside you.
3) Be patient. I know that explaining ourselves to the privileged, straight, cisgender, white, country club type isn’t fun. In an ideal world we wouldn’t have to. But some people are honestly just ignorant because they have never been corrected. While I don’t excuse their ignorance, I do think that you are doing the person a favour by gently explaining where their errors and assumptions lie. But you are by no means obligated (especially if you feel like the person is a nutcase that will suddenly fly off the handle). If this makes you angry or exhausted, just leave and find a more respectful employer.
4) Dress in clothes that you are comfortable wearing. I do compromise a little, but make sure that what you are wearing still feels right. Conforming to others expectations never does you any favours in the end.