I’m Fat, Bald, Queer, Have a M.A. in Gender Studies & All I Got Was This Inbox Full of Rejection
A year has passed since I donned a ceremonial robe and hood and walked across the stage at University of Louisville’s spring graduation ceremony. I crossed this same stage for the first time two years earlier, but this graduation signified my survival of graduate school. I had wrapped up the most sleep deprived, stressed out, selfcare-less semester of my life and I was still not entirely sure I had made it out in one piece. To be honest the jury is still out on if I made it out with my soul still fully intact. But regardless of my physical and mental state, I had made it. I was receiving a Master’s degree with a 3.975 GPA and a decent amount of local connections I intended to use to land myself in a low paying but worthwhile non-profit position. I planned to use the year to gain some work experience while I recovered from my academic torture and prepared to dive back in and do it all again PhD style. I walked across that graduation stage confident taking a year off would be good for me. I was confident I would find something relatively quickly.
I was wrong.
A full year later and I have yet to find a full time job. Of course it is not for lack of trying. I’ve gotten into the final round of hiring decisions more times than I can count only to come in second at the finish line. One interviewer told me I didn’t have enough development experience and the next commented I didn’t have enough marketing experience. After that I was told I just didn’t compare to someone else they interviewed, and then came a situation where the organization’s board made the final decision in favor of someone else even though the staff wanted to hire me. Not only were these often entry-level positions where I was going up against others with 5+ years more experience than I have, the jobs themselves were often not focused on using the skills I was told caused me to fall short. Shout out to entry-level job descriptions that demand a Master’s degree but also want 5 years experience. I’m 26, so you tell me how that math works out.
The connections I thought were dependable ultimately ran me into dead ends. I’ve worked three part time jobs for the past 6 months to (barely) make ends meet. Teaching a class or two in my old university department, substitute teaching for k-12 schools, and working weekends in a winery tasting room. My year off has turned into two because I was either too busy working or exhausted from trying to get my bills paid to apply to the next round of PhD acceptances. I keep going to interviews I am more than qualified for, killing the interview, and getting to the final stage of decisions only to keep coming in second. I was braced for some push back when it came to having a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies. I am not naive to the fact that gender studies is considered to be one of the most ‘useless majors’ but I know the truth is issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality permeate every field and/or workplace. Plus my degree has taught me how to write well, think critically, and engage with difference with humility and compassion. I am useful everywhere and yet, no one has understood the worth in my degree and experience.
It’s not just my degree that has kept me out of full time work the past year. I am a short, fat, bald, visibly queer, gender ambiguous person with a high pitched voice who does not fit the mold of the kind of person prospective employers expect to walk in the room for an interview after reading the name “Meghan” on the resume and cover letter. It’s true; I don’t look like your typical Meghan. On the rare occasion I use the name I go by in my day-to-day life — MC — I still walk into interviews knowing I am often a much different candidate than an interviewer had envisioned. It doesn’t matter how much I practice my interview answers or refine my resume. My physicality betrays me. To an interviewer I am a lot to take in. I can’t entirely blame them, I can imagine being in their shoes and being a bit overwhelmed by a 26 year old named Meghan who passes for about 17 years old, is super fat, has no hair, kind of looks like a guy but sounds like a girl, has a noticeably gay resume, and spent the past 6 months teaching university “Women in American Culture” classes. Even those who preach diversity and inclusion are likely to be taken aback (here’s looking at you every D&I department or college campus I’ve ever come into contact with. How is that ‘push for diversity’ going?). It has both helped and made it worse to know I am not the only person I know who has struggled to get a job after getting my same degree. Even my 5’9” blonde haired, blue eyed, straight/cisgender, charismatic as fuck best friend who graduated with me has only just recently landed a position. If she had such a hard time, what odds does the bald, fat, feminist, nerd have?
Throughout my time in college, both undergrad and graduate school, I carried with me a feeling that I was meant to do something that mattered. I had no idea what that special thing was, and I still am pretty clueless today, but deep down I have always felt like I was supposed to make a difference. Even in the struggling times I have found myself in I have not lost that deep seeded belief but I will sure as hell admit that I have a lot less hope than I did when I was crossing that stage a year ago. My hope of finally becoming financially stable for the first time in my life has all but disappeared. My hope of having someone in my city’s nonprofit community look at the work I’ve done and see me as an accomplished activist, educator, and person has reduced down to a faint flame that flickers every now and then when the phone rings or I get an email to set up an interview. I have to fight the defeated feeling I get every time I get a rejection email, or that special feeling of emptiness I get deep in my gut when, even after doing everything I possibly could, I am left hanging without even the acknowledgement of a rejection to let me know where I stand. Here I am sending out dozens of meticulous thank you emails and letters while some of these organizations can not even manage to treat me better than an asshole frat guy who sleeps with a girl and then ghosts her.
There is a problem here, but it doesn’t just include me. My struggle is not above or much different than the 14% of trans people who are currently unemployed in the US and the 44% of trans people who are currently underemployed in the US (hrc.com, 2017). I have a graduate level degree with as much experience as I could gather in my 26 years of life and it is still not enough. I am continuously told I should move as there are (allegedly) more opportunities outside of my southern/midwestern city, but it takes money to move and I have lived under the poverty line for my entire adult life. I also have a mother living in the same city as I do who is a heart failure patient and she could have another critical heart issue at any time. Not having the money to fly/drive back to be with and support her when I’m needed is a big concern. I am a living snapshot of how impossible it can be to find meaningful full time work for those who look or identify in ways that don’t adhere to standards of professionalism, and it is even harder to measure up for those whom are people of color. If I had the resources I would create my own place in the world. I would invent my own career and pursue the dreams I am starting to fear I may never even get a shot at. But those resources are not available to me. To even access those resources I need to be able to find work in the field I have trained for. I am at a standstill. Like so many others, I am trapped.
MC Lampe is a activist, educator, writer, and community organizer living in Louisville, KY.