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Femme Visibility at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit

Femme Visibility at the Lesbians Who Tech Summit

For the first time ever, I wasn’t just assumed to be a “woman in tech.”

Don’t get me wrong, I wholly support the Women in Tech movement. We need more women in tech, especially in technical and executive roles. I’d love to see more female engineers and female founders and women who run shit.

However, whenever I attend an event that champions women in tech, I am automatically assumed to be a straight, cisgender woman, which I am definitely not.

I get a lot of comments like these:

“I’m so glad to see more badass female engineers in the iOS space.”

“You’re going to love Company X! You’ll be among so many other female software developers.”

“We need more women in tech like you!”

All of the comments above, while well-intentioned, make me feel more invisible than empowered. Yes, I have a high-femme gender expression. Yes, I use she/her pronouns.

No, that does not automatically mean that I identify as a woman.

I’m not one to hate on good intentions, so I don’t mind I’ve gotten used to my gender being misread at large tech events. And at work. And in public. And by anyone who isn’t part of my immediate close circle of friends.

You don’t know how much of a weight that is to hold until it’s magically lifted — and that was what I experienced at Lesbians Who Tech.

This year was the sixth annual Lesbians Who Tech summit. The event was held in San Francisco’s Castro district, which is the gayest part of the city — rainbow flags proudly wave from streetlights year-round — and went from February 28 to March 2. Although the name of the event suggests that it’s only for lesbians, LWT is a conference for all members of the queer community and their allies.

This meant that queerness was put front and center here. Nobody was assumed to be cis, or straight — not even my dress-wearing, heel-loving self! Pronouns were asked and respected, and not a single person asked me to clarify my gender identity.

I met other gender-nonconforming and trans folks who were also into tech (which is as cool as meeting other queer femmes who like Lilly Pulitzer). I attended talks on how to make products more gender-inclusive for users. I spoke to representatives from companies about both my gender identity and my never-ending love of figuring out how stuff works.

And I felt so motherfucking validated.

“Where are my trans, enby, and gender-nonconforming folks?” one speaker asked during a tech talk, and as I raised my hand, I was surprised to find that I was blinking back tears.

Every day in public — in stores, restaurants, workplaces; on public transportation, ride-shares, the street — I had to fight to be read as anything besides “straight, cisgender female.” It’s the burden that comes with my looks and I accept that, but it felt so good to just be seen. There, sitting in the audience with other tech workers who were like me, I felt accepted and validated without having to say a single word.

That’s a powerful feeling to have. It reminded me of why I do the work I do on here regarding gender identity, or why I call in every transgression I see/hear, no matter how minor. This shit matters. Queer representation matters. Queer visibility matters. Queer acceptance matters, even at work. Maybe especially at work.

Being gender inclusive and pushing for gender equality does not mean only fighting for female equality. It means shattering the glass ceiling and demanding representation for people of all gender identities. I want to see transgender founders of color on the cover of Forbes and Inc. I want to have an openly queer, nonbinary person be my next tech lead. And I really really want to exist without having my identity constantly being questioned.

I’m beyond grateful to the Lesbians Who Tech team who put on this event, to all the companies who sent representatives that didn’t misgender me, and to every amazing person I met here. So often, the work I do regarding gender representation is thankless or pushed back upon. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to experience what it felt like to be validated, acknowledged, and seen. ♚

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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