to with a pronoun that matches their
gender expression. My advice is be
sensitive, use common sense, and in
the end it never hurts to ask anyone
what pronouns they prefer if you are
We are seeing signs of greater tolerance and acceptance of gender diversity. Facebook recently widened its set
of gender identifiers [ 1]. Users may now
identify as trans*, cis, and agender just
to name a few. My open source community, Drupal, has had transgender
as a profile gender option for more
than five years. Recently, transgender
activist Janet Mock published a memoir Redefining Realness [ 2] that has garnered significant mainstream media
attention and positive reception.
PIPES AND FLOWER POWER
Technology and I, we’ve grown up together. Computing power, it seemed,
progressed in perfect lock-step with
my cognitive development. The green
pipes of Super Mario challenged my
five-year old dexterity. As a preteen I
planned intricate X-Wing missions. As
a teen I competed in networked real-time strategy games over a phone line
with high-school friends, marshalling
armies of Orcs, Zerg, or Terran.
In 1996, I connected to the Internet.
A year later I would spend a sleepless
night babysitting a download of Internet Explorer 4 over a delicate modem
connection that tended to drop glibly.
If you have never known life before the
Internet, let me just state it was a world
changing event, especially for me. By
browsing that splendid chaos of the
nascent Internet, I discovered I was
not unique. I found other transgender
people and their stories were so very
similar to mine.
During my first year at Dartmouth
College I discovered Lynn Conway [ 3]
and Lili Elbe [ 4]. Lili constituted for me
the role of pioneer and founding figure
for transwomen. Her story is fictionalized in The Danish Girl, a book I read in
daily three-page chunks while pulling
books for interlibrary loan.
Lynn Conway became my role
model—intelligent, poised and distinguished. Her career in computer science showed me a path for my studies.
That she was so brilliantly successful
gave me hope I could be as well. Lynn
was coerced to reveal her past in 2001,
having lived most of her adult life in
what we call “deep stealth,” where one
is not open about being transgender.
She posted her story to the Internet
when I needed it most.
Just as the future arrives with uneven distribution, so too does social
justice. In my home state of Massachusetts, legislators passed the Act
Relative to Gender Identity in July 2012
[ 5]. This piece of legislation protects
individuals like me from wrongful termination due to discrimination based
on our gender expression. Over half
of Americans live in states where this
right to expression is not protected [ 6].
We are still waiting for the U.S. House
of Representatives to vote on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act [ 7],
passed by the Senate late last year.
Just like the variation in law across the
U.S., individual European Union member states have varied laws regarding
anti-discrimination protections [ 8]. If
you are considering a gender transition that will render your appearance
outside of accepted societal norms or
require changing official records, I recommend consulting legal counsel to
establish your rights and protections
in your home country and state as soon
An acquaintance of mine transitioned from male to female appearance on the job in a tech field. She had
two yearly reviews while still presenting as a man before her transition.
Both were exemplary. After she began
to transition her appearance, her next
yearly review veered dramatically into
negative feedback. She was put on a re-
mediation plan with unreasonable ex-
pectations and not soon after was dis-
missed. Her home state does not have
legal protections that include gender
expression that prevent unreasonable
termination from a job.
I was never naive about the dangers
of transitioning my gender expression
from male to female. We were still not
so visible in the eyes of the public in
2009 and transitioning still had the
potential to bring disaster upon the
fragile start of my career in Web development. Luckily I had started a new
job just months before I came out. My
colleagues did, and continue to, support me as a developer and a transgender woman. Before my transition at
work, I had planned for worst-case scenarios and never once did I need to put
one of those plans into action. I hope
more companies come to support their
employees as openly as mine has supported me.
BALANCING GENDER EXPRESSION
WITH CAREER GOALS
Everyone performs gender in a business setting. Our professional dress
standards are quite gendered—
collars and pants for men; blouse, slacks
or a skirt, and appropriate accessories
for women. In tech, where jeans and
a T-shirt may be accepted as work attire, you’ll often find women “dressing
up” more than the men. As someone
who once dressed like a man and now
dresses like a woman, I can attest to
the expectations I present with a touch
more polish than sneakers, jeans, and
a T-shirt will project.
For gender queer, gender non-nor-mative, and genderless folks, business
attire may feel restrictive—honestly it
probably feels restrictive for many cisgender folks as well. So here we face a
fundamental dilemma. How much are
you willing to sacrifice your personal
expression to the perceived presentation expectations of your peers? Dressing well, which is synonymous with
dressing appropriately for your gender,
may positively affect your career.
I will not dictate to anyone how
they should dress. In my career, I have
found meeting the presentation expectations of my peers—at first typically
male and now typically female—has
correlated positively with the continued success of my career. Can I quan-
Companies who seek
like us must accept
we are diverse and
our best work derives
from a place of inner
peace and honest