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date icon March 21, 2023

Struggle to navigate International Women’s Day while nonbinary? I’m with you.

CEO & Founder at CodeOp

Our CEO Katrina Walker shares the highlights from a recent discussion with colleagues about navigating International Women’s Day while nonbinary.

 

Here at CodeOp we’ve never really celebrated International Women’s Day.

CodeOp is the first international tech school for women, trans and nonbinary folk. Or women+. Our mission is to help solve the problem of chronic gender disparity in tech. And we work towards this vision, celebrating and supporting women+ every day of the year.

The problem is that we women+ are not a monolith.

I myself have a very intimate and private relationship with gender. It’s felt fluid and pretty complex since as early as I can remember. So since becoming a “Woman CEO and Founder”, I find that the annual run-up to International Women’s Day stirs up a lot of anxiety for me. I’m often gendered in ways that can leave me feeling pretty uncomfortable. But it’s difficult to avoid being invited to speak on the topic, because of my public-facing gender.

But then the guilt sets in. 

Every year I ask myself: Do I have a responsibility to lead the conversation? How should I celebrate something that absolutely deserves celebration but brings up weird shit for me, personally? 

Back in March 2022, after really feeling the burden of this conflict, I shared this intimate message with my community:

This year? I recognised the complexity of navigating IWD while nonbinary, in a discussion with my colleagues Donna Chin and Thainá Braz

We’re part of the same community. But we each offer a different voice, perspective, and experience.

Donna (she/he/they) graduated from our Full Stack Development Bootcamp back in April 2021. They’ve since become a CodeOp Teaching Assistant and Community Mentor. As well as a Full-Time Junior QA Specialist for NBC Universal.

Thainá (she/they) studied Computer Science at university. She joined us as Assistant Instructor before becoming our very own Technical Manager.

Donna shared:

“In the past, I actually felt okay with International Women’s Day. But, as I adjusted to my nonbinary identity, these spaces have felt more complicated. With identity in general, it depends on who your audience is.

I don’t feel any more masculine or feminine, still very nonbinary. I don’t see myself as a “woman” or a “man”. You know, more – in the middle. But here’s the thing: I present as very masculine and always get gendered as a man.

International Women’s Day at CodeOp would never feel threatening to me because it’s a safe space. Yet in more corporate spaces, the environment can feel more ‘feminine’, more cis-gendered.

There can be a certain pressure to conform to the gender binary and an obligation to share your pronouns. If you identify somewhere between a man and a woman? You have to let people know that you’re ‘they/them’.

But what if I don’t feel like sharing that? While it may seem like a great way to be inclusive, it can also feel like forcing someone to come out.” 

Thainá then followed with:

“I also struggle when it comes to International Women’s Day because a lot of the time, I don’t feel like a woman. Sometimes I feel like a 13-year-old boy! My pronouns are pretty fluid; it depends on where I am in my life.

So when I think about IWD,it’s about how people view it and what the “role” of women in society is. Every time it comes around, I see people reinforcing this idea of our role in society – we give them gifts. We tell them how beautiful they are.

But for me, this day should be about reflecting on the politics of gender inequality and how we break down stereotypes.”

Thainá’s bang on the money. Gender inequality is political.   

My personal relationship with gender has always been complicated and very intimate to me. But that doesn’t mean I leave my politics about it outside of work. It means that I’m even more committed to creating an inclusive space where the messiness around gender is welcomed. And even celebrated. 

I’m not here to create a heteronormative space just for cis women, based on superficial feminist politics.

While there are still trans and nonbinary people who don’t feel safe at work, it’s political.

This isn’t about voting left or right, it’s how you view the world and behave within it. It’s what you choose to do with your assumptions and biases.

Thainá shared a statement that resonated with all of us:

“The tech gender gap is so massive. When you’re a woman working in tech, teaching other women+ to code, you’re doing politics every single day.”  

In Europe and the US, International Women’s Day generally tends to centre white, straight, cis-gendered women. If you’re only uplifting these voices, experiences, and perspectives – how inclusive is your celebration? 

I created CodeOp, in part, to create a tech community that I myself had been searching for. One that cares about social and economic justice. 

To make International Women’s Day feel equitable – we need to reflect on how toxic masculinity, heteronormativity, racism, classism, and ableism show up in these spaces. 

Thainá: shared her thoughts on this:

“CodeOp is an important safe space for women+ to learn coding in a community free of toxic masculinity.  When you’re a minority in society and you find a safe community of people like you, it’s powerful. You feel supported by the strength of others.

Even at CodeOp, we’re still learning. We aren’t perfect. While we try our best, we’ve got more to do. Talking about it is the first step.”

Donna invited us to also think about how we can all make spaces safer for those who present as the opposite gender, but don’t connect exclusively with it.

“International Women’s Day can feel difficult to navigate for women+ who physically transition. There’s an uncertainty about which community spaces they belong in and can align with. Trans masculine people who still feel safer in spaces for women can also feel weird about it because they feel like they don’t fit in spaces for men. But they also don’t identify as a woman. So where is their space?”  

If you’re striving to be as inclusive as possible you need to get comfortable with the discomfort of constantly failing. I invite that discomfort. Difficult conversations provide a richness of understanding, empathy, and meaningful solidarity.

IWD this year is all about equity. To create equitable events and communities, we must understand that not all women+ come to these spaces on an equal footing.  

What do the different intersections of your people need? Some may need more financial support than others. Others may need more pastoral care. Other groups could benefit from tailored mentoring more than others.

How do you find out? Ask them.

I’m not a trans woman, so I will always have some form of blinders. Conversations like this help us understand different perspectives and needs. The experience of one trans/nonbinary person can be totally different from the next person’s. In the same way that a cis woman’s can be.

CodeOp educates students from over 70 different countries. Our students come to us with varied gender identities. And varied understandings of gender, identity, and expression.

Thainá made the powerful point that “there is always room to improve our use of language.” Language is a vehicle for communication. Just like our understanding of gender identity and expression, it’s constantly evolving. So we’re constantly learning. 

Conclusion:

So how can IWD be more inclusive of nonbinary and trans folk? We definitely don’t have all the answers but we do operate with a “no dickheadery” policy. We may fuck up from time to time. But what we’ve aimed to do here is explore and highlight the messy, complex, and nuanced nature of gender.

And as CEO, I’m here to create a structure that enables a safe space. For these honest and difficult conversations.

Thainá, Donna, and I all agreed: it’s essential to open up conversations around marginalised identities. We have to start somewhere. 

Educating our staff and community. Telling more diverse stories. Improving representation. Collecting data and feedback. 

This is the long-term, ongoing work we value. Far more than one-off events.

– Katrina Walker

 

Notes:

Stonewall defines ‘non-binary’ as an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with ‘man’ or ‘woman. Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely. 

Author: Katrina Walker
CEO & Founder at CodeOp
Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, I relocated to South Europe in 2016 to explore the growing tech scene from a data science perspective. After working as a data scientist in both the public...
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