When Things Go Wrong

Transitioning is hard, even in the best of situations. But there are plenty of things that can go wrong, and when they do, it can be devastating. My name is Rowan Marie Hand, and I am a transgender woman. This is my story.

It’s the year 2000. I’m 16 years old, and I just watched a certain French film about a young boy who wanted to be a girl (more accurately, it was about a young girl who didn’t want to be a boy). It was playing at the local theater, to a nearly empty room. The movie itself wasn’t a masterpiece of cinematic genius, but something in it resonated with me. That was the first time I realized that there were others like me, and that there was hope.

Back up a bit. The year is 1995. I’m 11, and I’m at my friend’s house. She and her little sister want to play dress up. I “begrudgingly” agree to be their model, and they gleefully put me in a pretty dress, inexpertly applied makeup, and a costume wig. I make all the appropriate noises of protest, but in my heart I am elated. Here I was, dressed like a girl. But this can’t be right. I’m a boy, aren’t I supposed to hate this?

A little more. It’s 1989. I’m 5 years old, and in kindergarten. It’s play time, and the boys and girls all have their toys to play with. I want to play with the girls, because their toys look like more fun. But the teacher scolds me, and forces me to play with the boys. I have fun anyway, but I am a bit resentful that I couldn’t play pretend with the dolls like I wanted to.

One more time. It’s 1984. A baby has just been born. The doctor takes a cursory glance at one tiny part of the baby’s anatomy, and triumphantly proclaims, It’s a boy! Everyone is happy and everything is perfect and fine. I’m just an infant, I don’t know what the heck is going on, so I cry. Little did I know that that moment would shape the rest of my life in many ways, some of which are irreversible.

Now let’s go forward. 2002, a year and a half after I saw that movie. I’m in 12th grade at a private boarding school. I’m in my boyfriend’s dorm room, and I’ve been mulling over things in my mind for a while. I did research, found the right words, and now I knew what I was. And it was time to share that knowledge. “H?” I inquired, getting his attention. “There’s something I need to tell you.” He raises an eyebrow. “I’m… I’m transgender.”

H looked at me for a full minute. He seemed lost. Then he broke into a grin, kissed me, and said, “Does that mean I’m bi, and not gay?” He was a great guy. But, as happens sometimes, he moved back home at the end of the school year, and we never saw each other again.

That summer, I came out to my mother, who said she’d known for years. I cried, she cried, it was all very emotional.

Three years forward. I’m 20. Both my parents, and my sister, know now. I’m in therapy, in accordance with the Harry Benjamin Standards of Care, and my therapist just wrote my letter of recommendation. I have everything in order, and I travel to an endocrinologist (hormone doctor) in Philadelphia to get a prescription for Estradiol. He asks me a few questions, about children and marriage and where I want to go with my life, and at the end of it all, he says no. Not in so many words, but the gist is, “you’re not trans enough.” All that time spent in therapy, all my yearnings and desperate needs, dismissed by a man with a clipboard.

I was devastated. My identity, my life, was invalidated by this man who knew nothing about me beyond the stereotypical questions he asked. I cried the whole ride home. After that day, I decided if I couldn’t transition, if I couldn’t be a woman, I’d just be the best man I could be. And so began the long, dark period of denial.

I spent the next seven years in agony. I grew an impressive beard, lamented over my hair loss (and covered it with an endless series of bandannas), and immersed myself in “man” culture. I smoked a pack a day, drove fast, and overall I was kind of a jerk to people. I had a few girlfriends, a few boyfriends, but nothing was fulfilling. I went to tech school to learn how to work on cars, hated it, but stuck with it because it was a man’s career. I was suicidal pretty much constantly through that period, but I kept going through sheer stubbornness.

Finally, in 2012, I had that ray of hope. A friend of mine, who was also transgender (and one of the few people who knew “my secret”), came up to me and asked if I was okay. I insisted I was, but he pressed, saying that I’d seemed really down and hurt, and he asked if there was anything he could do. I broke down, and admitted that I was miserable, and that I wanted to die. Then and there, he made a pact with me: we would transition together. I shaved the beard that day, and never grew one again.

We made our appointments, for the same day, at a well known LGBT clinic in Philadelphia, and I quit smoking. I didn’t want any complications with the hormones, and nicotine was a known risk when taking Estradiol.

The day of our appointments came, and I got dressed up in a nice outfit, a cheap wig, and too much makeup. I drove us down to Philly, found parking, and we checked in at the clinic. I was vibrating with nervous energy as I waited for my name, my long-preferred but never-used name, to be called. Eventually, the door opened, my name was called, and I went in.

