When Forbes released its 2007 "Web Celeb 25" list of the most
influential people on the internet, LifeHacker.com founding editor and out
lesbian Gina Trapani made the cut. She ranked seventh, one above Facebook.com’s
Mark Zuckerberg and one below Matt Drudge (DrudgeReport.com).
To industry insiders, the
fact that the self-professed "queer tomboy" appeared on the list was
no shock. After all, LifeHacker.com is an award-winning technology blog with
over 10 million site visitors per month according to the blog search engine
An unassuming Brooklyn
reacted to the honor with self-effacement, joking on her website that she was
named "alongside folks much more deserving of the title ‘web celeb’ than I
What is surprising is
that no publication, until now, had ever interviewed Trapani about being an out high-profile
lesbian in the world of technology. (A Wall
Street Journal profile mentioned her partner but, like most other
publications, focused strictly on her job.) The busy New Yorker recently took
time out of her schedule for an interview with AfterEllen.com.
Trapani recalled diving into the world of
computer programming at an early age: "I remember getting my first computer
and being like, This is awesome. I just loved it because I felt I could do so
many things. I wrote my first computer program when I was 9 or 10 on an IBM PC
She was a young nerd, a
tomboy and somewhat socially awkward. But she had an older brother who was also
a geek and he encouraged her interest in computers. "I went to graduate
school and got my graduate degree in computer science, and I went to the same
program he did," Trapani
said. "So, he kind of, in a way, was a big mentor to me."
self-conscious preteen years, Trapani
began coming out to herself in spite of being surrounded by typical teenage
homophobic behavior. "I went to an all-girls Catholic school in Brooklyn in a very Italian-Catholic neighborhood,"
she recalled, "where you heard ‘Watch out for the lesbos in the locker
room’ kind of stuff, which scared the hell out of me."
Although by then she had
plenty of friends and was no longer so ill-at-ease socially, she began to
experience life as an outsider again. "The feeling of being an outcast
came back around coming out for me, for sure," she said.
Trapani ventured that if the internet had
been around when she was a teenager she might have felt less isolated: "I
kind of wish I had the access to the internet that teenagers have today."
She got a gleam in her eyes when she started to talk about what life could’ve
been like as a wired youngster, being able to "express yourself online in
a way that you’d be totally afraid to do in real life." She added, "I
think I would have had a lot of alter egos online as a kid if I had access to
began working in the industry as a programmer in New York City, which she described as a
"pretty liberal" place. She said that throughout her career she has
always been out, even during the job-interview process: "At some point or
another I mentioned my partner. It’s something I would be pretty clear about. I
would be out by the end of the interview."
She attributed part of
the relative ease she’s had in not hiding her sexuality to the open-minded
culture of the tech industry, even if it is male-dominated: "I think the
tech field is the field that’s most welcoming to free thinking — kind of like,
the more different you are, the more flair you have, whether you are a wonderful
flaming gay man or a tomboy like me."
The few minor bumps in
the road come from the usual suspects: internet trolls. "I’ve certainly
been called names for being queer, but trolls are trolls," she said.
"They’re going to call straight people those names if you get to them. I
mean, that’s the way to attack someone, right?"
According to Trapani, her trajectory
to internet celebrity began by chance in January 2005: "It was sort of
accidental. I was working as a programmer for the company that publishes
LifeHacker. The publisher and I were having lunch and he said, ‘I registered
this domain name, LifeHacker.com. I don’t know what I’m going to do with it.’
My jaw just hit the table."
She immediately knew it
was a gold mine. "Wow," she recalled telling him, "you could do
so much with that."
"I’m just a huge
nerd," she said. "I’d heard about life hacks. I love the concept of
it — you know, that you could do these small little clever things to make your
day better — so I just started running off at the mouth: ‘You could do this.
You could do that.’"
Right then and there, the
publisher asked her if she wanted to write the site. "Back then I was only
writing code," Trapani
recalled. "I wrote my own blog at night as a hobby, but professionally I’d
only written code. So at first I wasn’t sure, but I decided to give it a