Celebrating Pride at Automattic: “Reflect What Is Given, and In So Doing Change It a Little”

Throughout June, we’re exploring identity, diversity and inclusion in tech and the workplace, and what it means to celebrate Pride Month. Next up is a Q&A with Echo Gregor, a developer on Team Voyager who works on Jetpack, a super plugin for WordPress sites.

How do you identify?

Labels are a really interesting thing for me! Of the more mainstream definitions I identify as a queer non-binary trans femme lesbian. Note femme, not feminine! I see femme as a reclaiming of the feminine through the lens of queerness. So many of the social connotations of femininity have heteronormative ideas baked in, and femme seeks to use them for a queer audience. It has its origins in the lesbian world’s “fem,” but has taken on its own identity.

I also strongly identify as a gender nebula, but that’s certainly less common.

“Gender nebula” is my attempt to attach a descriptive label to that gender identity. Like its gaseous namesake, it’s hard to pin down!

That’s lovely — and new! Can you tell us more about what it means to be a gender nebula?

I’m technically non-binary, but that really only says what I’m not, not what I am. I’ve had some fluidity in my gender before and still do — I don’t identify as a woman, though my experiences frequently mirror those of trans (and cis!) women. “Gender nebula” is my attempt to attach a descriptive label to that gender identity.

Like its gaseous namesake, it’s hard to pin down! I like to think it also speaks to birthing new things, and perhaps from afar it’s lovely to look at.

Talk to us about your pronouns; you now use xhe/xer. When did you start? Have you seen shifts in peoples’ openness to being up-front about specifying pronouns, or to using non-traditional, non-binary pronouns?

Interested in learning more about pronoun options? Learn about “neopronouns” at MyPronouns.org, or explore the etiquette of asking and talking about pronouns — in cartoon form.

My pronouns have been quite a journey, honestly! I initially moved to using they/them, and it’s only mid-last year I started using xhe/xer. One of the more interesting revelations I’ve made is that pronouns are words, and like all words you can make one up if it doesn’t fit. So you won’t see xhe/xer in a dictionary . . . yet!

I’ve seen some shifts. They/them is being normalized, and I see places putting pronouns in email signatures, say. I also see people being less confused by “pronoun circles” and the like. That said, there’s still a long way to go, and I still see a lot of discomfort and confusion around non-traditional pronouns like mine.

Does your identity and/or experience impact your approach to development, or to work in general? How?

Not directly, but it did change how I think about the work I do! Being part of a marginalized community makes me acutely aware of how I can use my position to positively affect things, such as bringing more inclusive wording or offering suggestions for marketing. Or trying to normalize pronouns — at the moment, I’m working to build out a resource page on pronoun usage to inform our product and communications and internal, employee materials; I hope it will eventually become publicly available! I’m also actively working to improve trans healthcare at Automattic.

Being me also means exposing people across my company to my existence, and that can bring home that folks like me are very real instead and not just an abstract, theoretical political thing.

What does celebrating Pride Month mean to you or look like for you? Is there a specific issue within the larger celebration that you’re passionate about or around which you’d like to raise awareness?

Pride Month is about remembering my legacy and the people who put everything on the line to fight for themselves. I live in New York City and have been to Stonewall many times, so I feel those ghosts quite acutely at times.

Around Pride specifically, one of the issues that’s been a source of controversy is the corporatization of the month. New York City especially is egregious about this, and the Pride organizers having a long history of putting corporations before activists and people. I’ve been involved on and off with countermarches and other organizations working to reclaim Pride for those of us that are still marginalized and fighting for our rights today.

And finally: Echo is an unusual and evocative name. How did you choose it?

Earlier in my transition, I called myself “E” sort of as a placeholder while I pondered name things. One late night, on the way home from a party, I had a friend ask if they could call me Echo, as it was the callsign equivalent for “E.” I immediately fell in love with the name, and gradually started using it more and more, until I made it my legal name.

But echos don’t perfectly repeat things. They reflect what is given, and in so doing change it just a little.

I like that it’s simple and doesn’t have many gendered connotations in the modern world. I also appreciate it’s mythological origin! In the myth, Echo was a mountain nymph cursed by the goddess Hera — to be unable to speak, and only repeat the last words said to her.

I think there’s a lot of parallels in our world to that idea. We’re part of systems that are so much bigger than us that it’s rare any one of us can be loud enough to bring meaningful change, to speak new words. But echoes don’t perfectly repeat things. They reflect what is given, and in so doing change it a little. I like to try and live up to that by bringing a bit of change to the world, not by being the loudest, but by reflecting things back in my own way.

Interested in the work Echo does? Apply to one of our Engineering rolesYou can also read the first interview in this series with Human Resources Wrangler Basil Gowins.