This piece is a compilation of many feelings. Of many thoughts. It is the pouring out of the things that have been going through my mind for the past 5 months while interning. They have all come to a head now that I have left my internship feeling no more connected or accomplished than I did when I started. The length of my internship had no limit or minimum. Other interns had been there for going on a year. Seeing no employment opportunities within. The company I worked for was lovely and our work atmosphere was amazing. But the underlying fact is we were working full work days without pay. In a city like New York it is almost impossible for 20 something’s to make ends meet with entry level jobs. Never mind no source of income. Does “experience” really override monetary payment? I worked at a pizza place in high school. I had no experience working in a restaurant. I quickly learned how to answer phones, make pasta dishes, top pizzas, and handle money. I also received a paycheck every week. I gained experience while earning. And to this day can still make pretty delicious Italian food. In 2013 only 37% of grads who worked unpaid internships received jobs from the companies they worked for. Who can afford to work for 6 months to a year for free? That question is mainly rhetorical as we all know the answer is: The Rich.
Many jobs now require intern experience as a prerequisite to being hired. Entry level which is what an intern used to be is now a notch above being an intern. Which means in many fields you should expect to work for free well after graduation without anyone thinking anything about it.
New York is a city that will test you in ways that you never even thought would come across. From judging the correct way to side step the person yelling at you on the subway, to dealing with a bug bed outbreak in your apartment. New Yorkers deal with shit daily that would break most people down. But we keep on grinding. You don’t move to New York by accident, you’re here for a purpose. To fulfill some dream no matter what it may be. The problem with dreams is that sometimes they are just that. We all imagined our lives going towards a certain trajectory. If we put the time in, networked with the right people, and worked our asses off we would get to where are parents always told us we could.
Right off the bat I will say there are some factors that immediately get in the way of my trajectory going as planned.
1. I chose to work in the arts and activism.
2. I’m black.
3. I’m transgender.
4. I think way too many people are full of shit.
Let’s attack each of these bullets.
The Arts and Activism/Non Profits
So you’re a musician, a writer, a designer, an actor, an artist, a…you catch my drift. This world was not made for you to make a shit ton of money. You’re a professional activist? Good fucking luck. No one is trying to pay you. You’re fighting battles because the government and mainstream don’t give enough of a fuck to. Which means you will forever not have enough funding and will be climbing what will feel like a metaphorical Mount Everest for the rest of your life. Some artists get lucky. Some musicians and actors go on to fame. And some writers find themselves in great positions. But those are the very small, fortunate, lucky few. Activists much like teachers will always fight the biggest fight and always make the least. That’s it.
I mean I don’t even know how much of this I have to explain. More often than not when I talk to an older white person they look back at me and reply: Well aren’t you articulate? I’m surprised good for you.
I think that about sums up what my skin color attracts and pushes away.
Remember puberty? Remember how shitty that was? PUBERTY WAS THE WORST. Now let’s imagine shall we coming out of the closet, and also realizing that the gender you were born wasn’t the gender you wished to be. This happened for me around 20 and for the last 4 years I’ve ben trying to piece together who the hell I am and how I want to present to society. Which let me tell you, is super fun. I haven’t changed anything legally. My ID still has my very feminine birth name and says Female. I however present as a male. This causes daily anxiety and fear. Now the good thing about New York is that for the most part people are either too preoccupied with their own shit to care about yours or are extremely LGBTQ friendly. But that does not mean that a percentage of ignorant individuals and homophobes does not exist. And those motherfuckers, well they are motherfuckers.
When I apply for jobs online there is always a moment of hesitation before I send out my resume. If I land an interview how will I explain within the first few moments meeting that I am trans*? Will the interview than shift from my skill set to my gender? Will it kill my chances of getting a job altogether? And if I do get it, what will life in the office be like? How often will I have to correct pronouns? Or have awkward conversations?
Do not think for a second that I pity myself. I don’t. I pity neither being gay or being trans*. In fact I am thankful. I realize for instance that my climb in the nightlife world would not have been as easy as a straight person. Being gay often is horrible but if you tap into your community and win their support you will thrive. It is a lot easier to be a big fish in a little pond. Being gay and trans* in New York definitely makes you a big fish, but as a big fish you are also a bigger target.
