Vitae Transsexualis

Jackson Wright Shultz reflects on having a lavender vita.

February 14, 2015

When I was an undergraduate, a well-meaning professor told me that I should remove all references to LGBTQ activities, awards, and publications from my CV. She told me that including these references could potentially bar me from fair consideration for scholarships, graduate school admissions, and employment opportunities. I wasn’t shocked by the suggestion–I had heard it many times before – I was, however, surprised to hear this recommendation from a professor of women’s studies. I contemplated her advice for a moment, then told her, “If I remove all of the queer references from my CV, there will be nothing left.”

Her suggestion highlighted the precariousness of being a transgender scholar: my career would only be safe if I refocused my research on topics more palatable to perspective employers. Yet, my leadership positions had primarily been in LGBTQ organizations, most of the grants and scholarships that I had received were contingent upon my involvement in LGBTQ communities, and the vast majority of my publications were related to trans studies. A microcosm of gender studies, trans studies is a field that cisgender scholars largely avoid. By publishing within the field of trans studies, I automatically risk raising potential employers’ suspicions about my own gender identity, meaning that I could easily join the 47 percent of trans folks who report adverse hiring outcomes on the basis of their gender identity/expression.

For the next several months, I contemplated my professor’s suggestion. If I abandon my position with the Gay-Straight Alliance, it would free up enough time for me to join clubs that look better on my CV, I thought. I perused a campus directory of student organizations, but somehow putting “President of the Satanic Alliance” or “Treasurer of the Feminist Emancipation of The Uterus Society” (FETUS for short) on my CV didn’t seem any more agreeable. I briefly considered joining the College Republicans, but the effort involved in scraping the Obama bumper stickers off my car dissuaded me. When final exams arrived, my preoccupation with my CV was replaced by studying, and in the chaos of graduating and beginning a master’s program, I tucked my CV troubles away in a far corner of my mind where they resided untouched for several years.

Recently, I began applying to doctoral programs. As I updated my CV, I was reminded of my former professor’s suggestion. My CV had grown by several pages, but like that mysterious, fuzzy, once-vegetable growing in the back of the fridge, it only seemed to get queerer with age. Deciding I should at least attempt to follow my professor’s advice, I deleted all LGBTQ references from the document. I played with the font and margins for a while, but finally concluded that while admissions committees might not be impressed by my papers on the dialogical possibilities of sadomasochism, they would likewise not appreciate a tamer CV in size 56 font. I compromised by deleting several entries referring to conference presentations I gave on transmasculine sexual pleasure, but found there was little more I could sacrifice in my attempt to appeal to the sensibilities of graduate admissions committees. I am currently in the liminal space of awaiting admissions responses, and it remains to be seen how this decision will impact my applications.

As I approach my terminal degree, I have contemplated refocusing my research away from trans studies in order to make my CV more appealing to future hiring committees. The prospects of obtaining a tenure-track position are slim for anyone, and my controversial CV is not likely to aid me in this pursuit. Alas, even if I were to wipe all traces of LGBTQ study and involvement from my CV, like many trans folk, I still live and work in a state where I can be fired on the basis of my gender identity/expression. Since my acceptance within a given academic community could disappear upon discovery or disclosure of my transgender status, I have ultimately decided that my most viable option is to be forthcoming about my LGBTQ-related activities and publications, and hope for the best. My (perhaps naïve) hope is that any institution that hires me with the words “transgender” and “queer” plastered all over my CV will be less likely to fire me on the basis of my gender identity or expression. These may not be the words hiring committees want to see, but when all is said and done, they’re probably still less controversial than “FETUS Treasurer.”



Jackson Wright Shultz is an activist, educator and the author of Trans/Portraits: Voices From Transgender Communities. As the education director for the Trans Education, Activism, Community & Health (TEACH) Alliance, he has spoken throughout the country on contemporary issues in transgender communities. When not working with the TEACH Alliance, Shultz teaches composition and creative writing courses at New England College. He is an alumnus of Washington State University and Dartmouth College, and is a current doctoral student at New England College.


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