In October of 2016, I attended a networking trip to Los Angeles with Scripps CP&R. I was excited for the trip, but full of anxiety about how to dress. I am a transgender man, I had to decide whether to dress comfortably in men’s clothes or dress safely in women’s clothes. Picking a first impression outfit becomes more difficult when I’m not sure how interviewers and potential employers will read me.
Everyone worries about what to wear to an interview, a company visit, or the first day of work. We worry what interviewers and employers will think of us, and whether our appearances will help or hurt us in our attempt to get a job. But some people have to worry more: women have to worry about the high and ever-changing standards placed on their appearances; People of color have to worry about the ways in which their natural skin or hair might be perceived as “unprofessional”; transgender people, too, have to worry about how they present themselves to potential employers, often with the stakes of their safety and their careers.
The decision of “should I dress masculinely or femininely?” also relies on my status as a pre-hormone therapy and pre-surgery transgender person. For any transgender person who isn’t always read as their true gender, deciding whether or not to attempt to “pass” is a constant question. When I get dressed for an interview, I have to decide whether I am going to try to be read as a man, and perhaps fail, or give up and dress in women’s clothes. Wearing men’s clothes means I feel more comfortable in my clothes, but my clothes might influence whether or not I get a job–I might be perceived as a transgender person or as a lesbian, and an employer could, knowingly or subconsciously, decide that someone else is “better-qualified” for the position because they perceive me as a member of the LGBT community.
Dressing in women’s clothes means I will feel uncomfortable in my clothes and definitely uncomfortable in the way I am perceived, but might have a better chance of getting the job or internship I’m trying to get. During the trip in October, after much anxiety, I chose to wear a blouse, a women’s blazer, and trousers, as well as a full face of makeup for the first day of company visits. Wearing these clothes felt outside my range of comfort: I would have much preferred to wear a men’s shirt and maybe a tie.
I was once talking to a transgender friend about how to dress for an interview, and he told me that it was the most important thing to be true to myself: however, I think that sometimes I have to just make the choice that will keep me safe and ensure that minimal drama arises in my life. Sometimes that means being uncomfortable, but, to me, that’s a necessary sacrifice.
If I learned one thing from the networking trip, it was that in the future I would do research on whether the companies I want to employ me are LGBT-friendly. I recommend, for other transgender job searchers, doing your research. Try calling or emailing human resources at your target companies if you can’t find the information online, or reaching out to any connections you might have at those companies. Once you know whether a company will support your identity, you can decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth it to pursue a job at that company.
Sometimes going undercover as your assigned gender might be worth it for a while; sometimes it might be a better option to not pursue positions at companies that don’t support transgender employees. It’s up to you, but having all the information is key and can definitely cut down on anxiety. Ultimately, it’s most important to remain safe, and only take the risks you’re comfortable taking–and make sure you have all the information first.
Further reading: “How to Manage a Job Search as a Transgender Candidate”