Look, if the title of this post makes *you* blink and cringe a bit, what do you imagine it’s doing to *me*?
Originally written in an email about a month ago; it’s taken that long for me to get up the guts to post this. In response to the last sentence of this post’s 4nd paragraph: Today is that day.
He pointed out to me how long the video basically showed “Guido,” or “Guido And Maybe A Couple Other People.” And then the little trickles built up, and then… whoom. A quiet explosion… that ramps into a not-so-quiet one. If it took that long for Python, Matt explained, we shouldn’t be disappointed when the ecosystems of our own projects take time to nurture. It takes time to grow good, deep roots before a plant can go “weeeeeeeee!” and sprout up and have flowers.
It’s something that I think about every time the impulse to say “and people have been trying to do this for how long?” comes up, which it does automatically at a number of things. The one I’m thinking about today is gender. Specifically, gender and technology and engineering. Specifically, gender in open source.
I am young and impatient and would… honestly, I’d like nothing better to take the blue pill and wake up blissfully ignorant of the whole being-a-woman thing once again, because that’s how I’ve been for so long, and it’s just so much easier. But that wouldn’t be right. Being oblivious to something doesn’t make that something not exist. Besides, if I’m to call myself an engineer, I need to know how deep this rabbit hole goes, and how to hack it. If I want to be able to treat gender as a nonissue, it should be because it is a nonissue, not because I ignore the issues that exist. Someday, I’d like to be able to write about this publicly.
I’ve come to realize I’m very hesitant to be anything other than androgynous on the web now; there is a backpack of privilege I unconsciously put on over the years when I chose “Mel” as a nickname (when I was 7 and couldn’t pronounce “Mallory” – I didn’t realize it was a boy’s name) or “mchua” as a login (I was in high school, and all the other geeky kids were doing firstinitial-lastname) or somehow happened to adopt a speaking and writing style that didn’t use gender-specific pronouns to refer to myself. I never really thought much of it before, but as I come to recognize how much freedom it’s given me, I grow more and more reluctant to find out what happens when I take that backpack off online. Offline, I get to walk around as an obviously very young and nonwhite female. You never really know what sort of invisible effect that might be having.
The “holy crap, this matters” turning point for me was my senior year of college, where I went to a conference (really, a small hackathon) in drag as part of a (self-designed) class assignment (MetaOlin’s unit on Diversity), and suddenly saw a different sort of world for the first time. And realized in horror that some of the new freedoms I had as a “boy” in the real world felt a lot like the freedoms that I had online as an unintentionally nongendered entity.
I’m not comfortable being a woman. I’m not used to it. I don’t feel like I’ve grown into that word yet – I’m no longer a girl, but not quite really a woman. And I don’t know what it means. What does it mean? Who can I look to? I’m afraid of what I don’t know, and I’m afraid that I don’t know what would happen and what I would see that I don’t want to see and know.
Now that I realize I happened to fall into having a pseudobackpack, I habitually phrase sentences so as to actively avoid gender-specific pronouns, and my profile pics are similarly androgynous things like me dressed up as Robin (from Batman) for Halloween. I don’t try to pass as male, and I’ll say I’m female if asked, and most of my friends know anyway, but my gender is usually not something that newcomers realize right away. It’s similar to how I came to deal with my hearing when I was a kid; I felt like a hearing person, even if I physically wasn’t, so I simply went about my life and usually passed as one.
That’s why I haven’t written about this stuff as much. I don’t know how much shit it’d give me. And I don’t often think about it, because I have this compulsive transparency habit of publicly writing more or less everything I think. The fact that this post was an email for a month and sat there, making my “agh, it should be public!” twitch go crazy, is indicative. I’d rather spend my time as a hacker than a woman – not that the two are mutually exclusive, but that if they were, I’d pick the first… and just to make sure I’m safe, I pre-empt the issue and I do pick the first.
Not any more.
I’m clumsily and spasmodically (and uncharacteristically) piping up in these conversations mostly because I’m trying to get over my extreme discomfort at doing so. It’s pretty awkward and painful to watch, so thanks to whoever is reading for putting up with my craptacular beginnings of thinking this way, and this narcissistic self-referential apology therein – no, an apology “isn’t needed,” but it makes me feel a little more comfortable about hitting the “Publish” button, so I’ll allow myself the security blanket for this time.
It’s not a spur-of-the-moment decision. This will be slow, and quiet, and hard. I will spend far too much time at the beginning – and it will be a long beginning – agonizing over crafting long things with much awkwardness and little content because I don’t have the vocabulary or the thought-forms to consider and express this well yet. And I will backslide and fall down and frequently take the easy way out – but that’s why I’m marking this down now, so at least I’ll have said it at some point in time.
There. I’ve said it. Now I’ve started.