Trans/Non-Binary Philosophers on the Academic Job Market: A Resource Guide (2022)

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By Perry Zurn, Blake Hereth, Christina Friedlander,
Tamsin Kimoto, Amy Marvin, and Andrea Pitts

The following is a collection of advice from members of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on LGBTQ People in the Profession, the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy’s LGBTQ Advocacy Committee, and the Trans Philosophy Project. Questions were culled from email and social media outreach to trans and non-binary philosophers on the job market. Responses—which are not answers in any classical sense, but rather a collection of recommendations, reflections, reports on past experience, musings, and moments of thinking-with—were generated by members of said committees based on their experience either being a trans/non-binary jobseeker in professional philosophy or advising those who are.

While committee members’ advice is rich and multi-faceted, the bottom line in every response is this: it depends. It depends on the job, the department, and the school to which you are applying. It depends on your field(s), specializations, and competencies, and how you want to develop as a scholar-teacher. It depends on your values, your comforts, and your needs. It depends on other social positions you occupy, especially with respect to class, disability, and race or ethnicity. And it depends on your stage in the job market (are you fresh from your PhD, do you have another year or two on a postdoc or VAP, or are you already on the tenure track somewhere?). The goal of this document is to help you think things through as you develop your own style of jobseeking as trans/non-binary.

Ideally, a key part of that journey will be mentorship and community. As you develop a sense for the job market, and reflect on your own priorities and commitments, building networks of folks who can guide, accompany, challenge, support, and throw-down when necessary is wise. As a resource guide, this document is not meant to serve as a final pronouncement on any point, but rather as a springboard for conversations with yourself and people you trust.

A note of clarification before we begin. We take the terms “trans” and “non-binary” to be both expansive and contested. We understand them to refer to gender resisters and disruptors of many sorts, but we are also aware that they are recent terms, generated within a specific US context, and that many gender resisters and disruptors around the globe actively critique them. We use the terms as the most recognizable signal of the groups we aim to support in the contexts in which we work, but it is our hope that our reflections are helpful to similar folks who use other terms to describe themselves. 

NB: Many people also wanted advice on the alt-ac job market. They wondered: “What are my transferable skills as a trans/non-binary philosopher? What are the job markets, outside academia, where I would be a good fit? And how do I get there?” While we do not have trans/non-binary-specific advice for the alt-ac market, we think much of the below applies and, where it is insufficient, we recommend general resources on alt-ac markets such as the APA and Philosophers’ Cocoon, or (if you have the funds for it) The Professor is In.

Applications

Do I come out in my cover letter? What are the risks/rewards?

Some people do and some people don’t. In job-seeking, as in life, there are a myriad of ways to come out. Your CV may be covered with queer/trans entries. Your cover letter may name your positionality. Your CV, cover letter, or website may list your pronouns or include images of you as visibly genderqueer. You might come out in your teaching or diversity statement. You may be out on your social media platforms, or you may have them locked down. Or you might not be out in any of these places or by any of these means. Where and how much you come out is largely up to you, especially prior to meeting a search committee.

A trusted advisor once said to their non-binary PhD student, “There are three kinds of jobs: jobs where openness about your queerness will benefit your chances, jobs where it will neither benefit nor harm your chances, and jobs where it will harm your chances.” This variety often depends on the job’s geographical location (e.g., US/Canada or elsewhere), the type of school (SLAC, R1, public, religious), and the subject area (e.g., feminist philosophy/WGSS or not). You may be the sort of person who wants to be eliminated from the pool in advance, rather than be eliminated after showing up. Or you may just want to see how it feels when you get there. You may not want to work in a department that is not queer or trans-affirming, or you may be willing to for a year or so while you apply to other positions. Having some flexibility in your application materials—e.g., letters and writing samples that wave the trans/non-binary flag and those that do not—helps give you options.  

How do I know if my letter writers out me or not? How do I know if they use the correct pronouns for me?

Some advisors, thinking they would want to know or thinking their colleagues would want to know, have been known to out job-seeking advisees without their knowledge or consent (and sometimes in ways those advisees would not approve). If you feel comfortable, have an honest conversation with your letter writers indicating your preferences. (If you use both binary and non-binary pronouns, for example, you might ask your letter writers to use one or the other depending on whether you imagine sending the letter to more or less conservative schools.) If you don’t feel comfortable, it is not uncommon practice to send your letters (via Interfolio) to a willing placement director, trusted mentor, or trans person in the field and ask for a quick read. If your reader encounters issues, ask for a revised letter.

