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. 

Published by Peter Wilson

Peter Wilson is a Senior WordPress Engineer at Human Made and contributor to WordPress core. 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 theater and often encourages his WordPress community colleagues to join him for a show or two in New York or in the West End.

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