In the exam room, we went over my medical and sexual history, I was asked a few questions, and I had the opportunity to tell my story about the endocrinologist. The doctor gave me a shocked look, and said, “we’re sending you home with a prescription today.” Elated hardly covers my mood at that point.

I had some blood tests done, and came back to the waiting room with a prescription for Spironolactone, a common testosterone blocker, to start me off. I was to come back for a check up, and to get the other prescription, for Estradiol. Estrogen. The “girl hormone”.

My friend’s experience was similar, though he had to come back to be taught how to inject his testosterone. We both left with our heads in the clouds. As we drove home, we kept breaking into song and laughing. This was one of the best days of my life.

The next few months were a blur. As the HRT (hormone replacement therapy) did its job, I started to notice the first little hints of development. I reveled in the changes, even when they hurt. Growing boobs hurts, did you know that?

But not all was well. Unbeknownst to me, or to anyone, there was something inside my body just waiting to tear everything down around me. And every day that I was on HRT, the danger grew.

For over a year, however, everything was great. Maybe not perfect- as it turned out, I had some psychological issues that were being masked by the nicotine, that came up after I quit smoking. But I dealt with them, got on medications to deal with them, and everything went back to relative normalcy.

Until, that is, the night of December 1st, 2013. I had just come home from a friend’s house, where they were throwing a party, and I was in the bathroom getting ready for bed. Sitting on the toilet, I suddenly felt the right side of my body go numb and limp, and I pitched forward onto the floor.

Luckily, I remained conscious, and was able to pull myself across the floor, and into my bedroom, where my phone was. I dialed 911, and told the person on the other end what I had feared: that I was having a stroke. I pulled myself to a sitting position, my right arm lying useless by my side, and I screamed for my dad, who was downstairs. He came running, and I explained what had happened, tears in my eyes. He stayed with me until the ambulance came.

At the hospital, I met a neurologist, who told me that I, indeed, was having a stroke. They injected me with a drug they called a “clot buster”, and I almost immediately felt a tiny amount of feeling return to my limbs. It hurt. A lot.

I spent the next week in the hospital, being tested and poked and prodded. Some of the staff called me Rowan; some did not. I tried to stay positive, and found it easier than I expected. I realized that I had no expectations for my future any more, and every day I woke up alive was more than I could hope for.

I got some answers. I had a small heart defect, a “patent foramen ovale” that was basically a hole between the atria of my heart. This hole let a clot slip through, a clot most likely caused by the high dose of Estradiol I was taking at the time. They took me off HRT immediately, which I protested but not too loudly, and gave me Warfarin to keep my blood from clotting again.

The following two weeks were in rehab, where I learned how to walk again. By the time I left, I could walk, albeit clumsily, without a cane. My hand was still fairly useless, and remains significantly limited to this day.

Eventually, I got back on Spironolactone, and later a low dose of Estradiol, this time administered through a patch, not a pill. Not once during my hospitalization, recovery, or after, have I had any desire to go back to that sick parody of masculinity I had been living before I transitioned. It simply was not an option. I continued my transition, seeing the stroke as nothing more than a bump in the road. But I have been very careful to avoid any such bumps since then.

That was four years ago. Since then, I’ve started living as a woman full time, I’ve had my name legally changed, I’ve had tons of laser hair removal and hair transplants (which were woefully inadequate- now I wear a weave), and now I’m living as authentically as I can. I am who I want, need to be. Nothing will ever take that away from me. Nothing.

About the Author: Rowan Marie Hand is a married 30-something from Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and their pet roommate. She is a published author, an accomplished seamstress, and a prodigious doodler. http://www.facebook.com/rowanmariehand

Time to Transition to People-Friendly Systems

From government issued IDs, medical facilities, employers, housing, and much more. The way our gender and names are stored in databases can greatly change the way a lot of trans people experience  the world. Most people take for granted having equal access to their basic needs due to the fact that for most people there are no prerequisites to obtain them.  But for a trans person these things come at high costs and absurd protocols which puts us at risk monetarily, physically, mentally, and socially. In a world where equality is such a prevalent topic and cause, why is it that we are denied even some of the most basic human rights like self-authority and consent. Year after year this remains true with little to no change people. Society continues to allow these transgressions towards a whole group of the population. The following are some of the realities, struggles, violations and dangers trans people are put through due to virtually unlimited forces and systems seeking to invalidate and erase.

This year for Trans Day of Visibility we have asked trans members of Hypatia to reflect on the intersection of the trans experience and technology. Below you will find a series of reflections from trans members of our community. We hope that as you read the reflections below and remember that Trans Day of Visibility is not just about physical visibility, but the visibility of our struggle, experiences, and lives.


