I recently applied for a job via a recruitment website. Some of the questions asked strike me as discriminatory and not relevant, but it seems that increasingly, such intrusive questions are commonplace.
In Europe, I understand that in many countries we are no longer even allowed to ask how old someone is, and in most countries I believe you cannot ask whether someone is married or not—and you certainly cannot ask whether someone has plans to have children, or even does have them. Yet, any talented HR director will tell you, it is quite easy to learn the answers to these things in an interview without even asking.
The example I am noting here is one for a role in the US. It is an executive position. Regardless, I fail to see what my ethnicity has to do with my competence for such a role. The dropdown menu was a virtual smorgasbord of choices—it took me a long time to find European-Caucasion—yup, white. I note this because the role in question is not serving a particular community—a case where someone’s ethnic background might be said to be more germaine.
Now, that is quite common to ask about ethnicity, so we are used to it. But what about sex? For the first time I saw non-binary as one of the options. There were several others as well as “prefer not to say”. For the first time in my life, I selected the non-binary/3rd gender box. I wonder where this information goes. Will it help or hurt my candidacy? If it does either, it is discriminatory. Right? And if it has the potential to be discriminatory, then why are they even asking?
Still, I felt very proud to myself at least that I ticked the non-binary box. I intend to continue doing this. Bless the younger generation that is just living this way…those of us who are more mature in years had to crawl across cut glass to get to this point. Now that I’m here, I don’t want to give it up—but I also sure don’t want it to count either against or for me—in either case, the reasoning is wrong.
The next question which really threw me and I am astounded that such a thing could be asked was regarding sexual preferences—are you gay, heterosexual or do you prefer not to say? Well, now that I know that kinky is a form of sexual preference [blogged about here], where is that entry? And more generally, what does it mean to be a “straight” non-binary person? Does that mean that the 1% of the 1% which represents the subset of trans people who are non-binary are the only people I can be with and still call myself straight? I used to at least emotionally consider myself a lesbian when lying with a woman…and certainly have always wanted to feel that way in my body—particularly at moments of erotic self-expression. Or does it have to be defined by the sex I was assigned at birth? Is this ridiculous?
A gay AFAB acquaintance of mine likes women sexually, and she is FTM, and is wondering whether she is gay or straight—these boxes are not helpful…and even more confusingly, when she is attracted to a woman, it is that she wants to be her. This is how I feel. The women I am attracted to, I feel desire for, is motivated by a mix of physical, emotional and spiritual respect…and that these things comingle; and I just want to melt into her and be her—and this is also how I fantasise about love-making—a tangle of bodies so erotic that who is who is lost in the feeling of being touched and touching. Is that what the interviewer wants to know?
Although it is a bit messy, it certainly feels more comfortable to just identify with what I self-identify with. I can’t stand the thought of being “male” in this “male” body—it doesn’t fit…and no, I am making progress in finding male qualities that I respect and admire and am working hard to incorporate them into my sense of self…but it is desperately important for me to feel girl. But who can be dogmatic about such things? Not me. If you want to call me “they” I will be best pleased, but if you call me “she” I will be grateful and I certainly won’t be upset if you call me “he”.
My best friend who knows my gender complexity well got into some deep conversation with me recently about white male privilege. I naturally think about this a lot—since at least on the surface, that is exactly what I am: a privileged white male. But there is a gift that comes with being non-binary and that is the lens through which I see the world…and when I am evidently either behaving or dressing in ways that give off signals—though I believe I give off these signals all the time, even not consciously, that my “white male privilege” is not so evident—or at least less so.
We were talking about being able to understand. She was talking about the female fear of being raped, or more generally of violence, and was asking me how I would or could understand that. She also asked about discrimination. I do not live these things in the same way that a woman does…nor do I experience the kind of discrimination that race often bestows. I do not equate. But having grown up in a multi-cultured, multi-coloured environment where being white was not the majority experience, I think that not belonging to the dominant group already shaped my way of being and interacting. And I have written about this before, as it really strikes me, but when I am dressed, I notice how much more welcoming and friendly “minority” groups are to me—especially African-American women, and I have drawn the conclusion that they see someone who has chosen to put themselves in the path of discrimination. I don’t know if this is true. I haven’t figured out another explanation.
The explanation that my friend understood is that being non-binary, looking effeminate, being effeminate (and she thinks I certainly come across as mildly gay—but I think this is more that we are not used to the nuance of behaviour. My benchmark for this is that even when I am wearing a bikini on the beach gay men pay a lot less attention to me than women do…but that may also have to do with gay men liking butch men—and I am most certainly not butch!). It is more relevant to me knowing that I am not physically all that strong. I wrote about this on a blog post, where being weak is perversely one of the things I like best about the life and approach I have chosen—being vulnerable feels nice. And it was amusing to meet my female personal trainer who said to me, “don’t worry, you won’t become muscular like me.” She could see right through me.
Any ideas? And why on earth can an employer ask if I prefer to sleep with men or women or anything else?