How did I get here?

Over the last few of years, I’ve undergone a lot of changes, and taken some pretty huge steps in personal development. This post is an attempt to tell the story of how this all unfolded. Some of the details are a little fuzzy, but the general narrative is sufficient.

Content note: Non-specific discussions about sex and BDSM; more detailed discussions of polyamory/non-monogamy, and bisexuality. Fairly specific mention of my realisation of bisexual/polyamorous/kinky identity and coming out. A pretty deep dive into my brain.

Backstory

As of the start of 2014, I had led what I deemed a pretty ordinary, uninteresting (not to say unfulfilled!) life. I’d gone through primary school and secondary school without many noteworthy blips, except perhaps for the one that helped me realise the self-destructive nature of secrets, and the freedom of honesty, even when it means admitting you messed up.

Being involved with Scouts since I was 8 taught me a lot of life skills, including teamwork, leadership, independence, event planning, and a slew of other awesome stuff. I took a break from Scouts when I turned 18.

I spent 2 years studying an Advanced Diploma of Computer Science at RMIT TAFE, and then in 2008 I articulated into RMIT’s Bachelor of Computer Science. That same year, I began my first ever job, lasting 7 years, and I re-joined the Scouts as a leader to get me away from my computer screen.

And for 6 years, this was basically how things stayed. I finished my degree, and my life was basically work, scouts, hanging out with a small handful of friends, and having my introvert down-time at home on the computer etc.

An exception to this was that in 2012 I started attending Linux.conf.au , an annual conference on Open Source software. This was where I started making a few friends in the IT space, but I didn’t generally see many of them outside of conferences, because they were from all over the world.

Catalyst

And that brings us to January 23, 2014, and this tweet from a Linux.conf.au contact:

Not having heard of @OKFNau before, I did some digging:

This sounded right up my alley, so I went. Being shy and introverted around new people, I was relieved when a very energetic human intercepted me on entry and made me feel welcome, introducing me to many awesome people.

I had a ball, and kept attending Open Knowledge events.
Now: I overcommit and volunteer far too much. For this, I blame my Scout leader; a fantastic person and role model with a penchant for doing too much, and whose commitment I aspired match until I realised not all adults are involved with 3 or more organisations outside their full-time job, and that’s OK!
It was only 6 months before I was co-running Open Knowledge events.

Realisation

I’d hitherto not made time or space in my life for romantic, intimate, sexual, or otherwise non-platonic connections. I had not desperately needed or craved those types of connections. Sure, I’d been attracted to women before, but never enough to warrant overcoming the stress and anxiety of “making a move.”

I think Open Knowledge was the first time that I regularly interacted with people around my age, with similar values and interests. I realised I really enjoyed that sort of connection, and thought I was finally ready to also explore different, non-platonic connections.

I wasn’t necessarily attracted to anyone from  Open Knowledge, and in any case the idea of saying as much terrified me. So I turned to online dating. “There’s no stigma against this any more,” I reasoned. After some research, I created an OkCupid account.

OkCupid asked me questions that I’d never considered before:

  • What is your sexual orientation? (Straight/Gay/Bisexual)
  • What is your monogamy preferences? (Monogamous/Non-monogamous)

I’d assumed I was straight, because I was interested in women and femme-presenting folks, and bisexuality hadn’t occurred to me; nor had non-monogamy.

Brief consideration revealed that I had the capacity to be attracted to men and masc-presenting folks too. In the past I’d recognised that some men were attractive, but only in a general and objective sense, as opposed to a personal attraction to someone. I also did a little research and decided that just assuming that monogamy is the right choice for everybody is a ridiculous idea. Society tells us monogamy is the norm, but it makes sense to question this, and make an informed decision either for or against monogamy; I chose the latter.

Selecting “bisexual” and “non-monogamous,” I completed my sign-up, and started chatting to people.

Exploration

Before long I had a couple of dates lined up, with a man and a woman. I mentioned earlier about how high school strengthened my aversion to secrets. As a result of this, I decided to come out as “possibly bisexual” to my parents. I lived with them, but was financially independent, and didn’t really think they’d have a problem with this information, let alone a big enough objection that they’d do something as drastic as kick me out, like I’d heard other parents of queer people do.

