Speaking is not the only reason I get nervous at conferences

I used to get nervous in the weeks leading up to a conference talk because I was talking at a conference.

These days, it appears I get nervous for an entirely different reason: casual homophobia. Unfortunately in my industry – web development – comments such as these are not rare transgressions.

Him: I know you can never tell who is gay these days, but give me a hug anyway.

I was genuinely surprised when a sentence that started with so much promise ended with casual homophobia. I felt it would have been silly to complain to the organisers, so he repeated the line as I was rushing for a plane at the end of the conference.

Them: An [attendee of CafeConfCamp*] was wearing a dress. I know we’re supposed to be all accepting these days but come on man.

Me: Yes, trans people can be interested in coding too.

Them: Oh… um… yes, I know.

Fortunately the conversation moved on fairly quickly afterwards. That I had to pour ice on it in the first place was still not good enough.

Them: (referring to me) ‘she’

Some gay men refer to themselves as she around other gay men, some don’t.  I tend not to, but in mixed company it doesn’t generally stand.

So these days, in the weeks leading up to a conference it’s a fear of experiencing casual homophobia that makes me nervous. And slightly angry too.

I can’t imagine how it feels for women feeling like they’re been ogled, or assumed not to be coders. I can’t imagine how it feels for trans men and women as they experience transphobia or are mis-gendered.

But this is how heteronormativity, casual homo & LGBTI phobia make me feel. It really pisses me off these comments get to me, I feel a bit like I’m buying into a bigoted commentary.

Although, it’s 2015 and I work in a mature industry and attend professional networking events and conferences; that there are bigoted comments to deal with (and these events are not isolated) is an ongoing industry problem, and something to be condemned at every opportunity.

* Note: this comment was identifying, so I’ve changed this quote to reflect the meaning with non-identifying information at a fictitious conference. 

By Peter Wilson

Peter has worked on the web for twenty years on everything from table based layouts in the 90s to enterprise grade CMS development. Peter’s a big fan of musical theatre and often encourages his industry colleagues to join him for a show or two in New York or in the West End.

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