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Trans in Tech

Last updated on 11/06/2024

I’d like to tell you that being a trans woman doesn’t impact my work.

I’d like to tell you that it doesn’t impact my work, but I bump up against it every day. That might seem surprising. I’m a technical person. An Engineer! My whole value proposition is being a dispassionate brain, available for hire. How can my sense of self and gender expression get in the way of that?

We have such wonders to show you.

Wake Up, Grab a Brush & Put a Little Makeup

I have a decision tree worthy of any Intro ML course to dress myself. I’ll spare you the details of it, but let me tell you why it exists. I’m trying to balance five things:

  • Am I comfortable?
  • Do I like how I look?
  • Is it work appropriate?
  • Will I be read as the correct gender
  • Will it be ‘too much’ for someone I have to work with?

Everyone deals with the top three. The last two are more common for folks like me.

I hate getting misgendered. It’s distracting, upsetting, and frequent. Sometimes it’s accidental. More often, it’s from someone I’ve corrected many times before, which feels deliberate. In either case, I’m spending effort to help people work with me by gendering me correctly. Getting misgendered distracts me, and my job needs focus.

I have to balance my need to be gendered correctly against completing my actual job. Unfortunately, who I am as a person is a problem for some of my customers and colleagues. We still need to work together. I have to plan for my time with them to be less effective, or I’ll miss my estimates. I also spend more time up front, as they seem to need more evidence from me than they would other engineers.

Of Coffee, Comfort, and Water Closets

Bathrooms are hard when you’re trans. I personally have no problem being in a women’s restroom, but I’m not the only person who uses them. I’ve been confronted in bathrooms on the way to conferences and at them. I know which restaurants have single occupancy bathrooms so I can take clients and candidates there and not worry.

I work on the second floor of a three story building. We’ve got bathrooms on every floor, and an all genders restroom on the first floor. For the comfort of everyone, I go downstairs to hit the head. Like memorizing where in my area it’s safe to pee, this is an extra tax I pay daily for existing.

I Eat Alone, Yeaaaaah, With Nobody Else

The lunch room is the heart of the office. It’s where we recharge, forge friendships, and spread knowledge across teams.

It’s also something I take part in far less than I used to. When I take a break to eat, play cards, and vent about technical issues, I often end up less rested than before. This is because I can’t control who participates. In any group of even modest size, being trans is a problem. I end up ignored, talked over, or misgendered despite repeated corrections.

Taking Care of Business

The work, the merciful, uncomplicated work. As any engineer knows, technical tasks are the easiest part of the job. Here is the one place where who I am doesn’t impact my job.

Technical tasks aren’t the bulk of the job. There are client meetings, retrospectives, and public speaking. Those are social interactions, even if they’re to achieve software or business outcomes. As I said above, being trans and being a woman can make me less effective in these settings in our industry. Knowing that, I have to compensate for it.

Over Familiarity Breeds Contempt

For my cisgendered and heterosexual audience, let me ask you some questions. Have you ever been asked how you know you’re straight? What about how you know you’re a man or a woman? Are people openly fascinated by what it’s like to be in your body?


I can’t imagine how nice that must be.

Literally, I can not imagine it. For me, those questions seem to be fair game. At every networking event I’ve been to since coming out, I’ve been asked about my sexuality and gender.

The worst part is I know most people mean well. I’m often the first openly trans person they’ve met. Maybe it’s just curiosity. They could want to know more so they can be kinder or a better ally.

I’m now in a super awkward position. I don’t know them that well, and those are personal questions. I have to balance that against their well meaning earnest questions.

I’m left stuck justifying my gender to a stranger. You’d never ask a cis man how he knows he is a man. Unless you were doing what I am: highlighting what a privilege that is. That’s what I want, the privilege of not justifying how I know I’m a woman to you.

Coming Out… the other side

As an engineer, my job is to engineer, to design and to build. I’d like to tell you that being a trans woman doesn’t impact my work. I can proudly tell you it doesn’t. Unfortunately, all too often it impacts my colleagues’ work. In the interest of business outcomes, I spend effort managing their experience of me. That way, we all get to where we’re trying to go. We all want the projects to succeed, to unwind over lunch, and go home to our families and hobbies.

If you want to help gender variant folks get there a little more rested, here are some things you can do:

  • Don’t ask overly familiar questions of us
  • If someone tells you their gender, believe them the first time
  • Read a book about the gender diverse experience
  • Join a local allyship group
Published inPersonalThe Industry