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Rebecca Avery always felt different, even as a child. It wasn't until the age of 13 that she would even hear the word that explained why she felt out of place -- she was transgender. It would take another 14 years and a new job before she started her transition from male to female. Avery, 30, works as a graphic designer in Waukegan, Illinois. And even though she has worked in the publishing and design field for 10 years, only the past four have been under her current name and identity. Her transition has made finding work difficult. "For a while, I was trying to cut off all my past work from before my transition," Avery said. "Questions kept coming up, and there was just no escape from the past."
Illinois is one of only 13 states that have a policy protecting transgender people against hiring bias. The Illinois law, created in 2005, prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. "The laws help protect me from getting fired or thrown out of my apartment," she said, "but they do not help me obtain a career, medical insurance or housing." Interviewing for jobs wasn't an exceptionally positive experience when the topic of her transgender identity came up. "There's always a point in the interview where you could see the hamster fall off the wheel in their head," she said.
Jett Smith, who transitioned from female to male, said that he finds himself being inadvertently stealth on occasion. "To bring it up feels awkward and forced at times," he said.
Avery said she struggles with the issues of stealth on a daily basis. "At work, I'm out because I'm kind of forced to be. Everybody knows, even people who were hired after me."
Gender identity specialist Judy Van Maasdam says, "There's no rigid thing that says you have to be out and open about your gender status. That's all personal." Van Maasdam is the program coordinator for the Gender Dysphoria Program in Palo Alto, California. She has worked with transgender people for more than 30 years and says that everyone is different in how they wish to present themselves.