Lorenzana has filed a lawsuit against Citigroup, claiming that she was fired from her job because her employer claimed that her appearance was too distracting to her (straight) male colleagues, according to The Village Voice.
Her lawsuit claims that she was forbidden from wearing turtlenecks, pencil-skirts, high heels, and fitted business suits, although she says her female coworkers were not put under the same dress code. When she protested, she lost her job.
If this is true, it’s very concerning. First of all, any legal actions based on appearance are highly problematic, as trans people well know. A major problem for trans people on the job is clothing and appearance, generally based on an employer’s expectations of how a person’s gender should be presented, along with the refusal to allow employees to dress or appear in a way that matches their gender identity. As long as a person is neat, clean, and professional, appearance should not determine his or her ability to get or keep a job, particularly when it involves gender presentation.
Second, the expectation that women should look or dress a certain way so that men can control their responses is akin to blaming a rape victim for being raped. Our culture sets up ridiculous fashion and appearance standards for women that are unattainable for most, and then punishes those who achieve them! Women who choose to comply with our culture’s expectations for femininity are shot down for doing so. We can’t have it both ways, and women have every right to wear the clothing, including fitted suits and high heels, that has been designed for them and presented to them as the standard for their gender.
Third, the idea that men can’t do their job when an attractive woman is present doesn’t say a whole lot for men. If a man can’t carry out his job duties around Debrahlee Lorenzana, then he should be fired, not her. I have a pretty good idea of how testosterone affects sex drive, but we’re talking about grown men here, not 14-year-old boys. To punish anyone because of the way that other people respond to that person is absurd and is a legitimate concern for trans people.
By all accounts, Lorenzana has performed well in her job, and she has even won accolades from previous employers. As trans people know and must constantly remind others, it’s job performance, not appearance or gender expression, that matters in the workplace. We are discriminated against every day for our appearance, both on and off the job. But to be fired because of the way one looks is inexcusable and something that directly affects trans workers.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but if it is determined that Lorenzana was fired from a major corporation because of her appearance, we should all be concerned, because no one is protected.
(Photo: Village Voice cover — photo by Carrie Schechter)