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My gender transition was, and continues to be, guided by open source principles. As an early adopter of open source, I’ve been using the principles to bring value to my life and guide my transition out of the closet.
Sure, as Red Hatters, these principles and methods are critical to our jobs. In our company, the very structure of our organization is built on these ideas. Jim Whitehurst, who was Red Hat’s president and CEO for 12 years, wrote The Open Organization to express this philosophy to the world. At each level of our company, decisions are made using the Open Decision Framework so these concepts continue to be the backbone of how we operate. But these ideas apply far beyond software development or any professional endeavor.
After coming out to the important people in my life, the next step for me was to make it official. I needed to change my name. I had to do considerable research in order to find out what the process was, and how to begin. I started with my local LGBT center. It wasn’t very long before I discovered that their information was outdated and no longer useful. I attended a name change clinic at UNC School of Law in Chapel Hill.
They taught me the theoretical process and that the specifics vary both by county and by the preferences of whoever is appointed to the position that is in charge of the process, but did not have actionable instructions that applied to me. After nearly two months of attempting and failing to change my name, I went to the county clerk of courts out of frustration and asked for help. To my surprise, they provided a complete name change packet, containing clear instructions and all the necessary forms. The best part was: it was free of charge. This information was not available anywhere else, and it was never clear that this was the best and in fact the only way to get started.
Contribute back upstream
But this process was not one and done. There were several other hoops to jump through to correct several other legal documents and I continued to encounter a lack of information. I decided since I couldn’t immediately change these processes without possibly running for office, I could at least start documenting what I was finding so that others may have an easier time. (Long-time open source users can attest to the value of documentation as well as code!)
So, I scanned and uploaded both process packets, and shared them with various local transgender support groups. I’m still hearing how helpful it’s been to have access to that information. Of course, if the information does become outdated, I always make sure to send any changes back "upstream" to the transgender support groups for others to benefit.
The wildest part is that after all of this, I still wasn’t done changing my name. Just because you update legal documents doesn’t mean your employer automatically knows that you’ve requested a name change. I had a new driver’s license, birth certificate, and social security card but I still had to see my deadname at work. I needed to navigate and update the many systems and tools at Red Hat.
The Open Source Way
Again, I turned to documentation. I created a Google Doc for Red Hatters combining the federal and state processes. I also included instruction on name changes in Red Hat’s HR systems, technical systems, customer resource and sales programs, and a few other tools that we use - each of which had a completely different process.
I shared this with the Red Hat Pride community through Google Chat, and it’s been a considerable success. We now have contributors from trans Red Hatters and allies all over the world, providing details that are specific to their own roles and locations.
We’re also publishing the project on GitHub, and you can find and contribute to our repo here: open source transition resources. It’s also published on Red Hat’s intranet and any Red Hatter can easily submit new information.
As I mentioned before, I’ve been using these ideals for most of the situations I encounter in life. In my case, these principles, as defined at opensource.com, can be applied to the experience of a gender transition. Most of the things we experience during a transition are unconsciously demonstrative of every key aspect of the open source model.
Coming out to the world is, by definition, an exercise in transparency. We are choosing to be open to the world about who we are. Often, as a side effect, our resulting visibility inspires others to come out, as well.
Transitioning is a collaborative process. We need to collaborate with our mental and physical health care teams at every stage of treatment. Because we missed out on learning the gender-affirming skills we need to express ourselves comfortably - in my case make-up, speaking, and physically carrying myself - we must turn to our family, friends, and allies to fill in those gaps.
Release early and often
Coming out is an iterative process. We don’t come out all at once, but instead continually and with every new interaction. We’re on a perpetual path of growth and self-improvement learning to express ourselves as the gender we identify with, and each new aspect of who we are that we discover, we share with the world.
In order for the best idea to win, all ideas must be heard. This ideology, when applied to our culture, demands and empowers diversity of thought and opinion. Once we are all "out of the closet," we can be free to present ideas that are informed by our unique perspectives. This helps organizations, and the communities that we contribute to, move closer to a truly inclusive meritocracy, becoming more creative and thriving with diversity.
We simply cannot transition without engaging in community. We depend on our communities in order to share our experiences with each other and learn how to navigate through our new lives, together. Transitioning is a deeply personal experience, one that can make us feel at times as if we’re all alone. By engaging with others by building a new community or joining one that exists, we can help ourselves feel more connected and less alone.
The best place to make a difference together
For the early but significant stage of my transition, I applied the principles of open source, and significantly improved my experience, as well as simplified the process for those who follow. I demonstrated transparency by sharing all of my findings as well as how I found them through documentation and discussion. Every step involved collaboration, with the community to find information, with the agencies to correct and execute processes, and with Red Hatters by working in the document I created.
The result is a living document, ongoing, everchanging, and iterative, owned by the community and which looks an awful lot like releasing early and often. Inclusive meritocracy, in which the best ideas always win, proved valuable when I learned to reach out to the relevant agency rather than depending on outdated research. If I wasn't familiar with this ideology through my job at Red Hat, I never would have been empowered to take the actions I have. None of this would have been possible without the resources of the community or the methodologies that open source, open culture, and open decisions employ.
The end results have been better than I could ever have expected. My efforts are the reason I was invited to join the Red Hat Pride leadership team, which has become one of the most rewarding experiences of my near decade at Red Hat. But more importantly, I’ve learned that the work’s existence serves as an invitation for other trans Red Hatters to feel safe and empowered to come out and follow parts of this path on their own.
All of this continually reminds me that the open source principles that we use and embrace here at Red Hat aren’t just about making great software, better tools, or better companies. It’s also about making better lives and better communities. At Red Hat we aim to be the best place to make a difference together. From my experience, we are making progress towards that goal.
About the author
Allie DeVolder is a Principal Technical Support Engineer in Red Hat's Support Delivery team. Her specialty is Red Hat Virtualization, but she also works with standalone RHEL KVM configurations. Allie has worked on this product since starting in 2010, when Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization was in its infancy.