Friday, February 24, 2017

Putting My Cards On The Table

There have been a few interesting developments since my last blog post.

It's been a little while since I've written in here, so to recap:  I turned down a job offer doing desktop support for a knife company in favor of going to a blackjack dealing class at a local casino with the intention of getting a job there doing that.  I had a few reasons for my decision, but ultimately it came down to the fact that I didn't want to make a bunch of compromises over who I am in order to take a job that would just be a watered down version of what I left behind.

A few days after I wrote that post, I discovered two things that made me question the decision.  Like, a lot. The first one happened a few days after I turned the I.T. job down - the teacher of the blackjack class (who is really good at what he does) asked me to stick around after class to have a word with me.  We had done 1:1 reviews with the teacher that day and so I didn't think anything of it, assuming that he noticed a mechanical flaw in my shuffling that he wanted to help correct or something like that.

Selfie taken in between writing this blog post and shuffling shuffling shuffling

So, as one might imagine, I was crushed when he told me that he had been in contact with H.R. and that all signs pointed to the fact that my hair was against the "no extreme hairstyles" policy of the casino.  He had a suspicion that that might be the case but wanted to be sure, so he reached out to the powers that be to make sure and the verdict was that I would probably have to remove my dreadlocks if I wanted to get hired there.

I'm sure that the look on my face (and the tears that I tried and failed to hold back) said it all.  I had just written a blog post about staying true to my principles and turning down a job with a dress code, and it turned out that the casino has an even stricter one.  He was obviously sympathetic to my plight, but at the end of the day rules are rules and he wanted to make sure I understood them if I was going to go any further in the class.

That wasn't all.  As it turns out, I was mistaken about the casino's policy on pot.  If marijuana is detected on their drug test, that's a fail.  All of a sudden, I felt like a complete idiot for turning down a job offer in favor of taking a class that doesn't even guarantee work at the end of it.

I made an appointment with the H.R. representative who had originally sent me the invitation to blackjack class.  I went in knowing full well that they're not going to change any policies for someone who doesn't even work at the casino, but at the end of the day my solution to any problem has always been to communicate as much as I can, and so I wanted to plead my case on the hair thing.

When I left the HR meeting, this is what I saw.  I'd like to hope it's an omen of good things to come?

She listened to me, and I left the meeting feeling like my side of the story would at least be considered.  Part of my case (which is absolutely true) is that I'm a transwoman, and that chopping my hair off would almost certainly leave me looking like a man.  A lot of the policies were made a lot time ago, and I don't really think they were made with someone like me in mind.  Also working in my favor was the fact that she didn't notice my hairstyle when I originally came in to take the test - I had been wearing it tied back that day, and to her I looked like any other person.

I told her the truth:  I really think I have the potential and skillset to be extremely good at the job.  My strategy is basically to be one of the best students there to make it as tough as I can for them to reject me for an outdated policy.  I let her know that I'd be 100% willing to do anything to get me within policy short of chopping it off - tying it back, removing the beads, dying it all back to one color - and that I'd be willing to work with anyone that I need to work with if there's any questions that they might have about me.  I left the conversation with far more hope than I had the night before, and decided to keep moving forward with the class and to see what happens.

That was two weeks ago.  I hadn't written in here since then because, for a long time, it honestly hurt.  All I could think about is that maybe I've been wrong the whole time and that there really is no escaping the fact that I'm never going to find a place in the world where I'm judged solely on my merits.  It's really hard to go so long preaching about owning your decisions and being yourself while simultaneously being broke and unemployed.  It felt like I was being rejected by the world.

Thankfully, continuing to go to the class feels like it's been the correct choice.  With time and introspection, I've come to realize a few things that have helped me cope with the decision to stay.

The first thing I did was to take a long hard look at the things that I didn't think I was willing to give up, and I came to realize that I might have been looking at things all wrong.  When I look at my situation like "going against my principles for a job", it made me feel like a hypocrite.  But once I thought of it as "giving up a good job that I enjoy because my appearance is oh so important to me", I kind of stopped myself and reassessed my priorities.  Isn't that, like, really shallow?

This whole experience has had me thinking a lot about what makes me who I am.

And while I have strong feelings about drug tests - mainly that they're a legal excuse to discriminate against people - I actually think that this job might be worth it.  I like smoking marijuana, but it's not "stay unemployed instead of taking a job I think I'd like" good.  I mean, I first started smoking it back in 2003, so it's not like there's any magic or mystery behind what it does anymore.

