Naughty Dog Developer Emilia Schatz Talks About The Experience of Coming Out as a Trans Woman at the Studio

By Giuseppe Nelva

July 30, 2014

Naughty Dog Game Designer Emilia Schatz is a trans woman, yet she had to work for a time shoulder to shoulder with her friends at the studio dressed as a man. Coming out is not always easy, and it takes a while for many to gather that kind of resolve.

Yet, as she explained in an interview on Max Level, as soon as she found in herself the strength to reveal to her colleagues who she really was, things went quite smoothly. Here’s what she said when she was asked how the experience was.

Terrifying… but it was something I had to do. Trans people struggle with that idea. Sometimes people tell me, “oh, you’re very brave,” and in some individual parts of it, yes. But it was something I had to do. When you’re in a case where you either do this or I don’t know what, it’s almost like you’re not being brave, you’re just being yourself. I had no other choice. Writing the letter that I was going to send out to the whole company, sitting there with the mouse above the send button thinking, “okay, okay… click.” That was hard. But I came out to my family and friends years before, and by the time I came out at work, I had already transitioned in all other aspects of my life. I was female all the time at home; just at work, I would dress up in drag as a guy.

I started talking with Sony HR anonymously, asking what the diversity guidelines are like, worrying about my job. But I knew it would work out okay. There’s a lot of protection nowadays, especially in California, for LGBT people. I started telling a few of my coworkers, and it was a shock at first, but they were so amazingly supportive. I really felt that it was nice to start coming out to my friends and get such a positive reaction.

About six months beforehand, I went and spoke with our Head of Operations, and came out to her. I told her I had a plan; in a few months, March 14th, I am going to send out a letter to company and say that I’m trans, and that I’m going to be transitioning my life to be the person that I always felt I was. I’m still the same person I always was – the same person you came to rely on — and we took that to our Co-Presidents and then finalized the date.

Behind the scenes, they started getting things ready so that when I sent the email out, the very next week when I returned – I sent the email out and ran! – they immediately had a new email set up for me with my new name. They ordered business cards, they switched all the various places in the company where my name was listed, they changed my picture out; I got back and it was all ready, and people just got it. That’s one thing that’s really special about gamers. Everyone single one of my coworkers, as well as my friends and family, have played video games where they’ve played as a person very different from themselves. That seed of empathy is there, they’re able to get that. It’s been great.

Emilia continued by describing the reaction of friends and colleagues:

I think the industry gets a bad rep due to all the negative content and comments online. But I think devs that have been around for a good while, like the team at Naughty Dog, they know you for your talent, and that’s it. They’re very open, very progressive. I was terrified — it’s always a one-way door. You tell people and you can’t go back. I knew that most of my friends would be fine, but I figured I was going to lose lots of people and lots of family. But that just hasn’t happened. It’s been really amazing. I get nervous telling someone, but as soon as I do it’s great. You could say I’m always surprised for the better.

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Considering the recent bad press thrown at the industry over this kind of things, it’s absolutely refreshing to hear of experiences like Emilia’s. Indeed, the seed of empathy is in the very games we play, and we definitely should congratulate her for her courage, and her colleagues for helping her get through it so smoothly.

Among all the negativity, I hope this will serve as a positive, encouraging example for many.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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