I'm in Golden, CO, this week, at NREL, learning about TRNSYS from the US developers. The software's really good, and I love being in a room full of geeks who are interested in the same set of problems I am. Some of them even have good taste in beer. After two days of this, I'm starting to relax, beginning to consider conversational gambits that aren't about heat transfer.
As we're all putting our computers away and getting ready to leave, one of the instructors chips in with some advice about where to get dinner: "It's just men in the room now, right? Two nights ago, we went to [restaurant]. It was pretty much total eye candy. All the waitresses are 22 and in short black skirts." At this point there's some quiet tittering, while I start frowning and stepping back from the conversation. He goes on: "Of course, the waiters are also 22 and in short skirts." I actually crack a smile, being very much in favor of equal-opportunity eye-candy. I start to lick my lips appreciatively, until I hear the end of the sentence. "You've got to watch out for that." What the hell am I doing in a room full of men who are groaning at the horror of seeing other men's legs?
I've been debating ever since getting this job how strong a boundary I want between my professional identity and aspects of myself that might not go over well with some of the people I work with. Recently, I've been spending more time among queers, and I've been feeling OK about presenting one way to people who appreciate skirts and earings and pretty hair, and another way at work. On the other hand, I think I've been at this job long enough that my coworkers and bosses know what I can do, and are unlikely to forget that on account of my nail polish. I've been feeling pretty good about my niche, and then I get reminded that people will commit as much asshattery as they think they can get away with. Now I want to push back, like prodding a sore tooth, to find out how much I can get away with.