Part the existence issue is that our legal/deadnames are used in so many places. Until you stop going by that, you don’t really notice how pervasive and indicative it is of your identity to others. It’s literally everywhere, acting like some kind of unseen barrier that the cigender world never even notices.

It’s not only on credit cards, but banking information, workplace systems, rental agreements, car notes, medical records, school records, previous job histories, and the list goes on. Trying to change these to reflect your chosen name which reflects who you really are and identify as can be seemingly impossible, costly, and potentially out someone that is trans in some situations without court orders. Even if “nicknames” on some accounts can be used it still often causes confusion and incidents of being put in situations where someone else misgenders and possibly puts you in harms way due to others around you. Even if they don’t mean such. It still can be overheard if called by a pharmacist, a doctor, etc

Not to mention the issues that arise between how someone can look on their driver’s license vs their appearance while in transition as well. I’ve personally had people refuse me service due to mismatching ID where my picture and appearance did not match up. Even now, producing it causes conflict due my legal name and gender conflicting on my driver’s license, sometimes causing people to claim it’s a fake ID. This is complicated further by the process to get a legal name change. In many states it’s a costly, totaling $250-$400 without a lawyer. It can be a time consuming process that lasts for 1-3 months+ and sometimes not even attainable due to judges who try to block it. While rare, it’s still something that does happen from time to time. In contrast, compare it to those who get married have almost no issues to change their name other than a small fee, members of the transgender community have to jump through all kinds of hoops with notes from doctors, affidavits, lawyers, and then the actual court process itself.

This also extends into the work place. Even for me, someone who works in an entirely virtual environment almost, the system logins, display names, etc all reflect my deadname. This causes some serious issues personally, and for others as it brings up the weight of such and the emotional issues that come with seeing/hearing or even having to type out those names. While certain databases and situations are understandable (Payroll, Benefits, etc), it’s a nuisance when you don’t want everyone to know or are going “stealth” as it were to avoid discrimination in a general work place environment and not have those other than in HR know. Changing these without a legal name change is something that’s often not easy. In my own situation, I haven’t exactly figured out who I even contact about such within my company to remedy the situation. Because of that, the stress and anxiety of being outed on nearly a daily basis is hard to deal with and a few times it was perilously close to occurring and sometimes derails an entire day of work due to the stress of such.

Not only can this be distressing, but can open the door to discrimination, unintentional outing of Trans people, and other issues that surround daily life that others take for granted.

Sophie  // @ClockworkGirl

The lack of ability for systems to acknowledge trans people is something that goes a lot deeper than most people think. It’s not just about trying to get through the pathologizing system of hoops to get legal recognition followed by the struggle of trying to update your records everywhere. Before that can even happen we go through a period where we simply have no belieable means to identify ourselves, which can be problematic and traumatizing and its something that we have virtually no control over to fix. Other people, particularly the psych industry are given ownership of our identities and bodies. In this period of trying to live our lives without matching ID reflecting who we are. We have to constantly out ourselves no matter if we do. Even just picking up your medication from the pharmacy can become suspected identity theft/fraud because people wont believe your ID is actually yours.

In a world where trans people are continuously discriminated and harassed, even by people who are supposed to be there to protect; like cops, thats not just nerve wrecking. It can become an outright threat to our lives and well-being. The casual disregard or outright refusal to account for our existence within critical systems is not just an assault on our identities, but a method of oppression.

I believe its time for us to stop asking nicely and hoping our allies will help restore our rights to identity and consent, and time to *demand* what is *rightfully* ours. We exist and we endure undue humiliation and abuse just to be ourselves all because people don’t find us important enough to implement actual change for. We *deserve* IDs that reflect who are and we *deserve* to have it without needing to beg strangers in the psych industry for consent to our identity. We *deserve* to be treated as real people. Equals. Not like property of others. All because seemingly people feel someones genitals does, and should define who they are and can be, as a human being. A sickingly concept that I wish the world would open their eyes and see. This should be an outrage… and yet for all our allies, for all our fighting, for all acknowledgement that being trans is not a mental illness then our consent and rights are still handed over to the psych industry by default.

For the cis-gendered people reading, I ask this: How would you feel if your authority over your own body and identity was *legally* taken away from you because someone didn’t feel it fit your genitals? How would you feel if you had to go through a humiliating and violating process thats potentially several years long, and having to spend a small fortune in the hope that you’ll meet the right stranger, the one that’ll finally accept accept you begging to be who you are is enough? Would you accept it happening to you? If so why aren’t you outraged that others are forced to go through it? How many of us have to die because of broken and abusive systems before you care enough to be outraged?