Do I edit my CV to “downplay” the queer/trans parts for certain jobs? Do I beef them up for others?

Downplaying and up-playing queer/trans scholarship, teaching, and service is an area of personal freedom. Some people with such scholarship, teaching, and service will choose not to tailor their CV because no job is worth downplaying queer/trans parts of themselves. Other people will choose not to tailor their CV because, for some evaluators, the raw number of publications and presentations is more important than what those publications and presentations are about. Still others will tailor their CV merely to shift emphasis in their work (i.e., not removing work but highlighting it differently), depending on the job call. And still others will tailor their CV (e.g., through removal or redescription) because it is more important for them to find a position than to find the ideal position. It is important to note that this question of emphasizing/de-emphasizing queer and trans philosophical work remains even after you get the job, as you navigate departmental personalities, college priorities, and professional landscapes, as well as reappointment, retention, and/or promotion processes. 

If you have no queer/trans scholarship, teaching, or service on your record but are looking for ways to indicate belonging to these communities, consider completing a “Safe Zone” certification, joining the Society for LGBTQ Philosophy, and/or volunteering for a local LGBTQ or trans organization.

How do I choose my writing sample or sample teaching materials? Again, do I downplay and/or beef up?

It is important to remember that different departments have different review practices. As such, you will not know at the time of submission which person or persons will review your materials and make recommendations. It is best to choose your writing sample based on its quality and proximity to the job call AOS/AOC, plain and simple. Given that, it is helpful to have more than one writing sample ready for rotation. In this case, that might also mean one in which you identify as trans, or use trans case studies, or tackle topics in trans philosophy and one in which you do not. The teaching materials, too, should be curated in relationship to the job call, the department’s philosophical culture, and your understanding of the college/university’s student body. Sometimes, including syllabi either focused on queer/trans philosophy or with modules in queer/trans philosophy will be just the ticket; other times, it will be risky. You may want to consider keeping a spreadsheet indicating which teaching evaluations to send to which jobs, again depending on job call requirements and values.

It is important to note that not submitting a writing sample or teaching materials in which you identify as trans, or use trans case studies, or tackle topics in trans philosophy—if you have them—is not immediately evidence of shame or cowardice, nor of mere strategy. And just because you are trans/non-binary does not mean it has to be a part of your philosophical or pedagogical work. We walk in multiple worlds, and job seeking candidates know this intimately.

Which jobs should I even apply to? How do I know if this place/school/department is liveable?

In general, it is good practice to apply to jobs in your AOS/AOC, as well as open and adjacent jobs, in places you believe you can live and flourish as your queer/trans/non-binary self. But assessment of liveability is a sticky thing, made even more difficult by candidates’ limited knowledge at the point of job application and transitory interactions with select faculty, graduate students, college personnel, and the local area at the point of on-campus interview. Some trans/non-binary candidates simply decide that there are certain states where they will not live—typically dependent upon lack of trans legal protections and healthcare coverage as well as reputation for anti-trans violence. Some trans/non-binary candidates will only consider jobs in cities, believing there is more overt queer and trans presence and community available there. Other candidates are open and trust they can find community anywhere. “Some places surprise me,” as one candidate said. And still others are drawn to small and rural areas where queer/trans resistance is vibrant, if well-pocketed. Remember that our communities are resilient and we are everywhere.

The whole process of assessing liveability is often complicated by other social positions, including race and ethnicity, disability, and class, as well as the location of queer and bio families. Transphobia may not be the deciding factor in assessments of liveability, and in fact liveability assessed in terms of transness may not align with liveability assessed in terms of race or disability. Furthermore, many candidates are negotiating this question of liveability with their partner(s), which complicates things still further. A good practice, if you have gotten to the on-campus stage, is to reach out to openly queer faculty in the department or university (and of course openly trans/non-binary faculty, if they exist), get confirmation of confidentiality, and then get their blunt read on things. With this information in hand, be really honest with yourself (and your people) about what you need, what you want, and what you can work with / negotiate.

What departments have strong LGBTQ+ representation and/or reputations for being supportive environments?

Representation within and reputation of departments both change with considerable regularity. As any trans/non-binary person knows, moreover, queer presence or awareness does not always translate into a trans/non-binary affirming place. Feel free to do your homework (e.g., look up folks’ CVs, ask to talk to out queer or trans/nb faculty, and ask around about the department), but also stay open and make the decision for yourself based on your experiences on the ground. 

