As many of you will know, I’m the kind of transgendered person who is equally happy (or unhappy) in either gender binary, being fortunate not to suffer from gender dysphoria, so I tend to present in whichever gender will make my life the easiest whilst still making me feel personally comfortable, although my preference is female; if I absolutely had to “make my mind up” and choose just one then I would choose to be female. However, I’m not blind to the fact that this would bring its own collection of downsides – I’m under no illusions whatsoever about the greenness, or otherwise, of the grass on the other side of the fence.
Some might say that this is sitting on the fence, and indeed the same people might also say that a bisexual person should “make their mind up” about whether they are gay or straight too. Quite how they feel about people who own both a car and a motorbike, I do not know; presumably they should “make their mind up” whether they want to drive a car or ride a motorbike since clearly they must make an exclusive choice.
In general, how the duality of my gender works out on a day-to-day basis is that I present as male professionally, and mostly present as female socially with the exception of situations where doing so would be very inconvenient. A good example is when I attend Track Days, where wearing a wig and a crash helmet would not only damage my expensive wig but be a real problem in taking the helmet off whilst leaving the wig on. It’s easier just to attend in guy mode (often with painted nails just to mix it up a bit). But I digress.
Why do I present as male professionally? Well, one reason is that all my professional qualifications, client references, professional reputation, and the like, are all in my birth name. Yes, I could change them all but I would have to undergo full transition in order to do this and live full time as a woman and, as I mentioned above, I’d probably be no happier than I am.
But there is another reason why I wouldn’t want to and that’s because I work in a male-dominated industry: Information Technology.
How it works
I should note that although it has a reputation for sexism, misogyny and ageism, I’ve been lucky enough never to have personally experienced or observed it; I have cis-female colleagues who are treated completely equally by my peers. In fact my current place of work has far more than I have experienced before, so perhaps this company are particularly enlightened. Also, I think my area of IT is perhaps atypical – developers / programmers tend to get judged by what we produce, and we are always producing. So although I have been quite lucky not to have experienced it, that does by no means disprove it exists – there is abundant circumstantial evidence to say that it’s very real in this industry.
This was brought home rather starkly by an article in The Register today, and which links to an amusing blog post by Pamela Ribon, about the Barbie book by Mattel called “I Can Be A Computer Engineer“.
In this embarrassingly sexist book, Barbie has an idea for a computer game but plans to get two male friends to actually write it for her. But whilst working on her design, her computer contracts a virus so she uses her sister’s laptop instead, which also contracts the virus. So she then gets the aforementioned male friends to fix it all for her, and then takes credit for everything.
That’s the executive summary anyway – I’d encourage you to read Pamela’s article for the full blow-by-blow deconstruct of it. It’s really worth reading and is quite funny too (although if you are the kind of person who is offended by profanity, or whose web filter may be, then be advised it uses the ‘F-word’ a few times, not least in the title).
Suffice to say, it does rather perpetuate the myth that only men can do science, maths and technology. A myth that we all know to be false, but persists nonetheless. It also promotes the rather reprehensible practise of glory-grabbing and claiming credit for the work of others.
Earlier I mentioned that I present as female socially unless it is more convenient not to. Well, I have a confession to make. Sometimes, when I know that a situation will place me in high probability of sexism or misogyny, or would prove to be particularly awkward, I take the easy option and present as male. None more so than when cars are concerned. Lately I have realised that this is rather cowardly of me and that if I am serious about expressing the female facet of myself then really I should do it when the going may be a little tougher as a result, rather than being a fair-weather woman. Otherwise it begs the uncomfortable question as to whether I am just playing at this.
Time will tell how far I will decide to push this – there are certain areas in my life where this would prove to be particularly uncomfortable. It’s probably not appropriate to go into further details on that on a public blog though.
The Register have posted a follow-up article about sexism in IT, which makes for interesting reading and further illustrates why I take the coward’s way out and present as male professionally.
The geek girl backlash to the Barbie book has been swift and strong. Here’s a great article that links to various remixes and rewrites. Some of them are brilliant!
This one is particularly worth reading – https://cfiesler.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/barbieremixed.pdf