Information

This blog entry is true, in essence. If it were a magazine, it would have one of those asterisks, with a note that said the names and places were changed to protect privacy. The story is true, but not factual. And my reason is simple – it concerns a real person. While this person is not aware of the issue, and likely never will be, the issue is very real in their life. And I don’t want this entry to be about a person, really, it’s about a set of circumstances, and feelings, and the subject of prejudice in general, not in particular.

I am tangentially part of a community group, that is finally able to hire a staff person. They have sent out a job description, and resume’s have come back. The role of a staff person in a community organization cannot be overstated. They are the literal face of the organization. Community organizations take a tremendous amount of time and effort to get off the ground. We are talking about hours and hours and hours of time. Meetings around kitchen tables, at coffee shops. Real passion and purpose. Community organizations are hard to get off the ground. It is a mark of success and continuity to hire someone to do the work. In the life cycle of an organization, it is a much needed step, but also a big step, where you hand the coalesced dreams and hopes to another person, who may or may not care as much as you do. It’s nerve wracking.

I was talking to one of the members, about the position, and about the types of resumes they got, and let’s face it, because the pool of people who are willing to work in a community for a very small amount of money is limited, we knew most of them. So, we were talking about people. Perhaps this was the first mistake.

And have you ever thought about how we describe someone? Think, just for a second. Have you ever been in a place where you had to describe a third person to someone?

Well, let’s see. She’s about 5’3″, over weight. She’s in her 60’s, with grey hair. Her eyes are hazel. She walks with a substantial limp. She’s having some problems with her teeth, so she doesn’t often smile. She’s well dressed.

There. I’ve just described my mother. Could you find her? And would she recognize herself in that description? And what does the description have to do with anything, anyway?

Back to the conversation, we went through the names, and one was mentioned. I don’t particularly know this person. But that wasn’t what bothered me. No, what bothered me was that two different people have felt the need to mention that this person is transgendered.

And I’m not sure why. I’m not sure it was to prepare me for the appearance of someone, when and if I met them. I’m not sure if there were lingering questions.

And if that didn’t bother me enough, my mind struggled with what to do with this information. You see, from the bottom of my heart, I believe that some one’s gender identity has nothing to do with their job performance. Nothing at all. But, my brain twisted and turned over this information. It was, I will admit it, a bit shocking. It turned a simple candidate into something more than that. And in its own way, it made this person’s application into something more than just a resume. And my brain started racing. In about 30 seconds, I found myself saying, “I didn’t want to know that”.

But I do now. . .

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11 Responses to Information

  1. areyoukiddingme says:

    Sometimes, I think people add that information because they are excited to know something interesting about someone else. Other times, I think people add that information unconsciously. My mom is a classic case of someone who delivers too much information when telling me about people she knows. I hear about her black friends, her divorced friends, her gay friends, her widowed friends and I ask her why they aren’t simply her friend XXX or her friend YYY.

  2. Martha says:

    I hope the community organization finds the best person for the job. Period.

  3. Sunny says:

    (New reader here! Found you at Mel’s.) 🙂

    This is always a tricky situation in my mind. Because I think it’s human nature to be curious about things/people… and to classify them. It’s one thing when it’s meant to be hurtful, but when it’s honest interest?? And can it really just be “honest interest”?? Toughies.

    It also makes me think of a discussion we had when I was earning my journalism degree as an undergrad. The prof posed the question, is it necessary to say the suspect is “black” (when s/he is black, of course) when reporting a crime. Sure, it could help apprehend the supposed criminal by narrowing the physical field, but does it also contribute to stereotypes? Would you also say the white suspect?

  4. Ya Chun says:

    Sometimes I think that people don’t know themselves how they feel about such a person, or they want to ‘gossip’ or bash, so they say these things to gauge the response of the listener.

    or they live boring lives.

    I find it infuriating. And I don’t always know how to respond.

    But, try to describe a person to someone without including their ethnicity. The obvious omission/avoidance doesn’t do anymore for openness than just saying it.

    At least resumes here don’t have pictures, and you don’t put marital status etc on our applications. Many countries in asia are like this.

  5. Kami says:

    I once described my manager to someone looking for him as “the black man” because in my very white town he was the only black person in the area. It was the quickest and easiest way to point him out and then I wondered if that was appropriate.

    But that is obvious and being transgendered isn’t necessarily the case. But if it was, maybe it does matter if the community organization needs someone the greater community will accept. Sad, but true.

    I hope the best person gets the job and I hope the extra knowledge doesn’t make it impossible to judge.

  6. meinsideout says:

    Gah. That is one of the reasons I hate having my picture up on my firm’s website. I hate it even more that I have been told that mine should be retaken, that I look “mean” in it. Now, I am smiling – but I look professional. BTW, it is all men who think I should change it. My response is always that it is not glamour shots for f’s sake.

    I also have blonde hair and I imagine people seeing the picture and automatically deducting IQ points…

  7. Azaera says:

    This is an interesting question. I think people have their judgements about things they are unfamiliar with, and it would have come into play at some point whether they had mentioned it at the meeting or not. I often wonder if I should tell people that my son is blind, because at this point in his life it’s not exactly obvious to anyone who sees him.

    For me it’s always about judging people’s responses and about “how much do they need to know”. Because if it’s someone in line at the grocery store who I will likely never see again, there is no point in saying anything about it unless they ask. Whereas if it’s someone who will be seeing him often and wondering about his specific behaviours it is likely something they will need to know.

    In terms of gender though, I kind of doubt it will affect anything to do with their work right? So I’d say that’s not a “need to know” kind of thing. That’s more of a curiosity/gossip kind of thing.

  8. Alice says:

    I agree that it is probably more of an interesting detail being shared, rather than malicious sharing. But still …

    and I wanted to comment on Ya Chun’s comment on resumes – here in Germany at least, it is not only required on resumes that you post your picture, birth date, marital status, elementary school education and so on (seriously, all this stuff) but it is LEGAL for them to inquire in an interview your intentions to have a family.

    I have a dear friend in France … I believe it is the same there.

    I’m just shaking my head as I write …

  9. B says:

    If we’re really OK with things, mentioning transgender should be as much of an issue as mentioning that they are either male or female.

    I don’t think it is a problem that others have mentioned this to you because it is how the person has chosen to identify themselves.Why would they care if you knew?

    Lucky for you, it gives you the opportunity to face and work through your own feelings about it before you meet the person. Let’s face it, the complexity has to do with your response, not their identity.

    I have full and complete confidence Mrs Spit that you are just through and through and will review this person as a job applicant with the same critical eye and openess that you do all the applicants.

    Good luck in finding the right person for the job.

  10. B says:

    Sorry if that was a bit aprubt – the complexity is also the way that others deal with it as well. Why they told you.

    I remember being suprised and disappointed at myself for being shocked and taken back on hearing that a woman I knew became a lesbian. My husband said to me at the time “Your response doesn’t really matter, it’s what you do that matters”. I was glad I had a little heads-up to get my head around it so that when I saw her (and her partner) it was a non-issue.

  11. alicia says:

    i totally agree with you! its why when working in counseling I never read a kids file before hand, because we will make judgments and assumptions based on words and labels, we can’t help it as humans. So i never wanted to do that to a child, I want to get to know them and make my own opinions not base them on some words in a file.

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