Last night I helped hold the third local meetup of trans and genderqueer people who are interested in getting together to hack on our projects. This is the third event since the amazing Trans*H4CK Hackathon (the first one of its kind!) that took place in October 2013.
When I heard through the grapevine that there was going to be a trans-focused, trans-organized, local hackathon I was beside myself. Finally I would get the combination of identity and technology in one space that I have been dreaming of since going back to school as a mature student in 2004-5 in order to get a degree in Software Development. My lofty goals in going back to school can easily be summarized in two ways: 1. I wanted to get a better job than being a brunch chef or a non-profit artist-run center, contract employee with no job security or dental benefits and 2. I hoped that whatever I could learn about technology and software would become tools I could bring back to my queer/trans/genderqueer/arts community and help anyone who wanted it at whatever level they ask for. This has come to mean hosting websites for people, helping build websites for people and small orgs, and also doing some random consulting. It has also led, funny enough, to a certain amount of fixing people’s computers. That’s nothing I learned in school, it’s just something I seem to have the right combination of lucky and chutzpah to try — ratio of success lies at about 85-90% so far (some things are unfixable, by me at least).
Anyway, I got into tech and got through a grueling 4 years of school with all its associated stresses. No need to go into details because I finished that thing AND I got a pretty amazing job right out the gate. Health benefits (specifically the much-needed dental)? Check. Ability to help my communities with tech stuff? Yes….ish.
Turns out it’s not that easy to still be people’s go-to for tech help when you start working more-than-fulltime at a fast-paced company. Also when you move across the country from the majority of your closest friends and aquaintance community. I made that decision though because I wanted to take the opportunity that existed for me to come here, to SF, and be in the heart of it all. Little did I know at the time I was walking on stage at a very precarious time (that’s a whole other post).
Skip forward. I’m lucky enough to have one woman (self-identified to me as a feminist on our first meeting) on my team of 8 people. So I think tech is pretty awesome. Then she leaves, goes to another team. Then I go to my first PyCon and swim in a sea of homogenous men I don’t know. Then I meet a handful of really exciting people who put the words “Queer” and “Tech” on a scrap of paper for a DIY session in the basement of that hotel in Atlanta, 2009. That is one of the *big* moments. It’s when I started, with that group of people, to promote teaching Python to women. Based on the success of RailsBridge‘s workshops teaching Ruby on Rails to women (I went to one, Ruby and Rails are not my thing for now) and also the Boston Python Workshop which did a lot of the groundwork for adapting the RailsBridge-style weekend material to a Python version, I ended up starting PyStar with a few people. Our goal was similar: make it possible for more women to feel comfortable learning Python in a non alpha-male space. We had a few workshops in SF and Mountain View (Mozilla office space was easy to get and use for weekend workshops). There were groups creating workshops in Philadelphia (still, to this day, the most active city for this project) and in Minneapolis. I even threw one together in Paris for a night when I was living there for 3 weeks and working from the Paris Mozilla office.
I’m sharing this with you, reader, because this is the backdrop for what comes next. For me, teaching women to code was…OK. Don’t get me wrong – it’s important work and I’m glad it’s happening. For me though, I still felt kind of lonely. Since the majority of attendees were middle/upper class, young, heterosexual women I wasn’t really connecting on the levels that I do with people who share other similar identities and life experiences with me. Or at least ones I am more familiar with, if not my own.
I got a bit disheartened by organizing events that I no longer felt I truly connected with and I took some time to try and figure out how to best spend my time and how to be the activist I wanted to be. Enter GeekFeminism, having several of the people I met through that hired on at Mozilla, PyCon drastically improving its ratio of women attendees (speakers, still being improved), and meeting Leanne. Over the past couple of years, again keeping it short, I’ve managed to go to conferences and meet lots of people and dream big with them. The LGBT lunches at Grace Hopper have been fascinating. Getting to attend AdaCamp – huge boost. Finding people and connecting with them on all the things that are big problems we want to be a part of solving — the one is often comes down to is “How do we get more diversity in tech?”.
At Mozilla I end up making that a second full-time job that is not what I am paid to do (working on that). Instead I got discretionary funding that I could use to help leverage women in open source which eventually grew into supporting anything with diverse populations that were not prominent or numerically well-represented in open source. This looked like me being able to offer up the Mozilla office(s) if and when I could be there to hold the space. It looked like being able to sponsor a variety of events with amounts less than $2k who were promoting, retaining, or otherwise engaging people in tech & open source more specifically.
