It’s been almost a month since I posted here, and there is a simple reason, one that I wasn’t ready to talk about until now: I thought, for a while, that my transition and my openness about it had cost me a job.
For almost two years now, it has been part of my life plan to serve as a volunteer English teacher aboard the Peace Boat, a Japanese NGO that circumnavigates the globe in three-month voyages promoting peace and sustainable tourism. After the completion of my Master’s thesis (I officially graduated on May 15th but had finished in early April), I was finally at liberty to submit my application. As part of the process, I was asked to make a self-introduction video that talked about me, my teaching style, my personality, and what I could contribute to the Peace Boat.
I had already made it clear in my written application that I was transgender; at this point in my life, I refuse to hide it. I don’t necessarily advertise myself to everyone I come across, and ideally I’ll be recognized as just another guy rather than a gender bender, but I will not be closeted. If an employer isn’t comfortable with who I am, I reasoned, then I don’t want to work for them. I’ll find someplace else. Happily, that didn’t seem to be the case with the Peace Boat, and the sensitivity they showed in emails towards my name change and other factors convinced me that I was on the right track.
In fact, I became so convinced of my correctness that I began to think that my gender status could actually be a mark in my favor. I represent a clear and present diversity, and I am obviously open to sharing my unique perspective with anyone who will listen. I decided that in my interview video I would, among other things, invite the viewers into my private life and show them the tools I used for my injections.
Naturally, I didn’t perform an injection on camera, but I did show my needles and explained the process of injection. I figured that this would be useful information, not only because it showed an important part of my life but because it demonstrated how very honest I was about my transition and how willing I was to share it with others. I thought I had done a good job with the video and was excited when it resulted in an invitation to interview via Skype videoconference.
The interview started off as I’d expected, with questions about my teaching style and experience. It was only when the second interviewer took over that I began to feel uneasy. She brought up the video almost at once.
“I was wondering about that bit in your interview video, where you actually demonstrated one of your injections.”
She’s British, and her tone carries a mixture of morbid fascination and vague, extremely polite disgust. I know at once that I’ve made a mistake but I keep smiling, asking her to clarify what she’d like to know.
“I was just a little surprised, I think, that you’d choose to put that in a job interview, so we were all just wondering if you could tell us why you made that choice.”
Suddenly I realize that these aren’t happy-go-lucky hippies whose only purpose is to bring peace and love to the world. They care about their mission, sure, but their primary objective is running a business. Their students are paying for their passage on the boat and also for the lessons, so they’re looking for collected, professional teachers who can give them their money’s worth. How stupid could I have been not to see that? This is bad, and I know it, but I can’t back down now. I have to defend my decision or I’m toast. I explain to her–to all of them–that I’ve been pressured to hide in the past, to put up a front about who and what I am in order to get a job, and that I’m unwilling to continue doing that. I give the whole speech about being myself and only wanting to work for an employer who accepts me. Please let them be content with that.
“Well, yes, I see your point about that. It was just that extra step–you know, going so far as to show the injection. That’s what we wondered.”
Never mind that I didn’t actually stick a needle into my leg on camera. Apparently pantomime was shocking enough for them. I force myself to stay steady and calm despite my panic and despair. This isn’t just any job, I remind them, though of course they know that. On the Peace Boat, I’ll not only have to work closely with all my colleagues, I’ll have to live with them. There are no days off. There’s no down time. There will be some privacy, I’m sure, but there won’t be the separation between work life and home life that I’d have in any other job. My home life is my work life, and I have to be honest about what my home life entails. This is how I live. For a job like this, it has to be recognized and accepted.
She let the matter drop after that, but I was already worried. I felt like I was on unsteady ground, trying to justify not only my choice about the video but the very choice of my transgender existence. I knew intellectually that it wasn’t true, that they wouldn’t have let me get so far in the application process if I was going to be denied over my gender status, but I was still nervous. Questions followed about how I would deal with conservative, older Japanese people who might not understand my gender status and about whether I’d had any conflicts with my Japanese coworkers during my JET tenure. I could tell that they were trying to figure out whether or not a transsexual was suited to life on the Peace Boat. Perhaps because of this, perhaps because of general stress, I flubbed a later question asked in Japanese, presenting my language ability as much lower than it really is. I told myself that the show must go on and I kept on smiling, but at that point I thought I was an automatic reject.
When the interview ended, I felt drained and pessimistic, though I’m sure I didn’t look it on the outside. The interviewers thanked me for my time, and the leader added, “I speak for all of us when I say that we’ve really gotten to know you during this time. We can all see that you are an open, honest person.” I thanked him, but in my heart I thought, that’s it. I’m too open for them. They don’t want me. I blew it.
For the next few days, I was depressed. I could see my two-year goal fading away in front of me, and I’d gotten so close. I kicked myself for messing up, for saying the wrong things, for being too forthright, but most of all I hated my gender identity, the peculiar combination of genes or hormones or whatever it was that made me a tranny. Normal people don’t have problems like this. Normal people don’t need to justify themselves. They don’t need to defend their gender to anyone, and they don’t need injections to maintain it. Why couldn’t I have been born a normal boy? Why did I have to be so screwed up?
They called my cellphone first. It was nine in the morning, practically on the dot, and I was sleeping through as much of my morose languor as possible. I fumbled for the phone and saw that the number was “unknown;” used to telemarketers, I sent the call to voicemail in disgust. Only then did I wake up a little more and realize what day it was and who might be calling me. Frantically I sat up and called my voicemail, but just as the message began to play, my home phone rang. “Hello?” I answered.
“Jay? This is Jonathan, from the Peace Boat. We’re calling to thank you for participating in this long and highly competitive application process.”
Rejection. Flat and unmasked, but delivered with a smile. I could hear it in his voice and I liked it even less. No, thank you, I said, but my chest was tight. I was consumed by the sickening, twisting feeling of failure, the knowledge that all of my efforts had come to nothing.
“And we’re also calling to invite you to join us as a GET teacher on Peace Boat’s 74th global voyage.”
Wait, what? I didn’t say anything at first, just gaped at the phone, not sure if it was real. Then I heard the laughter in his voice and I knew, damn him, that Ryan Seacrest wannabe, that it was real. He’d set me up, and I’d been played just like the kids on the reality show contests who thought they were getting cut and then didn’t quite believe it when they were actually the ones chosen. The audience knew, of course. The audience always knew. They could see the result from the beginning, clear as day. Only the hapless, hopeful participant was fooled.
I grinned like an idiot, even though he couldn’t see me, and this time when I thanked him I really meant it. It’s all real, it’s all true, and I’m going to sail around the world teaching English. I did it. I won.
Now all I have to do is convince Japanese customs to let me bring my needles with me.