By Sarah Wood
As a freelancer, I don’t have to ask my boss when I want to take time off. I can choose my own work schedule and hours, and working from home is more comfortable than my previous office jobs. What I didn’t count on when I started my business was discovering my transgender and genderqueer identity while I built my career using my given name and pronouns assigned at birth.
Even though, in theory, I have more freedom to be who I am in my business than most people, it’s been three years and I still haven’t come out. While every freelancer in the LGBTQIA+ community is different, many of us still don’t feel safe or comfortable being the most authentic version of ourselves despite all the other benefits a career in the gig economy can offer.
At this point, my given name is not my dead name because I haven’t stopped using it. It’s very much alive in many of my circles, both online and in person. In my professional life, I’m still Sarah.
Coming out at work as a freelancer isn’t like coming out at the office. It’s coming out to every client individually, changing my website to reflect my name and pronouns, and deciding how visible I want my trans identity as a genderqueer person to be in my professional space.
As a freelancer, my professional space includes general online spaces, including Twitter and Facebook groups where I find my work. Because my friends and family exist in those spaces, it creates a source of anxiety when the last thing I want is to accidentally come out in a stray Facebook post and also risk losing work.
Even in the gig economy, coming out isn’t always safe. Freelancers make up about 39% of the US workforce, but the Civil Rights Act of 1964 doesn’t protect us the way it protects employees. It states protections for employees in the US from discrimination, but freelancers typically aren’t considered employees.
General protections for freelancers vary by state and by country. In the US, there are no equal pay or fair wage laws for freelancers, which makes it easier for clients to underpay marginalized contractors. It becomes the freelancer’s and the individual client’s responsibility to provide proactively add protective terms to their contracts.
Additionally, many trans freelancers face discrimination and harassment in groups where it’s common to look for work (and it’s why I’ve distanced myself from many of those spaces). If publications don’t allow them to use a name other than their legal one, some freelancers have been forced to publish their work under their deadname which invalidates their identity and opens them up to further discrimination. It becomes even more difficult for freelancers with multiple marginalizations—including BIPOC and disabled transgender freelancers.
The freedom we have as freelancers lets many of us work and communicate with clients in ways that are convenient for us. I communicate mainly through email, which means that because I have a traditionally feminine name as opposed to the more neutral-masculine one I use in my social circles, clients assume I’m female. And while email communication is convenient, it lends a less personal nature to work relationships and leaves more room for doubt and discomfort when it comes to changing my name and pronouns. Even when getting paid, I have to consider what might happen if a client sees that my chosen name and the name on my tax forms or direct deposit documents don’t match up. While I hope one day I am comfortable enough to share my identity in my work life, for now, it leads to potentially awkward questions that are not things I currently want to tackle with multiple clients.
Freelancing is the one job where I’ve felt comfortable in almost every way, but I feel even more anxious about coming out as trans in this career than I did as an employee. I can choose who I work with and how I work with them. I can choose how I market myself. But even now, I choose not to come out as transgender and genderqueer to my clients, freelancers in my network, and others who play a role in the growth of my business for fear that it will negatively impact my business. The bottom line is that, even with all this freedom and flexibility, not all of us feel safe showing every part of our identities in the context of business.
Sarah Wood (he/they) is a genderqueer freelance content writer based in New England. They write about sexual health and wellness and work to normalize talking about “taboo” topics, especially within the LGBTQ+ community. They also help LGBTQ+ business owners market their businesses with strategic website content.