Tearyne: I can Choose Where I'm Open and Where I’m Not


"People are people. We all wear clothes, we all drink water and eat food. Sun goes up, and the sun goes down. We're all just people. Seeing someone else visible lets you be visible and pay it forward," said Tearyne when talking about Queer representation in open-source.

On 23rd June 2022, Drupal Diversity and Inclusion (DDI) with WordPress Diversity and Pantheon Pridetheon Impact ERG hosted a Community conversation 'Out in Open Source!'. The session was led by Tearyne D. Almendariz, the lead of DDI works with Pantheon.

The panelists included Von Reyes, Events/Engagement Manager with the Drupal Association; Julia, WordPress Events; Melissa A. Miller from Pantheon and a BADCamp organizer; Vee VoPham, Event Coordinator at Pantheon and co-lead of Pantheon Impact; Madison Swain-Bowden, Senior Data Engineer, sponsored by Automatic to work on Open Search; Fei, Frontend Manager and one of the new leads with DDI; Kavya Gokul, Happiness Engineer at Automatic; David Dashifen Kees, Software Developer for Georgetown and Mark Cox from Pantheon.

Out in Open-Source Panel

According to the live Tweets on Drupal Diversity and Inclusion about half of the panelists were out before they joined the open-source community. Madison has been in open-source for eight years but came out two years ago. As a binary trans woman, she said she had a fairly supportive experience. Dashifen has been a part of the open-source community since 2010 and came out in 2018. With a 20+ year career, Dashifen too, has had mostly supportive experience. They said they had good managers. The biggest thing has been confusion around the idea of non-binary. According to Dashifen, binary trans isn't easy, but non-binary seems to require more explanation.

Queer Representation in Open-Source

Talking about Queer representation in open-source, Kavya said, "At a conference, I met an out trans woman, and discussing issues made a huge difference. It was a major lightbulb moment." She added that Queer representation is not just in open-source but also in work and life, and seeing folks living lives is important.

Melissa said, talking about Queer representation should be a normal thing. You shouldn't have to talk about it, but you should be free to do so. The Drupal community was always welcoming her first DrupalCon there was a Queer BOF. We need to have normalization & visibility for the Queer community. It is also important to normalize the diversity within the community, not just the Indigo Girls Lesbian presentation.

Mark, who previously worked with Amazon and Intuit, said he had a VP at Intuit who was responsible for 1000s of people, and he put it out there that he was gay, and that was just okay. This was eye-opening for him; without that, he doesn't know if he would have felt safe. He said,

"We need to think not just of ourselves, but also about making a path for future folks. Coming out is all the time; it is very different with a few trusted co-workers vs. a whole company or community."

Just like Kavya, Madison met an organizer attending a regional PyCon in person who was open about being a trans woman. This gave her the normalization to come out herself.

Tearyne said, "People are people. We all wear clothes, we all drink water, and eat food. Sun goes up, and the sun goes down. We're all just people. Seeing someone else visible lets, you be visible and pay it forward." The quote she used to best describe this is 'We drink deeply from wells we didn't dig.'

What was the Most Difficult Part of Transitioning at Work?

When asked what the most difficult part of transitioning at work was, Von said,

"Trans folks are always the elephant in the room and the exclusion. The UK just banned conversion therapy unless you're trans. trans experience is intrinsically more challenging." 

He transitioned at a queer organization, but despite that, the social transition was hard - deadnaming, having to fight to change email. Harder in some ways when you think it should be an easy space. The US medical system is majorly tied to jobs which makes jobs challenging. Legally you have to change names everywhere individually. With Marriage, it's mostly automatic, but with trans, it is systemic erasure.

Von said,

"Standing up and saying I'm trans is dangerous. It is important, but it is scary. Sometimes violence comes from allies. Support can be about optics only but won't go any further. It is hard not to be sure who has your back. What got me through? I have a strong support system and lean into my Philippines ancestors."

Sharing her experience, Madison said coming out to a Seattle company was mostly easy. The weird thing was subsidiary of a subsidiary, and there was absolutely no documentation, and she had to work with HR to develop that path. She said name & personal information was very hard, especially in the US. Race is often a custom field, but gender is not. 