The Shitty Ones.
The quicker you learn how many people are full of shit, the easier your life will be. This is not to say that there aren’t wonderful beautiful people out there. There are. Treasure them. But in a city of dreamers, in a city of people working towards fame, money, power, or all three you are bound to meet a lot of assholes. A lot of them who will use you and manipulate you as they see fit. Someone can use you and not be an asshole. Those are the trickiest kind. You know who are the trickiest users? Companies using your wide eyed dream having self as an unpaid intern.
First of all working and not being paid is only ok if you are doing charity work OR helping out a good friend or family member. Which even than has its limits. But working a full work day without payment is a crime.
Are you paying for my meals? Or commute? Or housing? Are there jobs open at your company for me at the end of my internship?
Would you date someone who brought absolutely nothing to the table but the promise of CONTACTS and EXPERIENCE? Look I won’t say that internships don’t provide some base of experience of course they fucking do, you are working a full motherfucking work day. Which you should be compensated for. Since when did experience overshadow payment? This isn’t an apprentice position. This is what used to be an entry level job position, that companies realized they could hire rich college or post college kids to do for FREE.
Note that I said rich. I also forgot white.
When I was a wee gay I had a huge problem with the word queer. It felt incredibly exclusive. It felt incredibly high and mighty. It felt incredibly white.
I now feel very similar thoughts to the word “intern”.
The kids who were using this word: queer. Were those whose parents were ok with them going to school for poetry and gender studies. They were white liberals with money who had the patience and time to let their kids find themselves. Which is great I guess; an amazing education is something that should not be snuffed at. But none the less these kids have always made my skin crawl a bit. These same kids who I would later in life be invited to parties with and see what I had thought all along the word queer did in some ways means white. Want to see a party with little to no black people? Advertise it as queer.
This is not to say that queer black spaces and queer black people do not exist. But it has taken some the for the word to spread past the halls of liberal arts colleges and lofts in Brooklyn.
How do I say this without – ah fuck it black people were slaves for long enough. Working in offices for white people for no money just hit very close to home for me. I realized that most of the people around me had parents that were still funneling money into their bank accounts. They could work 40 hours a week for free because some way or another they were being paid for it.
I also realize that I am in a different situation than most black people my parents are white (twist). Granted I did not have a fairy tale childhood, but my family are liberal open minded Jews. My entire life I have been told by black people that I was too white and by white people that I was the whitest black person they knew. You’ve heard the story before so I won’t preach it again. My point being that just like being trans and gay me being black with Jewish parents has lead me to opportunities that I do not think many other black people my age with similar life stories can say.
Black trans people go through hell. From their families. From society. From within the black community. Of all of the people you would see interning in an office in Manhattan a black trans person is probably dead last.
So I guess I’m lucky. Yes I am lucky, lucky in the sense that I am able to navigate through a very white world. I understand this. I understand that I will probably never meet another me working in an office. Because other “me’s” were never afforded the chance. I feel grateful while also feeling angry; feeling sad, feeling used, and being broke.
These are as I’m sure you can imagine a mess of feelings to be feeling while also starting the process of going on Testosterone.
New York is a whirlwind. No where else do people have roommates well into their 30’s. No where else is Happy Hour essentially mandatory at least twice a week. And totally excusable every night of the week. Drugs of all kinds are norms. Adderall to get more work done. Xanax and Ambien to calm the fuck down. Alcohol and cocaine because you either have way too much money and it’s making you sad or way to little and it’s making you sad. Marriage? Children? You didn’t move here to fall in love. This isn’t Paris. You came here to make it. There is something about New York that is beautiful. The amount that people hustle, the communities that flourish here that would not be allowed to exist anywhere else. The food, the entertainment, the breathtakingly beautiful people you see everyday. But New York wears you out. It’s like the rope swing in gym. It takes you years to get anywhere, and you often feel like you’re just dangling in the wind. Waiting for something either really good or absolutely horrible to happen. You get higher eventually, and closer to the top, but what the hell do you do when you get there? To the end of that rope? The ceiling. Are you now the master of your own life? Or have you just spent years climbing to meet a wall?