Interviews

What do I wear?

As many a queer knows, clothes matter. What we wear and how we wear it often marks our difference—and signals our belonging. Clothes may be the reason we are harassed on the street or hailed in welcome. On the job market, our choices are scrutinized and often criticized. As such, many folks recommend taking a balanced approach:

“Dress as professionally as you can without breaking faith with your gender expression and other value-laden preferences.”

“Look like you want the job, but not radically different than what you do now. Meet in the middle.”

“It’s hard with stereotypes flying around, complicated by other stereotypes. I try to be more subdued. It seems to work.”

There are (locally informed and geographically disparate) gendered expectations of femme, masculine, and non-binary presenting people in the world in general and in philosophy in particular. Knowing those expectations can empower you to decide when and how to meet or fail them. Candidates out as “trans” may be expected to fit more mainstream binary gender presentations, while candidates out as “non-binary” (trans or not) may be expected to “queer it up” more. Those of us who choose to wear makeup recommend learning how to use it (and getting that muscle memory) before an on-campus interview. Those of us whose bodies run shorter or thinner—or, conversely taller or fatter—than clothes typically available to us really had to look for affordable, built-small—or built-big—clothing lines and/or find cheap tailoring options at the local dry cleaners. Many of us really appreciated getting input from people whose advice we trusted and/or whose gender presentation most closely fit the one we were going for. Throughout this whole process, we invite you (and ourselves) to think critically, in an ongoing way, about the gendered and racialized norms we are all negotiating. The necktie, for example, has a colonial history and some trans/non-binary POC candidates, in particular, choose not to wear one for that reason.

It is difficult to talk clothes without talking money—especially on a graduate student or adjunct salary. Do what you can on your budget to prepare for interviews and then let your philosophy (and your soulfulness) speak for itself. That’s where your strength lies.  

On Campus 

How do I choose my job talk? If I do some work on queer/trans things, do I highlight that? If I don’t do any work on queer/trans things, do I nevertheless highlight my link to the community?

As with any presentation, the job talk is better the more you are excited about and deeply embedded in the research. Let that spark be your guide in choosing what to present. Sometimes, hiring departments will expect you to talk about queer/trans things simply because you are an out queer/trans person—regardless of your current philosophical research program. In these cases, you may need to calmly educate the committee that, just as straight/cis people do not only write about cis/straight things, so queer/trans people contribute serious work to every subfield of philosophy. That said, if you do queer and trans philosophy work, it may be most welcome for jobs in feminist philosophy, critical race theory, and/or women and gender studies. But it can also be welcome, depending on the department, for jobs in other areas (e.g., bioethics, continental philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, and political philosophy).

Regardless of your job talk topic itself, demonstrating a breadth of interests and affinities—including interest in queer and trans philosophy and affinity with queer and trans communities—may be especially welcome in small liberal arts institutions, where faculty are expected to attract and work with a wide range of students. Overall, when choosing how you position yourself in your talk itself, it is also worth remembering that, for the graduate and undergraduate students in the room, your queer and trans/non-binary presence has the potential to be very meaningful. This is not simply a moment defined by an economy of scarcity; it can also be a gift.

How do I choose my teaching demo materials? How will students respond to my gender presentation? How do I handle my anxiety about that in advance?

Choose material you are excited to teach; if you are assigned a topic or even a text to teach, nevertheless find something in it/related to it that you can get excited about. Your teaching demo materials should make you feel confident and flexible, so that you can impact and adjust to who is in the room. And they should be developed in conversation with the job ad, the department and school culture, and the professor(s) whose class you are joining. Sometimes it will make sense to draw out a trans/non-binary example in a feminist philosophy course or mention the effects of trans marginalization in a political philosophy course or tackle gender identity in a metaphysics course. Sometimes it won’t. There’s no telling how students (or faculty for that matter) will respond to your gender presentation, but most tend to be seemingly indifferent, quietly uncomfortable, or openly supportive. If you choose to talk trans/non-binary things, have a plan for if/when a student or faculty member tries to make it an issue. You can downplay or neutralize their comment, or you can let (certain) sparks fly. Classrooms aren’t always safe spaces for professors (let alone students)—we can be, and often are, unwelcome in educational spaces—but we can be defiant as well as practical in the face of these biases. Making the classroom space safer for students sometimes begins by making it safer for yourself, by setting boundaries and expectations of mutual respect and recognition.

