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Rebecca Pell Headshot

The Challenges of Finding Employment as a 52-Year-Old Transgender Woman

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JOB SEARCH
Trinette Reed via Getty Images

I know I'm one of the millions of unemployed and underemployed who are struggling to stay afloat, so in that respect my story is not unique. However, the fact that I am a 52-year-old transsexual woman makes my situation a bit more complex.

I was born George Pell and lived 48 years as a male. I knew around age three that I was different, that I wanted to be a girl, but back then there were no resources or information available, so I grew up feeling uncomfortable with myself and feeling like a freak. With the advent of computers and the Internet, I was eventually able to start putting the pieces together and came to the conclusion that I was a cross-dresser. I occasionally considered that maybe I was transsexual, but since I was a husband and father, being transsexual was simply not an option, so I just avoided dealing with the gender issues and went about my life as best I could.

I served in the Army as a Military Policeman from 1984-1987 and during that time got married. After my discharge I went to college, but decided to temporarily put school on hold and go to work full-time after our first son was born. I worked 11 years for the Department of Energy in a variety of capacities, including managing environmental remediation projects. By the time we relocated to Missouri in 2001 for my wife's job we had two sons, and I began working for a large Mid-western university as the Operations Manager for a research center. Shortly after moving to Missouri my wife was diagnosed with depression, which eventually led to her being unable to continue working or help with the responsibilities of raising a family. I was working full-time, taking classes to finish my degree, taking care of the boys and the housework, and it finally reached the point where I was starting to get overwhelmed which affected my ability to be an effective parent. So in 2004 we divorced. The safety and well-being of my sons was my top priority and was what ultimately led me to make the decision to file for divorce.

From 2004 on I was a single father, and I remained in Missouri to provide stability for the boys, even though my family is all on the west coast and my ex-wife moved away. I tried to hold things together and provide as normal a life as possible for the boys, but we went through some difficult times given the circumstances, in part because I was dealing with depression. Although I had a good job at the university, money was still tight and things were stressful. But I realized how fortunate I was to be with my kids and be part of their lives every day and to appreciate the time we had together. So I coached my son's baseball team, went to all their band concerts and school functions, and tried to be the best dad I could for them.

As my sons were getting older, I started thinking more about my future and what I wanted out of my life once they were grown and on their own, and I realized I had to start dealing with the gender issues. So I did a lot of thinking and also found a therapist who had experience with transgender people, and she eventually diagnosed me with gender dysphoria, confirming what I already knew; that I was transsexual. I started Hormone Replacement Therapy in May of 2010. For the first time in my life I felt a sense of hope and excitement about the future because I was finally going to have the opportunity to live a life where I could be myself.

In September of 2010 I was unexpectedly laid off from the university due to loss of funding for my salary. My overriding fear was that I would not be able to take care of my kids. Thankfully, I had a decent separation package from the university, so for the most part I was able to make ends meet financially. The difficult part was the stress and embarrassment of being unemployed, and the difficulty of finding another job. My depression got progressively worse the longer I was unemployed. Added to that was the stress of worrying about my transition and all the uncertainty caused by being unemployed, and wondering whether or not I would be able to continue with hormones.

Finally in September of 2011 I was hired back at the university with the Employee Wellness Program. It was a fun and rewarding job and I worked with a great group of people, and I felt like I got my life back. In November of that year I made the decision to start living full-time as Rebecca, including at work. The transition at work could not have gone any smoother; everyone there was very supportive and understanding, and I felt very fortunate. Even more importantly, my family has been great about accepting me for who I am. So I felt like the worst was over and that I could finally relax and enjoy having a job I loved and being able to live as Rebecca and to have the opportunity to finally be happy.

In the spring of 2012 after some unexpected personnel moves within my department, my position was reclassified, leading to my termination in July of 2012. Once again life threw me a curve ball, but I was optimistic I'd get through it and find another job. I thought having 11 years of experience working at the university would give me a pretty good chance of finding another position there, but time after time I interviewed for jobs which I was very qualified for, but I never got any job offers. I have gotten many compliments on my resume and cover letter, and I feel I have strong interviewing skills, so in my opinion those are not issues. The one variable that seemed to stand out was the fact that I was transsexual. And the fact that I unfortunately am cursed with a deep and decidedly unfeminine voice.

