“Whats wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you? What’s your disease?” he asked me frankly, with a complementary gesture towards his face and then nodding towards me. I had just introduced myself and been offered a cup of tea. It was our first meeting. I noticed in the corner of my eye how the boys parents both quietly flushed with embarrassment. Most grown ups tend to go to any lengths pretending that there is nothing unusual about me, my voice or how I look.

As I’ve written about earlier, I work a few hours a week after school as companion for a young man with severe autism. He’s happy with the arrangement and I find it very rewarding so I’ve asked my boss for more work of this sort.

That is why I today was introduced to this other boy. He’s been seriously ill since birth and because of that, he is very lonely. I was informed that he has gone trough major surgery many times already. The problems with his health has restricted his possibility to be physically active, to go to school and make friends with kids of his own age.

Now when we’d met, he wondered about me, what was different about me. Because something clearly was unusual about my voice and general appearance. I look masculine but sound feminine and even regardless of that, I’m not like most people. Unlike his parents and my boss, I did not find the question rude, rather relevant and refreshingly honest. I even hoped we could find a way to bound over my answer.

So I pointed to the scars on my upper lip and told him that I, just like him, was born with a few constructional errors. You can still see that my upper lip is very thin and that is because a part of the muscle tissue inside of the of the lip is missing – it never developed properly. I was born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, showing on the outside as two deep slits in my upper lip. (Maybe you’ve heard of Operation Smile? They provide surgeries to repair cleft lip and palate for children born in development countries.)

It happens sometimes that the body’s natural structures don’t fuse together as they are meant to before birth. The skin and bone had not grown together in the “seams” that naturally exists during a short time of the foetus development for allowing the facial features to grow. This means that I had an opening, or two, where there isn’t supposed to be one. The cleft in my lip was stitched up when I was only a few months old and the palate has been surgically closed. I’ve had plenty of re-constructive surgery, dental care, bone- and titanium implants to patch things up. Today, I don’t have much trouble with my congenital defect, I’ve learned how to compensate for it. But the scars and the unusual asymmetry of my facial features are still there and especially apparent when I smile. Well aware of that, I smiled when I told the boy about what was wrong with me, as a means of raising my personal pride flag. And then, in a light tone of voice I added:

“Oh, and also, when I was born, they thought that I was a girl. Everyone thought that for a long time. But I’m not. I feel like a guy, so now when I’m grown up I’ve changed my name and pronoun accordingly. Not a big deal really, but it is he and him now, and I’m a guy. If you were wondering about my voice, I mean.”

The boy was clearly surprised by this last piece of information about me, but I think it seemed to make sense to him and we laughed together at it. His parents and my boss, in the corner of my eye, looked enormously relived and also laughed. After this undramatic outing of me as transgender, we could bound over our experiences of serious surgery, being hospitalised as a kid and being different from others.

But we did not linger on the subject for long. Partly because I wanted to focus on him and what’s normal and healthy in him. And partly because he was so happy to have me there. Almost before the tea was finished, he pulled me away from the table and the others, eager to show me his room, his things and his X-box. Our formal first meeting, planned to be a just short interview, turned in to a 4 hour long play-date for the two of us and we clicked so well.

Again, I got the job where the parents had asked especially for a male, even thou I was not born a man. I’m really proud to be considered especially qualified because of how I’m different and because of how I make it work. And this lionhearted boy, brave enough to ask the questions that no one ever dares to ask me, I think we will have a lot of fun together in the future.

Job interviews – About being weighed and measured

Job interviews are often difficult situations for transgenderd people and there are many  reasons for that. If you already in your application have to check a box for either man or woman, which one are you to chose if your gender identity or general appearance does not match your sex assigned at birth? Can I as a transgender man apply and hope to get a job where it is stated that they prefer female applicants and vice versa? If you identify yourself beyond the binary gender system, well, I don’t even know where to start.

Transgenderd people or individuals rebelling against the binary gender system are not seen with keen eyes by most employers. I guess we are expected to be difficult to deal with and maybe we are sometimes. I suppose we are believed to have more sick-leave than cis-genderd people since it is commonly known that many transgenderd people struggle with depression and other health issues. Also, from a normative point of view you may look “fake” if you don’t pass well enough and that’ll reduce your credibility.