Should I wear a pronoun pin?

On the one hand, pronoun pins are a communication device that helps those around you use your correct pronouns. On the other hand, in most market settings, pins will be perceived as a political statement and may invite conflict. You may be fine making that statement and would prefer to employ the extra nudge to people around you. Or you may not want to enhance your already politicized existence as a trans/non-binary job candidate and would prefer to let the cards fall as they may. If you do wear one and encounter people in the department who seem dismissive, aggressive, or mocking about your pin, this tells you something about your potential work environment. If you don’t wear one, you will get a more naturalistic sense of whether and to what extent members of the department pay attention to pronouns and care to remember yours. Either way, you get important information.

How do I find local trans philosophers and trans academics?

Consider contacting the Trans Philosophy Project and attending the associated Thinking Trans // Trans Thinking conference to get to know trans/non-binary philosophers more generally. Also consider joining the following Facebook pages: Trans PhD Network, Trans and Intersex Philosophy, and the LGBTQ Philosophers’ Network. You can inquire there about folks in the geographical area of your new (or potentially new) position. And feel free to contact the hiring school’s Gender Studies department or program (if they have one) and the LGBT Resource Center (if they have one). You can ask to be put in touch with trans/non-binary instructors they know.

Where will I use the bathroom? Should I just hold it?

Let’s begin at the beginning. Do use the bathroom. That said, we know it is complicated. Departments should (as in ought, not will) have, as part of their welcome packets, an indication of the nearest single use and/or gender-inclusive bathrooms. If such information is not provided, you can either ask the search chair (depending on the search chair), ask the school’s LGBT Resource Center / Gender Studies department, or research bathroom locations yourself online. Sometimes this information is available virtually. Use of binary gendered, multi-stall restrooms during campus visits can be perfectly fine depending on your gender presentation and the school/department culture. Being an already overdetermined political subject, you will want to use your vibe detector. If someone makes you feel uncomfortable, or if you get the sense someone dislikes you qua queer/trans/non-binary person, trust that feeling. You’re probably right. But that still leaves your decision open. You can flexibly adjust to your surroundings (you have done that a million times before), but you can also assert your needs and resist imposed norms. The combination is up to you. Know yourself and know your inner resources at that moment and decide accordingly.

What should I do if the person introducing me and my talk mis-pronouns me in the introduction?

People on the search committee should already know your pronouns. Whoever is introducing you is likely, like most philosophers, a “fuzzy liberal” who doesn’t mind that you’re queer, and even thinks of themselves as pro-LGBTQ+, and is eager to avoid social embarrassment. For this reason, in most cases, they will use your correct pronouns, especially when reading a formal bio. That said, cisheteronormativity is real, as is cishet fragility. If and when you are publicly mispronouned during a job interview or an on-campus visit, you have a choice. You can choose not to correct the person (because you are tired, because it is hard to fit words in edgewise, because you’re too busy trying to prep your talk [or your next answer], etc.). Or you can choose to correct them. Doing so can be risky, because faculty may develop a sense that you will be “difficult” to have in the department. For example, one search committee member said they were reluctant to hire a non-binary candidate because said committee member got the candidate’s pronouns wrong during the interview. However, a friendly correction—e.g., “As a reminder, my pronouns are [BLANK]”—is minimally risky. Sometimes light-hearted humor can help dispel the otherwise obvious moment of discomfort. But that’s up to you. You don’t owe it to anyone to make them feel better about mispronouning you.

What should I do if, during a campus visit, I feel unsafe?

You are bound to feel anxious. Often, you will simply feel wary and hyper-visible. Sometimes you will feel uncomfortable. And other times you may feel legitimately threatened. These are all real possibilities. Navigating them has a lot to do with how you navigate the same feelings in other contexts. Remember that you can walk away from an interview. If it’s hard to survive two days (beyond the normal levels of discomfort to be expected of a high stress / high stakes experience like this), it is not going to get better when you take the job. And no job is worth being in a really hostile/alienating environment. When interviewing on campus and spending time in the local area, have an exit strategy and a good friend on speed-dial. If there’s a faculty member in the interviewing department you trust, or who seems trustworthy, tell them if you are made to feel uncomfortable and ask for their help with the situation. If there’s no one like that, contact a queer philosopher or ally you trust and get their advice. If your physical safety or mental health is at risk, or if the faculty are actively hostile towards you, leave for a safe(r) place ASAP. Consider filing a complaint with Human Resources and other relevant authorities. Trust yourself and your instincts—again, as you have so many times before.

