To be a freelance translator (or not to be)

I am a freelance translator, meaning I translate stuff for clients respectful of my skills and experience while drinking coffee and watching Youtube from my home computer wearing only my panties, right? RIGHT?

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how2bto2bcalm2bdown2ba2btranslator

I am a freelance translator, meaning I translate stuff for clients respectful of my skills and experience while drinking coffee and watching Youtube from my home computer wearing only my panties, right? RIGHT?

FUCK NO!

Well, while some of it is true (I do work in my panties sometimes and watch Youtube instead of working), it’s not the joyful and peaceful ride everyone tend to think it is (that is, everyone who’s never worked from home). Matt Inman made a comic a few years back describing pretty accurately the pros and con of working from home (and it’s funny too, so you should check it). But I want to focus on one particular bad side of that kind of work: stress. Not the good stress that increases adrenaline levels and makes you more focus and causes the work high of workaholic people. I’m talking about the one that, if you build it to unreasonable levels, leads to anxiety and depression.

It’s a lot due to the social side of the work. In the translation business, work is mostly done via Internet, so I never meet my clients. They contact me by email to offer me a job, and we negotiate the rate and deadline until we agree on the terms and I do the job for them. I can also contact them out of the blue to whine about not having jobs, but ultimately, they are the ones offering. But that’s the thing, even if I work a lot for some clients, if they don’t have anything to offer at a certain time, I won’t get paid and they won’t give a single crap whether I manage to find some other gig. That’s a huge source of stress. And worst of all, I worry about that even when I’m overloaded. I can’t help but think that it could end right after the project I’m currently working on.

And it’s cumulative with the fact that sometimes, I go on vacation, so it’s a week here and there when I don’t get paid. I could also get sick, which would reduce my productivity and therefore my income depending on how sick I am. The other day, I went to my  part-time job (which I do because if I were only to do translation, I would never go out and never see the sun have a social life in a city where it’s already so hard to make contacts), and I got upset by something that normally wouldn’t trigger me, but I realized that I had built so much anxiety in the previous weeks that just a small thing could make me breakdown.

And there is something about translation that nobody usually know. It’s supposed to be a very interesting job, but really, it’s a crappy industry, and it’s not getting any better. It’s a disrespectful industry, where the translator’s skills and experience are not valued as they should. It’s like a food chain, and the translator is at the bottom of it. They get fucked from every direction, and they can’t do anything about it, because they have literally no mean of leverage against the companies they work for.

To understand that, we shall see it from the perspective of the translation company. Those companies never hire translators, because it’s not financially rewarding. It’s more interesting for them to give projects to freelancers. It’s cheaper, and they can go for different project types or language pairs without being specialized in it. So they hire project managers, who contact clients and then find a freelance translator who can do the job. So the translator can start negotiating, but ultimately, it’s the company that decides the price (you can accept it or refuse the job) because, like in any industry, there is a huge competition (obviously, the price also depends on the type of content, and the language pair, so it’s interesting for the translator to specialize).

So, now, how do companies assess the skills of the translators. Well, they follow strict regulation to meet the ISO 17100:2015 standard… just kidding! (1) Well they say they meet the standards, and their client are not gonna check that, because it’s way too complex. But, for example, standards specify that one can only translate to their mother tongue. I have translated to English for some companies, so I know that’s bullshit (2). Another one says that editors should preferably be experienced translators and specialized in the project content; well, nobody likes editing, so the experienced people refuse it, and it falls in the hand of the rookies. Again, I know that because those were almost the only jobs I was getting when I started. And how do they know if the translators are skilled enough?

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Now, let’s talk about Internet. It’s a progress that has awesome and horrible consequences in translation. It’s great because it makes things so much easier; you can contact clients rapidly, get work, annoy and/or block people, and you don’t have to actually meet anyone. But the flip side is that just anybody can now say they are translators and nobody can tell if they’re bullshitting. And there are a lot of bullshitters.  Actually, it’s pretty easy to know if someone is a crappy translator: they usually don’t have a proper registration (meaning they work illegally), but the translation companies don’t check that, and it’s not because they can’t, it’s because by hiring illegal workers (or, if you prefer, by looking the other way…), they drive the prices down (3).

The current situation is so bad that in France, some people in the translator’s union wish to implement licensing for freelancers and standard prices. For the record, I am totally against that. I don’t really want to develop on that because it’s not the topic (and it’s pointless anyway since it’s an international business), but the point is that the companies should be more respectful of their freelance collaborators.

