What It's Like to Enter the Corporate World as a Trans Woman

trans woman in corporate
@nicolaroselawton | Design by Zackary Angeline .

Nicola Lawton, the assistant manager for influencer relations at Make Up For Ever, was unsure how she would be accepted as a trans woman in corporate America, but having a strong support system throughout her life helped give her the confidence she needed to feel accepted at her first job out of college. Not all trans individuals will have a story like Nicola's. Hers is one of acceptance and strong momentum. But through her vocational success and positive social life, she hopes to bring hope to others transitioning or still finding their way as a trans person. Her story, below.

I am me. I am me. I am me.

For the past five or six years, this has been my mantra—throughout my early years of college, when generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and depression washed over me stronger and louder than ever before. In the subsequent years, I began to piece together the puzzle of my mental health struggle and understand its correlation to my true gender identity. And even now, as a 24-year-old trans woman with a budding career in influencer marketing at Make Up For Ever and a strong (and uncommon for most trans individuals) support system of incredible family, friends, and co-workers. Through all the ups and downs of the last few years, this mantra has stuck with me (at first) as a plea to accept myself when I was afraid nobody else would: I am me, because there’s nobody else I can be. Now, I’m learning to use it as a statement of radical self-love: I am me, because there’s nobody else I’d rather be.

As a child, I carried the weight of others’ expectations with me everywhere I went. I was “supposed” to be a boy, so I needed to play the part. For weekly show-and-tell in my kindergarten class, I would steal my brother’s action figures to present to the class, even though I secretly had the largest Barbie collection in all of New England. I played every sport my suburban town could offer in an effort to please my parents, all while dreaming of the uniforms I would wear if I had been assigned female at birth. At 9, I admitted my womanhood to myself. Sneaking into my mom’s bathroom and applying her makeup had become a ritual for me, so it was while staring in the mirror of her vanity that I thought to myself, I’m a girl, but I’ll never tell anyone. My struggles with gender identity ebbed and flowed from that point on, only becoming more complex the longer I feigned boyhood. Now, not only does everybody in my life know about my womanhood, but I now have a platform to talk about my gender identity openly and publicly, helping me to take pride in my journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

When I first publicly came out as trans, I was petrified. It was the beginning of my senior year of college, and I was a confused and vulnerable 21-year-old. Makeup was the escape from my masculinity, as it had always been, and I finally drummed up enough courage to wear it boldly and in public. I would spend hours painting on layer after layer, seeing a sort of doll-like beauty come to life each morning. I relied heavily on my makeup to be seen correctly, artfully crafting the presentation that eventually became normal for my friends and classmates to see. It gave me a taste of confidence in my femininity that I had never fully felt before—the only problem was that this confidence disappeared as soon as I washed my face. I hadn’t yet learned how to be confident in my womanhood without all the physical bells and whistles. Makeup was the armor I wore against the outside world, and I was scared beyond belief that I wouldn’t be accepted without it. My family and friends were epically supportive of my transition and gender expression, but my fear was that nobody else would be. I had nightmares of never finding a job after graduation and having to suppress the identity I had only recently been able to claim. I didn’t think the corporate world would accept me. I could not have been more wrong.

Make Up For Ever has always been a brand I’ve gravitated toward. One of the first foundations I ever purchased was one of ours, forcing my best girlfriend to buy it for me because I was too scared and self-conscious at 14 to do it myself. In my junior year of college, I remember walking into Sephora and seeing Andreja Pejić’s stunning campaign visual for the 2015 launch of our Ultra HD Foundation. Andreja made history with this campaign as the first openly trans person to land a cosmetics contract, and she showed me and so many others that there is beauty in being boldly and unabashedly true to yourself. It was the impact this campaign had on me that led me to seek the brand out after graduation, landing an interview that changed my life forever. From the moment I walked into the Make Up For Ever offices, I felt comfortable. Every department in the company is filled with creative and artistic minds. I’ve been given an unfortunately rare opportunity for a trans person, one where I’m able to proudly infuse my identity into the work that I do. An opportunity to work with a group of individuals who not only accept me but celebrate me for who I am. Makeup is now less of an armor and more of a way to express myself. I’ve learned to feel beautiful without it, and my colleagues love me either way.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve sought out safe places like Make Up For Ever. First (and always), it was the warmth of my mother’s love. My parents gave my three siblings and I the type of irrevocable commitment you can’t measure, devoting their entire lives to making us strong and whole. My mom’s presence was a powerful antidote to all of my worries from a young age, and the safety of both her and my father’s love was a crucial part of my navigation of adolescence. Even throughout my angsty teen years, when most of my peers were distant and dishonest with their parents, I needed to have a clear line of communication with my mom and dad to feel safe. When I entered high school, I found a similar sense of solace in my school’s theatre department. I attended an all-boys Catholic high school in Boston (granted, a horrifyingly daunting place for a closeted trans girl to try and find herself in), but I was eventually able to flourish there. The community I found in the St. John’s Prep Drama Guild reignited the flame of the girl who was dying inside of me, and I began to love her. By college, I knew exactly what I needed to feel safe and how to seek it out. I was drawn to the social justice communities at Fordham University for the spaces they provided to talk about race, gender, and other topics of identity, something I hadn’t been exposed to in the bubble of suburban New England. Campus organizations like Global Outreach and The Dorothy Day Center helped me to find the words I needed to define myself and taught me how to listen intentionally to those with different experiences than me. The common thread between all of the safe places in my life is their ability to make me feel fully heard and acknowledged, even when I’m at my most vulnerable. These types of places should be within reach for all minority identities.

The two years I’ve worked for Make Up For Ever have culminated into one of the most powerful projects I’ve ever worked on, our #AcceptedAnywhere campaign. To launch the campaign, we partnered with the incredible Hetrick-Martin Institute, an organization that provides necessary resources like health and wellness services, arts and culture programs, counseling, and more to NYC-based LGBTQIA+ youth in an environment that’s safe, loving, supportive, and community-oriented. My team and I were at the helm of this project, and I am beyond proud to have helped build something so powerful. To top it all off, I was lucky enough to be featured in the visuals for the campaign—you can even find me on the landing page of our website right now, along with the full list of guidelines on how to participate. I will never forget the feeling of euphoria when seeing my campaign visuals for the first time—my face holds more than just the makeup applied to me; it holds the beauty of struggle, support, and resilience.

#AcceptedAnywhere is proof that there is power in discovering and celebrating all aspects of your identity, especially the parts that make you unique. Though I’m transgender, I still carry a great deal of privilege in my life. I strongly feel that this privilege I hold comes with the responsibility to try to honor and celebrate other identities, not only in the LGBTQIA+ community but across all communities that have historically been silenced. I can only speak from personal experience and give one perspective on the trans journey, so it’s extremely important for me (and for all of us) to continue the fight for diverse representation. By honoring my story and countless others every day, Make Up For Ever has shown me how important this representation truly is.

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