Making the Decision

How do I make a decision when I have more than one offer? Or only one offer, but it seems unliveable? How do I weigh academic opportunity, personal needs, and queer/trans/nb community?

There is a lot to consider when making a decision to accept or reject an offer of academic employment. Salary, research funds, teaching load, benefit package, health insurance, housing options, and commuting options. And then just the “feel” of the department, the campus, and the location. It also depends on whether you have more guaranteed years in your current position or not. And it depends on your partner situation and what they may need. What does your gut say?

Many times, the decision is not obvious. In the face of that complexity and uncertainty, take care of yourself. Don’t accept a job where you feel forced to hide your gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation—at least not a permanent or long-term job. No job is worth the cost of your mental health, though sometimes it’s necessary to accept a postdoc or VAP placement where folks aren’t very accepting. Get what you need from those places, and then move on. Place and community are critical personal needs for all of us. If places are equally good for your social well-being, mental health, and physical safety, choose the job that’s the best fit for you, followed by other factors like salary and profile. Talk with fellow queer academics about your competing offers; get their input and benefit from their experience. Above all, remember this: you are more than this job. And you are more than your role in or relationship to professional philosophy. You can do other things and be other things. Make your decision from that place of (queer/trans/nb fabulous) fullness.

Aftermath

If I want to do trans philosophy, should I wait? Until a tenure-track job? Until tenure?

Getting involved in any marginalized field of philosophy has its risks and rewards. Trans philosophy is no different. Risks that you will be written off as not “really” a philosopher, or as being “too political,” or as having philosophical interests that are mere navel-gazing (unlike other philosophers, obviously). Rewards that you will build trans philosophical community, that you will come to understand you and your worlds better, and that you will move forward concepts, arguments, and schemas that better illuminate the complexity of gender disruption and gender disruptors in the world. Transness does not have to be part of your philosophical work. Do trans philosophy if and when you feel called to. And if and when you do it, maintain a sense of the breadth of gender disruptive histories and presents our world over. There is so much difference—and room for accountability—even here.

Sharing Stories

Anonymous: I am going into my 3rd year as an Assistant Teaching Professor at a very supportive and welcoming department. I am white, disabled (but not read as such and did not say this during interviews for fear of discrimination), and non-binary but generally read as a woman by others. During my on-campus interviews, I asked specifically: (1) about resources on campus for queer students since this can indicate overall campus environment; (2) for the opportunity to speak with faculty in another department that overlaps with my work (i.e., women, sexuality, and gender studies) and asked about their read on the campus environment; and (3) about the presence of queer faculty. I mentioned my own status in passing moments. I am glad I was open about it because of where I ended up. If your primary goal is to end up in a supportive department, then you should not dial anything down.

Blake Hereth: As a second-year postdoctoral researcher who is white, disabled, and nonbinary, marketing as nonbinary is tricky and stressful, but ultimately worthwhile. At times, you will feel pressured to hide your true self. Some departments and universities won’t welcome you qua trans/NB person. Most will merely tolerate you, though a precious few will celebrate your trans/NB identity. In my view, the best approach is to be loud and proud: disclose your pronouns, wear what you like, be a glitter bomb. Although it comes at a cost—e.g., prejudiced faculty may vote against you—it signals to prospective employers that you are who you are and have no intention of holding back. The upshot is that once you land a job, they will welcome you precisely as you are.

Perry Zurn: I am a white, trans masc person who passes inconsistently. In my first on-campus interview, in a small rural town, I found myself passing seamlessly. Normally, this would be a relief, but it accentuated anxiety for me the more I worried about getting clocked during the visit (and having to keep going) or getting hired as cis (and having to live in the closet or come out to who-knows-what-reception while being locked into the job). In another on-campus interview that same year, in yet another small town, I was read and welcomed as trans from the get-go. I credit this in part to the rich queer/trans presence on campus and the school’s commitment to supporting marginalized community knowledges. I have warm memories of this one and dared to think “I could actually work here,” even though they were less consistent with my pronouns than the first place. It’s complicated!

* The authors would like to thanks Quill Kukla and Nico Orlandi for comments on an earlier draft.

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