We are one people, and its my firm belief that if anything is going to get better we need to learn to acknowledge that no matter how different someones life, identity or skin colour is,then we are still one singular people. When we forget to care and stand up for each other, to insist fair treatment and equality not just for ourselves — but for all, we become less for it. Personally, and as a people. So we should remember the value of unity. To stand, and walk as one. To fight all the battles together, rather than for all to succumb to the crippling and ubiquitous lateral aggression that follows the dissolution of unity. It may be hard, but I believe we all have it in us, I believe in a day we treat each other with kindness and compassion, with respect — but the day will only come if we all choose unity and love over hate and indifference. It starts with you, and me. So wont you join the fight for a better future for all?

Josephine  // @josie

Having social anxiety and PTSD makes it very hard for me to go outside to buy basic things i need in my daily life. This often forces me to buy things online, but even that is not without complications when being trans. I had my credit card locked to my deadname on paypal for almost 6 months and they refused to change it even after i supplied the required documentation as proof of my existence. It was only when i broke into tears and told them i was trans that they finally agreed to look into the issue. It is very hard not feeling defeated when having to beg them to help with issues that cis people will have no problems getting fixed. But it doesn’t end here. Once the parcel finally arrives, there is also the constant fear of new delivery people who might not want to let me sign for the things I bought and paid for unless i pass to them. Being misgendered by delivery people is not uncommon and sometimes they even go out of their way not to look at me while i sign, which only makes my social issues worse.


It has always amazed me that my dignity as a human being, and respect from my peers can be tied to something as trivial as an entry in a database. While the examples of this are many in my life, I’d like to focus on just one example in one of the more important aspects of my life: employment and housing. During my transition on the job, I never would have thought that our companies computer system for the name badges could be tied to our payroll records. Further more, this name was tied to our companies single sign on system. In simple terms this meant that my work ID, email address, and employee records would all have my old name on them until my months long name change process in probate court could be heard.

At first, I didn’t think this would be a big deal. But soon I realized that it was beyond non-trivial. When I would swipe my employee ID at the door, the men at the security desk would literally freak out when they saw my name came up. Often I’d hear them comment about how glad they were that the computers warned them about my existence as I walked down the hallway. Daily work started to become near impossible as after talking to coworkers in remote offices, and sending them an email. They would instantly report it as a “scam” or some type of “fraud”. Again, I thought this would pass, but it only got worse. This pretty much made it impossible for me to carry out the responsibilities of my job, with everyone always questioning me if I really am who I say I am. At one point they issued a security alert in one of the offices because the name I gave on the phone didn’t match my employee ID, they even worked up all the fancy VPs and business men — Only to find out it was just me trying to help someone fix their problem. I soon realized that my fate and future in the company depended on a database entry I was powerless to update.

As if being unemployed isn’t enough, I’ve always struggled with housing, it has always been the same story. They require my legal name for credit reasons, and end up passing my legal name up to the people who do the interviews. They look at the name, they look at me, they look at the name, and then they ask me baiting questions like, “Do you bring a lot of boys back to your place?” – “Do you do hard drugs?” – “Do you hang out with people who do hard drugs?” – “I see you checked non-smoker, but is that really true?” – And so on, do I get a callback? No. Should I report things like this? I wish, but then I’d have no time left in my life for anything else. Its always degrading having other people instantly assume that you are into hard drugs and sex work, just because of a name on a screen.

These days, my name and gender marker are up to date on all my IDs — It makes a world of difference — But its far from the end of my struggles…

On hospitals / Olive

As a trans women, making the choice to get help through hospitalization was an extremely terrifying choice to make. I had been very resistant to getting help at first knowing that it would be hard to get the help I needed. It was a struggle I finally concurred and finally sought help, but sadly it was even more rough then I had anticipated. My attempts to advocate for myself fell on deaf ears at each turn. Finally scrambling and getting my GF to help advocate for me is what was needed in the end for the hospital staff to finally help with my situation.

Throughout the nightmare-ish 20 hours in the hole in the ER and the 72 hours I spent in the hospital, getting misgendered was common and painful as ever. Especially with my anxiety being as bad as it was at the time. I often got misgenderd by the food staff reading my deadname off the their chart when handing out food, which made getting food uncomfortable. Fortunately the other patients in the hospital didn’t use my dead name when referring to me.

