There are 6.7 million unemployed people in South Africa– 29% of our total population.
There are no stats for how many in this number are transgender people, but discrimination in the workplace is a very real thing for transwomen and men and it affects their ability to find jobs too.
JC is a 40-year-old transwoman and she has been unemployed for a year now. She was initially let go because the company she worked for was part of a tender process for a large contract with the government, but the government stopped the entire process around the time the tender had to be awarded.
There was still hope afterwards that the tender process would start again and the company would get it, but it took too long and took JC’s job with it.
JC was the manager for the GIS division. “I was personally responsible for the development and maintenance of all GIS and Remote Sensing databases,” she says. “My secondary responsibility was to develop GIS and Remote Sensing related information systems for use by our clients.”
JC is a capable, intelligent and hardworking woman who has 20 years of experience, but says that trying to find another job has been frustrating to say the least. “The last time I was in this position, people gave you feedback. Up to now I’ve only received confirmation or responses from 1 out of every 10 applications,” she says.
JC initially only looked for work in her field, but now she is willing to do any kind of work and even take entry level positions because she is so desperate.
There is no direct evidence that being transgender plays a role in why she hasn’t even had an interview for any of the jobs she’s applied for, but she can’t help but think that it does when she doesn’t get communication from potential jobs or just outright rejections.
“My biggest fear after my transition was losing my job. I was always fearful because I know how many transgender people like me struggle to find work. I’m now living that nightmare,” says JC.
In January, JC took her dogs for shots and spoke to the vet about being unemployed. The vet offered her R400 if she was “willing to work hard” the next Saturday. JC agreed and did the work which went well and chatted to the vet after. She mentioned that she is transgender during this conversation.
JC was never paid for the work she did and never heard from the vet again even though she made it clear that she was willing and able to work when she was needed. When the vet was contacted by JC’s mother who was angry that her daughter was never paid, she was told that JC had volunteered her time for the day.
This is just one incident that led JC to believe that revealing her gender is problematic for people who may be in a position to give her work.
At her previous job she kept her transition secret for a long time as she was scared. After she found out that she was born intersex, she started telling people why she was “different.”
“Having to give people a reason why I am different, made it a lot easier, but I was outed as transgender at work by someone who was a friend,” she says. “While my company was supportive of my transition, I became isolated from people at the company. At times I would go through an entire workday with no human interaction. However, I still enjoyed my work. It was my passion.”
JC is extremely depressed and has isolated herself from everyone and her friendships have suffered although her relationship with her fiancé stays strong. “I live every day with suicidal thoughts. I can’t sleep. I honestly feel I’ve lost all hope,” she says.
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