Not the Retiring Kind

 

Avenue H Station, Brighton Line. The rocking chairs are real and I will not be sitting in one.

Avenue H Station, Brighton Line. The rocking chairs are real, but I will not be sitting in one.

I put in my papers to take early retirement from New York City Transit. I’m embarrassed to write that sentence because I barely feel like an adult, much less one eligible to collect a pension. Six years ago, right before July 4th weekend, my boss called me into his office to tell me I was being involuntarily re-assigned. While he was talking I started thinking about retiring.

The demotion caught me by surprise. I had gotten myself into trouble with the President of NYCT; he was making unreasonable demands of my unit (Subway Schedules). I patiently explained why I disagreed with him. I was respectful and on-point. I did not defer to him, but I was not insubordinate. We took an immediate dislike to each other. My queerness did not help matters.

I thought I was safe because I was three levels down the management chain. Usually, Presidents only sack their direct reports, or one level below. They don’t go after technical/professional staff. This was personal. It was ugly. He wanted to make an example out of me. He put a bobble-head in a suit in my place. The guy knew nothing about trains, but knew how to say yes like he meant it.

In private industry I would have been fired. In Transit they send you to Siberia (Maspeth Electrical Shop) and change your regular days off and tour of duty to ensure that you are miserable. It was classified as a non-disciplinary personnel move without cause. I told my boss that if he sent me to Maspeth and needed me to answer a question I would have “no recollection” of anything, but I would support the department if I was  given a satisfactory assignment. He perked up and asked me what I wanted to do,

We were starting a project to change over our train and crew scheduling software from a home-brew 1983 Fortran/DOS based program to a state-of-the-art customized scheduling system. We were still in the design and contract phase. I told him I’d head that project up. I could still play with schedules, but under the radar. Last year we implemented the new system. I know it inside out.

I kept hoping that somehow I would redeem myself and get my old job back. I kept up my end of the bargain, but (no offense to Gracie) I stayed in the managerial doghouse. It was humiliating.

I went into a deep funk.  I blamed myself for the demotion. If I hadn’t been so stubborn, if I had paid more attention to the dynamics, if I had accepted the policy changes without questioning them, if I had tried to protect my job, then maybe I would have weathered it through.

I felt bitterly uncomfortable at work. My self-consciousness flared up. I withdrew from my colleagues and from political work. My butch armour started to crack. I felt vulnerable and fragile. I was cranky and prickly. I started to remember bits and pieces of my childhood; disjointed and random moments. Moments of being excluded and ostracized. Moments of abuse and of shutting down. I felt like I like I was going to either implode or explode.

I wrote about finally admitting that I was not a girl here, but until recently I didn’t connect the trauma of being demoted to the process of accepting being transgender. The shock and disruption allowed me to wake up and pay attention to who I am. I am still angry about the demotion, but I am glad to have tackled the issues that came up after it.

The good news is I get to cash-out my unused sick time, collect a pension I can live on, hold onto a 401K/457 to hedge against inflation, and I keep my health benefits. The same boss who told me I was being demoted is scrambling to get me an ethics waiver so I can consult on a per-diem basis (capped at 50 days per year). No one else understands the scheduling system the way that I do. If it comes through I’ll still be able to play with train schedules, but I’ll have time to do a whole lot more.

Note: The first thing on the agenda is for us to take a three week trip to southern Italy (archeological ruins, medieval hill towns, and beaches). The trip is being paid for with the sick time cash-out (the rest goes into my 401K/457, and some is put aside for “medical expenses”). I won’t be posting while I am away; it will probably be about a month until I post.

39 thoughts on “Not the Retiring Kind

  1. gok9go

    Jamie, sorry that this has happened, but I like the positive spin that you have taken. You deserve a nice long trip away. Enjoy that. And, glad that you put some money away for “medical expenses”–you will be happy to have that at some point. I and others will miss your postings!

    Travel safely-
    J

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks for your support, at some point I realized that I was not going to get over it until I got out of there.
      One of the benefits of Transit was getting 6 weeks of use it or lose it vacation. My initial plan was to get top surgery while still on the job (use up some of my sick time bank) but I was able to cash it out at 50% of it’s value. I’m looking forward to having some real time off to re-charge and to think about what I want to write about. Traveling in Italy as a gender ambiguous person will be interesting – will see how I am read.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks! It will probably be a semi-retirement but at least I won’t be getting up at 5AM every day and I will have the summer off. I haven’t had a summer off (without a job) since I was 14. The main reason I stuck it out with Transit was to collect the pension (and health benefits) – I like the rank and file employees, but the top level managers are a bunch of ambitious annoying idiots.

