A group photo of about 30 people, with the banner "trans* hackers code it better" in front

Trans*H4ck 1.0 – Trans* coders make (their own) history

This is a guest post by Naomi Ceder, who has been active in the Linux and Python communities since… well… for a long time. She has taught programming and Python online, in high schools, at Linux Fests, and in the Chicago Python Workshop, and is the author of The Quick Python Book, 2nd ed. from Manning Publications. She is vastly relieved to have finally transitioned to female after half a lifetime stuck “undercover as a man”. She speaks and blogs both about Python and about her experiences with gender transition in the tech community.

In mid-September of 2013 in a small art gallery in Oakland, something wildly improbable (to say the least) happened. Some 40 people – trans*, gender variant, queer, cisgender – came together for Trans*H4ck, the very first hackathon dedicated to helping the trans* community. Hackathons for various causes are common enough these days, but for many of us Trans*H4ck was truly special – in spite of trans* people being relatively common (if you can use the word “common” for us at all) in the tech community, there had never before been a hackathon devoted to trans* issues. Not one.

[Author's note: trans* is used with the intention of including gender variant and gender queer. I know that's not ideal, but it does make things less cumbersome to type and read.]

A banner with the text "Trans*H4CK Oakland"

TransHack banner

On the evening of September 13, under the leadership and vision of Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler (one of the inaugural Trans 100) that changed. The first evening was spent getting acquainted with the some of the issues and with each other. Janet Mock, Sarah Prager (of Quist App), and Micha Cardenas spoke via Google hangouts and Kortney briefly recapped some of the all too depressing statistics relating to being trans* – high rates of unemployment, homelessness, violence, and suicide and low rates of income, access to health care, and basic human rights.

We all introduced ourselves and spoke of our backgrounds, our goals for the hackathon, and, yes, our preferred pronouns. It was clearly the first time some of the cisgender folks had ever been asked that particular question.

By the end of the evening teams had formed and work continued on through the night and into the next day, when things paused at noon for a panel discussing being trans* in tech, featuring Enne Walker, Dana McCallum, Naomi Ceder (me), Jack Aponte, and Nadia Morris and moderated by Fresh! White. The discussion ranged from using open source projects and GitHub to build a professional portfolio to finding a champion at work to how to take care of yourself in the face of the inevitable stress.

After the panel, the hacking resumed and the teams sprinted towards a submission deadline of noon on Sunday, with the demos and judging to follow.

The judging and exhibition took place at the New Parkway, which is a cross between a theater and the coolest family room ever. The judges were Monica “The Transgriot” Roberts, Erin Armstrong, and Benji Delgadillo. Even having seen the projects in development I found the presentations impressive, and ones I’m looking forward to using as they gain traction. The winners were:

In first place, Trans*ResourceUS, an ambitious effort by the largest team. Trans*ResourceUS is a user editable database of services for trans* people – giving location aware listings for health care, mental health, social, restrooms, employment and housing resources. Right now the submitter is the only one allowed to enter ratings on things like accessibility and trans friendliness, but that is slated to change. One very cool thing about this service is that it is also accessible via SMS on a flip phone, so even users with limited resources can take advantage.

The second place winner was Dottify.me, a social micro survey site. Here the idea is that to collect any reliable information on trans* people it needs to be both very easy to interact with and preserve anonymity as much as possible. Dottify.me does this by collecting only a zip code for now and the displaying that zip code as a pin placed at a random spot in the zip code on a map. Future enhancements are planned.

Third place went to the Trans Health Access Wiki, a wiki to collect information on how to take the fullest advantage of the health coverages available and mandated for trans* people, state by state. While it is starting with California, Oregon and Vermont, the creator (a one-woman team at the hackathon) is already working on expanding it.

A couple of the other very cool projects created at Trans*H4ck were Know Your Transgender Rights an interactive map of trans* rights in all 50 states and ClothesR4ck (still in development) a clothing exchange aimed at helping people get quality used clothing to trans* people going through transition who might not be able to afford it.

What Trans*H4ck means to us

The apps and content marshaled during Trans*h4ck were pretty amazing for such a small group of people in just a little more than 36 hours. That all of the efforts were so immediately useful speaks both to the developers’ vision and skills as well as to the lack of digital resources for the the trans* community. Those few teams in those few hours have probably advanced trans* friendly resources by years.

But the outstanding thing about Trans*H4ck to those of us who were there was not the applications, as useful as they are, so much as the community spirit of the weekend. Even though we were from all across the gender spectrum, of different ages and backgrounds, and even (gasp!) preferred different programming languages, there was a true sense of cooperation instead of competition, and an atmosphere of acceptance, support, and affirmation.

For many of us it was a rare respite from feeling different and alone and a special chance to stand together as a community and take action to help our own. For all of us it was a precious moment of unity and, corny as it may sound, joy.

So was Trans*H4ck a success? As one hacker put it, “we did, we can, and we will make history.” Indeed.

A group photo of about 30 people, with the banner "trans* hackers code it better" in front

This is what a community of trans* hackers looks like.

For more information on Trans*H4ck, see the Trans*H4ck home page or look on Twitter or Facebook for the #transh4ck hashtag or contact the author.