Many of her jobs were short-lived after employers found out that she was born a male, she told us. Eventually, she used her body as a means for survival, and became a model for an adult website. The owner took notice of her tech skills, and she found herself working on the backend, editing photos and refreshing the website.
“Technology was the key to my freedom”
“Sometimes it helps to have a mentor or a coach and other support resources that know the unique challenges for you in that space. That is something that is organically coming out of the community at TransTech,” Ross said.
TransTech also partners with other companies and organizations, such as Groupon and PayPal, to host the annual TransTech Summit, this year taking place on October 20. Ross said it’s a challenge to know which companies are really committed to creating diverse work spaces and those which use it as a buzzword. She looks for allies who go beyond just hiring trans and non-binary folks—making sure the environment is one in which they can grow, have access to leadership positions, and have a supportive community.Ross said TransTech Social’s slow growth in the last four years was due in part to a lack of funding, and pushback from potential donors. According to “The Real Unicorns of Tech: Black Founders Women” report by digitalundivided, Black women-led startups accounted for .0006 percent of the $424.7 billion in total tech venture funding raised since 2009.“I’m a trans executive,” Ross said. “Who else is a trans executive? Or an LGBTQ executive working in mostly white spaces? It was very hard for non-Black people within our LGBT community and other non-Black leaders to have a Black trans woman as a boss and to take my lead.”
“What we learn as trans people is how to use what we have and make it work”
Ross is also a lifelong performer; in 2016, she landed a leading role in the digital series Her Story, which follows the lives of transgender women in Los Angeles. She later appeared on Transparent. Ross admits that being able to “pass” as a cisgender woman and experience privilege sometimes gave her an upper hand in the job market, but it’s also held her back.“Passing has its privileges. But it’s also in some ways a prison in the sense that you have to stay within certain bounds, which means you can’t necessarily bring all the things of yourself to the table,” Ross said.With Pose there are no bounds. Ross is one of five transgender actors on the show. She said portraying Candy makes room for her authentic self.“What we learn as trans people is how to use what we have and make it work…and that’s basically what I did,” she said. “So many times people removed their support thinking that my whole operation would crumble. But I would do this interesting Matrix move where I would bend and stand right back up.That was a skill that I learned—being able to bend without breaking.”Ross said her journey in tech and Hollywood shouldn’t be viewed as a blueprint, but more of a spiritual roadmap for others to realize their dream, whatever it may be. Her advice? To be determined, of course. “You may not be the tallest, the prettiest, the smartest, the most whatever, but you can find something to be excellent at.”This piece is part of a series of stories produced in partnership with The Plug.