So as of last week, I've quit smoking it.  At least, for the foreseeable future.  And while it's a little bit frustrating to not partake, given that I live in a state where it's legal in a home with roommates who grow it, it hasn't been the end of the world.  Much like I do with any other tough choice in my life, I'm looking at it as a quest - a test of willpower and a reassessment of my priorities.

The fact is, it's been more than a year since I left Boston and my life has completely changed since then.  I'm still young at heart and I think I'll always come off as a little bit eccentric, but more than ever I've been taking a long hard look at myself in the mirror and seeing someone who's almost 40 years old.  My priorities and point of view are never going to be the same as they were when I was living in Boston, and I think I'm finally starting to make peace with that.

At the time of this writing, I've completed four weeks of dealer school.  So far, it's been a lot more challenging than I originally thought it was going to be.  I've been playing table games on and off since I was legally old enough to do so, but I never really appreciated just how many things dealers have to keep track of.  Literally everything a blackjack dealer does or says has a reason behind it.

Goals for the near-future: get this cloak made + learn how to do that with cards

It's basically like being a combination of a bartender and a banker.

On one hand, ultimately the casino exists to provide entertainment to its guests, and so being able to deal with people (especially drunks) is a large part of the work.  My teacher has gone out of his way to prepare us for the fact that card dealers end up having a lot of abuse directed their way - as he says it, "when your job is to take people's money for a living, ultimately a lot of them are going to blame you for it".  That's fine. I have enough life experience to have developed a reasonably thick skin, and all I can do is try and focus on the people who have a good time and to take more pleasure (and tips) out of them than I do negativity from the haters.

That said, casinos are also financial institutions.  There is a lot of money on any given card table, and ultimately the number one responsibility of a card dealer is to protect it.  It's been drilled into our heads that, while we're working, we really aren't allowed to ever turn around or take our eyes off the center of the table.  After almost any transaction that involves handling money or chips, it's absolutely required that we turn our hands up to the sky to show the cameras watching that we're not palming money or doing anything shady.  It's not that they don't trust us - it's that they don't trust anybody.

At the end of it, to be successful as a dealer requires a few different skills.  You need to be able to do all the mechanical tasks (perfect riffle shuffling without exposing any cards, stacking and counting chips, dealing cards quickly) while doing lots of math in your head quickly and correctly, while interacting with people and making sure they have fun, all while keeping an eye on the table at all times to make sure nothing shady happens.  The tests that we need to be able to pass in order to qualify for the job are no joke - unlike regular school, I've been practicing and studying pretty much every night because I don't think there's any way in hell it's possible to pass them without putting a lot of effort into it.

To me, it's been a lot like practicing an instrument.  Four weeks ago I was pretty much terrible at everything (other than math) and the only way to get better has been to immerse myself in practicing.  But, much like with music, I can tangibly see myself improving as I keep at it, and feeling my skills improve has kept me motivated to keep at it.  That's the main reason that I'm willing to make compromises to try and do this for a living in a way that I wasn't willing to do it for an I.T. job - ultimately, the main reason I'm trying so hard is because I genuinely find it to be fun.

Part of the reason that I've been holding off on this blog post is that I'm not done with school yet, and there's still no guarantee that there's a job at the end of it.  I'm genuinely scared of putting all this work into it only to fail a test / not be offered a job.  If that happens I'll be right back at square one - in the same broke and unemployed situation that I was in when I started going to class.  There have been certain days of class where things just don't flow right, and I've spent those days at home in tears at the thought of putting so much into all of this and ultimately failing at it.

On a positive note, my teacher told me he recently heard about the military loosening their restrictions on dreadlocks, and that he was happy because he felt like it might set precedent for how the casino might look at me.  Even if things don't work out, it felt good to hear him say that because it shows me that he cares.

Whatever, though.  That fear is always going to be there, and rather than let myself be ruled by it I'd rather just put everything I got into pushing past it.  My teacher has prepared the class for the fact that the next two weeks of class are the hardest ones yet, which is scary but also kind of exciting.  I'm very much the type of person who likes to throw myself into things that I find interesting, and so I have confidence in my skills.

And so, with all that said, it's time to end this blog post and go back to practicing.  Wish me luck!

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