Monday, March 13, 2017

When Your Teen Comes Out As Trans

Our family is over 3 years in to our oldest child's coming out as agender, a name for a transgender person who identifies as a subset of non-binary, who doesn't identify as either a boy or a girl. If you ask our oldest kiddo if they are male or female, they would say, "neither." (And, note, they use "they/them" pronouns.) And in the last year, we took in and are in the process of adopting another trans teenager. For a couple cisgender people, my husband and I have had a personal, vested interest in supporting the rights, safety, and happiness of our kids.

In the last several years, we've met lots of other families with trans kiddos of all ages and lots of trans adults. In the last several years, we've also seen trans identities and issues become more visible and more political, in everything from bathroom access, healthcare services, and overall civil rights. We helped found and continue to serve on the board of a local nonprofit focused on serving the needs of transyouth, their families, and the transgender adults in our community. I do training for local educational and community organizations. For a cisgender person, I have learned a lot about the issues that transgender folks of all ages face, and I invest my time (and often my money) in helping advocate for them in every way I can. I try to be the best ally I can be.

Very likely, you don't have a trans kid. Statistically, you don't. So let me try to paint the picture of what being the parent of a trans kid is like.

Imagine you have a teenager who comes to you and says, "the gender you assumed I was is not the gender I am." Suddenly, these things are expected of you, in an instant:

  • Learn what the term transgender means (most cis folks don't learn about this until circumstances prompt our education, unfortunately)
  • Learn what the transgender experience is like
  • Advocate with school staff, healthcare professionals, extracurricular event instructors
  • Be supportive of the challenges your kiddo is facing
  • Use new pronouns
  • Use a new name for your child that you likely didn't choose
  • Navigate the opinions of everyone you meet
  • Navigate the opinions of your family and friends
  • Navigate the emotional response of your partner, if you have one
  • Navigate your own sense of loss, grief for the dreams you had formed for your child, for who you had believed that they were or who they were becoming
  • Navigate and develop new dreams and expectations of who your child really is
  • Face the realities of how your trans kiddo may be treated in the world
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence against your child
  • Try to navigate your deepest fears of violence your child might commit against themselves
  • Come to terms with statistics
  • Learn about blockers, hormones and trans healthcare. Understand and weigh the pros and cons. 
  • Realize how big of a deal bathrooms are for trans folks. Understand why.
In all likelihood, you aren't prepared for any of these things. You probably don't have a community of trans folks who you are already integrated into that you have learned from, seen their struggles, and who you can turn to for advice, or to be role models to your kiddo. 

You will make a million mistakes. You will make a big deal about messing up pronouns and make it all about you and say that it's hard. You will get frustrated that your kid just can't use whatever bathroom they want so you just don't have to think about bathrooms anymore. You will hesitate to talk about your kid with strangers, at work, with friends, sometimes even with family. You will freak out about healthcare and big decisions about things like hormones and surgery that will impact your kids' future choices in having children or that can cause side effects. You will think and maybe even say things like, "It would be so much easier if you were just gay," because, honestly, you are pretty sure it would. You will see Facebook memories and ugly cry at inconvenient times. You will worry about your kid's safety in a way that you never, ever did before. You will look at seemingly benign situations as a threat, or a potential trigger, for your kid. You will worry about their body dysphoria. You will worry about their ability to emotionally deal with all of the things you are having a hard time dealing with, and you're not even trans. 

You will be attacked by your trans kid. Your kid telling you you're not doing it right, not doing it enough, that you can't possibly understand. You will be lumped in with all of the other cis people who just don't get it. Your mistakes as you learn will be held against you. Your feelings and emotions will be dismissed, be seen as hostile and not accepting. You'll be told you're not a good ally. You will be despised as the enemy. All of their anger at the world will be taken out on you. 

You will be attacked by your friends, family, coworkers, and society. You will be told this is your fault. You will be told that you are encouraging this. You will be told that you should just not let your kid be trans. You will be told that your kid is too young to know what their gender is, and that you're a bad parent for encouraging their deviant behavior. You will be insulted by strangers. You may be cut off from your religious community. You will be cut off from people who you love. You will have to cut off people who you love. You will feel alone. You will sometimes be alone. 

And yet, you will fight for your kid. You will find strength that you didn't know you had. You will push yourself to learn faster, for the sake of your kid. You will fight through the tears and your own broken heart. You will know that everything you are doing, you are doing out of love for the perfect person that your kiddo is and who they are becoming. You will work through the grief. You will buy them new clothes. You will compliment them on new hairstyles. You will proactively look for places with gender neutral bathrooms. You will find community resources. You will have awkward conversations with healthcare professionals. You will fight with insurance companies for benefits. You will find therapists who can work with your kid. You will advocate for your kid at school. You will get used to the new pronouns and learn to apologize and move on when you screw up. You will find other parents who have trans kids. You will connect with them in ways you can't explain. You will meet trans adults and will watch them as role models for your kiddo. You will learn about trans rights. You will learn about name changes and gender markers. You'll learn about hormones and what medical interventions are possible for your kiddo, and when. You'll rejoice when you see trans folks successes and grieve when you hear of violence and oppression. 

You will learn to move past the insults. You will embrace you inner mama or papa bear. You will do whatever it takes, anything that it takes, to fight for your kiddo. 

