Bits are cheap

And, as unfortunately as a recent incident in our #SQLFamily community illustrated, apparently at times so is respect.  Bear with me as I relate these two ideas and another incident.

Let me start with a statement that should make more sense by the end of this post: My name is Gregory, but I prefer that you call me Greg. My pronouns are he/him/his.

But first a trip down memory lane. Many of us recall the Y2K issue. This was a direct result of programmers decades ago trying to save bytes in storage (and to a lesser extent memory and CPU cycles) because storage was expensive. By storing dates as just the last two digits of the year, they could cut the storage for years in half. This was important back then because it saved money. But, as many of us recall, as the year 2000 approached, this started to cause more and more problems. (As a point aside, the first example I’m aware of was brought to my attention by a programmer who worked for a bank in 1970. Seems as if they suddenly had issues handling 30 year mortgages!)

Since then of course the cost of storage has dropped and as an industry we’ve moved to storing years as a 4-digit year. No one in today’s day and age would normally question this decision.

But enough of ancient history, let me get to the point of this article: respecting others.

As many readers know, those of us on Twitter will often use the hashtag #SQLFamily.  In the past week I’ve seen two incidents that have illustrated the worst and the best of this family.

In the first case, a member of the community, a woman I had never met, said she was leaving the family, she no longer felt welcome. At an event she had been misgendered not once, but multiple times. For those who aren’t sure what that means, I will, without going into background or details (because they’re not important) say she is a trans-woman. Several people at the event took it upon themselves to refer to her using by male pronouns.

In the most recent case, a fellow speaker, Cathrine Wilhemsen tweeted about how she had been addressed as Cathi and Kathi twice in the previous 24 hours. She says this hasn’t been the only time, but just the most recent and recent enough for her to comment on.

In both cases, part of the problem is that strangers addressed the person in question in a manner that did not respect them; in the first case by not using the proper pronouns and in the second by not using her provided name.

But that’s one part of the problem.  So let’s address that: we have members of the #sqlfamily who don’t respect other members. But, we have another issue, and one that I think is important to address: those who minimize the issue. In the first case, apparently no one called out the folks misgendering the woman.  In a situation like this, a show of support can be as simple as saying something like, “Umm, I think you mean she, not he.”  You can also support the use of pronouns on nametags at events or in the bio descriptions for events.

Remember though, today, bits are cheap. So we can do more. Don’t design your database with a bit field for gender. Make it a table. These are relational databases after all. Have a table for possible gender identifications. Allow for a method to add rows to this table. Have a table for pronouns.  There’s more than you might think and people are often crafting additional ones. While the singular they/them is becoming more popular, it’s NOT the only alternative to he/him, she/hers.

We are data professionals after all. We absolutely should not lock our data into a single view of the world if that worldview is changing. (Note, the world is not changing, there have been multiple genders throughout recorded history.  We’re simply becoming more cognizant of it now.)

In the case of Cathrine being called by another name, keep it simple. Use the name provided, be it in an introduction, on the nametag or other method. Respect the person’s wishes. And do not, as some did on Twitter respond by “well they probably didn’t mean anything” or “eh, just roll with it.” It’s not YOUR name. It’s not YOUR identity. Sure, you might not care if someone calls you Richard, Rick, Ricky or Dick. But another person might. Their name is part of their identity, respect their wishes.  I will add one more note that Cathrine shared with me and that other women have shared with me, it is almost always men that will use nicknames or cute names or similar without prompting.  Yes, fellow men, I’m calling you out. We may not think about it. In fact I would argue we often don’t think about it. It’s something that privilege allows us. But be aware that your attempt to be friendly or familiar is actually often coming off as diminishing and condescending.

Now, despite the failure of some members of #SQLFamily, I want to celebrate the great people in the community. These two incidents have created a lot of responses. I’ve seen at least two great posts, one from Jen McCown and another from Kellyn Gorman. I’m sure there are others. I also have written in the past about being an ally. But in addition, while I’ve seen one or two tweets that have dismissed Cathrine’s tweet, I’ve seen many members rally to the defense of the women in both incidents. And, also very importantly, I’ve seen several tweets from people asking, “how can I help?” or “how can I improve my behavior?” I love that last one. I’m constantly trying to unlearn some of the behaviors I was taught and to be more conscious of what being a white, straight cis-het male brings to the table. We can always learn to do better.

Yes, our #SQLFamily has some members who could and need to do better. That saddens me. Fortunately as I’ve seen, it also has a lot of members actively striving to do better and help others do better. That gladdens me. Let’s all be the latter.

Respect and disk space don’t cost us much. Let’s learn to be respectful of people and to design databases that can also respect the world around us.

P.S. I want to note, I was purposely vague about the first incident because the specifics weren’t important and I did not want to draw more attention to a specific person without their permission. In Cathrine’s case, I made a point of respecting her and exchanged messages with her first to make sure she was ok with me bringing more attention to the incident.

2 thoughts on “Bits are cheap

  1. Pingback: SQL Community: *Welcome* transgender folks! > The MidnightDBA Star-Times

  2. Pingback: Giving Blood and Pride Month | greenmountainsoftware

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