For the last year, I’ve been taking my Asking About Gender talk to usergroups and conferences all over the UK. The reception I’ve had has been fantastic no matter who the audience. The next step for me is to write some workshops that I can take to conferences and interested companies. Most people I talk to are happy that I can give them practical advice because they know they should do something, but don’t have the time or resource to find out what.
This blog post is not about my talk however. It’s about me, and my gender journey, and how self-acceptance might not always be the best thing.
In my mid teens, I did a fair amount of internet research on the process of transitioning from female to male. I tried on boy names and boy clothes. I abhorred anything pink or remotely ‘feminine’. Telling people I might be male gave me this weird feeling of inner peace and being called daughter, sister, young lady made me want to scrub myself clean. I admired the masculinity of my male friends. It’s odd when I think about it now, but the thing that put me off transitioning was the potential loss of my womb and ovaries. I felt repulsed about losing those things that made me ‘female’.
When I was 17, I sent an email to Mermaids about how hard I was finding it to decide. Some days I felt female and everything was fine, some days I felt male and everything hurt. They replied and said had I looked into nonbinary genders. It was like the world opened up. Gender as a sphere, people combining words to create identities, gender was a sentence, an essay, a story. I could be any gender I wanted. A male lesbian in a female body, a girl-boi. Bigender.
However, these were the days before social networks, and I never found anyone else to actually talk to. I felt out of place with transpeople, and I was dismayed to learn that my questioning experience wasn’t nearly as common as I thought it was. I spent the next 14 years just being female, and trying to shrug off the gender dysphoria as mood swings or depression or general self-hate.
It’s amazing what difference an accepting work environment makes. I did the first go of my gender talk at work, and the response was great. I tried coming out as bigender at previous workplaces but it didn’t go very well. This was mostly my fault for only really feeling brave enough to talk about it when drunk, and drunk people + gender issue lectures = disaster. I’m out as non-binary now to as many people as I can, and it felt great.
The past tense is deliberate. The crippling gender dysphoria is mostly handled much better and I feel more confident that doing ‘feminine’ things doesn’t erase my identity. I can still be queer in high heels. I feel though that since I accepted being both male and female, I’m much more aware of how the entire world is designed in a way that locks me out.
What does this have to do with tech? Well, let’s think about gender diversity. One obvious issue with the current focus on getting women into tech is how it ignores all other forms of diversity. Race being the biggest, and also LBG, T and non-binary identities. Here’s an example that recently quite upset me.
I saw a tweet for a female tech speakers directory. I don’t mind these in general and I figured I want more speaking opportunities so I went to see if I could sign up. The entry requirement?
“Anyone who identifies as a woman”.
Great. I understand the phrasing, they are trying to show that they are being inclusive of transwomen. (Although I have often advocated for the phrase ‘identifies as a’, I now feel that the phrase is very problematic and will reevaluate later). Non-binary people though, no place for us. I was assigned female at birth, so I could lie and get in and nobody would notice, but lies are wrong and it won’t help masculine or assigned male at birth non-binary or agender people. It isn’t about me, it’s about all of us.
After that, I really started thinking about my place. I have spoken at female-focused events before and they’ve been very welcoming, but again that feels like I’m accepted because of my ‘female’ appearance and my actual gender doesn’t matter. Do women in tech events welcome non-binary people, and would they welcome AMAB non-binary people? Is ‘woman’ shorthand for ‘not-man’ or is it for ‘identifies as woman’?
I want to make this absolutely clear; if you are running a woman in tech event because you care about gender diversity, you either have to explicitly state non-binary people are welcome or explain why they are not.
I feel like I’m in a position of either accepting myself, or being accepted. I’m not the only one. White ciswomen are not the only group in technology that need help, or exposure. All we want is thought and care.
As always, I am open for questions on this subject either on Twitter (@kitation) or via email (email@example.com).