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I'm planning to get back into actively job-searching in the somewhat-near future. I've thought of something that could potentially be a stumbling block, though; I'm a trans woman living in a not-too-big city in the Midwestern United States, and might potentially not want to immediately out myself to every prospective employer I interview with.

Is there any feasible way to avoid outing myself as trans to prospective employers when I'm applying/interviewing/etc (especially given that my deadname is typically-male-enough to potentially give a prospective employer accurate suspicions)? Or do I have to accept that going stealth in the workplace WRT one's higher-ups is simply not an option?

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    Is you gender relevant to the prospective role at all? Is there are reason you need to "out yourself"? Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 9:00
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    @GregoryCurrie I assume that when asking for references from previous employers where OP was known by their deadname, or having to do a background check where you need names previously known by, the prospective new employer will work out that OP is trans
    – R Davies
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 9:06
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    Are references required up-front or can you just put "references available on request" on the resume? That way, you don't need to explain that your reference would know you as X, until they are invested in you as a good candidate? Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 10:00
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    @RDavies or you tell the reference that your name changed! Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 17:12
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    I think the general field in which one is looking for a job matters here. Obviously, in a remote job, keeping anything secret is easier, so it does matter whether one is a field conducive to that. Some fields almost always ask for references - such as academia - and some very rarely ask. Obviously, the latter are easier, whereas in the former you want to find someone who will not reveal any unwanted personal information. Some jobs almost always require background checks, and some rarely do.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 19:16

6 Answers 6

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Being stealth in a workplace is unfortunately quite dependent on several key factors that are mostly beyond an individual's control. Whether you can be stealth in the workplace depends fully on whether the option makes itself available to you, and while there are steps you can take to make it more likely, there isn't much that can be done to purposefully guarantee it.

A background check may return past names, though this doesn't seem to bother employers much, since the purpose of background checks is to surface major red flags. "Has a past name, no longer used" is not really a red flag, and is in fact quite common. Many background check companies will surface past names used, but no professional background check company will surface "is transgender," because they would be playing with fire over legally-protected medical information. (It would be obscene, for example, for a background company to list the fabled F64.9 ICD diagnostic code on your report.)

So, aside from whether your hiring manager pays attention to past names on the background check... it also depends on whether your past employers and/or references know to identify you by your current name only. They may out you if they do not. You can politely inform them of the name change, but if you also don't want to be out to them, you may have issues facilitating a clean break. They may not understand the importance if they don't know the context, and they may not respect the importance even if they do. Even then, an honest mistake is possible. You will have to assess the character of your past professional references to determine your risk level.

So it is possible to do in the workplace if you get lucky, but only if. Unfortunately, while there are steps you can take, you actually don't have very much control over whether this is a possible option, since it depends entirely on assumptions other people will make about the information they receive. You can do your best on this front, but you should also be prepared with a backup plan if it does not work.

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This may not be the most politically correct advice, but here goes: Don't hide it but make it visible. You are what you are: that's great and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. If any employer has a problem with this, it's better to find out sooner than later.

I had the privilege (or luck) to work for employers where transgender individuals were highly valued and actively supported including before, during and after the transition process. Such companies actually do exist and they are good places to work (regardless of your gendered-ness).

My recommendation would be to not hide it in your resume but also not make a big deal of it either. And yes, you'll probably will lose a few opportunities because of this, and yes, that's discrimination and it's wrong. But do you really want to work for a company like this? It's better to keep looking for a more welcoming environment.

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    This answer is a good one, but there are two caveats. First, if you aren't able to afford to wait a longer period of time to find new work, then 'being visible' may represent untenable risk. Second, if you live in one of the places in the country where outing yourself at one workplace could risk material harm at another workplace, or at worst a direct personal safety risk, this may also not be an option. Outing oneself to strangers and 'being visible' produces safer outcomes when it works, but is always at least somewhat risky, and imo should not be given as unqualified advice.
    – Slate
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 16:53
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    Speaking as cis: I tend to agree with @slate. Unfortunately there are still places where and individuals whose minds shut down when presented with this concept, so I can certainly understand not wanting to raise the topic unless one must. Given plenty of time, I agree that finding a company and boss where it is Not An Issue is far preferable, but not everyone has that time. Again, I'm cis and straight, so my perceptions may be far off base, and I want Hilmar's answer to be the right one; I'm just nervous about it.
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 18:42
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    I'd recommend preparing a few answers to questions like "So are you a man or a woman?", "Why did you change your name?", etc. Then practicing them. If you have a friend or partner who can roleplay asking questions in a variety of tones spanning from judgemental and/or kind of aggressive; to an ally; to naive and not knowing how to ask the question tactfully.
    – Adam Porad
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 17:18
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    @AdamPorad: No half-way intelligent interview would EVER ask "So are you a man or a woman?". That screams discrimination. However they may ask "Do you need any specific accommodation".
    – Hilmar
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 0:30
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    Ideally, this would be my preferred course of action. Unfortunately, neither my personal finances nor the general jobs market are necessarily guaranteed to allow for me to wait until I find a company where being trans (and otherwise queer) is a nonissue.
    – Vikki
    Commented Mar 5, 2023 at 7:13
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You probably are going to have to "out yourself" to an employer at some point, but there is no need to do it immediately.