Hey Mum. I’ve started online dating. Why? Because I want to meet people and am bad at doing it in person! Anyway, I’ve got a couple of dates lined up. One is with a woman, and… one is with a guy.

Their general response was along the lines of: “Oh. … OK.” which was pretty great as far as I was concerned. They’ve been really supportive!

Back to that energetic person I met that first night at Open Knowledge. At some point, I’d heard them mention polyamory (a term I’d encountered in my non-monogamy research), so I told them I was exploring this idea, and they gave me heaps of references, including Archer Magazine, The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and Polyamory Victoria (PolyVic) – a group which runs regular meetups to discuss Polyamory. I did lots of reading, and joined the PolyVic community, eventually going on to co-run that as well.

In addition to the above polyamory/non-monogamy books, I eventually read More Than Two (that’s the book; also see their website), and 3 books on communication: Nonviolent Communication, Crucial Conversations, and Never Split The Difference.

Even if polyamory wasn’t for me, I knew the communication and introspection skills I’d learn from considering it would be universally valuable, so I had no qualms about giving it a shot, with great success!

In the midst of all this, I had had relationships of varying durations and types with people of different genders, starting to explore sex, intimacy, and romance. I also started to explore parts of the BDSM scene, which, despite not spending much time in, I definitely have an interest in, and I’ve enjoyed the experimentation I’ve done in that space thus far. I’ve also started clubbing and exploring events and venues associated with the “gay scene,” which has been a little daunting, but also fun.

Conclusion

I don’t currently want to go into too many details of my sex life on a public post, but suffice to say, that from 2014 to 2017, I had crammed in a lot of theoretical and practical experience around communication, introspection, non-platonic relationships, non-monogamy, the queer community, sex, kink and the alternative/hippy community (in the form of alternative lifestyle festivals).

I keep an open mind, and am regularly inquisitive of the status quo or unfounded assumptions that society should be a certain way; I think this was attitude was integral to my journey.

So these days, I’m still doing the endless self-development thing. I’m working better on my communication skills, and pushing my comfort zone, going to events on my own, trying to meet new people, and get better at talking to strangers, especially those who I’m interested in or attracted to. That’s hard, but looking back on how far I’ve come, I’m reassured that I might get there one day. Who knows what the future will hold for me?

Improving diversity and inclusion at tech (and other) events

Over the years I’ve attended and organised various conferences, hackathons, and other events, and it’s been interesting to observe the ways in which each of them handle (or don’t handle) diversity.

This post is a collection of notes and pointers about the things I’ve noticed are some of the most important things to help increase diversity at events. When I say diversity, I’m largely referring to the diversity of the attendees at events. People from different walks of life, backgrounds, races, genders, abilities, etc.

Being inclusive at our events is important. If our events only have homogeneous attendees, the things they focus on will only be relevant to those attendees, and not useful to anybody else. As it turns out, not everybody is a neurotypical able-bodied heterosexual middle-class cisgender white male. Those of us who do fit or approximate this description often aren’t aware or appreciative of the issues experienced by anybody different from ourselves.

So, in no particular order, how do we improve diversity? This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there will be things I’ve missed, and perhaps some mistakes. Please check out the references section for more information. There’s also a summary at the end. (EDIT: The summary is also available as a lightning talk.)

Race

Be sensitive to and aware of non-white attendees. Ensure you call out racism in your code of conduct, and that you consider how you can be inclusive of and do outreach to various races and indigenous communities.

Accessibility

Have accessible venues. This means ensuring that all the important areas of your venue, including common areas, theatres, bathrooms and stages (speakers can have disabilities, too, and may have lots to say about them!) are wheelchair accessible.

If you think you may have people with visual or hearing disabilities at your events, consider a sign-language interpreter, or having a hearing-aid loop, so that these people can be involved in presentations too, and encourage presenters to be cognisant of this when making their slides (not assuming everybody can see what their slides say, for example).