There is a problem that makes me look at other line of work: there is virtually no career path. You can’t progress because there is no hierarchy (4). The only thing you can do is train yourself to get another specialization, and you’re always behind the trend because you can only react to the change in your specialization topic. Seriously, would you do a work if you knew it would not change at all in your entire life?

And then, there is technological advancement. The killer of many industries. It’s not gonna kill human translation. At least not in the next decade. And right now it’s actually helping in many areas. One thing happened with Internet was that it made industries work faster, which resulted in higher loads of production, and therefore documentation, that need to be translated. So a good thing about technology, is that it takes care of all the boring, repetitive stuff, so you only have to focus on the more important parts. Well, almost. A new thing that came out is called Post-Editing. Basically, it’s an editing job, but you correct a translation made by a machine. Exactly, like Google Translate. It’s paid a little better than usual editing, but it’s way under translation rate, although you often have to rewrite everything because, well, you know why. Once, I’ve got a company that asked me to do a “fast” post-editing: meaning I didn’t have to write well, I just had to make it “understandable”. I drew the line there. You don’t get to ask me to write like shit so you can barely pay me.

So there, this job is a stressful hellfest, because it’s hard to be respected, and I tend to always work with the same people since we develop an understanding and it makes it easier to work together, and they supply me with a consistent load of work. But I can’t help but worry about my future in this industry, and sometimes, I break.

 

(1) There are other standards for various specialties, that tend to be respected, especially in legal or medical industries, because a translator error can lead to terrible outcome (let’s say some people can die in clinical trials due to a bad translation).

(2) It’s a sound rule, but one can translate in a different language, especially in technical translation where it’s very codified. It’s more complicated in literary works where style is very personal.

(3) Illegal worker don’t pay tax, so they can accept lower income. Even the most respectful companies I work with never asked me about my registration number (but I put it on every invoice).

(4) You can get hired as a project manager or expand your business to make it a normal company. But then you’re not a freelancer anymore, and you have to go by company rules, so you don’t enjoy said advantages of being a freelancer anymore.

*Comics illustrations are from Mox’s blog. It’s hilarious, go check it out

 

Would I live as a foreigner for the rest of my life?

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

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I am gonna talk about transition again, yay! Bear with me for a moment.

I had to ask that question to myself at least once in my life. And by “as a foreigner”, what I mean is “in the eye of the people of the country you live in”. It can take many shapes. In some country, intolerance toward a specific group makes it difficult to live there, even if you’re born there and speak the language natively. Descendants of Algerians people in France often mention that they feel like foreigners, even though Algeria was a French region for decades and countless Algerians moved to France around the independence. And I’m sure the same thing happens to many people in a lot of countries.

In some other country, it’s the lack of foreign people until recently that makes it difficult to live there as a citizen. Meaning that it doesn’t matter how long you stay there, people will always see you as a curiosity. That’s the case in Korea, where I lived. Wherever you go, people will always assume you’re new and you can’t speak Korean. I have friends who have been living there for over 20 years, and Koreans are still spooked when they hear them speak Korean fluently. I was always receiving comments like “Ho you really speak Korean well”, and sometimes they even dared saying it in English, like if ordering a beer was the only thing I could say in Korean.

I am not criticizing that, I completely understand the reasons. If you where from a country that was considered insignificant by most of the world for a long time, that would be normal to not understand why people would be suddenly interested in living there (even though you became the 11th economic power in the world and provide half the world population with pocket phones). But the point I want to make is: would it be alright for you to live in a country, if it means you would be considered a foreigner probably for the rest of your life? There is no right answer; it’s totally acceptable for many people and for countless reasons. The people born from Algerian parents that I mentioned at the beginning consider themselves French (and they are), and see no reason why they would live somewhere else (and many say that when they visit their families in Algeria, people say they’re too French. They’re loosing on both sides). There are a lots of perks living in Korea, that can overshadow the small inconvenient of being seen as a foreigner. Or you can be married in said country and it’s simpler to live there than moving your family away.

Personally, I live in Canada, more precisely in Vancouver (BC), and since I arrived, I never felt that I couldn’t belong. People just don’t give a crap if you’re a foreigner. I get asked occasionally where I’m from, because I have a strong accent, but there are so many people from various origins that it just doesn’t make sense to ask it to every one all the time. And I like that way better than the other solution. And that’s how I could answer another question that’s so weirdly similar.