While I was in there, I wasn’t able to get all the medication I need as a trans women. They stopped my testosterone blocker while I was in there and typically shorted me 2 mg of estrogen a day. The third day in the hospital, trying to get out of there before the weekend was difficult to say the least. I wouldn’t put it past the nurses to have not wanted to help get an appointment setup with the psych before the end of the day due to my trans status. I felt lied to pretty often when trying to get that ball rolling. During the meeting with the psych that my GF’s insistence helped bring about, the psych came across as looking down on my trans status. Only with the insistence of how trapped being in there made me feel was finally enough for the psych to sign the release papers. I wouldn’t put it past them to have used me being a trans women as an excuse to deny my voluntary 72 hour confinement form.

random things / Joella Sylvia

Nearly every day during the two week waiting period for my picture license was upsetting to me. Buying alcoholic beverages is annoying because i have to hand over an id of someone who doesn’t exist anymore whether I’m at a store, restaurant or bar. I got pulled over last week and that was terrible because i look nothing like a boy named Joel but my automobile insurance is in my legal name of Joella. Not having my picture id match all my other papers makes me feel like I have to explain myself everytime which “outs” myself and is unfair to have to put myself in that vulnerable of a position just because nothing matches fully on identifications. The hospital I worked at can print a photo ID in five minutes but the DMV can’t print a license on site!?

Having to pay fifty bucks for a reissued diploma is pricey to me. Haven’t i paid enough for the degree? It’s MY diploma. Health insurance was a mess since my hrt was still being billed for a male named Joel not a girl named Joella. So I needed prior authorization and had to use my old diy stash for 2 days because i ran out. My job is super cool with my identity but I’m angry that despite identifying myself on the phone as “Ella” people within my company still call me dude or sir. I wish that a memo could go out saying a woman named Ella works for store 188. The cost of name change, license, Birth Certificate and passport are pricey all because of what? to be who I am? I find it exciting and I giggle when I get to pick “female” for things like medical forms but there needs to be more options sometimes. My main gripe is not that the listed suggestions don’t allow name and gender change (it’s easy when you do it in order) it’s just how long and how much effort it takes to do. It’s 2017 and the process of name change took a freaking month in itself and during that month of time I basically had no identity. I actually spiraled and binge drank one night because I felt so lost. I existed in my heart as Joella, my coworkers, wife and friends called me Joella. But I had a car, marriage certificate, mortgage, paychecks, diploma, and medications from this Joel dude. I felt that I didn’t exist in the world.


As both a trans woman and someone with chronic health problems I’ve had to spend way more time than I’d like in doctor offices, labs, and hospitals. They systematically erase the truth of our existence. Sometimes I’ll get asked if my insurance is correct because my employer never did their job and corrected their records for me after I gave them government ID with my actual sex of female on it. Some medical offices will change the sex indicator in their records from F to M once they find out that you’re trans. Of all places that one would expect to know of the recent science saying that trans women are in fact female. This sometimes results in things like getting things in the mail from them that aren’t actually addressed to you, “Mr <last name>”, and such. Once when I was in the hospital for three days, as soon as they found out I’m trans they moved me to another (private) room without any consent from me. I think they may have charged me for both rooms too (and at the extreme US healthcare costs even), but of course when one has been so sick that an ER doctor admits her for three days she doesn’t really have the ability to thoroughly audit and dispute three pages of medical bills. I wasn’t even allowed the dignity of being clean shaven in all that time. Despite me telling the doctor what medications I was on (the usual spironolcatone and estradiol), I wasn’t given either of those the entire time I was there. And I have to pay thousands a year and 14 hours of labor and commute every business day for this? It’s terrible.

I have also seen sites attempting to be inclusive of LGBT people such as an LGBT cancer risk survey site I once saw. They massively screw up things relating to trans people that simply consulting a few trans people on could have fixed. They will make the common mistake of giving gender options as “male, female, transgender or other”, or something very similar to that. They completely ignore that many trans people are not a third gender and these kinds of things often overlook the diversity of those who are. So you, being a woman who just happened to be assigned male at birth due to some atypical anatomy, put female and then you are asked questions that assume you’re cis. Some of them won’t be answerable and others won’t be asked in ways that have any significant helpful effect for your health and well-being. This is merely one example that comes to mind of the way the medical industry systemically overlooks trans people and especially chronically ill trans women, even when attempting to be inclusive. We’ve all seen their claims of trans-specific care and surgery being “cosmetic” or “experimental” when the best data and experience of those who actually work with trans people say that it is indeed medically necessary for some of us. So I get denied my human right to healthcare for more than a decade and counting because of this nonsense.

