Sunday, 20 April 2014

Hermaphrodites In Tech

There is a massive shortage of hermaphrodites being employed or active in areas ranging from politics to technology sectors. Despite there being over a million of hermaphrodites around the world, the reported number of hermaphrodites active in these areas is essentially zero. It's not impossible that many of those who are active in these areas have to do so while pretending to be either male or female, thus forcing them to disguise their true identity and live a stressful double life. While the technology sector is generally the most accepting and tolerant of all, even here the practice of hidden identities continues.


All kidding aside, the above is a semi-realistic portrait of the actual situation inspired by the many 'women in politics/tech' etc. articles and rants. Taking the whole concept of an antagonistic group of individuals who are somehow being singled out in an industry and applying it to a group hitherto not high-lit in this fashion. Women, transgenders, people of colour and/or with various religons and such have all been treated in this fashion. How does being what they are affect their prospects of a happy life, of getting hired and the like? As the whole area of intersex is far too inclusive to apply the same principle to (too many differences between intersex conditions), I'll limit myself here to just the condition I was born with, being hermaphroditism.

Growing up as a boy while my body gradually transformed into that of a female during puberty was confusing at the best of times, yet I found that while in a male gender role, society was very appreciative of my interest in the sciences and computer technology, saying things like that I would get very far in it and how smart I was. Then as I switched gender roles and I found solace in a gender role which better befit my body and feelings, I found that the way society regarded the same interests I had in a very different manner.

Explaining to various people that I am a software developer did not evoke the general grunts of appreciation for someone smarter than them, but instead got me comments generally coming down to that they had not expected a girl to do such a thing and that they thought it was a-ma-zing that I could do something like that. It did give me appreciation for what regular women have to go through on a daily basis if they have decided for a career in IT, engineering or other sciences. To be treated like some kind of bloody curiousity is fun on one hand but rather annoying at the other. It doesn't surprise me that this kind of attitude is keeping girls away from pursuing such a type of career when their environment makes them feel like they're doing something weird.

For me having started off in a male role this felt even more ridiculous to me, considering that I as a person hadn't changed, only that what I called myself in public: male or female. While the male and female brain differ in a variety of ways (the latter actually being better suited for analysis and the like), I did not change my brain, so if society appreciated what I did while 'male', they better darn well appreciate me in the same way while 'female'.

This kind of points to how hermaphrodites do not fit into the 'men in tech' or 'women in tech' exclamations or groups. We literally populate both sides of this trench war and neither. Those of us who live in a female role and those who live in a male role still have had many experiences which regular men and women will not have had, making us different in ways which go beyond just the physical differences. It's not much different from how most of us regard ourselves in daily life. We fit into society and yet we fall completely outside of it.

All of this has led me to the pragmatic point of view that it's not about 'men', 'women', 'transgenders', 'homosexuals' or whatever the label in whatever the category, be it 'tech', 'politics', 'waste disposal' or 'professional Santa Claus actor'. What it's all really about is about not discriminating against someone who is clearly suitable for the position or job. Many politicians in history including famous US presidents were absolute sleaze bags in their private life, often keeping up relations with multiple mistresses, yet this never disqualified them for running the country. If one can overlook such behaviour for such an important position, then what is against simply ignoring everything else about a person at a job interview aside from their qualifications?

At my previous job in the Netherlands I felt that it was necessary that I told the person interviewing me about my intersex condition, asking him whether he had an issue with it. Though they said they didn't, it most definitely was a consideration in their decision to hire me. At my current job here in Germany it's quite different. During the hiring process my physical condition never once was an issue nor did it ever get discussed. While many of my colleagues know about it, they tend to be discreet about it, not ashamed to ask me questions about it, but mostly treating it as just an interesting thing about me as a person, not as a kind of liability.

That said, being treated like a person is all that I desire. Though through the past years I have come to be known as 'the hermaphrodite', 'the intersex activist' and such, I prefer to not think of myself that way. I'm just another human being with a fond interest in science and technology, preferring to geek out over some new project or gadget. The way I was born should not in any form or shape affect this, nor should it do so for anyone else, regardless of how they refer to themselves.



Patrick Horgan said...

Thoughtful and smart. Just what I always expect from you.

Lianne Simon said...

40 years ago, when I was legally male, they put me in my own quarters, away from the men, but let me work. When I changed my legal status to female, they told me women weren't cut out to be engineers, but they still let me do the work. Now the interviews go well, but the offers fail when a quick Google finds me intersex. I'd love to do open source. You know any that's C++? Visual Studio or GNU.