Recap | Chicago + Lesbians Who Tech San Francisco Summit.

The crowdfunding to get to the Lesbians Who Tech Summit in San Francisco was successful and on the 21st of February I set off. Thank you to all of my supporters!

The cheapest route took me for a stopover to Chicago, which was awesome because I could stay for a couple of days and hang out with my friend Meg. We hadn’t seen each other since 2004 and booked a room in Andersonville for some private time to reconnect, away from family and job distractions.

Andersonville is the former Swedish district and in the northern part of Chicago, close to Lake Michigan. After the great fire in 1871, it was decided to only allow houses built of stone within city limits. Many people and communities who couldn’t afford to build with stone, or didn’t want to, settled just outside the city and that is how Andersonville was born. Nowadays it is part of the city and only a short ride with the metro to Downtown.

I totally fell in love with the tranquility of the district. The first day I had to myself since Meg had to work and take care of some family business. I spent hours in the bookstore “Women & Children First” trying to decide which book to buy. I talked to the staff and learned it was the first bookstore in Chicago aimed at female and kids topics. It was the first time I saw an entire shelf dedicated to genderqueer literature presented famously at the entrance and not hidden away in a dark corner. Lots of interesting looking history books as well as fiction and non-fiction about gender theory across all ages, feminism, anarchy, kids education and music. I travelled with hand luggage and set myself the limit of one book only. After something that felt like an entire day and having piled up over 15 books I really, really wanted to take with me I wrestled my choice down to three. The woman at the register recommended a cafe next door where I could hang out to read and that’s where I spent the rest of the day; reading a signed copy of “What about the Rest of Your Life” by Sung Yim, munching on tacos and drinking golden milk and later local beer. 

Meg told me she was late the next day and I went for a walk at the waterfront. It’s the first time I visited Chicago in winter and I had hoped to ice skate on the lake but it was far too warm. The lake looks like a sea or ocean without the salt in the air – weird experience. I walked up to Lane Beach, enjoying the rough weather and being close to water. Back home Meg finally came around we couldn’t believe to have each other again after almost 15 years. We know each other from a school exchange in high school and are used to contact via mail or skype, but seeing each other live is just so much better!

The next days we spent talking, eating, drinking and sightseeing. We explored Andersonville, visited Downtown, I got to know Megs husband Mike and the kids, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry all together and the next day Meg had arranged a backstage visit at the Field Museum with her cousin who is a designer there. Also, I talked Meg and Mike into coming with me to see the “Nighthawk” by Edward Hopper in the Chicago Art Institute. It drew me that far in that a security guard told me to back off. The last day we had late lunch at China Town and went to see Ezra Furman live. I missed the concert in Berlin a couple of days earlier and was happy to see Ezra and the band perform close to their home. It was super intense and a highlight to wrap up my time in Chicago.

After the concert, we drove to where Meg and her family live, a boxed suburb north of Chicago. The next morning we sent the kids off to school and Mike to work and I got to see Megs work space and a bit of her daily life surroundings. These suburbs are amazing, every house the same shape and colour with lots of garden space around. To paint your house in a different colour you’d have to ask for allowance and probably wouldn’t be allowed to change it because it is intended to all look the same. Wakens the little rebel inside of me but the next day it was time to say good bye and continue to San Francisco. No time to head out at night and add some colour to the grey walls … I do get the point of living in such a community. The city is big and loud and super expensive and in the suburbs a house with a garden and where everyone has a room and private space and a garage is affordable. It’s just that I grew up in the heart of a big city and with lots of freedom to move and many different kinds of buildings and influences and couldn’t imagine living in a monotonous space without nightlife and where I’d have to have a car to survive. I love my bike.

San Francisco shocked me. The last time I visited California was in 2009 and the contrast to then, and as well to Europe, stroke me as beyond alarming. Going home at night from a bar or club I passed homeless people lying head to toe for an hour. Walking around town it is obvious that many people have so much less and some others so much more … I don’t understand how a city can support some of the richest companies of the world and not protect its inhabitants from such poverty and homelessness. The habit of consume disgusted me. But well, I went not for tourism but to participate in the Lesbians Who Tech Summit – and that was mind blowing!

The conference was located in the Castro district, the main stage the Castro Theatre. The tingling sensation coming to a tech conference, or any kind of tech event, and actually being surrounded by people who identify as female or non gender conforming instead of being one of the only female participant is something I cannot put into words. Especially, if there are hundreds and hundreds of participants and everybody’s happy and chatty and interested in what you’re doing. Among them big names like Megan Smith, Kara Swisher, Sheryl Sandberg, Madame Gandhi or Tegan & Sara. Big names that show up to the after party to perform and/or mingle. And all the bigger and smaller tech companies that openly sponsor the event and want to hire you. It made me happy from head to toe and I was floating the lezzy tech cloud for three days. I met old and new friends and without any shame lost the hula hoop contest as the worst contestant. I did really practice at home, but well, what can I say – it’s just not my thing, especially if the hoop is that lightweight and tiny … The day after the final event felt like cold turkey and I got humongous ice cream cups with my friend Hilla and we rented bikes and cycled over Golden Gate and around town. The day ended with some of us at a karaoke bar and an amazing Tracy Chapman interpretation. I was ready to go home.

I really enjoyed visiting Chicago and reconnecting with Meg. And I wouldn’t want to miss experiencing a US summit of Lesbians Who Tech; that really  was amazing. I’m surprised of how much energy the community actually gives me. I have always been out and proud and still I feel even ‘outer’ and stronger after seeing and feeling so many beautiful people out there who I can relate and reach out to. Thank you Leanne Pittsford and the Lesbians Who Tech team for connecting the community, and for talking me into participating after meeting in London last year (2017)! I hope I can carry some sparkle back to the Berlin bubble.

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Excuse the late publish. Life has been buzzy as always and now it’s almost 18 month later … It took an ear infection to hinder me from biking back to Berlin (in Valencia currently) and to finally give me time to gather the photos from the last years trip to the USA. It’s a mix of 35 mm and phone photos with the text I wrote right after the trip in 2018. Re-reading it and going through the photos gave me such a good feeling I wanted to share, although it’s very late.

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