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  2. butchcountry67

    Sad to hear how you were treated, but try to keep positive about the situation, you get to retire and will now have time to pursue any hobbies or interests, your career path will probably open a few doors to other possibilities, and now you have time to travel, I so envy your trip to Italy, I have always wanted to go there, enjoy your travels, take lots of photo’s and please share them when you come back, I and many others shall miss your wonderful thought provoking blog posts , safe travels my friend 🙂

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I plan to recharge and keep writing when I get back without having to jam it into my so-called free time.
      Donna and I were in Italy in 1997 (pre-Euro) and she lived there for a year in-between Grad School and working. I’m curious to see how I am read there, and if I see much evidence of Italian masculine-of-center folk.

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  3. RonaFraser

    Wow!! Congrats!! Have a great trip!!!!
    I love this line: “knew how to say yes like he meant it.” Totally get it… and I can’t do that either. Actually, I’ve been known to say to my bosses “well I don’t like it, but I’ll do it” — usually something to do with an editing rule or something. I understand they are the boss and have the last say, but it doesn’t mean I will agree with them.
    PS. Fortran! Haven’t heard that referred to in ages! Even when I learned it (in ’86?) it didn’t seem very popular… Personally, I favoured Pascal. Good times…

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Initially I used “sycophant” but I hate sending everyone scurrying to their dictionaries. The word also captures his behavior.
      Transit is perpetually behind in technology. By the time they installed our legacy Fortran system, the world was already onto (PL-1, Pascal, C, etc.). What was amazing was that we used this rather cumbersome software until 2013. The problem was that management kept asking “how many people from your unit can we eliminate by changing software” and we kept saying none, but the software will pay for itself in more efficient crew scheduling for thousands of operating employees. Very shortsighted.
      I’m lucky that I got a job at Transit when I was 22, and I hung on to get that pension. If I had to do it on my own, I’d be working until I was 75.

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  4. David

    Thank you for sharing this very personal story. I know exactly the kind of bobblehead manager you refer to, having worked for a few. Us worker bees are very glad for managers like you, though it’s tough to watch them get punished for doing the right thing. I’m happy you found a victory out of it all, and I hope the trip to Italy is fantabulous.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      The trip to Italy should be fun and an opportunity to chill out. While I was going through my job issues, I had two friends (also in their late forties) who were laid off – one from a private school and one from a bank. They were unemployed for over two years, so I counted my blessings. I was humiliated but I was not forced to run through my savings and to search for another job; and I have a pension which is increasingly rare.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Office politics do indeed suck. I hope I never have to deal with anyone higher on the food chain ever again. I’m happy to do training, trouble-shooting, project planning, and data base maintenance and steer clear of meetings with so-called important people.
      I’m looking forward to sampling the gelato.

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  5. anexactinglife

    A transit scheduling job sounds like a dream come true – as far as job content goes. Too bad it comes with office politics. I’m sorry you got stuck in the middle, especially since you have such expertise and it appears your skills are valued when They are not too proud to show it. Are you considering writing a book in the future? I hope so.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is a really fun job, and I worked with an interesting group of (mostly) guys. I got caught up in a bad situation with a nasty bureaucrat who couldn’t tolerate being challenged, even when it was in his best interest to listen. In the long run I wasn’t hurt financially (I kept my pension and benefits), and I’m willing to trade time for money (I would have a larger pension if I stayed longer but eventually that stops making sense).
      I like writing the blog because I do well with short format – and (as a very organized anarchist) I like that it is free and available to anyone who searches for it. As a librarian you’d probably say that the same is true for books, but I like the idea of someone searching google and ending up on one of my posts. But thanks for thinking that I have a book in me!

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  6. txbridgefarmer

    Sorry you are finding yourself in this position with your career. The bright side is that you get to travel and do things you want to do with your time! Enjoy your trip!!

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It wasn’t the way I had intended to go out, but I ran out of patience. And, I ran the math on the pension/taxes/benefits and thought I can live on this as easily as I live on my salary. I have to worry a little about inflation and making it stretch until I collect Social Security, but I have a 401K/457 stash. It is a trade-off of time/money/stress, and I’m hoping that it is the right decision. As I wrote, I’m lucky that I was in the civil service, because in private industry I would have been on the unemployment line, and I kept my benefits.
      The trip is something we’ve been talking about for several years – we tend to take rougher/rustic vacations, and Italy is pretty soft and luxurious. I’m looking forward it to.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Spot on advice. At a certain point I realized that I was not going to be able to get over it until I left. There are a lot of people (not senior management) that I like there, but I want to keep my sense of humor and my brain cells intact, and I could see it being chipped away at daily. So, better to get out and live a little less expensively (post Italy) and not have to deal with the bureaucracy on a daily basis.

