This story is part of QnotesCarolinas’ special project “OUTlook: Finding Solutions for LGBTQ Labor and Workplace Equality." It is supported by the Solutions Journalism Network.
To learn more about solutions journalism, visit solutionsjournalism.org.
Without labor nothing prospers. Seemingly, it was so when Ancient Greek writer and philosopher Sophocles said it back in the day, and many would say it still rings true today.
What has been left out of that simple declaration, however, is what one earns from said labor, and how it influences the lives we live. Most certainly, Sophocles wasn’t thinking about how labor and identity can collide in their interdependent relationships to one another. Folks may not be in a position to earn as much as needed or desired, and there are times that many, no matter how hard they work, are still unable to live full lives or achieve certain goals because of lower earnings.
How we see ourselves and how others perceive us also dictates much of our lives. So much so that, it’s no wonder, identity plays such a huge factor in everything that matters most to us as human beings.
Our identities can impact where we live, how we live, and even how we receive justice. For the trans community, identity and the ability to affirm it, often hangs in the balance. There’s so much to be concerned about and so many psychological, social and financial hurdles – the idea of living as one’s self can be quite daunting.
For Izaac Bacik [He/They], a plant shop manager in Charlotte, the journey has been one buoyed by friendship, perseverance and hope.
Bacik’s journey of self-discovery began as a gradual realization that became more concrete around middle school. In reflecting upon a time that’s tough for most kids, he admits, “It was, but that’s when teachers started talking about puberty and gender and that’s when my wheels started turning. I realized that I was not, hearing about any experiences that aligned with how I felt.”
It wasn’t until high school at around the age of 16 that he came out. At that time, Bacik was comfortable labeling himself a gender queer lesbian because, “I thought that must be what I was. I hadn’t heard any other language to describe who I am. I changed my name to Izaac in high school. The majority of my teachers were on board and I wasn’t the only transgender student in my high school.”
Having the support of teachers and friends is a comfort and blessing many young trans kids aren’t afforded, a fact that Bacik not only appreciates and is aware of, but stands in awe of as well.
Bacik works as a manager for Twigs and Figs, a plant shop in the Ballentine area of Charlotte. He earns an annual salary of $40,000, the higher end of earnings for retail workers. However, it’s not enough to maintain daily living needs while saving enough for top surgery.
For Bacik, like many trans men, top surgery is an integral step in physically realizing his identity. Top surgery, clinically known as Masculinizing Chest Reconstruction is a gender affirming procedure that involves the removal of breasts and surgical reconstruction aimed at a more masculine appearance.
In North Carolina, after adding in all costs, consultations, anesthesia, surgery and after care, top surgery can range in price from $5,000 to $10,000.
Bacik is looking at a little over $12,000 – none of which is paid for by his health insurance.
“[That’s] because it’s considered cosmetic,” Bacik explains. “Despite the fact I’ve been diagnosed with Gender Dysphoria by a psychiatrist [and] I started testosterone at 21.”
What challenges do you face in the workplace?
For most trans individuals seeking gender affirming surgeries, a diagnosis of Gender Dysphoria is required before any doctor will consider approaching the possible life saving procedure. DukeHealth describes the condition on their website as, “A diagnosis that the American Psychiatric Association defines as a conflict between your physical or assigned gender and the gender with which you identify.” While that definition might sound a bit cringy, its recognition is often a necessary step to being able to live authentically.
Of all this dysphoric diagnosing Bacik has said, “I think it’s kinda silly because no matter who you are, cisgender or transgender, you do things to affirm your gender, [and] to live in your truth. Everyone experiences dysphoria to some degree. It’s not a sickness, it’s a human experience.”
Since Bacik’s job doesn’t provide the needed monetary influx to cover the cost of the gender-affirming surgery he seeks, (with the help of friends), Bacik decided to approach financial earnings in a method somewhat less conventional.
“In 2021 my friend Brook held an Instagram auction to raise money for my surgery and that’s when I first felt like having the procedure was really a possibility,” Bacik recalls. “I’d already had a consultation and been given a quote. I thought, that’s years down the road, considering the cost. But Brook raised three thousand towards my surgery, a fourth of the cost. It was amazing.”
The real kicker though was that Bacik and Brook only knew each other through Instagram, and Brook lives in Alaska. Ironically, the two were brought together by a love for planting seeds, promoting growth and nurturing life, exactly what Brook exhibited in her act of kindness by spearheading Bacik’s first fundraising efforts for the top surgery.
As you might imagine, Bacik remains overwhelmed by the gesture he can only describe as humbling and inspiring. It was an experience that moved Bacik to the point of stammering in an attempt to articulate it.
“It’s almost…I almost, don’t have words. It felt like a one in million chance, that we met (through our shared love of plants) and she’d do this for me.”
Thankfully for Bacik, this cherished labor of love didn’t stop there and he’s “almost at the finish line,” because, he continued, “over 200 people, most of them complete strangers, have helped me.”
After the cyber auction he took the three grand to his surgeon and thought he’d keep trying to save money from his job at the plant shop, a trying task that prompted him to feel like acquiring a date for surgery was going to take much longer than he anticipated. That was until another angel, one closer to home stepped up.
This time it was Bacik’s sister Meghan. She knew how much the surgery meant to her brother and felt as though the financially-based delay was unacceptable. She advised him to go ahead and schedule the operation.
For some reason, Meghan was confident the financial goals were attainable, while Bacik was not so easily convinced. “I asked, ‘What do you mean? Are you paying for this, because I’m just a plant shop worker.’”
Trusting in his sister, but still not knowing how it would all come together, he scheduled the procedure for September and before he knew it, Meghan’s plan was revealed.
Meghan (like her angelic predecessor) had taken to social media – waging a campaign to help her brother. She started with Tic Tok, posted reels and handed out flyers in bars, breweries and at LGBTQ Pride events. All of her materials contained QR codes that linked people to a GoFundMe page she created for Bacik. And yes, it worked.
Labeling the gofundme effort with the words “Help Izaac Raise His Top Surgery Funds,” Meghan was successful in utilizing crowd sourcing to assist in soliciting over $7,000 towards her beloved sibling’s surgery – only a few thousand dollars shy of the needed amount.
If only all trans people needing help could be so fortunate. To those who don’t have a Meghan or a Brook, Bacik offered a bit of insight,
“A reoccurring thought I’ve had almost every day since the beginning of my journey is what a beautiful world it would be if everyone had a sister like Meghan. So many transgender people don’t have an affirming community. There are thousands of transgender people who need help, help that can’t wait. Instead of addressing the people who don’t have Meghans, [I’d rather speak to] those who could be Meghans. I’d say [to them], if there’s a transgender person in your life, go to them and ask how you can be of help. If you don’t have money, you might know people who do. It may be safer for you to fundraise on behalf of a trans person because you have the privilege of being cisgender.”
Anxiously awaiting the day in September when he leaves a medical facility feeling whole and complete, we asked the plant shop guy who he imagined himself to be 25 years in the future.
Without hesitation, he described a future in a career he’s already started. “Izaac is still selling plants, and in his own store by then. The 50-year-old Izaac lives in a world where Roe v. Wade is codified and people no longer live with diagnoses of Gender Dysphoria. Fifty-year-old Izaac still has the community he knows, but other transgender folks do, too.”