Being trans has also given me a look at how one’s name is stored, processed, and used by various government and corporate systems. As part of the abuse I suffered as a child and young adult I was not allowed to choose a new name for myself when I first came out as a trans. I had to either accept my mother renaming me or continue to be called a male name. Obviously that’s not really a choice. To this day I am often faced with multiple identifiers that aren’t me but I have to pretend like they are, or once were to simply exist in the world. Some documents list me as something, some another. Work calls me one thing, the government something else. The people closest to me call me my actual name Signý. This name and one of the others, are uncommon names at least in the US. So, I’ve been through all manner of misspellings, mispronunciations, and other such things resulting in yet another way I don’t get to be called who I am. Anyone who has gone through a legal name change process knows what a massive pain it is along with significant financial and time cost. So it is not something that one can just go do. The fact that trans people are disproportionately poor just makes things like this even less accessible to us.

You may have noticed the ‘ý’ in my name too. Which I’m not too picky about because Signy or Signe are fine alternate spellings for me, but it’s an opportunity to point out another instance of technology ignoring and/or erasing people. Those with non-Anglo names can have a hard time getting their name to show up correctly in all manner of different fields, forms, documents, etc because those working the software behind it never considered the existence of names that contain characters beyond the “standard” A-Z.

And when you are barely holding onto life as it is, struggling through each day with no in-person support at all despite your disabilities, little things like seeing your actual name on a package, website, paper coffee cup, or actual gender on an ID or data sheet at the doctor office are all you have to remind yourself that you even have a self.


In a world where people feel constantly profile and constantly expose their information to others in exchange for goods, nothing is more sacred to people than the idea of privacy. For trans people in an unsafe environment that means becoming good at hiding, even from yourself. In an environment where your deadname is a curse you can’t break free of without hundreds of dollars and the hope that the people who control your records will grant you that request that continues your ability to survive.

These, and many more are the issues faced by virtually all trans people across the world. The painful struggles of invalidation, erasure and abuse a whole segment of the population must face on top of, and because of their bodies not matching society’s expectations for who they are as people. Can we as a people truly claim equality is a thing we care about when broken systems are allowed continue to exist, enabling abusive people to harass, discriminate and put a whole segment of the population at risk in such a major and pervasive way for something so inane? To treat trans people with respect and dignity it is imperative that trans people be accounted for in the systems that run the world we live in!

The Hypatia Software Organization is looking for mentors!

We’re looking for trans women and non-binary people who work with Python and are able to dedicate just an hour a week for six months to help raise our peers out of systemic homelessness and poverty.

We were all young programmers once, with those first few steps being hardest to take. The best way to succeed in making those steps is a positive and safe community with good mentorship — mentorship like yours. You can make a real impact in someone’s life. It may be hard to imagine, but your donation of just one hour a week will make a significant difference in their life, giving them the confidence and support they need to succeed.

With your help, we’ll be able to provide a career path and a solid resume to impoverished or homeless people who experience transmisogyny. You can empower them to contribute to the Free and Open Source community for the first time and to begin building a portfolio of work.

We are looking for mentors of all skill levels, to help out at every step of your mentee’s journey. Even if you’ve only been programming for a year, your expertise and knowledge is still valuable, and you will be able to help someone overcome the struggles you overcame. Unique challenges are present at every step of the way, and others are struggling with the same things as you. The knowledge you will be able to share is valuable.

We recognize that being a mentor is a huge step, with impostor syndrome being difficult to overcome. By mentoring with Hypatia you will be a welcome part of our supportive and nurturing community. We will give you all the assistance you need to feel sure of yourself and your abilities. We will also match you with a mentee who will benefit most from your unique skills and knowledge and who will grow through contributions that only you can make.

Fill out our volunteer application today!

HSO is pleased to announce: application to become a 501(c)(3) charity approved!

Hypatia Software Organization, Inc. (HSO), is now a registered United States Federal 501(c)(3) non-profit organization!

HSO filed paperwork to become a non-profit corporation in the State of Massachusetts. We became Hypatia Software Organization, Inc., at the end of September.  As of yesterday, we have received notice of approval for our application to become a Federal 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in the United States! This has been the result of many months of hard work from many team members within the organization, and we would not have made it this far without everyone’s help.

Here is what becoming a 501(c)(3) means for you:

  1. If you pay taxes to the United States government, you can donate to HSO and receive a letter stating your donation amount, which you can use as a tax break.
  2. Assurance that your donations to HSO goes toward aiding experiencers of transmisogyny , providing education that will help enable procurement of employment in coding and systems administration jobs, as well as direct charitable relief.
  3. We will continue our policy of openness and transparency, with a number of exciting new ways to showcase all the good work we are doing.
Hypatia Software would like to take this time to thank our community, our supporters and our allies.  It is because of your support that HSO was able to accomplish this important step.  We are now more able to continue our mission of offering direct aid, a nurturing community, and mentorship to those who are experiencing transmisogyny.  We at HSO are truly excited to embark on this next stage in our future.  Exciting things to come!

