There wasn’t yet language to describe how I felt when I was younger. My high school friends called me the “third gender,” and I always felt in-between labels. As I got older, I pushed it away and did all of the things I thought would lead me to happiness: pursuing a career, getting engaged, and keeping up with what everyone else was doing. I became burned out quickly and my relationships suffered. It never dawned on me that there was another option.
Before I started freelancing, I was in a field resistant to change. I just assumed I would have to present two versions of myself: the authentic self, Max, and the professional side that wouldn’t ruffle anyone’s feathers. Throughout my career, it became second nature to shelve core parts of myself.
In some ways, my corporate career and my gender identity took on a similar path. I got to the point where something had to give. While I made progress on building a supportive network, I felt the nagging feeling something was missing. For both, it was far easier to know what I wasn’t than what I was.
In 2018, I first started my freelancing journey, which caused me to look inward to see how I could best serve clients. In my personal life, I began to reconsider whether I identified as a woman. I knew of transgender people but, even just a few years ago, there weren’t many people in feminine bodies publicly transitioning. I didn’t know if it was possible or if it would make me happy.
I’m genderfluid, which means that my gender identity shifts between feeling masculine, feminine, or neutral. I started my website and LLC under my birth name Crystal. I began coming out as Max in my personal life but still clung to the idea that I couldn’t fully be myself as some people would consider it “unprofessional.” I had a foot in the world of employment and freelancing, and I knew I would have to make a decision.
But then, something happened that pushed me to live as my most authentic self. Many people remember the Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage but the decision in June of 2020 that made it illegal to fire someone based on their gender identity or sexuality made me cry real tears at my job. I finally felt seen and validated. Maybe there was room for people like me in the workplace.
There were a lot of hurdles and roadblocks at my place of employment, and while the law may have had my back, I didn’t feel supported by the structures in place both in and outside employment. There is still a lot of work to do to help transgender people feel like they belong.
I went back to freelancing to create my own supportive space. As a solopreneur, I get to decide who I work with, and respecting my identity is nonnegotiable. So far, most people I’ve come across in the entrepreneurial community in Kansas City have been supportive, respectful, and receptive to education. This is new territory for all of us, even me. It’s okay not to know and to ask.
For me, Pride Month is about acknowledging the history and struggles of the LGBTQ+ community, while celebrating getting to live as my authentic self. If you want to know about how you can be an ally to the LGBTQ+ people in your life, first and foremost, ask them what they need. I also tell folks not to make assumptions about how people want to be addressed based on how they present themselves. Be an advocate for their identity to be respected even when they’re not around. At events, be the first person to introduce yourself with your pronouns and include them in your email signatures. This takes the pressure off of the trans and nonbinary people who often feel bothered when they’re the only ones in a space to do that.
The Freelance Exchange of KC has joined the Mid-America LGBT Chamber as part of our outreach efforts to support the unique struggles of an LGBTQ+ freelancer. There are valid fears that potential clients may reject us due to our identity, and we don’t have the same recourse as employees. The isolation that solopreneurs and contractors may feel can be compounded when you are an LGBTQ+ person. There are also fewer business resources for the LGBTQ+ community, though this is starting to change. Joining the LGBT Chamber is one way our organization can give a voice to LGBTQ+ freelancers, while connecting them to the community and resources we need to thrive.