Cathy Renna

Jane's Story: One of Challenge and Resilience

Filed By Cathy Renna | February 03, 2011 3:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: Creating Change conference, injustice, Jane Ireland, story, The Task Force, transgender

As I hit the road for this year's annual Creating Change conference, I go with no plans for moderating a panel or doing a training.jane-becca-gabe.jpg Instead, Renna Communications has an even greater responsibility and challenge. We will be helping with the release of a groundbreaking survey, the first of its size and scope about the real lives of transgender people: "Injustice at Every Turn." Like a lot of research we see about LGBT people, the results are not surprising, but they are shocking and vital to advocates. Look for it tomorrow on TheTaskForce.org.

One of the most important and moving parts of my work is to help get the real stories of transgender people out there - stories of struggle and resilience, of hate and hope - and I consider it a great privilege and responsibility. What follows is one of them - but you will be seeing many more as this survey begins to hit the internet, media and community.

Meet Jane Ireland, a new friend, a new hero and a transgender woman with a story to tell.

Jane's story

Like many other trans people, I struggled for years with my identity. From a young age, I felt that I wasn't living in the right body. But I was always afraid that my family, my friends, and my church would never allow me to live as the woman I was. So I suppressed those emotions for years, even marrying a woman who remains a dear friend and having three children with her.

But there came a point when I could no longer maintain my façade of maleness. Once I quit denying I was a member of the trans community, I availed myself of the plethora of excellent resources to map my M2F transition - documentaries, medical anthologies, autobiographies, step-by-step guides. I quickly realized that one common denominator in our transitions was that they don't unfold as we expect, and mine proved no exception.

I held a contracting IT project management job, at which I thought I had enough favor that I could safely come out to the president of a medium-sized call center company, despite its Christian ministry clients. But I was wrong. My productive three-year independent contractor assignment was terminated within days.

In the weeks following my firing, I was applying to IT jobs as a male. In the meantime (November 2009), I got a job as a waiter at the Tulsa Airport Hilton Garden Inn, a franchise operation owned by a Dallas hotel management company. A month later, I was living and dressing as female full time except when I worked at the Hilton. It was a good job. I worked the swing shift on weekends and did very well, averaging well over 20% in gratuities. The employers and staff had no problem with my presenting myself as a woman. I'd change for work, clock in, do my job, and everything was fine.

A few months later, things shifted into high gear. By Tulsa District Court Order, my name was legally changed to Jane Ireland. The next day, I got a job as a waitress working the lunch shift at one of Tulsa's best restaurants. The general manager knew me as a guy. Then I met the following week with upper management at the Hilton, who knew my reputation and would actually refer guests to the other restaurant where I worked. They said: "We'll see you on Friday as Jane." I was elated; my Hilton income would pay for gender reassignment surgery in a year and a half., and my other job would pay enough for me to live off of.

A couple days later I was called into the Airport Hilton HR office, and told that corporate attorneys in Texas intervened and would no longer allow me to work as a woman, since I was hired as a male.. My bubble was shattered, but I agreed. I continued working, wearing a little makeup and earrings as my only concessions to being Jane. When management called a few weeks later and asked me to stop, I obliged.

Mid June, I began wearing a bra, for the simple reason that it was necessary for my comfort. Even before that, one third of my customers called me ma'am, one third sir, and one third didn't want to commit. At the end of June, upper management called me in and told me to stop wearing a bra. I got upset, called the owners a word that rhymes with "spigot," said they didn't know who I was, and walked out of the meeting. Within hours, I apologized to the Food & Beverages Director via a text and four days later came into work and clocked in. The HR Manager was quickly clicking her heels towards me as I stocked the bar with my back to her. "Jane, let's go back..." They asked me to resign. I laughed and said they'd have to fire me. So they did, ironically at the beginning of the July 4th weekend.

I am a professional, having now worked successfully for 11 months as a fine dining waitress in a considerably more demanding setting than the Hilton. I was never written up at the Hilton. I did not have any complaints against me. My guests loved me. But it didn't matter. I had never been treated so poorly on the job.

What the Tulsa Airport Hilton Garden Inn did to me was wrong. Besides drawing unemployment, I also filed an EEOC discrimination complaint against them, and an investigation is now ongoing. This unfairness must stop.

Beyond my employment situation, I was rejected by my church. I was asked to resign by the board of a missions support ministry I started, my ministerial license was not renewed, and I was told to leave and stay away from the members of the church I had served since 2001. I have not been contacted since by the leadership of the ministry where I served my first 20 years as a Christian.

