'survive or die'

These are the challenges transgender women face when looking for work

The 2011 National Transgender Discrimination survey found that, as compared to the rest of the population, the 700,000 trans or gender non-conforming citizens of the United States are four times as likely to make less than $10,000 a year; they’re twice as likely to be unemployed; and 47% of them were fired, not hired, or denied promotions because of their identity—and nearly all of them faced rampant discrimination and harassment in the workplace. Though hiring practices that discriminate based on gender identity violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, there are no explicit federal laws protecting transgender men and women. So even in a melting pot city like New York, the struggle to find gainful employment can be an uphill battle.

We followed three transgender women through New York City as they attempted to navigate one of society’s most basic interactions: finding a job. These videos take a look into the lives of Alexis, who lost her long-time job in the service industry and now collects bottles to keep the lights on; Honey Dijon, a popular DJ who found success and a living in her career of choice; and Tiffany, who ran away from home as a teenager before being sucked into the world of sex work.

Alexis: “There’s two ways: survive or die.”

After 14 years working as a server and then a manager at an ice cream parlor, Alexis lost her job. This was around the time she decided to start transitioning. Without a job, she hasn’t been able to afford rent or her hormones, and has been collecting bottles to make ends meet.

Honey: “I was at the bottom of the barrel so I had nothing to lose.”

A successful club DJ, Honey reflects on the factors that set her apart; her introduction to the trans community in New York City; her involvement early on working in nightclubs, doing drag; and the support and love of an understanding family.

Tiffany: “Once you become a transgender, the first thing you learn is how to do sex work.”

Tiffany is a black transgender woman who ran away from home as a teenager and quickly became a sex worker. We talk to her about her years of running the streets, and her new but fragile life as a health outreach coordinator at The Center, an LGBT community center in New York City. A full-time career means that Tiffany would have to go back to school. But with little money and rent to pay, the temptation to go back to sex work is a daily battle.

Gender Proud served as a consultant for this production.