Non-Binary Day 2021 - Dev Advice
Hello everyone and happy International Non-Binary People’s Day! I’m Light, resident bigender prototyper (any pronouns), and today I wanted to take a little time to give some advice for those of you looking to get into games!
The games industry needs more people from diverse backgrounds and identities, but it can be difficult getting your foot in that door, especially if you don’t identify as a cisgendered man. On top of that, while there’s a lot of amazing advice out there that can help you get a job, sometimes us genderqueer folk have problems and concerns that don’t often get addressed in other places. So here’s some advice to help you get into the industry, specifically for transgender, non-binary, genderqueer, gender non-conforming, or otherwise underrepresented gender identities. (Though cisgendered folks are more than welcome to read on as maybe you’ll find something that helps you too.)
Before I get into the advice, I will put the disclaimer that while I’m non-binary myself I am keenly aware that my perspectives and experiences aren’t universal. I won’t pretend that anything I say here is a perfect truth that applies to all people and will help every person apply for any company. This article is just tidbits of wisdom that have helped me personally, as well as my answers to some questions I’ve been asked in the past. If you’ve had an experience different from my own or you’d like to add your own advice feel free to comment on our Facebook/Twitter!
1) Applying for jobs
Be prepared, do your research!
Pay attention to industry news and what other game devs are saying, there is plenty of information out there that will help you steer clear of toxic cultures and find inclusive ones. There are plenty of trans and non-binary game devs out there sharing their stories and perspectives on social media, including Twitter and Twitch. Find them and listen to them (even if you’re cisgendered). Don't suddenly flood their inbox with questions or do anything intrusive, remember that no matter how well intentioned you are to them you’re still just a stranger on the internet, but pay attention when they talk about their experiences. When someone has a negative experience someplace they usually talk about it, and when someone is loving where they work and is feeling like they can be accepted as themselves it usually shows. Pay attention to those trends, keep tabs on people and places that have red flags, and take note of people and places that seem more open and accepting. I personally take the ‘apply everywhere’ approach to the job hunt, but it’s always beneficial to know other people’s experiences at a company regardless of whether or not you choose to apply there.
My legal name is dead to me, what name do I put on my resume/application?
There’s two answers here, based on what fits your circumstances best.
The ideal answer: Get your deadname legally changed to your real one. There's a lot of hoops to jump through, which is a hassle, but honestly it's worth it to just change your legal name if you can. Not only does it make choosing what name to put easier, but it'll also do wonders for your mental health. It did for me at least. There are horror stories out there of people who had problems with the process, but I know more people who had no difficulties than people who struggled. Mine was way more painless than I was expecting it to be.
The alternative answer: If for some reason you can't get the legal name change, list both. "Real Name (Legal Name)" or "Legal (Real) Name" are both commonly accepted formats to denote "here's what you should call me, but also here's what you need in order to do all the legal stuff." And this works even if it’s not a deadname, but rather just a nickname you prefer. If despite listing your name like this you still get deadnamed in an interview, gently correct them. It sucks to get deadnamed, but it probably wasn’t intentional and if you ask to be called by a different name your interviewer will almost certainly accommodate. (There’s advice further down for what to do if they don’t accommodate.)
2) Interview Advice!
"Be Yourself" is good life advice in general, but sometimes that can be a lot harder and more complicated than it sounds, especially for transgender and non-binary folks. It's a terrible truth that there are bigots in the world. There are people out there who won't accept you for who you are and unfortunately the games industry isn’t a magical exception. It's no secret that unless you pass as a cisgender man there will be times you're at a disadvantage. So what should you do?
Don't fake it, be yourself! Don't try to pass as a gender conforming cisman if that's not who you are (if you're a transman whose "Be Yourself" is to pass as a cisman, then obviously keep living your truth). It's stressful preparing for an interview while worrying about whether or not the way you present is going to impact the job. It may be tempting to ‘tone yourself down’ if you think it’ll somehow improve your chances. Being bigender and assigned male at birth, I know I’m capable of passing as more masc than I feel, so before every interview I’ve had to wonder if showing up in a skirt with my hair and nails and makeup all done up was going to hurt me. Don't do that to yourself. If “being yourself” costs you the job, trust me, that's not a job you wanted. And frankly, trying to force yourself to be someone you’re not for the interview is more likely to mess up your interview than just relaxing and being confident in who you are and what you know.
As a quick additional note, be yourself, but also be the professional, best version of yourself. You still have to dress for the job (which fortunately in the game industry is usually still fairly chill and casual). Let’s be honest, if I could get away with showing up to a job interview as a gremlin in pajamas I would, but alas it doesn’t usually work that way.
Share your pronouns!
Don't be shy about your pronouns, especially if you're someone who is likely to get misgendered. It probably won’t actually come up - your interviewer will probably be calling you “you” or by name, not by any pronouns - but if you’re worried about being misgendered take the initiative. Now there’s a lot of discourse out there about the pros and cons of normalizing including pronouns as part of an introduction that is beyond the scope of this article (normalizing it helps prevent misgendering but can be used to ‘out’ people), but for the purposes of introducing yourself in an interview there’s nothing wrong with being clear about your pronouns. A lot of interviewers won’t ask for them even if they want to because of equal opportunity laws (asking about gender, sexuality, age, religion, ethnicity, marital status, etc. is typically a legal no-no). Asking for your pronouns is more of a grey area than equal opportunity laws are meant to cover, but the point is that if someone misgenders you and you haven’t shared your pronouns there’s a good chance it was an honest mistake. So don’t be afraid to introduce yourself with your pronouns, and don’t let it get to you if you have to gently correct someone.
Remember interviews go both ways!
Even if the person interviewing you was really impressed and offers you the job, if you go into an interview and leave feeling uncomfortable, you can always turn down an offer. Part of the interview's purpose is culture fit, and in that regard interviews go both ways. If the company likes you, but you decide you don't like the company, that's fine! So look for red flags during your interview. If you do get deadnamed or misgendered after correcting someone, that could be a red flag. If you’re interviewed by several people and by the last interview you’ve noticed that everyone you’ve talked to has appeared to be a cisman, consider asking a question or two about the studio’s diversity, especially in regards to leadership positions. Ideally you go through the interview process and you love them as much as they love you, but if there are any red flags you’ve got to decide where to draw the line. Your mental health and wellbeing should factor into your decision as much as any position or salary.
3) In the Industry!
Congrats, you’ve made it! Now what?
Honestly, I’m still pretty new in the industry myself, so my advice here is pretty limited, but remember that diversity makes us stronger. Your unique perspectives are important, and no matter what your role or position, your voice matters. Let it be heard! And outside of your studio, remember how it felt back at step one when you were trying to find the experiences of diverse game devs to help you get your foot in the door. If you’re comfortable enough and extraverted enough to share your perspectives and experiences, do so! Pay it forward where you can!