I had a job until my boss found out I am a trans woman. I was a hardworking employee — I was diligent, I took my time, proofread everything five times: once for content, and then for accuracy, grammar, spelling, and then once again for the cohesive whole. When things needed to be done quickly, I would do them.
I was trans, and I was working quickly. I was working carefully. And then I was trans, and I wasn’t working at all.
I was outed because of a phone call. It was nothing out of the ordinary: the agency that hired me was calling. The agency representative was not someone I had worked with before. I had been working with another woman who had worked with me all through the hiring process, through the W-4s, the ID verification — where, for a lot of transgender job seekers, the interaction ends — the assignment preference and placement. But this was not that representative, she had herself gone on to look for other work. I think it was a lot for her. I think she was tired of her work. I will name her name; it was Brennan; the same as mine. Maybe that’s why we got along. Why all our exchanges were like talking to someone we had known a long time.
Brennan knew I was trans — I felt comfortable with her. Our conversations would go like this: In a jocular voice with a little giggle, she would say, “Hello, Brennan,” to which I would reply “Hello, Brennan! Who would you like to talk to today?”
Sometimes she would talk to me about the assignment and make sure that things were good. They usually were. Other times she would ask to talk to the right person to inquire about my performance. It was always good, my boss would say.
But this time, it wasn’t Brennan. Whoever it was, asked to speak to my boss, and asked about a “guy working there.” This representative inadvertently outed me to my boss by using the incorrect name and pronouns. At first my boss was confused (“Who? There’s no one here by that name.”) The confusion continued when the representative kept asking for a “he.”
The name on my ID is, in fact, Brennan and is not a name I feel I need to change. But Brandon, that sonically similar identifier, matched better the representatives view of my gender. For my boss — I will not name names and will, instead, respect his privacy — there was a moment of confusion. The agency representative on the other line used a name my boss did not recognize, used pronouns he could not connect to some body. Aside from him it was an all-woman workplace, so there was a moment of confusion. When it became clear that there were no men there besides my boss, my trans identity was the only solution.
Ten months was not a long time, but it was how long I had worked there before the phone call from the representative who was not Brennan came in and caused the confusion with my boss.
After the phone call, at about 4:15 pm, my boss put a hand against the small of my back, and asked me to join him the conference room. The conference room was small, considering the scale of an office with big partnerships like the one I was working in. We both stood by the door, and he assured me, in a quiet tone, still touching the small of my back, that he had my back during that phone call, and that no one needed to know. He told me there was nothing to worry about.
Two weeks went by. Then one day, my boss came over to my desk again, put a hand against the small of my back, and asked me to join him in the conference room, just like before. Like always, he closed the door behind us. And he assured me, in a quiet voice, that it was nothing I had done or had not done that was the cause of what he was about to say.
“Tomorrow will be your last day,” he said, “it has nothing to do with you.”
That is what you tell people it has something to do with — that it has nothing to do with them. I know, I know, I just know it had something to do with me being trans because nothing had changed except what my boss and the new agency representative knew about me.
I went back to my desk and sat for the last few minutes of my second to last day. In washi tape — I like to make my papers pretty — I laid out a cheerful orange margin. On my way out, I gave the same goodbye I gave almost every day, “Have a good night, see you tomorrow.”
My last day came and went the way most days in that office did. It was slow until there was something to do, and then I did it with the right balance of care and quickness that it required. My boss and coworkers took me out to lunch as a kind of last day formality. It was lovely, at least for appearances. At lunch, my boss asked what I had planned for the weekend. I responded in a casual way that I guessed I would be working on job applications.
We were seated outside and a client came over. The client asked what the occasion was and my boss replied that we were out “because Brynn will be leaving us.” He said, “She is moving to New York.”
The client looked at me and asked, “When?”
“Not for two months,” I told him. I was supposed to work until August. It was only June.
I kept thinking, f*ck my luck, f*ck that phone call.
Some people reading this will say, ‘But Brynn, that would be illegal.’ And I will say, ‘Yes.’ And they will say, ‘Well, they wouldn’t do that.’ And I will say, ‘But they did.’ The laws of our country are broken so that they do not protect the people who most need legal protection. The laws are broken because the burden of proof is misplaced. Queer people have an awkward relationship with proof.
When we got back to the office, I began packing up my stuff a little early. There was some off-time when the office was slow, and I spent it shuffling stuff around, maintaining neat little piles of paper and easily accessible envelopes sorted by size. It’s amazing the kinds of things you can acquire on a desk over ten months — even things that aren’t needed for work. I had a plastic bird, a picture of my ex’s father; lots of tape and paper clips shaped like rabbits. I like to make my papers pretty, which helped to break up the technical writing, helped to make things stand out in ways I needed them to when working in stages. I packed them all up.
Just before I left, my boss came over to my desk, put his hand against the small of my back, and called me into the conference room. He slipped a few hundred dollars in the breast pocket of my dress. Told me it was the same as having me work a few extra days.
My girlfriend came to walk me home, and I cried all the way.
In the following days, there were lots of phone calls — everyday phone calls to the staffing agency, asking for a new assignment (none came) and asking for their LGBTQ policy (none came) — and filing discrimination claims. These were handled in the office of the staffing agency where the discrimination took place. They never escalated it to someone outside of the office. Instead, I was told how “LGBTQ friendly” the agency is, how highly it had been rated by other LGBTQ employees, how the agent who was not Brennan would not do that. Everybody who staffed my office knew that he would not do that, even though one day when I called him to ask for a new assignment and for their LGBTQ policy, he answered laughing.
I was trans, and it took four months from the date of my layoff for someone from the corporate office to call me. Someone from the corporate office assured me that there would be sensitivity training. There should have been training already. Someone from the corporate office assured me that it would not happen again, assured me that he was not going to get anyone in trouble. I was already in trouble. Someone from the corporate office thanked me for being calm while recounting the events preceding, during, and following my layoff.
Nothing has changed since then, and the following things have always been the case: I was transgender, and I was working; but then, when people in positions of power learned that I am trans, I was laid off. We are brought in, and then we are kicked out.