One of the events I ended up directing money towards was Trans*H4CK because, as I mentioned at the start – I was so frickin’ excited that this was going to happen and I wanted to help it happen. I reached out to Kortney and offered money, asked if (while I was planning to attend regardless) I could talk for 5 minutes about open source. I did that. I went and talked and gave my, now usual, talk about why open source is important (think: View Source on webpages and how you might have benefited from being able to do that). Then I hacked on stuff and met people and generally soaked up what it felt like to be in a space where I felt seen, whole, and just surrounded by people who were also being seen. We exist, in numbers more than the one or two at your day job! What a fun weekend.
Then I wondered – why just one weekend? This was in the Bay Area and while a handful of people traveled to the event most were local. In the style of user groups and meetups, why not continue to have a monthly get-together of this particular blend of nerdgeektransgenderqueer fabulousness? I proposed this to Kortney, offered up the Mozilla SF space to hold it, got food for the attendees, and we had one in November that was probably attended by about 20 people. Pretty sweet. There was a lot more socializing than actual hacking but that happens when people are still so new to getting to be around each other. With the success of that, I wanted to hold more but I think the holiday period got in the way so the next one I helped put on, this time at the Double Union maker space, was February 18th, 2014. It being closer to my house and not at the office I rarely go to anyway was awesome, btw. Also I bought snacks with my own money to bring. That night I thought: we need a regular night – say, the third Tuesday of every month, so that it can be something people just *know* is on and can show up to. No need for invites, mailouts, or headcount – keep it simple. I proposed this to the people at the meetup, and thought this was generally agreed upon.
With that in mind, and with a pretty busy schedule coming up, I wanted to get the March date on the Double Union calendar sooner rather than later so a couple of weeks ago I reached out to the membership list asking if the Tuesday night circuit class would be up for sharing the space with another trans hacking night (as that was the best date for me, as the organizer). They were open to it and all seemed fine but another email thread started up about whether or not the trans hacking nights would be trans-only or not (if they should, even). This is something, btw, that the TransTech community participants will be chatting more about so as to determine what guidelines and priorities to have when choosing space or setting up meetings. In that thread Kortney expressed concern about not being able to make the date and I said that I was trying to set up the every-third-Tuesday nights, as discussed at the February meeting. No further response came and I went ahead with booking it (circuit group moved to another night to give us the whole space, thanks!) and setting up an invite. Double Union still doesn’t publicize their address so the invite was needed to have a way to reach people who said they would attend. My goal was to use this next meetup to set up open communication tools that could be used by any member of this nascent “we get together and hack on stuff with other trans/genderqueer people” community. So we did that.
Last night I was at Double Union with some others and I set up a mailing list, a wiki, and IRC channel, and a Twitter account. I shared all the admin/login details with the others because this isn’t *my* thing. This is, to the best of my knowledge and experience in open source, how we start communities that are as free of bottlenecks on getting things done as possible. Then I put that information out there. The goals, again, are to have spaces where trans and genderqueer people who are in technology (or want to learn to be) can meetup to work on their projects or even work on each other’s projects. I hope we’ll also get to work on projects that help our communities, for example I’m trying to figure out how to help Homomobiles get an app as it drives me nuts to see people using Uber and Lyft when we have this opportunity to put even a sliver of our collective queer and trans money back to a queer and trans organization and help grow it.
All that to say: There’s always room for lots of ways to bring people together. This is my expression of how I do it. Mozilla, while being my employer, does not dictate what I do with my spare time and yet I am fortunate in being able to book our office space(s) when available for events.
I’m being told on Facebook and Twitter that this is stealing, that I’m stepping on Kortney’s toes and please believe me, I tried to do everything I could to avoid that. I intentionally sought another name out of respect for the way that I see Kortney branding and promoting Trans*H4CK and how he is doing great things with that. I see TransCode (teaching coding), Trans*H4CK (hackathons and speaker series), and then TransTech (local community building, mentor/mentee finding, getting things done in a room with people you have that certain connection with) as all being part of the building blocks for continuing a trajectory of making and taking up space in technology for those of us who are outsiders, underrepresented, or just plain want to put our efforts into working with other social justice activists in building trans & genderqueer focused space.
If you’re in the Bay Area and want to know about meetups, be part of shaping this community, or otherwise lurk about to see what might grab your interest down the road then please follow us on Twitter and/or join our mailing list: https://mailman-mail5.webfaction.com/listinfo/transtech-discuss
Let’s support each other in always leveling up.