One of my biggest fear when I started transition was: will I pass? (See, I told you it was about transition) Most trans know it. It’s one of the biggest concern when deciding to transition, since it’s strongly related to discrimination. In the latest poll, it ranks second, before “what’s my actual sexual orientation?” and after “Am I gonna get killed for being trans?” (1). And I say the questions are similar because, to me, when people look at me weirdly, it feels like I am a foreigner. Some trans person don’t care. They know people look at them, but they don’t give a crap, and for other people, especially when you don’t like the attention, this self-consciousness is very crippling. I never wear obviously feminine clothes or heavy make-up for that reason (also because I don’t want to spend half an hour more to prepare in the morning).

So, when I realized I could correlate both questions, it became easy to answer. Since I didn’t want to live as a foreigner in Korea, which is one of the reasons I didn’t try to stay longer, I realized that yes, I need to pass as a woman. I can probably bear to be seen as transgender for some time, but at some point, I want people to see me as who I am and not at “who I’m trying to be”, if that makes any sense (it does to me and that’s what matters), and I’m ready to go to very long lengths (depending on my resources) because there is no way that I am going back.

 

(1) Poll realized with a non-representative sample of 1 pseudo-randomly self-selected transgender woman trying to be funny.

How to change how things are done (GRS)

How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often.

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How to change how things are done, which can be also resumed as fighting inertia, is quite a general topic, but we’re going to focus on gender transition treatment, and more particularly surgery for transgender women (i.e. gender reassignment surgery a.k.a. vaginoplasty). So here I am, talking about transition after saying in my first post that I wouldn’t do it so often. But this one will be rather long, and I don’t want to be banned from twitter for spamming. So here we go.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this article in Wired that talks about a “new” vaginoplasty technique that is better than the current one. It says a bit what it does, who does it and… that’s it. The problem, I find, is that it cruelly lacks sources, because, let’s see:

  1. They say it’s Dr Ting who performs it, and he is director of surgery at Mount Sinai (NYC). Ok, this one is easy, here is Dr Jess Ting, although they only say he does hand surgery and plastic and reconstruction surgery. Well, reconstruction surgery matches with vaginoplasty, so I guess we nailed that one. But is he the only one in the USA?
  2. a paper describing the work of some doctors in India who were building vaginas a bit differently.” So apparently, there is somewhere a paper that describes a technique used in India (only?) that’s better than what is generally used now. Nice, can you tell us more about the paper? Not the paper itself, I’m sure it’s under strict copyright, but the authors, the publication? A DOI maybe? Well, no, apparently, it’s not interesting enough to have more information for people who might be interested in such topic, like, other transgender women.
  3. They were performing surgeries on women with a rare disorder that causes the organ to develop abnormally or not at all.” This one is just lazy. Seriously, not even the name of the disease?

So in the end, we literally can’t find actual useful information about this without putting extra effort. This article smells purely like a hidden advertisement for the Mount Sinai so they don’t get competition. They don’t even talk about it on their website, like it’s a Research and Development project and they don’t want anyone else to do what they do. This is obviously not in the interest of transgender women who want to access what’s best for them without having to travel thousands of kilometers away or pay more than they should (which is zero or close to that figure in many countries). It’s always better to find a solution in your local area, or at least in your country, especially when your country has a relevant health care system that will cover it.

Enough said about this badly sourced article, now how do we get to have this kind of procedure?

First, we need to know what we’re talking about. This is why yours truly went above and beyond to find that information. So I started by contacting the Mount Sinai hospital about this matter and never got an answer. So either they’re too busy to answer a transgender woman they claim they want to help, or they just didn’t want to answer. Either way, they weren’t helpful at all, so I moved on to my second step: finding about the procedure.

The good thing, despite the lack of information in the article, is that they felt compelled to give out a minimum of technical information so they actually look like they know what they’re talking about. “They found a way to do that with tissue from the peritoneum, which is basically a bag of loose tissue that encircles the inside of your abdomen and holds your guts in place.” The fact that they actually name the organ they use (the peritoneum) helped a lot, because, after research, I managed to find more information about the procedure (which is called “Davydov’s colpopoeisis”). I won’t explain it in much detail, but if you’re curious, The Beverly Hills Center for Laparoscopic Urogynecology explains it very well, with pictures. And you learn about the condition of the women born without a functional vagina (Mayer-Rokitansky-Kuster-Hauser, MRKH), since that’s what the surgery was designed for in the first place. That also means that the Mount Sinai isn’t the only place to get that surgery.