I’ve been on a few job interviews lately and I still hope that I’ll find a more steady employment for the summer. Please le me know if you think of something that would suit me!

The first employer I met a few months ago started with questioning my name and gender when I presented myself (with my male name, of course).

– “Emil? Excuse me, but are you a guy or a girl? Is Emil your real name?”

That pissed me off, but it was only the begining of my humiliation. She continued to ask if I was “about to go through some kind of surgery?” while she discreetly waved her hand towards my crotch. I was at first stunned by the pure impact of her ignorance and stupidity. Then I felt humiliated because I could not reply without risking not getting the job I wanted. I just nodded. Then I stuttered something like

“What? Yes, that is me. Well, I’m a guy. I guess you cannot always tell, can you? And no, no surgery.”

Seconds after I had thought of a thousand more clever and educating answers. But by then it was already to late. The interview went on smoothly from that point, except for the fact that my interviewer seemed a bit edgy. She was eager for me to take the job for which I was very well qualified. But I think she suspected that she had insulted me, although she clearly did not understand how or she would not have asked so ignorant questions in the first place.

I guess that I don’t have to point out how outrageously wrong it is to ask questions about anyone’s private parts during a job interview, unless those parts are of vital importance for the job at hand? In general when it comes to what you can ask someone – try to imagine yourself asking other people the same questions. How would they react? Would you even ask and if not, why? (I could have answered my interviewer something like “Nah, I’m happy with my parts thank you. But what about you, are your labia symmetrical? No? Have you ever considered surgery?” But I would not, off course.

Afterwards I was mad as hell. I phoned a friend to talk the whole thing through and decided to contact the superior of the woman who’d done the interview. This sort of behaviour cannot be accepted or tolerated. I know so many trans*people for whom this is a nightmare scenario. The sole fear of risking something like this keeps them stuck in poverty, unemployment and misery. The fact that this sort of thing actually happens is  contributing to maintain stigma and induce depression among transgenderd people.

So I wrote a letter to my interviewers superior, explaining what had happened and why it was unacceptable. I urged the company to look over their routines and told them that I intended to file an formal complaint, which I’ve now done. Sadly, I felt that I could no longer accept the job offer since the idiot who’d questioned my name and gender then would become my boss. I could never trust and work for someone that treated me with such ignorance and disrespect.

The day after that I was at another interview for a similar job. It was about being a companion and support for a teenage boy with autism. I was to meet the boy and his parents in their home for the second time, together with my future boss and my predecessor who was about to quit. My job would be to make sure the boy gets outside and meet other people now and then, to get him safely from A to B and back again. I was also supposed to help bridge the gap that sometimes seem to rise between ignorant neurotype people and those with autism spectrum.

The family had early on clearly stated that they wanted a male for the job and I was a bit nervous about that since I don’t really pass well enough not to ever be questioned as a man. I was afraid that the boys parents would see me as “fake” or not think me a good enough male role model for their son. And after the last disastrous job interview I was also prepared for super awkward questions…

But no awkward questions was raised. No questions at all about me was asked there and then, as I remember it. I had already been chosen as a suggested companion for this child on the base of my personal qualifications, interests and personality. Instead the boys mother talked about what my predecessor had done together with her son and other relevant stuff like the boys interests, strengths and personality. Then she looked me straight in the eyes and said:

“It does not show on my boy at first sight that he is different from others. Some people have a hard time understanding that he has other ways than most boys and other needs. Some react with fear and loathing. That is why he needs company. Not everyone knows what it means to be different.”

My heart skipped a beat. What she really said, but without outing me as transgender or embarrassing me in front of the others, was that I was good enough. Not even thou I’m transgender or because I’m “man enough” to be a role model for her son. I was qualified because of my supposed understanding of what it means to be different, my unwillingness to adapt to norms in society that limit personal expression. I had been weighed, measured and been found as more than good enough for the job.

Yes, I got the job.