According to Madison,

"Medical insurance is extremely convoluted and challenging. It usually feels like we have to fight as individuals against systemic problems. But knowing you can lean on others' guidance/experience is invaluable. Out In Tech space is helpful." 

She also added that old systems could be non-changeable, and you can't change name/gender. But, healthcare switches can be impossible for too long and delayed.

Von added that the medical requirements of a Psychiatrist certificate come from eugenics principles of saying you're mentally ill to be trans. The Tattoo shop has a slogan, Hang together or Hang alone. All Queer folks need to stand together in the face of eugenics and systemic issues. 

Hearing the responses, Dashifen said, same song, different key. Dashifen added,

"When switching jobs, we must decide, do I scrub history? Do I put pronouns on bio? Sometimes people have to re-closet themselves in some capacity. Sometimes you have to balance the work vs. reward vs. closeting. Queer people experience additional pivot points, and changing jobs re-opens all the questions."

How can we Enable Community Members to Advance their Careers and Contribute to Open-Source?

Talking about enabling community members to advance their careers and contribute to open-source. Madison said that Data matters, poverty rates in LGBTQ folks are mostly much higher, which is compounded massively with multiple marginalizations such as people of color.

Kavya further added that in some countries, even to think about contributing to open-source, you're in the top 2-3% of the population for the privilege. She sees proposals for setting up training regularly. There is a vast community of quasi-religious-cultural groups in South East Asia. Different names are used in different places, but they are a large community of trans who predominantly earn money through begging or sex work. Seeing Western statistics puts things in perspective. Queer folks sometimes need to focus on survival. 

There is a need for more open-source work to be sponsored or scholarship based regardless of marginalization but also, especially for marginalized people.

Here Von talked about Discover Drupal, a talent/education program of the Drupal Association. Von said,

"We must invest in marginalized people's ability to contribute. Put the dollars where the mouth is and also consider C-suite. Blind resumes don't necessarily work. We must target Queer and trans people of color in our outreach process."

Tearyne talked about the need for paid roles as Internships are not possible for many. Mark majorly works with C-Suite folks, and he added that it is 2022, but even today, he has to take off part of himself for an interview. He could re-come out when he felt he had earned the right to come out again at work after he had shown his work at the job. As mentioned earlier during the talk, coming out is more of a process as it is never done or complete.

Mark said, "I want to contribute with coaching and mentorship. You aren't going to ask a random VP if they are gay and willing to meet once a month. It would be best if you were visible and participated in forums. Ripples count, and you could mentor the next big CEO."

Madison said that before being sponsored to work on open-source, she contributed to open-source that helped marginalized people. Not just Google ads work. She then talked about trans Twitter as there are a lot of trans folks on Twitter in the Tech space. Seeing other people doing open source is inspirational for her.

Talking about cis people, Von said that a lot of the harm he has experienced has been from other Queer people. He added that,

"Heather, Angie & Tim, have been amazing. Non-profit space bureaucracy can be difficult. But Angie & Tim have stripped away barriers. This is a great example of how Cis folks can stand up for Trans folks."

How can we Center Acts of Care?

Being queer is not a cakewalk; it is important to indulge in self-care activities. Madison responded by saying for her going outside is helpful, even if it is just to an Urban Bay. Getting away from computers helps. She said, "Log off. That is an act of self-care. The news has not been getting better for trans people."

Kavya said she has cats, and paying attention to pets and playing with them is personally important. Also, it is important to have hobbies outside of technology regardless of what you do. Fei added that hobbies could be like Pokemon. Do them all!

Mark mentioned that we often go on about having a purpose. But that can be exhausting. You need to give yourself the space to waste time. It is your time to spend. For Dash, trashy novels are a good escape, even if they are poorly written. Separating fact from this trashy fiction world settles. Reading a couple of chapters or a whole book often feels good.

Dashifen also said that for some people, prayer could help. Some religious communities can make it impossible, but some are open to it and don't cause the same religious traumas as many do. Fei said that there certainly is a pattern here. In simpler terms, walking away from the overwhelming thing is important.

What are Some Pet Peeve Assumptions People Make?

When asked what some pet peeve assumptions people make, Von said,

"You don't see a lot of trans men in professional spaces. Patriarchy doesn't see trans men as men. Society sees us as women, often ending up in pink color worlds. We try to get people to see us as we are but can't divorce from society. Well-meaning allies most often misgender me now. Major assumptions are that trans men like girls, many assumptions are that trans means straight and Queer trans is more confusing to some."