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  7. krisalex333

    Good luck! That door slamming shut has created turbulence that blew open many windows of opportunity. Enjoy the vacation and then use some of those many skills to make and keep you happy. All the best and peace.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. It will be interesting to travel in Italy and see how I am read there. On my last two trips, in Mexico and Guatemala, I was consistently binaried into male because of how I dress, because they do not have many visible genderqueer or trans-masculine people (although I did see a fair number of trans women).
      Mostly I hope to look at ruins, eat gelato, and walk on the beach.

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  8. The Little Butch That Could (TLBTC)

    Sounds like you have a great path ahead of you when you return from your trip. Have a fun and safe journey. Cheers!

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  9. Georgeann

    I know that this might sound corny, but in my family we always say that things happen for a reason. Not that it was fair, by any means, what happened to you at work, but clearly you will rise above the injustice and move on to greater adventures. I always feel like it is more telling how a person handles adversity rather than good fortune, and you will not let any setbacks make you a bitter person. I will miss your posts, but I look forward to at least one story about Italy when you get back! After what you have been through at work, a good vacation might help you maintain a sense of optimism about what you want to do going forward in life. Have a wonderful time, and best of luck!

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  10. micah

    Jamie – I just went through a slightly similar situation. Except I’m a tad too young to cash out on my pension 😉 actually I don’t think “pension” is a real word in my line of work. Not to mention I wouldn’t be able to stay in the US.

    While I don’t even consider myself spiritual, like someone said above I do think things happen for a reason, though that reason is usually only obvious in retrospect. It sounds like you made the right life choice in this murky situation. I’m happy for you and Donna to have some time off to enjoy and ponder life (though poor Gracie will miss you lots).

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Sorry that you got into trouble at work. I was never sure how much of my issue was personality conflict or that combined with some form of homo or queer-phobia. My unconventionality might have sent him over the edge- every one else cut me slack.
      Hopefully you’ll get another better job and get your revenge that way. Based on your diligence blogging, you will make some boss very happy assuming your work habits match. Best- Jamie

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  11. Lesboi

    Jamie, I hate the way you are having to leave your job that I know you love. I think you’ll find some interesting things to keep yourself busy in retirement and look forward to hearing about them. Enjoy that well deserved trip to Italy. It sounds like it’s going to be a very memorable one. And, congrats on your retirement…I’m a little jealous.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      It is hard to control a career in public service – it only takes one jerk to derail you. But I still count my blessings because I am very (by NYC standards) comfortable compared to many of my friends and I never had to face being butch and unemployed and the compromises that could have been required or expected.

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  12. timethief

    I’m so proud of you, Jamie Ray. Your high IQ and your resilience under attack are both remarkable. Despite the situation you were able to rise above it because the two combined and you created an open window when a door was being slammed shut. Gracie will miss you two while you are in Italy and so will we, but we will be wishing you and Donna the best holiday ever, while awaiting your return. Take pictures please – lots and lots of pictures to preserve memories of the good times for future viewing.

    Wishing you all the best always.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks. I always told my co-workers that getting a transit pension has a better payoff than the average winnings of a winning ticket of the NY State lottery. And it is guaranteed, for life, which is a good incentive to have a long healthy retirement.

      Right now Donna and I are resting in Tropea, Calabria – after having spent some time in Naples looking at the city and the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The Romans were amazing engineers and road builders and the countryside has lots of odd architectural ruins. And the food is really good.

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      1. David

        Only tangentially relevant, but our favorite Italian restaurant is run by a family from Tropea and serves meals in the style of their hometown. I hope you’re enjoying some excellent food.

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      2. Jamie Ray Post author

        We are eating very, very, well. Last night had fresh pasta with sweet red onion sauce and grated cheese (a Tropean specialty) and eating a wide variety of fish dishes. Great salads, but hard to get a cooked green vegetables. Pizza is amazing, but all the Italians order a whole one for each person and then leave 1/2. It is a bit confusing if you are used to cleaning your plate! It is hard to eat indifferent food here- whether rustic or fancy, it is all good.

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    1. Jamie Ray Post author

      Thanks – this award is going around like an odd but harmless virus. I’m going to skip answering the questions but please don’t take it personally. I have an aversion to this kind of thing.

      I really like your blog and the way you talk about your issues with binary vs. non-binary transitions.

      Sent from my iPhone

      >

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