While my Hilton job ended prematurely, and I have been unable to find another IT job despite months of applications, I am so grateful for my fine dining family: the owner, GM, other management, and staff. They are absolutely beautiful. I don't make enough to save, but the job covers my immediate financial needs, and the incredible opportunity to serve the public as a woman in a first-class restaurant is priceless.

I have also found new strength from the support of my family. I was married 27 years to a woman who remains a close friend. We have three extremely gifted children. I also have a strong, artistic daughter from earlier years. All my children love and accept me, much more so than they did when I was trying too hard as a frustrated, critical father. My mom and siblings love me. My mom calls me her child, which is truly an honor. She is beautiful, and I could not be happier that I looked like her.

I have also found strength in my faith. I love Jesus with all my heart and he accepts, encourages and helps me. Sadly though, most of Christianity is in a self-absorbed, loveless state. I'm afraid most former friends are too self-righteous to research who I am and discover that my transgender identity is who I am, not a choice. They are missing the emergence of this butterfly into her full glory.

As a transgender woman, I've had a lot to overcome. But my faith, family, and friends have made me strong and resilient in the face of adversity. I know full well that others are not so fortunate, and I hope that soon, none of us will have to face these challenges simply because of who we are.


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All the best to Jane and I'm glad she still has the love of her family and support of friends. I've been there and lost several jobs during transition much less in a state and city supposedly reknown for protections of gender identity. This especially pinpoints the structural weakness of these laws when applied to cases involving freelance workers, and contractors... the fastest rising segment of the US work population.

I'm convinced job discrimination against trans people is far more pervasive than even recent studies are suggesting and that, important as ENDA is (and it's crucial) until the 'leakiness' of even existing laws are fixed, there will continue to be many more cases like Jane's.

Thank you, ginasf, for your regards! You are right. There is so much subtlety in the knee-jerk subjective discriminating treatment we receive. Nothing is ever documented (as to the truth) because the discriminating employers cannot be objective about it. It would not be logical to attack us overtly because we are overachieving, model employees (who have gone out of way our entire lives to stay in the background and overachieve)!

You would not believe (well, maybe YOU would!) the lies my former employer has fabricated after my departure to make it appear objective. Then why was Unemployment approved? It just makes me angry because I loved my job and EVERYONE knew it… staff, management, guests. Everyone except the owner who had me fired. They wouldn’t know… They’re down in Dallas and refused to meet with me when visiting their property in Tulsa while I waited elegantly dressed in the lobby! Hmph!!! (I sounded like my awesome daughter when I said that!)

Thanks to Jane for telling her story. I understand the risks she takes just for telling, and possibly risking future discrimination for being open. The strength she derives from family and faith is a great blessing.

As a transgender man I faced being denied biopsy results, cancer surgery, and chemotherapy from a variety of doctors when I was diagnosed with a highly aggressive breast cancer, also in a very blue state and major city with some legal protections in place.

Discrimination against transgender people can be deadly, from both the long term life stress of facing injustice, threat, and violence, and the outright denial of life saving care at our times of greatest vulnerability. No wonder 41% of us attempt suicide at some point in life when dealing with this kind of pain, too often without the support of family and erstwhile friends.

I hope by more tranpeople telling our stories and taking a strong stand against discrimination we can change this dismal situation. It may take a long time, and many risks, but the rock will slowly move.

Kudos, Jane! :)

Thank you Jane for your strength and love that you share with everyone. You could be one of those self absorbed christians and no one would fault you. But instead you have the grace to stand above the common pettiness the permeates so many churches. You are an natural leader with a heart of gold.
In your future I see you not only re entering the church, but taking on the role of showing the church community who we are as people.

When I told our pastor about who I was as a person he didn't seem to not be upset at all. I was all prepaired to defend myself to him and it simply wasn't an issue to him. We belong to a conservative church and all he had to say is that everyone has issues in their lives that they need to deal with. He is accepted me as the person I am.

Hannah


Jane, thank you so much for sharing your story. While I'm sure we're all familiar with the stories of survival of friends within the community, sharing narratives of strength in the face of adversity, such as that which you've shown, deserves this kind of broad dissemination. Thank you!

I am Jane's oldest son. Jane is a radical and amazing transformation. Her situation deserves to be spotlighted- the world needs to truly see and understand the trans community.

I am proud of Jane... so proud!

Benjamin

Thank you, Benjamin! I have been released from gender-stereotyping jail to come forth as myself... finally. The journey is so difficult for every trans person but to flow as ourselves is worth the cost. And then to have the love and support of you guys is icing on my gluten-free cake!!!