He added that professionally he has experienced being talked over & undermined. He often doesn't correct people unless he thinks there is value in correcting. If he has no interest in maintaining a relationship, he won't waste his time on it.

For Mark, the pet peeve assumption is that Queer is different means he is emotionally fragile, and people are always dancing on tiptoes. He says he can give it as badly as he gets. One shouldn't treat him differently. This bothers him, especially seeing it done to others.

Madison is not a fan of the word passing. But in the workplace, it was fascinating to suddenly experience misogyny of not being heard once seen as a woman. No one should be treated that way.

Advice to Someone Wanting to Come Out

Advising someone wanting to come out, Dashifen said you don't have to come out to everyone at once. Find people with lasting relationships first, and talk to people you think will support you. Jumping 100% is a lot. Celebrities may have to do it all at once, but most of us don't.

Melissa said,

"I don't exactly come out. I put myself in spaces where I believe it won't be a big deal. But I say things like My wife and I, or mention pride events. I did the opposite of Dash's recommendation. I emailed everyone, and surprisingly, my HR was helpful."

To Vee, we're all human beings, so it shouldn't matter. Heterosexual people aren't expected to come out. He hopes in an ideal world that, we will be equal. Von doesn't like coming out. He feels it can be unsafe. Coming out also relies on living in a society that considers cis-het relationships the norm. So he will continue to come out because we are not in a place where it isn't relevant.

Sharing his experience of coming out to his family, Mark said everyone's situations are different. He was going abroad right after 9/11, and he wanted someone in his life to know the whole of him.

Vee added that you shouldn't let others pressure you into coming out. This should be about you. Mark agreed with the statement, "This should meet your needs, not anyone else's."

Tearyne said she could choose where she is open and where she is not. She can also help to advocate for others.

How to put Pronouns When all Sound Good?

Von said he has a bone to pick with pronoun culture. It identifies trans people. You should be able to decide whether to display them or not. Some people just put 'any'. Normalizing pronouns is the very tip of the iceberg. He said rather than asking for pronouns, give your own and let people provide them if they want to. There is no right or wrong way to tell people.

Madison feels any/all pronouns are awesome, While Tearyne hates pronouns. To her, they feel like another box. I'm Cis gender but have feelings about gender roles. Vee thinks that using gender-neutral language is the best. We shouldn't assume pronouns.

Dashifen suggested that we listen carefully and use mirroring language. This doesn't have anything to do with open-source. It is just to exist. Melissa said, "I feel supported, but maybe you can support me in learning the diversity in our community. I came out in the 90s."

Kavya said you don't have to understand someone to respect them, and Von added that you should take the time to get to know people beyond your assumptions and not say weird homophobic things.

To this, Mark added that new people might not know everything. We also need to learn. Give us a safe space to adapt and learn. Fei shared that she has been on both sides of this. She uses she or they because asking people to use they can be uncomfortable. And then making missteps can be uncomfortable. 

How to Manage Missteps with Grace and Compassion?

When talking about correcting missteps, Madison said, "This is in the space that Von has mentioned a lot. The well-meaning ally will often ask weird things. I just ask them back. Are you asking me if I say, "Hi I'm Madison; I'm trans?". Reflecting can be helpful."

Von said that it is disingenuous to assume that people are totally unfamiliar. One doesn't need to ask someone; they can just Google it. Interrogate while you don't know this. He believes everyone is capable of learning and changing, especially in a Tech space where everyone uses google. It is insulting to other people to think you can't learn. Don't put that weight on the Trans people you know.

Tearyne said,

"I love the conversations with Von. I grew up in a town of 8k and was not a Tech town. Lots of people have a hard time finding information. It can also be hard to ask questions. You need to be able to have conversations and be patient. People should know better and be able to educate themselves, but it can be hard. It can be good to meet people where they are. But that is significant labor. It is important to put up boundaries.

Recommending open-source projects, Von mentions Discover Drupal & DDI; Madison talks about WordPress Openverse; Jill talks about WordPress Diversity; and Vee mentions mend.io. They even discussed their favorite colors and inspiring music during the live session.