If you want more detailed information about the procedure, there is an article (Ward et al., 1998(1)) for that. And you read right. It has been written in 1998, so obviously, this technique has been around for some time, and not only in India (I didn’t find the Indian article, though, which makes me wonder how this woman found it in the first place and not the article from Ward et al.).

Then, they are talking about the outcomes of the surgery: “while the new procedure is showing superior results so far, it will be important to monitor to see how it holds up long term“. They’re right, we need to know how the surgery holds up in the long run. Or do we? It turns out, there is already an article detailing that (Zhou et al., 2010(2)). And it’s neither in the USA or in India. Now it’s in China. Looks like this procedure is done all over the place after all. And don’t get me wrong. We definitely need more study, especially regarding transgender women. But the article is seriously misleading, and honestly the procedure is exactly the same for trans and cis women since it only involves body organs that are shared in both male and female bodies. And they can start from there.

Now the big question: how do we get to have more surgeons performing this surgery for transgender women. As I said in introduction, changing things is about fighting inertia, and the strongest inertia is, the more energy we need. In this case we need an insane amount of energy, first to be heard, then to be listened to, and that’s where we need to do something together. I can go only as far as people are listening to me, and I don’t have a big notoriety or charisma that helps the subject to be brought forward. I tried to talk to my doctor, but she said it wasn’t her place to tell surgeons what they have to do, which is sound. I told the PHSA (health care system in Canada) in my local branch, in Vancouver; the person I have in contact said it was very interesting, and basically told me that they are currently training surgeons to provide surgery services in British Colombia, so we don’t have to go to Québec, but I don’t know what they are trained on.

Now I’m on a stand still. I really don’t know what to do since I have almost no useful contact in that regard. My only is that the information I salvaged gets to be shared the most widely possible.

So, please share, and talk about it to your practitioner, your health care representative, your pharmacist, your Shoppers clerk (who’s also your pharmacist), your mom, your dog, anyone who listen to you. Maybe together, we can do something about it.

 

(1) Current Obstetrics & Gynaecology (1998) 8, 224~226© 1998 Harcourt Brace & Co. Ltd

(2) Fertility and Sterility Vol. 94, No. 6, November 2010  Copyright© 2010 American Society for Reproductive Medicine, Published by Elsevier Inc.

We’re at it again, hey?

So, I’m creating a new blog, to share ideas, fictions, stuffs I usually want to talk about but I don’t know how to put it, so I don’t write it. But there is a reason why my twitter account is called “machine à idées” (idea-making machine). And it’s hard to have so many ideas and to feel completely hopeless when staring at the blank page. My twitter tagline used to say: “I have so many ideas, they cancel each other”, and that’s pretty much what’s happening.

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So, I’m creating a new blog, to share ideas, fictions, stuffs I usually want to talk about but I don’t know how to put it, so I don’t write it. But there is a reason why my twitter account is called “machine à idées” (idea-making machine). And it’s hard to have so many ideas and to feel completely hopeless when staring at the blank page. My twitter tagline used to say: “I have so many ideas, they cancel each other”, and that’s pretty much what’s happening.

So here is my new new attempt to start something and not bail after a while. Because I’ve done that many times before. Therefore I had an idea, something that people under 25 don’t know it was even possible: I’m paying to use a web service (I know, who does that?). So I get a domain name for 12 months and therefore I feel obligated to write stuffs. Because we all know that it will work, right?

Now, what kind of content is going to grace my blog from its presence? Well, to be honest, it’s to be decided in the future. I may even never choose to specify a theme, but I’ll use categories, so at least there will be something that looks like order. What I probably won’t talk about is my transition. Not because I have nothing to say, but mostly because what I usually have to say about my-attempt-to-impersonate-a-boy-for-35-years-before-I-realized-it-was-doomed-to-fail can fit in 140 characters. But if there is too long for twitter, I sure will make a blog post.

Finally, a small word about the title, “Coffee sans sucre”. Well, yes, I do drink my coffee black, but also, I’m a French person living in an English-speaking country, and I was, like, let’s use a title in French and English, because it has never been done before, right? Also, it’s almost the title of a short film I wrote and directed, but that I can’t show it here because one of the actor doesn’t want it to be public, although she plays really well and people tend to like the film despite its technical flaws. But I have to respect her wish, because, well, it’s the law.

So, stay tuned, I’ll be back in a few…