Additionally, speakers should be mindful of using ableist language, or abusing terms like “OCD” to mean “fussy,” for example. Ensure your website is accessible for people with screen readers etc.

Dietary requirements

Ask for people’s dietary requirements upon registration for your event. You could have a set of check-boxes for things like vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, lactose free, FODMAP, etc. but regardless of whether or not you do this, you should include a dietary requirements free text field for people to explain the nuances of their situation; don’t assume they’ll fit into your boxes; people are complex.

Gender

There are more than 2 genders, and we want to be inclusive of them all. That means that beyond making our events more accessible to women, we should also be inclusive of trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming folks. This should include, wherever possible, gender neutral bathrooms.

If your event will have name badges, and you want to give attendees input into what goes onto their name badge, then instead of permitting a “Twitter handle” text box, have a “free badge text; use for Twitter handle, pronoun, GitHub profile, or whatever you like” field. The mention of pronoun here demonstrates to attendees that you acknowledge people’s pronouns may not match how they look (a femme presenting person may not use she/her/hers pronouns), and improves inclusion.

If you need to ask for gender ensure you allow a free-text field to specify their gender. Again, they may not fit in your boxes. Ask, though, why you are asking for gender? Identifying diversity (e.g. how many non-men do we have at this event) is a valid reason. An argument people have made in the past is that a free text field could result in: man, male, boy, masculine, guy, woman, girl, lady, female, trans man, trans woman, unspecified, etc. This is obviously a bit tricky to aggregate for statistics, so one option is to offer an auto-complete text field that auto-completes to “female” when the user starts typing “f” or other words, for example. This encourages users towards labels that make statistical aggregation easy for you, but lets them break out of your boxes if they wish, and type what they like.

Additionally, “unisex T-shirts” are not unisex. Unisex shirts are not designed properly to fit people with breasts or differently shaped chests. If you’re offering T-shirts, offer women’s cut shirts as well as unisex/men’s cut shirts. This may also mean thinking carefully about the design you print on your shirts to ensure the design looks good on people with larger chests, and that the design isn’t distorted etc. Consider subtle and unintentional use of gendered language, such as words like “guys.”

Names

Not everybody has a first name and a last name. Some have mononyms, other cultures display the family name first. When asking for people’s names on your registration form, have a single field for somebody’s full name. Don’t split it up. Ever. If you want a short or informal name (what we westerners may usually use a first name for), have an additional field for “informal form of address”, and explain this may be used for address in newsletters etc., so people have a context through which they can decide how to be addressed.

Socio-economics

Not everybody will be able to afford to come to your event. People from low socio-economic backgrounds may want to come, and have useful and interesting input and perspectives. We can’t afford to exclude these people. Offer grants or sponsorships to people who can’t afford to attend but wish to.

Childcare and youth programs

Some potential attendees will have children. Offer childcare or youth programs. Childcare is not hard to do, and demonstrates your desire to make your events family-friendly.

Newbies

Going to a new event can be scary. Include details on your event’s website that are easy to find and explain what to expect for your event, possibly offering a contact of whom additional questions can be asked. Once at your event, ensure that newbies are overtly welcomed, and that contempt culture is discouraged.

Code of Conduct

Have a code of conduct. There are plenty of great CoCs available (some of which I’ve mentioned in below in the references) off which you could base yours. It should include consequences for breaches, and details for who to contact if people feel unsafe or need to report an incident.

Summary

Additional references and further reading

See Carina C. Zona’s talk called “Schemas for the real world” for information on how to ask for information from users without squeezing them into boxes into which they don’t feel they fit. Check out the Django Community Code of Conduct, the Hopper Fund’s guide to improving conference diversity, the Geek Feminism anti-harassment policy, and the anti-harassment policy developed by the Ada Initiative.

Regarding inclusive language, the Australian National LGBTI Health Alliance has an excellent guide to inclusive sex and gender diverse language. Feel free to extrapolate the guidelines for size, ability, education and ethnicity. The Australian Network on Disabilities also has a guide to inclusive language you might want to look at.