Interested in helping our mission?

There are many ways people can help out! If you would like to make a secure tax deductible donation to Hypatia today you can do so directly via our donation page, 100% of all donations go directly to furthering our mission.  If you would like to volunteer, consider filling our our volunteer application! People with any skill-set are welcome, we are always looking for new mentors, creative writers, programmers, graphic designers, and more!

HTTP/SSL Made Easy With FreeBSD + Nginx + Certbot!


Recently at Hypatia Software Organization we decided to enhance the security of our servers by improving our HTTPS (encryption) support. Use of strong encryption enhances the privacy of our members, volunteers, donors, as well as the Hypatia community at large. In the past deploying strong HTTPS to a web-server was a costly and time-consuming process that required buying an X.509 certificate from a Certificate Authority (CA). This has changed with the creation of the Let’s Encrypt CA, a CA that provides cost free X.509 certificates via a public API, as well as Certbot a client that utilizes the this API to turn certificate generation into a simple process that anyone running a web-server can do!

logo-fullNow that the basics are out of the way, lets get down to how to deploy Certbot on your web-server to obtain a cost free X.509 certificate for yourself! In this example we will be using FreeBSD 10.2-RELEASE using Nginx 1.8.1 as a web-server. The process is fairly simple and requires at least basic understanding of the shell.  In the examples we provide we are using ZSH as our shell and the prompt will be denoted by a “%” character.  Before you can get started you will need a valid domain name pointed to the server that you wish to obtain a certificate with. Additionally you will need to install git and python, you can install them with the following command:

% pkg install git python

Once you have the required packages, the rest is easy. First lets clone the Certbot repository from Github:

% git clone https://github.com/certbot/certbot.git

Now all that’s left to do is obtain our Certificate, Certbot will automatically install any system dependencies and create a Python Virtual Environment to manage any Python packages it requires. In this example we will be requesting a certificate for the following domains: example.com, www.example.com. This process will take several steps that will be noted with comments (Text after the “#” character):

# Change directories to the freshly cloned certbot repository
 % cd certbot
 # Stop Nginx (nothing can be using port 443 when Certbot runs)
 % service nginx stop
 # Obtain our certificate!
 % ./letsencrypt-auto --debug certonly --standalone -d example.com -d www.example.com
 # Start our web-server back up:
 % service nginx start

And that’s it! You will now have a certificate in /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/, where example.com is the first domain listed in the above letsencrypt-auto command.

One more suggested security enchantment you can implement for your users is generating your own strong and unique Diffie-Hellman (DH) Key which is used for exchanging cryptographic keys between the client (web-browser) and server. This can easily be done with the following commands which will yield a 4096-bit DH key:

% cd /usr/local/etc/ssl/
% openssl dhparam -out dhparams.pem 4096

Now that you have a new X.509 certificate I’m sure you would like to deploy it to your web-server. Here is our basic Nginx configuration. We store it in a separate file and include it in our /usr/local/etc/nginx/nginx.conf file. By doing this it makes it easy to include the same settings and headers in all of our HTTPS virtual hosts. While this could be written a bit more clean we find it works very well. To include the common file, you will need to add the line “include ssl_common.conf;” to your configuration file, it should look something like this:

http {
      server {
              listen 443 ssl;
              server_name  example.com;
              include ssl_common.conf;

Here is the contents of our /usr/local/etc/nginx/ssl_common.conf file:

# Thanks to https://cipherli.st/ for providing a great reference! Please check out their site
# to make sure your SSL Configuration is up to date with current standards! Be aware that in this
# example we use a slightly liberal cipherlist to allow for older browsers on older devices, Eg.
# IE8, android 2.4, etc
# Enable Perfect Forward Secrecy (PFS)
ssl_prefer_server_ciphers on;
ssl_certificate /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/fullchain.pem;
ssl_certificate_key /etc/letsencrypt/live/example.com/privkey.pem;
# Disable SSLv2 and SSLv3 (BEAST and POODLE attacks)
ssl_protocols TLSv1 TLSv1.1 TLSv1.2;
# Enable our strong DH Key
ssl_dhparam /usr/local/etc/ssl/dhparams.pem;
# Cipher-list for PFS.
ssl_ecdh_curve secp384r1;
# Requires nginx >= 1.1.0
ssl_session_cache shared:SSL:10m;
ssl_session_tickets off;
# Requires nginx >= 1.5.9
ssl_stapling on;
# Requires nginx >= 1.3.7
ssl_stapling_verify on;
# Requires nginx => 1.3.7
resolver valid=300s;
resolver_timeout 5s;
# HSTS Support
add_header Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=63072000;includeSubdomains; preload";
# These headers can break applications, be careful!
add_header X-Frame-Options DENY;
add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff

