By Kris Guin
As a queer and trans disabled activist, I’ve spent the last several years of my life thinking about my identity with the LGBTQ and disability communities because, for the past several years, I’ve felt the weight that marginalization has when you identify yourself with those communities. That’s not to say that I didn’t feel that weight before because I’ve always been queer, trans, and disabled and have always experienced barriers and discrimination. I feel the weight of marginalization more acutely now because I’ve been made more aware of it and how straight, cisgender, and abled people don’t feel what I feel or experience the same barriers.
While there are a lot of things my socio-economic privilege gave me access to, there are some aspects of my socio-economic privilege that my sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or disabilities prevented me from accessing.
I was privileged to grow up in an upper middle class household, but my parents never accepted my identity as a transgender man who is also autistic. While there are a lot of things my socio-economic privilege gave me access to, there are some aspects of my socio-economic privilege that my sexual orientation, gender identity, and/or disabilities prevented me from accessing. For example, in theory, I could afford nice clothes. However, since it was my parents who decided how their money was spent, I often couldn’t get clothes that reflected how I wanted to express my gender identity. Also, my parents would not buy me media or other things that were LGBTQ-affirming. The only way I could get my first suit was by reasoning that it was more modest for me to wear a suit instead of a skirt or a dress while playing the drums in church on Sundays. That suit came from the women’s section, however. Also, despite living in a part of town with good schools and having parents who could afford to send me to private schools, I could not fully access those schools because of ableism. In 5th grade, my rich white school refused to give me an IEP, and my parents, including my father who is a lawyer, could not get them to give me an IEP. On the other hand, because of my family’s class privilege, my family was able to thrive solely off my father’s income so my mother didn’t need to work and could be a full-time mother and wife. This meant my parents were able to pull me out of traditional public and private schools and homeschool me.
As I moved into adulthood, I had to face additional barriers. I became separated from my family a couple of years ago because of their lack of acceptance of my identity, so I had to find out how to support myself. The process of finding a job for myself was challenging.
Like a lot of autistic people, I especially struggled during the interview process. The majority of jobs require a candidate to pass an interview which causes a disparate impact on people on the autism spectrum who do not communicate the way candidates are expected to in interviews and have difficulty picking up on the hidden social cues that interviewers give with their questions.
One of the first jobs I applied to was with an autism organization, and I managed to land an interview. Fortunately, I had some coaching from a mentor for the interview so I was able to pass the interview. However, I was only their second choice for the job, and their first choice accepted the job. I managed to get other job interviews, but I was not able to pass through to the next round. I knew I had the skills they needed for the jobs, but I was not able to communicate in the way they were expecting well enough to answer their questions.
Employment is also difficult for transgender people. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in four transgender people have lost a job due to bias, and more than three-fourths have experienced workplace discrimination. This can make a lot of trans people nervous about finding employment. What if we don’t pass as the gender we identify as and get misgendered during a job interview? What if we’re able to get the job, but, when we come out as trans, we get discriminated against? What if we’re in the process of transitioning during our job search?
I hope everyone will advocate for laws that protect marginalized communities.
Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with disabilities are protected from discrimination in housing, employment, education, and public accommodations, but the LGBTQ community does not have broad, inclusive non-discrimination protections yet. I hope everyone will advocate for laws that protect marginalized communities. At the federal level, you can urge your senators and representatives to support the Equality Act (H.R. 2282 and S. 1006). At the state and local level, you can urge your legislators and city council to adopt legislation banning discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodations. While there continue to be significant and persistent barriers for people with disabilities and LGBTQ people, I believe that we can break down these barriers.
Thankfully, I have been able to find a part-time job with the American Psychological Association (APA) in September 2017. I started out in the Office on Early Psychologists which has grown to become the Office on Early Career and Graduate Student Affairs. Recently, my responsibilities have been expanded and I’ve taken on additional responsibilties. I’ve conducted extensive market research and am completing one-on-one interviews with staff to gather information about the awards, grants, and fellowships across all of APA’s offices. I am so happy that my supervisor has seen my potential and has given me a chance to show and use my skills to the fullest. He’s been very encouraging and supportive of my efforts to get full-time employment at APA or at places outside of APA. My supervisor sees me as an asset to the workplace, and, because of his accommodations, I am meeting or exceeding expectations for my job responsibilities.
I am privileged to work in an environment that is accepting of who I am and to live in a city that bans discrimination in employment on the basis of gender identity.
APA has a policy that anyone can use the restroom that best corresponds with their gender identity, and I’m excited that APA is going to go one step further by putting signs on bathroom doors to make the policy even more clear to all staff and to make APA an even safer place to work. My coworkers respect my pronouns, and, when I disclosed to them a couple of months ago that I was going on testosterone, they were very supportive. It was important to me that I disclosed because testosterone can affect someone’s mood and behavior as well as their personal appearance, and I did not want to have any interpersonal problems with my coworkers as a result of my changes in behavior or mood.
Fortunately, I have gotten to a space where I am able to more freely express who I am as an autistic trans man. I live in Washington, DC where there is an active and thriving LGBTQ community and disability community. I am active in the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, DC, which is led by and for LGBTQ people, and I serve on the Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism with the Autism Society of America in addition to serving as the Founder of Queerability, an LGBTQ and disability justice organization. I am so proud to be trans and autistic, and having access to the LGBTQ and disability communities has been a huge part of my building pride in myself.
Kris Guin Kris Guin is an intersectional social justice activist with a focus on the intersections of disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. He is the president and founder of Queerability, a national grassroots LGBTQ and disability justice organization and serves on the Autism Society of America’s Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism. He has been the Technical Assistance Coordinator for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network where he coordinated ASAN’s chapters and their Pacific Alliance on Disability Self Advocacy project. He worked as a consultant for the National LGBTQ Task Force for their 2017 national conference, Creating Change. Kris proudly identifies as autistic, queer, and transgender.
Read more from our “Off the Beaten Path” trailblazers in Zoom Autism Magazine, Issue 14:
- A Journey with Fire by Brigid Rankowski
- The Ideal, the Real, and Disability Advocacy by Finn Gardiner
- What Can Neurodiversity Libraries Do for the Autism Community? by Lei Wiley-Mydske
Don’t miss these other great articles in Issue 14:
- Cummings and Goings: Creating Your Own Footsteps to Follow by Conner Cummings
- Live Your Dreams Autistically by Becca Lory
- Will There Be a Future Beyond Acceptance? by Megan Amodeo
- The View from Here: My Road to Motherhood by Carly Fulgham
- What have you accomplished that you or others thought you would never be able to do?