History has shown us that design, products, and employment have not been equally accessible to people of all backgrounds. Abstract is committed to changing the past by bringing in people with a diversity of lived experiences that help us build a stronger product and a more open and connected world. This Pride Month, I’m honored to continue to celebrate my LGBTQIA+ community in and outside of Abstract.
I’m excited to continue interviewing our colleagues this month. For this next post, we spoke with Software Engineer Evan Vaughn, who shares how he opens up at work, the role of family in his coming-out journey, and his favorite sport.
What personal passions bring you to Abstract?
I like the intersection between design and technology. I became a developer to help craft great design, so I appreciate how Abstract allows me to combine my passion for code with designing powerful products. I also get to contribute to the culture in a way that I haven’t before. I can bring my authentic self on any given day and I am received with open arms.
What are you most proud of in your life and career?
In late 2018, I started noticing that I made a delineation between who I am in and outside of work. I previously did this for my own safety, but even though the environment is different at Abstract, I still care a lot about how I show up to work. During my first few months at Abstract, I found myself around so many genuine people that I stopped hiding — and stopped caring to hide — certain parts of my identity. For the first time, I volunteered to share that I’m gay at work. I also started to share my outside interests, like being a big fan of dodgeball and playing in several leagues around the Bay for the last six years. I’m also more willing to bring the parts that most people outside of work appreciate about me, like my sarcasm and humor.
I now feel more confident about myself and stepping into my power every day that I’m at Abstract. I’m even more willing and well-equipped to have tough conversations because I’m not distracted by thoughts of who I believe I have to be in the office. This has allowed me to put more energy into my work, and I’m grateful for the ability to do so.
What have been your biggest takeaways or was most empowering from your coming-out journey?
You don’t come out just once. You come out multiple times. The first time, I sort of came out to my mom when I was 19. Soon after, I came out to my brother and his response was “OK, and…?” Then I moved to the Bay Area from Maryland, where I found people to be more accepting — so much so that I was finally able to officially tell my mom, brother, and myself that I was gay.
It was during that journey that I recognized that at many points throughout my life, I still wasn’t fully comfortable with coming out. I realized that I didn’t have to pressure myself or let others pressure me into coming out. I had to decide for myself when the time was right. And then when I went through with it, I always found a larger community of support than I expected.
Those experiences taught me that: (1) It’s OK and perfectly valid to feel fear; (2) Sometimes when you acknowledge the discomfort and decide to stand in your truth, you’re likely to receive more support than you think, even if you can’t see it at the moment.
Who have been the biggest champions in your life?
My mom and my brother. Coming out to my mom was harder. Even though I wanted to be fully honest, I was so afraid of her rejecting me that I didn’t even come out as gay at first — I told her I was bisexual. But even in the half-truth, she never stopped showing me how much she loved or supported me, so it became easier to tell her the truth as I accepted it for myself. Early in my life, she understood that life is harder for black folks who aren’t straight and/or aren’t perceived in a heteronormative way. My mother’s fear has always been, “I don’t want you to have a harder life.” However, through the years, I’ve been able to open up more about my own experiences. We’ve gotten to a place where I feel comfortable going to her for advice and vice versa, to the point that we’re now talking about our own dating experiences.
I also grew up close to my brother, who’s only two years older. We practically have the same personality, sense of humor, interests in gaming, and taste in music. For my 21st birthday, I remember telling him, “I kind of want to go to a gay bar.” His response? “Cool, I’ve got a couple we can go to, but I think you’ll have the most fun at Cobalt.” At that moment, all I could think about was how thankful I was that the one person who I had been the closest to my entire life supported me. He’s always been a main line and cheers me on.
You get to have dinner with one person — famous or not. Who do you choose and what would you ask them?
James Baldwin. I would ask him: “How do you stay in power and unapologetic about your work?” He was doing intersectionality work before it was coined as such. I would also ask him: “Before there was a visible community of support, how did you find strength? Especially when the community around you sometimes wasn’t as bold as you.’”