After making these changes you must restart your web-server:

% service nginx restart

Now you should have HTTPS running with a certificate from the Let’s Encrypt CA! If you would like to test your server for configuration errors, I strongly recommend using https://ssllabs.com to test your server configuration. If you follow this guide and checked https://cipherli.st/ for any changes, you should get an A+ on SSLabs’ test. Good luck and happy hacking!a-plus

Further reading

Special Thanks to FundClub for Helping to Raise $8,500!!

fundclub On behalf of Hypatia Software Organization I would like to extend a special thank you to the people at FundClub who were able to raise $8,500 USD for us!! We are extremely excited about this development, and cannot wait to begin the difficult, but important work ahead. These funds give us the ability to fully offer our services to homeless, and disenfranchised, trans women.

We are planning on using the funds assist Hypatia in some of the following core areas:

  • Streamlining and expanding the mentorship program
  • Emergency cash relief funds to assist in buying HRT, bus fare, etc.
  • Laptops for homeless / disenfranchised trans women
  • Public speaking
  • Overhead (eg. VPS, domains, service providers)
  • Assisting with internships
  • Creating job opportunities
Thanks again to the FundClubyou are an amazing group!

It is an honor to have be added to the ever growing list of organizations that you have helped empower though your good will.We at Hypatia will do our best to put these new funds to work, in the spirit that they were given.

The next steps will be decided at our weekly Membership Meetings, which currently are every Sunday at 5:00PM CST and last one hour.  If you would like to attend, please join the #member-meeting channel on the Slack Team. If you need to be invited to the Slack Team, please fill out either the Volunteer, or Benefits Application, and we will invite you as soon as we can.

Lisa Marie Maginnis

Hypatia Software Organization

Introducing Lisa Marie Maginnis

lisam1Hi all! I am Lisa Marie, the new CEO/President of Hypatia Software Organization. While I know that Lillian leaves big shoes to fill, I know that I can help Hypatia, as it enters the next phase of its mission to help the homeless and disenfranchised trans women of the world. I have only been with the Hypatia since spring of this year, but in that time I have learned a lot about how Hypatia directly impacts trans peoples lives, and I cannot wait to help us further that mission. I am very excited about a lot of the recent developments here at Hypatia. Ranging from the Fund Club donation, to the possibilities of certification programs. While I get acquainted with Hypatia over the next few weeks, there will be slight delays in applying the new found momentum we have gained. I will do my best to keep these delays to a minimum, but I do ask for your patience as I learn the ropes.

A bit about myself, I am currently twenty eight years old, and living in Boston Massachusetts. I work in the Information Technology field as a Senior System Administrator for a non-profit. I was one of the founding members of the peer support network TransAdvice, and currently serve on their board of directors. My hobbies range from hiking and back country camping, to programming and reverse engineering. I am a science fiction fan, and enjoy reading to unwind.

I am honored to have the chance to serve the Hypatia community, and I look forward to working with all of you 🙂

Lisa Marie


Lillian talking at LibrePlanet

Hypatia Software Org at LibrePlanet (Lillian’s Talk)

Prior, I wrote two posts about talking about Hypatia Software Organization at LibrePlanet 2016, namely one about why I was excited to talk at LibrePlanet, the other about my road trip and personal recap of my LibrePlanet roadtrip.

Now the video of me (Lillian Lemmer) talking at LibrePlanet about Hypatia Software Organization is up for everyone to see!

Here’s the official description of the talk:

Continue reading “Hypatia Software Org at LibrePlanet (Lillian’s Talk)”

Lillian speaks at LibrePlanet 2016, Secretary Brian Callahan seen standing to left.

My LibrePlanet Experience

I gave a talk on March 20, at LibrePlanet 2016, at MIT, in Cambridge, Massachusetts (I mention being enthused in an earlier blog post), on a LibrePlanet scholarship. To avoid transphobic harassment by the TSA, and other airport staff, my friends drove me (notably Tom Almquist of our staff) 2,792 miles from Minneapolis, Minnesota and back.

Make sure to check the bottom of this post–I included a time lapse of my trip!

Continue reading “My LibrePlanet Experience”

Cool People Love Our Shirts

We’re now selling shirts, hoodies, and teddy bears! Really cool people have been wearing Hypatia shirts and hoodies (see pics below!)! 100% of the proceeds go to empowering transgender women. From now until March 15 get 15% off hoodies–our hoodies are awesome!

Buy yourself a a hoodie, shirt, or teddy at the store!