Can you imagine life and work reality of a trans-gendered person? Are you aware of some of the basic challenges they encounter, from hostile reactions to the lack of legal recognition? The documentary ‘Irish Lives: My Transgender Journey’, aired by TV3, explores three personal biographies and shows some of the facets transgendered people may encounter.
Transgender people also have a coming-out process, when they gradually discover and accept they were born in the wrong body. This can be a tough process, as the TV documentary shows. Nineteen-year-old Sam Blanckensee, a veterinary nursery student, already began questioning his gender identity as a young teenager, having felt somehow ‘wrong’ as a child. It was thanks to a friend of him that he was able to bring together all his thoughts and feeling, and eventually came to the insight of being transgender. Sam was born as a girl but came to the point where he identified himself with the male gender rather than feeling comfortable with being female. Louise Hannon and Kay Bear Boss, the documentary’s other two protagonists, are trans-women, i.e. they were born as boys but chose a female gender identity after times of struggle with their former – imposed – identity. These two took much longer for their coming-out process, as being trans could not be part of their reality when growing up in small towns in the 70’s or even before.
The documentary discusses the transitioning process as well. It shows how complicated, exhausting and sometimes even painful this process can be. Usually, many consecutive, small steps have to be taken by transgender people until reaching the point where they feel comfortable with their outer appearance. Another important issue is the legal situation; Ireland, the country where the documentary was filmed, is the only European country that does not provide a mechanism for transgender persons’ legal recognition. Fortunately, the Irish government announced in September this year to introduce a bill for the recognition of trans-people’s gender by the end of 2014. Afterwards, changing the name or gender will be much easier and many other actions, such as changing birth documents, might be possible for the first time in Ireland.
The three protagonists’ work life is also shown in the documentary. Sam is, beneath his full-time studies, working part-time in a local pet store and reports on his colleagues’ reactions to his coming-out as trans as well as on his working experience before and after his transition. He talks about all positive reactions from his colleagues. Although they were asking him many questions, they were doing this for reasons of curiosity rather than because of hostility, he says. Sam is looking forward to his surgery (breast reduction) as he then will not need to bind his breasts anymore, implying less restrictions for his work life.
Both Sam and Kay have not experienced discrimination in the workplace, not so for Louise Hannon. She has had discussions at the workplace for months before her transition. Afterwards, she was in the unpleasant situation of going to clients in “male mode”, as she calls it, and after having changed at home, going back to the office in “female mode”. She was then forced to work from home because of the workplace atmosphere, she was told. But instead of staying home for one moth (as they agreed on), she was obliged to stay away from office for four months. Finally, she was asked to look for another job by her employer. This caused a four-year-lasting legal battle eventually won by Louise, hence being the first trans-person who had their case for discrimination recognised by the Equality Authority of Ireland. She is now doing photographic work, feeling freer and thus more creative. “When you’re happy in your life and you’re happy inside, you tend to be more productive, you tend to be more creative”, Louise says in the documentary. This is why LGBT topics have to be considered in a Diversity approach as well. Employees that feel safe and accepted in the workplace are more productive, engaged and committed to their employer. This is what many studies say and what a larger number of LGBT Diversity projects across Europe show on a practical level.
The documentary, which can be seen here in full length, was produced by TV3, a privately owned free-to-air television network operating within Ireland.