Identities are hard, mainly because they involve a desire to belong to others with the same identity. This feeling that you are part of the group and that you can mirror your self in others, to some degree at least. Even the feeling that there are others just like you makes you feel less alone. It is a very common for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people (LGBT) especially during the coming out process. Most of us have many identities and it is usually hard to find a place where all of them fit into the group you are currently in. In my early coming out period I struggled hard with what I considered to be feminine, in retrospect of course influenced by traditional norms just as everyone else. A big step for me was when I decided that the fact that I was a woman did not change my interest in information technology and computers. I realized that I was an IT-girl and decided to try to be proud about that. It soon turned out that the IT-girl identity actually was often cut in two and the sense of belonging either happened around IT-people (usually men) or women who were usually not interested in IT that much. In a sense society kind of reminded me that women usually are not into technology and IT which of course made it a bit hard for me to identify as a women because I was apparently quite different from most women I met. I guess this is one of the main reasons there is a need for Geek Girl Meetup. More about that later on.
My life became divided into different bubbles often closely aligned with these identities I have as a woman, LGBT-aktivist, military officer, IT-professional and so on. Met with different kind of people who each connected to some aspect of me and my identities. Sometimes I even do feel that being rather conflicting when being in women’s circuits where technology is mainly a hazzle or in the LGBT-world when being a military officer is not exactly the most common thing. Often ended up explaining or even defending the other part of me in the identity bubble I happened to be in at the time. The same thing at work. There are very few women around me on a daily basis, even fewer women who are military officers and hardly any who have an interest in information technology. I do have great friends but to be honest they are quite different from me, I guess I tend to be drawn to people who are not like me whatever that means. A couple of years one of them pointed out that very fact and suggested it would be good for me to find a new bubble where I could mirror myself in people who just like me had a deep interest in information technology and believed in its inherent power to change the world. It wouldn’t hurt if they are women as well, she said with a smile.
Then I heard about Geek Girl Meetup and their upcoming Enter.Space-event in Stockholm. That looked a lot like the context I had been searching for and the space theme sounded just perfect for me. I am quite a space buff after all. I asked to of my friends who I believed possibly could be up for such an event. None of them were able to attend. It is quite scary to go to things like this alone but in the end I decided to sign up and felt awfully proud!
Saturday May 25th came and I had completely forgotten about the whole thing. Slept rather late and it wasn’t until I checked my twitter feed I almost went cold. It was today! What should I do? Skip the whole thing, skip Saturday and just go there on Sunday or even try to jump in late on Saturday? My transsexual identity kicked in and I felt scared. Going there alone, maybe no one will talk to me or even give me those strange looks that I have experienced a few times. That look that makes you feel not just different but strange. My mind kept spinning for a while but fortunately my courage seemed to be coming back. It was something about what my friend has said and my own sense of longing for having this part of my identity being affirmed. Got some support from a friend out shopping for antiqueties and after a while I found myself doing a right-turn into the parking lot of the event at the Swedish Technical Museum.
Found my badge at the entrance which was a great start. It is after all one attribute of belonging to this particular crowd. It is also somewhat of an ice-breaker since people can read each other’s badge and it opens up for interaction. Grabbed some coffee and headed of for the first seminar around women in IT. A perfect start I thought. I realized that I am really not used to being in women only spaces and it is quite a special environment. There is something about the mood which is different bit like what I experienced earlier at TEDxWomenStockholm. People are somewhat more cautious, more polite, more curious and maybe initially some less talking. Of course I do feel a desire to fit in and yes, to pass as the woman I am. Very much on my toes and trying to sense the environment. The seminar started and I was amazed again. Stories were shared and opinions were voiced and I felt that these things are said only in spaces like this. Most men never hear this and frankly have no clue about what it is like to be a woman. Felt humble but also inspired to try to change. Decided to share as well as said something about the importance of looking at identities and how we related to norms around IT-interests and behavior not being considered to be feminine. How we as women talk about this and how we react when others express these norms towards us. I think we need to be careful so we not talk to negatively towards the (male) nerd stereotype and distance our selves as women from that kind of characteristics. It is always dangerous when you are defining who you are by just distance yourself by saying that you are not like “those people”.Instead it is vital to describe who you are and your reasons for being passionate about IT. I sometimes feel that we also have a challenge to be really “geeky” while still being a woman. Norms saying it is an incompatible combination and we as women have to be interested but not too interested in IT because then it is not compatible with being a woman. This seminar really high-lighted some major aspects of what is stopping women but also some ideas of what can be done.
Listened to the next one which was about rocket engines. Small and environmentally friendly ones developed here in Stockholm it turned out. It was really cool to go to a seminar about rocket science I thought. After that I connected with a few women and it felt really nice to start interacting. The final session of the day was around graph databases and the community manager from Neo4J was there to give the talk. It was great to be reminded of their cool technology which I had looked at earlier in my line of work. The mix of talks I found felt great. Gender, rocket engines and graph databases covered it all!
I knew there was a party /after work planned after the un-conference but I was by all means not sure I would muster the courage to go there. I mean I was proud of being at the conference at all! However, before I knew it I had met three wonderful women and we were off in my little Mini to have dinner down-town. That I had not expected. Not at all. At the restaurant we talked about technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. After a while it dawned on me. This was not something I was used to at all. It was the context I had been looking for and have missed dearly. Having these kind of discussions with bright women at a nice restaurant warmed by the evening sun. Me being an IT-girl (both at the same time) was suddenly a perfect fit in that situation. Way cool!
Ended up at the after work/party and had a great time. Stayed until 22.30 or so and felt so proud of myself and so happy to have met such so many cool and inspiring women. Met up with a dear friend of mine at one of the hotels and she really saw that I was happy with the experience. The late Saturday setting at this bar quickly reminded me that me sense of security could be taken away quickly. Some men outside the window behaved really badly towards me and made numerous obscene signs. It is sometimes a short distance between a safe environment that brings out the best from you and feeling very exposed and insecure.
Sunday came and I was there on time to spend another day among the Geek Girls and it turned out to be a good day as well. Nice and interesting talks and I got a chance to talk to a few other women with various experiences. It was so nice to speak to women who were very interested in programming and business intelligence. It does not happen often. At the end of the conference I joined the newly founded association Geek Girl Meetup and we had our first official members meeting where a new board was elected. Hopefully the concept will live on in this new format because it is very much needed and it is a wonderful experiences. Maybe I am one of the people giving a talk next year. I would be very proud doing so.