When the man who had always been a man walked in, well, that was a little strange. After all, this was registration for the fifth annual Transgender Job Fair at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center last week. The point was to help connect transgender folks — who have a difficult time finding work, even in a thriving economy — with savvy, sensitive employers.
And although there were no hard and fast rules about attendees being gender-bending, it seemed pretty ballsy for a man who had always been a man and who identified as one to show up at the fair. He was in jeans and a buzz cut, and exuded regular-guyness. "What do I have to do?" he asked volunteer Sherilyn Connelly.
Connelly was also there to find work, as she was recently laid off from her job as a Web producer at Cubik Media. She made her male-to-female transition in 1999, and is fabulously distinctive with her darkly lined eyes and orange-, purple-, and platinum-dreadlocked hairdo, which she has affectionately dubbed "the Squid."
"Just have a seat at the computer and we'll get you registered," she told him.
That guy was one of about a dozen attendees Connelly noticed throughout the day who looked suspiciously like the gender they were born with. It was possible, she says, that some were planning to transition and didn't want to wind up in a closed-minded employment situation. But it seemed likely that at least a few were not transgender, and were merely hoping to cherry-pick job opportunities. "It's a sign of the times," Connelly says, adding that it didn't bother her.
The event's organizer, the Transgender Economic Empowerment Initiative (TEEI), says that although the fair is marketed to transgender folks, all jobseekers are welcome.
"That doesn't seem quite right," says Lauren Graham, referring to the nontransgender interlopers who attended the fair. Graham, who has been looking for a job in health care for months, says she's been discriminated against in recent interviews. It often comes in the form of a look or body language that seems to suggest, "No way am I hiring someone like you."
Another job fair attendee, Charlene Hawk, said she has actually transitioned twice, because the first time she did, she lost her job in Virginia and couldn't find a new one. To get hired, she had to return to being a man. The second time she transitioned, she decided to move to San Francisco.
Those kinds of challenges are the reason that TEEI exists. Graham points out that there are plenty of job fairs out there for people who aren't transgender: "This one should have been respected for what it was," she says. "I saw some people that definitely weren't on my gaydar."