#DatingWhileTrans: A Conversation with Sophia Lee

Software Developer and Transgender Rights Activist Sophia Lee

Software Developer and Transgender Rights Activist Sophia Lee

Like so many great things on the internet, we discovered Microsoft programmer Sophia Lee on through a hashtag.

That hashtag, #DatingWhileTrans, led us to Sophia's blog TransGirlTheory, where Sophia opens up about many of the issues she faces as a transgender woman working in tech and going on online dates.

We were immediately interested in the smart, engaging way Sophia tells her story and invited her to be a Question of the Day host on Siren. Then we asked her some of our own questions to share her insights with our community. Enjoy!

It seems like visibility is an important consideration in your online identity.  Do you have a specific audience in mind when you're writing? Are you hoping that other transgender people will discover your blog and feel a kinship? Or that cis people will discover it and gain some insight? 

Visibility is a very important thing to me. When I was younger, the only media representations of any sort of challenges against the cisgender norms was the dead sex worker on crime shows or the slapstick comedy with the man in a dress. I want to show the world that we are more, so that everyone can see the diversity of our community. We are sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, friends, coworkers, and neighbors.

After my own long struggles I have learned to love myself, and I love showing others my genuine self; a young, professional, smart, passionate, world-changing transgender woman!
TransGirlTheory is for transgender people and cisgender allies both.  Not only so that I can extend that visibility, but also so that I can help take my hard earned knowledge and experiences and let others learn from them, so that we as a community could move forward.

"I want to show the world that we are more, so that everyone can see the diversity of our community." [Tweet this]


How do your intersectional identities as an Asian-American, a woman in tech, and a transgender person inform the experience of each other? Do you feel like the Seattle (or Redmond) tech scene offers enough supportive community for people who don't fit the straight, white tech guy mold? In what ways do you think it could be better? 

I can understand the feeling of being an outsider. I grew up moving back and forth multiple times between Korea and the US. When I lived in the US, I was picked on a lot for being different and living in Korea was more of the same. I was too American and I couldn't fit in with the Korean kids, and I was too Korean to fit in, in the US. I ended up internalizing a lot of shame from being different. Life was a constant struggle living with my identities which eventually lead to difficulties succeeding in school and in my early career.

Looking back I was a victim of living in a world that wasn't set up for my intersected identities. It wasn't till my mid 20's that I became strong enough to stand as an independent person who was able to become successful despite my marginalized identities.

Working in the Seattle area tech scene has been interesting. Most people around me have been very accepting of who I am, but I have still have had a fair number of encounters with ignorance.  I feel like I am constantly surrounded by people who have grown up not needing to worry about a lot of social issues. The tech scene is full of open minded people who still very ignorant due to lack of experiences with social issues.

There is a reason why it is called unconscious bias. The unconscious bias that leads to issues in diversity and inclusion in tech is not an issue that can be fixed passively it has to be an active process for everyone. 

"Looking back I was a victim of living in a world that wasn't set up for my intersected identities." [Tweet this]

On your blog, you wrote, "Dating is so much harder when you are transgender. One of the reasons for this is some people tend to think that we are 'tricking' people if we do not fully disclose the fact that we are transgender all the time."

As a programmer and transgender person who uses dating apps, what do you think a dating app needs to do to address the unique needs of trans users?

A large problem with a system of self-identification for transgender people and letting users exclude transgender people in a searches, is that it limits transgender people's potential dating pool to only those who are the most open minded.

To say that you have nothing against transgender people but won't date them is an act of transphobia and not preference. Similarly it is an act of racism and not preference to say that you won't date people of a certain race. An example of actual preference is when you like tall guys but you meet an awesome short guy and weigh his height against his other attributes and decide that he is worth dating or not. To exclude a group of people from your dating pool for one attribute is not a preference.

It is nice to have these options to avoid transphobia, but often times having the ability to exclude transgender people could actually strengthen transphobia.

"To say that you have nothing against transgender people but won't date them is an act of transphobia and not preference." [Tweet this]

For questions on preference maybe it would be helpful to let people use a slider to indicate how positively or negatively they feel about those attributes instead of a yes or a no. This would help people become open minded about a wide range of people they would have never considered dating otherwise.

That's a great idea! I will relay it to our team! :) 

gender-question

You also wrote a post about the idea of "passing" in the trans community, and how rooted this idea is in not just transphobia, but binary expectations of what constitutes a man or a woman. Meanwhile, the use of gender-neutral pronouns is on the rise, and more and more young people are expressing gender in a way that transcends these categories altogether. 

What do you think...is the future nonbinary? Do you think we're moving toward a culture where gender is a voluntary expression of identity rather than an obligatory filing system?

 

For sure gender is not binary but more of a spectrum. Most people fall on either ends of the spectrum so it seems binary. But then again within each end, there are men who are more masculine than others, and there are women who are more feminine than others.
I think many younger people are more willing to express their gender in non-binary manners because they are still discovering themselves and what feels natural. From this discovery process some people will settle more into a binary identity while others will settle into a non-binary identity.

The important thing is to note that there are no wrong ways to express your gender identity and that nobody should be shamed for their gender identity. No harm comes from people expressing their gender identity, but the harm comes from when people are forced to suppress their identities.

I am looking forward to a world where everyone can express themselves as masculinity or as femininely as they wish. Maybe we as a society can even get to a point beyond seeing gender as a spectrum but as a plane where people can be both masculine and feminine at the same time. 

"I am looking forward to a world where everyone can express themselves as masculinity or as femininely as they wish." [Tweet this]

Yes! We love that idea. OK, last question: What do you look for in a date?

I am mostly interested in men but there are a few women out there who I do have deep crushes on. I am interested in strong passionate people who are looking to leave their mark in the world in some way…Maybe they work in a non-profit organization, or they are involved in politics, or have their own company. Nothing is sexier to me than someone with that passion and drive…

Social consciousness is also important to me. Some of that is because it gets tiresome having the same conversations about transgender issues lol.

And intelligence is also important to me. I find intelligence very sexy.

"I find intelligence very sexy." [Tweet this] 

Intelligence is definitely the sexiest thing of all. Thank you so much for talking with us, Sophia!

Follow Sophia Lee on Twitter & download Siren for iPhone/iPad or Android now to read and respond to Sophia's questions.