Meet Riley Welsh! Disabled & Intersex Art Director, Photographer, Graphic Designer, and Civil Rights Whistleblower
Life is rarely a clear-cut path for anyone. Oftentimes we have to blaze our own paths, blindly moving in a direction that we hope will grant us success, all the while stumbling over the bumps, dips, and dives that populate our trail. I’ve certainly had my share of a bumpy path, but even so, I’ve picked myself up time and time again to become the successful person I am today.
While I love anything and everything creative now, my inclination for the creative arts wasn’t apparent at first. Indeed, I was a rather quiet kid that had their fair share of beat-ups, locker scuffles, and items thieved in broad daylight. Throughout grade school and beyond I had all creative outlets beat out of me, but in 2007 there was a shift. I was graduating from Boston University with a certificate in Computer Animation. While my demo reel wasn’t anything to boast about, there was one particular aspect of it that I was proud of. It was a short animation about a character named Generi Rig, who just couldn’t for the life of him put his pants on. As the audience sat with their heads thrown back in laughter, I realized that the right media could move an audience. I felt the computer animation bug digging itself a home in my chest, and from then on, I knew I was hooked.
I set my sights on pursuing higher education. After a few applications, I was accepted into Ringling College of Art & Design in Florida, as well as the Rhode Island School of Design. I was enrolled in their graphic design program for a time but ultimately found my place at an Academy of Art in San Francisco, California. It was here that I understood unique individuals could indeed find peace and serenity when they were with their kind. It’s quite often that creatives can go misunderstood by the general public. In San Francisco, I was dating a lovely girl and worked 30 hours a week in the student cafeteria. Life was great.
Or so it seemed to everyone around me. From 2010 to 2013, when I was pursuing an education in San Francisco, I was battling many mental health issues. With parents who didn’t understand and a society that didn’t care, I was pushed into one of the world’s most exclusive psychiatric hospitals, McLean Hospital, run by Harvard. By the time I walked out of their doors, I had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, mood disorders, grandiose thinking, egotistical behavior, and much, much more. The doctors insisted I required a myriad of antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, anxiety medications, and antidepressants just to become “normal”. None of these diagnoses are actually accurate without taking account of Klinefelter Syndrome.
I was a zombie. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t function.
On a typical day, I wasn’t going to class or working, I would sleep for nearly a full day at a time. During this time my mother pulled me out to dinner so we could talk. Most of that day and into the night I had a terrible feeling like I was going to die. My mother called an ambulance and I was transported to Beverly Hospital, where it was discovered that I had a 5cm tumor growing on my left kidney. My dad took me to a number of hospitals to get second opinions, but the eventual choice was for a robot to remove the tumor. I struggled with suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and depression, but managed to survive with the help of self-taught methods of overcoming those emotions.
Two years later I was on the waiting list for section 8. The relationship with my parents had deteriorated. They tried, but it was difficult for them to have a child with so many mental disorders, and with my mood swings and ever-changing thoughts, they urged me to fight through it, not understanding the battle going on in my head. I finally landed a one-bedroom in the government projects, in the nicer part of Massachusetts. Technically blessed, but will always be government raised into my 30s.
A Temporary Civil Rights Office Located In The Heart of Federal Housing
I continued online education because I was, unfortunately, under the assumption that companies would only hire those with college degrees. But, with tuition and fees, I had to drop out a short time later. This time in my life was punctuated with starting and failing to have my own company, talking to many women on dating apps to learn better communication, and ultimately trying to hold a normal job. All of these failed.
The end of 2019 was a new beginning. I became engaged to a special woman. While she had an amazing soul, she was blindsided by narcissistic people who could persuade her into being a narcissist herself. My emotions and feelings for people, places, things, and my career reached nuclear mode, gaslit into a deep crevasse by so many people around me. I’d become overly caring for the situations at hand, the people I cared for, and oftentimes found myself ghosted when trying to fulfill my need for relationships.
Around the time I got engaged was when I also landed a job at a corporate design job. I thought it was my dream job, that it would be the starting point for my grand legacy that I would one day be telling my grandchildren (when I have them). Maybe it was the curse of 2020 or just bad timing, but unfortunately, this job was not worthy of any stories. There were many issues; at best, the company didn’t provide reasonable accommodations for my disabilities; at worst, there was denial that I had any disabilities at all, after numerous complaints about a toxic workplace, I was fired on the day I called out sick, taking care of a medical issue. This is how I’m treated.
As I walked away from wanting to work for anyone ever again, my fiancee walked away from me. Thanks, 2020.
I was at the end of my rope, feeling much like the battered child I was in grade school. With my back to a locker and life’s fist around my throat, it was hard to find any means of picking myself up again. Thankfully, it was in this dire time that I received an answer that made my entire life make sense. I was diagnosed with Klinefelter Syndrome, a non-hereditary genetic condition that provides one extra female chromosome in the makeup of my DNA. I am 47, XXY, or in other words, my mind and body share male and female traits, from physical to mental. Some people are born with choices; such as a man wanting to become a woman, a woman wanting to become a man, and those who often find themselves struggling to choose gendered conformity. Klinefelter’s, I get the best of everyone and all genders, truly making up a big piece of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum and philosophically fitting into humanity as a whole part of organic existence.
I now proudly self-identify as nonbinary (he/she/they are totally fine!), someone who is on the spectrum between male and female but uncertain if they can fulfill an actual side. My emotions and feelings are heavily intertwined with the female spectrum while my physical form offers male masculinity, brawn, and some brains. I believe these two mix into an interesting composition of someone who has a spine, heart, and cares about the wellbeing of others no matter what situation arises and how much bravery I’d need to stand up to immense unfair or unethical situations.
I decided to walk away from direct-hire jobs and blaze my own trail. For the first time in my life, I felt confident that whatever happened, I could overcome it. I’ve worked on amazing campaigns, ranging from grassroots startups to designing presentations for fortune global 500s. I’ve strategized and built many business websites, often complementing them with custom-designed graphics and photography.
Today, I am a small business owner and disabled entrepreneur, an artist, and a designer. A cancer survivor, a civil rights whistleblower, and a truly unique hybrid human with killer creative intelligence. If you plan on meeting anyone truly ambitious, caring, compassionate, and kind, I’d be the one to befriend.