One thing everyone can say with confidence is that job hunting sucks.
As a recent grad in the visual design field, I can confirm that. When I was in college, all my professional work in the field came from unpaid internships. I was told it was necessary and that no ‘real job’ would hire me without that experience, but I couldn’t pay my San Francisco landlord in portfolio pieces or exposure. When I graduated in 2017, I struggled to find a job so much that I ended up couchsurfing until I found a part-time retail gig. I was fortunate enough to move my way up the ladder and soon found myself working with the company’s graphic design and marketing elements that I had prepared for in school. But I was growing and changing in ways beyond my job position.
Working at this job provided me the health insurance and financial stability I needed to begin my medical and legal gender transition. I had also only begun my social transition (coming out of the closet as a transgender man to my family and friends, living socially as a man, etc.) a year or so before getting this job. I was and am eternally grateful for the opportunities provided me to become my most authentic self. But, despite my gratitude, I knew this job couldn’t be forever and that to grow as a person and as a designer, I would need to move onward and upward in the creative world.
And so the hunt began. Living in a dense city like San Francisco, I assumed the opportunities would be abundant. Wasn’t this the promised land? But reality slowly began to set in when I remembered how difficult my previous search was, and recognized how truly painstaking this was going to be. I made an account on every job hunting site and applied for every possible design related opening. I gave myself a quota of applying to ten jobs a day until there weren’t any openings left in the Bay Area. Then I would wait a day or two, and start all over again. The rejections came pouring in, but for every 50 nopes I got one maybe. And then the dance would begin.
Most often, there would be a phone call or video chat before I got the ‘thank u next’ spiel. Sometimes I got up to five or six steps into the interview process before rejection hit. But one particular rejection stood out to me amongst the rest. I had just spent 24 hours pixel-perfecting a design exercise for a company only to be turned away 24 hours later. Seeking critique, I reached out and asked what I could have done better. I was informed that, although my design was great, they had reached out to previous employers listed on my portfolio only to hear that Seth has never worked for us. They thought I was lying about my professional experience when, in reality, I had just changed my name.
I was stuck. Do I reach out to all my previous employers and inform them that I legally transitioned from female to male? Do I tell my potential future bosses my dead name, sharing the truth that I’m transgender, and bank on the fact that they legally can’t discriminate? Even if I got the job, they would know the truth and I would lose the comfort and opportunity of being stealth in the workplace. No matter what I would be making myself extremely vulnerable, sharing personal details that I wouldn’t otherwise, and for a position I might not even get.
Weighing the pros and cons, I scanned through all my listed work experience. Most of my previous jobs were based in the Bay Area, so I hoped for open-mindedness even if it would be awkward at worst. But that was just optimism -- what if this changed the way they would speak of me in a possible referral? Even if speaking honestly, they might out me anyway. And what if these jobs didn’t have liberal work environments and I couldn’t bet on tolerance in the first place?