What is The Identity Function?

Alan_Turing_Aged_16

We owe this to Alan Turing

The Identity Function is a blog interview series about LGBTQ computer science researchers.The goal is to increase the visibility of LGBTQ computer scientists and make it clear that our field welcomes people of all gender identities and orientations.

Interviews for The Identity Function are multifaceted: They are focused both on academic achievements and on the impact of being LGBTQ in a field that is largely silent.

The lambda is a historical gay rights symbol. The title image is the identity function in the lambda calculus. The lambda calculus is an elegant, simple, and expressive programming language.

Orientation and gender identity are functions of identity. The identity function maps any value to itself.  The title reflects the intersectional nature of this blog.

Why is this necessary?

In an ideal world, it wouldn’t be. But our world is far from ideal.

The default assumption is that everyone is straight and cisgender. The impact of silence on invisible minorities is heavy: If we don’t know that anybody is like us, how do we know that we are welcome?  Who are our role-models?

Imagine that you are going to a party through your department. You bring your spouse. If you are married to someone of the opposite gender, this is probably something you do already. It surprises nobody. If you are married to someone of the same gender, you are inadvertently making a statement. People notice. How do you know if it is OK?

There is no good place to talk about this in our academic culture. And this makes sense. Why would we talk about our dating lives in class or in the lab? But there needs to be a place to talk about it. That’s what this blog is.

What exactly will I learn?

You’ll learn about researchers who are invisible minorities. You’ll learn how this impacts the researchers.  You’ll learn about the researchers. You’ll learn about their research.

Again, this is a function of identity. Orientation is about attraction, partnership, and identity. Gender identity is about identity.

Won’t this alienate people in our field?

The goal is to create an isolated, safe medium in which to discuss orientation and gender identity among computer science researchers, with the goal that any benefits will outweigh the harms. People who are disinterested or uncomfortable can choose whether or not to read this. This will not permeate the classroom. It is what it is: A blog.

All people are free to have the opinions they choose, and these opinions are surely shaped by culture. Computer science should also be a welcoming field across cultures.

But people of different identities should feel comfortable being themselves. This is not currently true. This blog aims to change that.

I’m interested in being interviewed!

Awesome! Reach out to me directly. Check out my website for contact information. Send an email with the title “Identity Function Interview,” or reach out to me through social media.

Thanks for making the world a better place!

About the Author

Talia Ringer is a graduate student at the University of Washington studying programming languages & software engineering. She graduated from Maryland in 2012 with a degree in mathematics and computer science. She then worked at Amazon for three years before returning to research. In her spare time, she enjoys running, triathlon, and writing. She is active in both outreach and mentorship. She has been openly bi for more than ten years.

 

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