I guarantee that with the experience and training I had with the university, I would have had a job within months had I been interviewing as a male. But I kept applying for jobs and kept getting interviews, but never got a single job offer. I tried to stay optimistic but the depression got worse the longer this went on. Unemployment was not enough to pay the bills and my debt was growing at an alarming rate, which only added to my stress. It finally reached the point where I decided I was never going to get a job back with the university and that I needed a fresh start, so I decided to move to Oregon, where my mom lives. I was excited and optimistic to start over and be with my family, and thought that moving there would be just what I needed.

In April of 2013 I packed up my car and drove three days from Missouri to Oregon, full of hope and optimism. I found a room to rent, got settled in, and resumed the job search with a renewed sense of vigor. However, I soon learned that getting a job in Bend is difficult at best. I quickly had several interviews for jobs in my field, but no offers. So I expanded my search to include pretty much anything I felt I was remotely qualified for. I had several interviews at retail stores, but still no job offers. It was devastating to my already fragile psyche to realize even retail stores wouldn't hire me. That was always my backup plan, to work retail if I couldn't get anything else. In spite of therapy and being on anti-depressants my depression spiraled out of control, making it difficult to find the motivation to keep getting through each day, let alone going through the tedious process of searching for and applying for jobs was difficult, but I kept at it.

In November of 2013 I was hired at a rental car company to detail cars. While it is a job, it's humiliating and demeaning to accept that this is the only job I can get. But as everyone keeps telling me, I'm fortunate to have a job and it's only temporary. So for the past five months I have shown up for work every day to do a job that requires no particular skills, where I don't fit in and which doesn't pay the bills. A job which has no meaning, which I do realize is a luxury, but is something important to me. And five months later I still can't get a job anywhere else. About five weeks ago I had an interview with the county for an administrative job which I was more than qualified for, and I felt the interview went very well, but I did not get a second interview. I was devastated and have reached the point where I've pretty much given up on the job search because there is no point to continuing. Although I did recently come across a job posting for an executive assistant position at a surrogacy center in Portland which specifically mentioned wanting someone who would be comfortable with gay and lesbian co-workers and clients, and I was able to work into my cover letter that I was trans. I interviewed there last week and felt it went well and am waiting to hear back in the next few days about the job. I'm scared to feel too optimistic about it because if I don't get the job I'm going to be crushed, and I'm not sure how I'll get through dealing with that.

And lastly, I'm tired of being alone. I realize that given the circumstances now is not exactly the opportune time to date and be in a relationship, but I can't help but think that if I keep waiting for the "right time" that it will never come. I used to feel I had a lot to offer to someone in a relationship, but now I'm not so sure. I used to occasionally date but nothing positive ever resulted, so I've pretty much given up on that and just accepted that I'll be alone, which makes me sad because life is so much more enjoyable when you have someone special to share it with.

So, getting a meaningful job seems unattainable right now. I have tried my best to work through this, but I can't change things that are beyond my control. I can't change the fact that I'm 52, and that I'm transsexual with a voice like a guy. So, I'm running out of time and options. I physically cannot continue to do the detailing job indefinitely; not to mention dealing with the daily reminder that it looks like I will never have any sort of meaningful job again. Aside from how demoralizing that is, it's getting very difficult to keep going when I've lost all hope. I'll soon be facing bankruptcy and foreclosure on my home in Missouri, and that will leave me with nothing. My family loves and supports me, but they are unable to do much to help, and I feel like a burden to everyone who cares about me. I stand to lose everything I've spent my life working towards. I have no answers as to how to resolve this or how to make things better. Life is a matter of surviving each day, and even that is getting to be a challenge.

To read more about Rebecca's experiences while transitioning, visit her blog here. To contact Rebecca, email her here.

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Rebecca's story is part of a Huffington Post series profiling Americans who work hard and yet still struggle to make ends meet. Learn more about other individuals' experiences here.

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