Amber's Journey

Freedom And Anxiety In The Shadow Of State Legislature Debate On Nondiscrimination

By Todd Heywood

LANSING - Amber is looking forward to the new year, but she is also fearful of what 2015 will bring her. She plans to transition to living her life as she was meant -- as a woman. But the ongoing debates at the state capital about adding gender identity to the state's civil rights law makes such a move terrifying.

"The big thing I am worried about is losing my job," the 23-year-old told BTL. "Say I lose my job, I might have to move back to my parents' house and my transition would be put on hold."

Between The Lines has agreed not to use Amber's last name or the exact location of her hometown in order to give her some protection and the ability to come out to people at her own pace.

Amber hails from conservative west Michigan. Her parents and three brothers are unaware that she is preparing to transition. They will learn of her life change through a letter crafted by Amber with the assistance of her therapist. That letter will be delivered after the holidays.

The revelation may not come as a surprise. Amber says she fought with her parents about her gender when she was a child.

"I really thought I was a female when I was 4 or 5 and I ended up getting into an argument with my parents," she says. "It ended with them saying I was male, and me crying."

She did what she could to fit herself to her gender assigned at birth -- including playing football in high school. She studied criminal justice in college and has worked a series of warehouse type jobs usually associated with men.

"I was trying to prove to myself something," she says of her masculine choices in her teen years. "I never felt the same. I felt like an outcast."

When she was 18, she began dreaming of herself as a woman. Then the moment of revelation happened.

"I was trying to picture myself as a male like five years down the road, and I couldn't," she said.

She moved to Lansing in June and began the process of transitioning. That includes counseling. She has a letter to begin hormone therapy and has fixed her transition date in the beginning of 2015. Despite feeling more confident in her gender, and being excited to begin life fully as Amber, her apprehension grows as her transition date comes closer.

Lansing has a nondiscrimination law which includes gender identity and expression. The ordinance has been on the books since 2006, but it has never been tested. It has, however, been used in negotiations between Lansing Community College and Spring Arbor University as the community college prepared to open a university center, sharing publicly financed space with some of the state's private and public universities.

Spring Arbor had come under fire for firing Julie Nemecek when she transitioned; LCC also reminded all the potential university partners that they must adhere to LCC policies, including nondiscrimination rules. Spring Arbor bowed out of the running for a partnership as a result.

Amber still has not discussed her transition with the bio-engineering company where she works. She is terrified that her new life will be cut short by an economic dagger in her back; she worries she will be fired for her transition.

Amber is more than a little aware of the economic struggles of many transgender women in America. She rattles off the statistics related to unemployment and underemployment as well as homelessness. She know she faces a potentially hostile world.

Among her ten transgender friends, two are unemployed. Neither can find a job. The gender markers on their identifications out them as trans, leading to a bias in hiring, she says. Amending Elliott-Larsen might ease her fears. "It would make me feel more comfortable; it would ease a little bit of that anxiety," she notes.

She says the current debate at the state level is "dehumanizing."

"It's crazy to me people would like to think it's OK to exclude a group of people from a nondiscrimination law," she said.

As for the lawmakers talking about transpeople, but not with them, she has a message.

"I'd talk to them about many trans people losing jobs," she said. "It's crazy we are already so discriminated against."


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