Growing Up to Free Software

11 May 2017

I was a Wikipedia child. I don’t fault my parents for it. I was socially inept; it’s not their fault I spent every moment from the age of six onwards glued to a monitor. After all, in the real world, I was ignored and picked on by my “friends” around me. At school, the kids were cruel, and I was bored in my classes. But on my laptop, I was learning to program. I made real friends, for some definition of “real” – except for the occasional creep, they were far more real than anyone I ever knew in person. I blissfully confided in Skype and Google running on Mac OS X. It was nice, if only for a moment.

Life caught up to me sooner than later. When I was ten, puberty hit, and it all began crashing down, only to soon envelope me in a mushroom cloud of conflict. With the help of online forums, blogs, and the free encyclopedia, I came out to myself and adopted the name “Alyssa”. Of course, before being out to myself, I was out to Google. I didn’t have time for that concern, though: the reality of my situation was too harsh. It certainly didn’t help that my real-life harassment intensified – what did you expect would happen to an insecure queer girl? I threw myself farther into my exploits online, in both senses of the word. The more I accomplished, the more numb I’d become.

I transferred schools, ditched my old “friends”, and acquainted myself with the new, open-minded crowd. Perhaps I give them far too much credit – they, too, loved to deadname me, and rarely would I hear “she”. Even until the end, the administration was more concerned with its pristine image of a place where cisgender children grow. Still, with time they understood, and it was there I met my best friends. And though I didn’t know it then, there I met a teacher who went on to change my life. At that school, we studied “humanities”, a weasel word encompassing English, history, and civics, since just calling it that would be too plain. But from my humanities teacher, I did learn my humanity. One day, we studied clause punctuation; the next, we learned to change the world. The flame was burning.

At home, I discovered writings by Richard Stallman, the father of the free software movement. I was mesmerised. I’ve since calmed considerably, but for a semester, I was mini-RMS. I was already familiar with the open source movement, and I had experience running GNU/Linux on a server. My transition to the world of free software was graceful. Over a six month period, my ideals spiraled tremendously, only broken up by an episode of what-appears-to-be depression.

I now have the benefit of hindsight. I can comprehend the emotional void I felt when I was young. I can realise how little improved as I aged. I can pinpoint precisely what was wrong with my period as a hateful free software zealot. I can appreciate that, however talented I may be, programming doesn’t ignite a spark inside me – but I’m starting to discover other pursuits, like writing, do intrigue me. Most of all, I’m not suspended in fear of the unknown. At the beginning of April, I made my first notable contribution to free software. It was writing, not code, that earned me a reference. [citation needed]

At one time, I joined the world of free software because I hated the proprietary evils of my childhood. But today I’m staying because I’m drunk on freedom from a world to come. I’ve joined a number of projects, contributing in a variety of ways and meeting a number of fascinating people. At home, I recently started hormone therapy. The world’s looking up. Part of me wishes I could have been normal and cis. Part of me regrets growing up as a file in a Utah data center and a product of Mountain View, CA. Part of me is uncomfortable that I was exposed to hard pornography online as I was a tiny child. That I’m persistently harassed by TSA officers each time I try to travel. That cameras have been pointed at me since my post-9/11 birth. That what I know about sex and gender is from Wikipedia, the Trevor Project, and of all places, Reddit.

But somehow, with the help of so many others, I’ve learned to channel my hate into love. I can’t keep feeling sorry for myself, lamenting a life that could have been. Maybe the cards dealt to me were rough, but they’re all I have. Today, I have a passion I truly enjoy, friends I trust, online and off, and a body I’m comfortable in. Maybe I’m not free yet, but for once, I’m happy.

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