The issue of course is that previous employers and educational establishments know you by your "deadname". Unless you can go to all of them and convince them to always refer to you by your new name, someone at the place you apply to is going to find out about your previous name at some stage. But that doesn't have to be everybody and immediately.

I would not do this on your resume. Your resume goes to hundreds of people and is often copied all over the place. Don't put information in it that you don't want to be public. Prospective employers very rarely talk to previous employers or schools at the resume screening stage. So it's likely that nobody will do anything that reveals your previous name at this point.

The same is probably true of the interview stage. Interviewers rarely go and check previous history, and so what name you were known by won't come up. You may be unlucky, and one of your interviewers knows someone at a previous company who they talk to, who reveals that nobody named Jane Doe worked there but a John Doe did who matched the resume.

After the interview is when this will probably have to happen. You are going to have to reveal previous names for a background check or for following references. You probably want to avoid coming over as over secretive, but it is also reasonable to ask that the company only use previous names for the purpose of background check, and that they always refer to you by your preferred name. There's an argument for bringing the subject up at interview - both to make it clear you are not trying to hide your history, and also to test how the company is going to treat you. If they aren't happy about your identity then better to find it out at interview rather than after you join.

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    They don’t have to always refer to her with her female name, although it would be nice. What they have to do is if someone asks for a reference for Vikki Smith, realise that this is the person formerly known as Victor Smith and send a CV under the name of Vikki.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 17:24
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    I agree, that it's possible that this might happen. But unless Vikki has told the referring company that Victor is now Vikki, there's a pretty good chance the company will reply with "Nobody called Victor Doe has worked here". Especially if the relationship in the names isn't that obvious. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 17:55
  • @gnasher729: Unlikely - my preferred name bears no relation to my deadname.
    – Vikki
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 20:59
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    That means unless you take action, anyone asked for a reference will say "sorry, we never heard of this person". So you'd have to either inform everyone who you give as a reference the information that there are two names for the same person, and they should give a reference for the new name, or tell the company where you apply for a job which name to use when asking for a CV.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 21:58
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    Actually straight (or rather cis which is the opposite of trans) people often do have to "out" themselves in exactly this way. Anyone who got married and changed their name is going to have to reveal their previous name in exactly the same way. But in any case, all I'm doing is giving an answer reflecting the way the world currently is. I'm not saying it should be like that. Commented Aug 23, 2023 at 21:51
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Consider outing yourself to your past employers instead.

This is a long shot since I don't have a clue how things work in the US, but if this were to happen to me in one of the EU countries that I'm familiar with, I would consider making sure that my references use the new name.

One can already get things like university diplomas re-issued under the new name (as part of the legal transition procedure where you get a new passport etc.), so the only thing left to address are references. Personally, I have always contacted my former colleagues before I listed them as references, so that sounds like a natural point where to make them aware of the changes.

In cultures where references are less about having a chat with your former boss to see what he has to say about you and more about HR confirming that XY indeed worked at ABC Inc. for five years, I suppose that notifying a former employer of the name change and requesting them to amend their records accordingly should do the trick.

The advantage is that while this still outs you to a lot of people, those people are presumably ones you haven't seen for years and will never see again, which makes the situation somewhat less awkward.

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My best advice:

"Any relationship built on deception is doomed to fail"

Your business relationship is a relationship. One may be able to embellish the truth from time-to-time, but outright lying is never a good sign.

Being upfront about who you are may lead you to loose some job opportunities, but I would counter with: "The type of company who would not hire you for who you are, is probably not the type of company you wish to work for anyway".

For the record, I have long hair and a Beard and I'm a full-blown metalhead - and I've walked out of an interview because of a comment about my appearance telling them 'if that's an issue for you, then you aren't the sort of company I want to work for'.

Be yourself, be upfront and honest - that usually leads to the best long-term outcomes.

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    It isn't deception though. It's a private piece of information that the employer simply does not need to know. It's ultimately none of their business, and it's information that has a lot more potential downside than upside if shared. Yes, finding a company that doesn't take issue is best, but it's also a problem that shouldn't exist, because it should never get to if the company takes issue or not.
    – Darq
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 22:56
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    @Darq Yeah, it's a piece of medical history with exactly zero relevance to OP's suitability for the job they're interviewing for. Just like your next employer doesn't need to know you underwent cancer treatment five years ago (even though your previous employer remembers it all), they don't need to know you once used to have some different bits down there.
    – TooTea
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 10:00
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Given how SCOTUS ruled in Bostock and its interpretation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, you may be safe from negative employment actions , such as firing , demotion etc. so from this angle, I would not worry too much.

https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf

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    I doubt any court decision can protect from "not being hired", unless the employer is stupid enough to put their real reasons into writing.
    – nvoigt
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 18:41
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    It is very hard to get fired, demoted etc. if you don't get hired in the first place.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 11:25

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