Friday, 25 August 2017

An Unexpected Transition Milestone In The Dutch Sunshine

    It's the height of summer, and in the circles I move in, that means it's hacker camp season. I think I've mentioned hacker camps before when I talked about last summer's EMF Camp, for the uninitiated they're akin to a music festival but with the music replaced by the accumulated works of a large cross-section of the hardware hacker and maker community.
    So a couple of weeks ago I made the trip to the Dutch polders for several days in the sun with Europe's hackers for SHA Camp, the latest iteration of the four-yearly Dutch hacker camp. As always it was an amazing experience, I'm still in festival comedown, and life seems like a wasteland until next year's return of EMF Camp. It was my first trip to the Netherlands, I met my friend Stace for an afternoon coffee and pancake, and it was very good to see her looking so happy. Our last face-to-face meeting had been when we were both pre-transition, so there was a lot of water under the bridge.
    At SHA Camp, I found myself unexpectedly in demand. I should explain why, as I've never really brought my everyday life and identity together with this blog because it has its origins in the days when I most definitely inhabited a closet, but now I've been full-time for so many years and am reasonably comfortable in my existence there is little harm in lifting a little of the curtain. I'm self employed, but these days a large proportion of my income comes from journalism, in particular my role as one of the editors of an extremely popular website in the hardware hacker and maker community. If you're wondering why I write a little less here than I should, it's because all my writing-fu is consumed by writing for, and I lack the creative energy after pouring it into that. As the only electronic engineering graduate on the planet whose literacy has been honed by years working for the dictionary you probably have on the shelf, I was uniquely qualified for this work, and have taken to it with enthusiasm over the last couple of years. I get paid to play with tech and write about it, and I still can't quite believe it.
    So as an editor of a website with a huge reach in that community, I find myself in a very novel position indeed. Mine is a name my peers have increasingly heard of, and coupled with my being a very distinctive extremely tall British trans woman, this gives me something of a personal brand in my world. I thus found myself being welcomed into hackerspace villages, shown all the cool stuff, offered cool beer under the Dutch sun. For the first time in my life, I was in demand.
    I was never one of the popular kids at school, and in general as a rather depressive and withdrawn closet trans person I have not been the life and soul of the party over most of my lifetime. So I am unused to this kind of attention, and am at a bit of a loss. It's great to be a part of the vibrant and happening community of hardware hackers and makers, and great to be accepted as who I am. Nobody here knew the pre-transition me, so all they know me only as Jenny who writes for Hackaday.
    And that touches on something else which has vexed me slightly for years. The trans community has its fair share of journalists, but am I speaking out of turn when I say that I find some of them to be a little hard work? So many trans journalists aim to become trans celebrities in their own right, to be the sole voice of what it is to be trans. They are invariably fast-transitioners who have no obstacles in their path because either they pay to go private with all the mod-cons or the NHS doctors ease their passage because they know it'll be written about, and often their perfect transitions are then presented as "the trans experience" without ever acknowledging that for most of us it's very hard work. Their whole brand is built on their being "Trans whoever", "Whoever who transitioned", or "Whoever who used to be another name".
    I'm very pleased to have avoided that, to have become a successful journalist in my field post transition, and to have done it on the strength of my skills outside being trans. I'm not "Jenny who transitioned", "Trans Jenny", or "Jenny who used to be [old name]", I'm just "Jenny who writes about tech", and I value that immensely.
    So in a way, SHA Camp represents an unexpected transition milestone. Not in any medical sense, there's further to go there, but in a socialisation sense. After quite a few years living the life and getting on with it, I've arrived and found my place completely independently of my pre-transition life.
    And it's a good life, after all that's what it's all about, isn't it.


  1. Hey,

    Glad that you enjoyed your time in Nederland! It was fantastic to see you again, it's only a shame that with everything that has gone on in the last few years that it is so few and far between!

    And fantastic that you found your place, and that the trans is the point of that niche! :)


    1. Of course that should be "isn't the point of the niche"! Learn to proof read Stace!

  2. I am so very pleased for you dear Jenny. I can see your smile while reading your blog. Well done lass.

  3. It must be tempting to make a career out of 'being a well-known and successful' trans person, in the hope of creating a following. But like you, I would rather be known as 'Lucy the travel blogger' or 'Lucy the keen caravanner' or 'Lucy the writer on senior citizen issues' than for anything else.


  4. That is excellent, I fear that all too often even in my world I am still known as the Transgender Tuba Player, rather than simply Paula who plays the tuba. It's nice when I move in in circles who never knew my in a previous life and just take me at face value.