Even after you learn, even after you gain confidence, even after you know in your heart that you and your child are on the right path, you will be attacked. It doesn't end when you evolve. Your kid will still accuse you, other trans folks will still dismiss you, complete strangers will still insult and attack you. Your skin will be thicker, but it will still hurt. 

You will never know what it is to be transgender. But you know what it means to love someone more than you love yourself, fear for someone more than you fear for yourself, fight for someone more than you would fight for yourself. Because you are a parent. And when your kid comes out as trans, you learn in a new way what that means. 

Note: I couldn't have written this three years ago, two years ago, or even last year. If you are in the throes of coming out as a parent of a trans youth, be patient with yourself, brave mamas and brave dads. It is a journey for us, as much as it is a journey for our children. You are not alone. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

On Being a White Cis Woman at the #WomensMarch & Beyond

I keep thinking back to Jack's quote from Lost as I write this: But if we can't live together, we're going to die alone. 

Maybe dying alone is a dramatic outcome, since we're not stranded on an island and based on the attendance of about 3 million people at marches all around the world last Saturday, we are most certainly not alone. But it is true that we are stronger together, and in order to truly "be together," not in the physical sense of marching, but in the ideological sense that we're all standing up for one another, white women have a lot of work to do.

Consider these points:
  • 53% of white women voted for Donald Trump...the MAJORITY of white women. Why?
  • how many women of color did you see at a march wearing a pussy hat, if you attended?
  • what are transwomen supposed to think when participants at the marches are equating anatomy with womanhood?

If these things don't make you pause, then you're not doing the hard work yet. 

And consider this photo:
Photo credit: Angela Peoples @ms_peoples

When I saw this photo online, I made the mistake of reading the comments. Predictably, white women were defensive. I don't know the women in the photo, and for all I know, those white women are active transgender organizers in the Black Lives Matter movement. I have no idea...and the point isn't about those women personally. The point is that while we are donning pink knit hats and posting selfies of ourselves at the march on social media, women of color know that MOST white women voted for a candidate who has bragged about sexual assault, does not acknowledge #BLM, is already threatening women's health by defunding Planned Parenthood, and is threatening the rights of our LGBTQ community. 

White women, we're embarrassing ourselves and undermining our claims of feminism if we ignore that more of us than not support the patriarchy that continues to hold all of us back.

This weekend I also saw an online post from a white woman explaining why she wasn't attending the Women's March (not linking to it here. I don't want to be responsible for promoting it). It was a whole lot of march shaming, culminating in the assertion that we should stop whining about how bad it is in the U.S. and go help women in other countries who have it much worse than us. Not surprisingly, a bunch of white women posted and liked it on Facebook. And I thought, THIS is who we need to understand. White women who voted for Trump, who are shaming those of us who are fighting for equality, who are denying our lived experiences. Just as bad as the white liberal feminists who want credit for showing up but not doing the hard work are the white women who deny that the hard work even needs to be done. 

So for my white cis sisters who attended the march, waving their signs and wearing their pussy hats, here's some work for us to get started on this week. It's not going to be comfortable. As our sisters of color and trans sisters can tell you, it is not easy. But if we are to live together, to work together, to make change together, then we need to be prepared for the fight. This work is going to require more than poster-making or hat-knitting skills. It requires us to examine our innermost biases and beliefs, open ourselves to the experiences of others that are different than our own lived experiences, and then fight to change their experiences even when fighting for them means challenging our own privilege. THAT is the work. 

And for any of the white women who voted for Trump, or who spoke out against those of us who attended the Women's March this weekend, I invite you to do the work, too. We really are all in this together, and it all starts by listening to each other. ALL of each other, not just those who look and think and vote like you.

Let's get started. 

Ask yourself these questions:
  • What would you do if you were harassed at work based on your gender, race, or religion? Would you have the ability to quit your job, or easily find another one? What if you had worked hard your entire career and landed your dream job, only to be harassed at work? What would your options be?
  • What would you do if you were the only breadwinner in your home? How would that change your answer or options to the scenario above?
  • What if you or your child or your partner had a pre-existing medical condition and would lose health insurance and wouldn't be eligible under a new plan if you changed jobs? 
  • How many transgender folks are in your family? Friend circle? Community? Do you know the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity? Do you know what agender, or bigender, or gender fluid mean? Do you know the laws in your state that protect or discriminate against transgender folks?
  • Do you personally know folks who are Muslim? Undocumented? LGBTQ? How many of these folks are in your family, your friend circle, your community? If none, how could you meet them or hear their stories? 
  • Have you ever avoided going to the doctor for routine care because you couldn't afford it? Do you know folks who have? Do you know people for whom free or affordable clinics like Planned Parenthood are their primary source of medical care? What services would you use if you suddenly lost your health care coverage?
  •  Do you have a safety net for health care coverage once you retire if there is no Medicaid or Medicare? What will your options be?
  • Have you ever been prescribed birth control pills for something other than birth control? What other options would you have if you could no longer afford birth control?
  • What would you do if the schools in your local district had such poor student outcomes that families who could afford it all pay to send their kids to private school? What if you couldn't afford private school for your children?
  • Do you have the option financially to stay home? What enables you to have that choice? If you are financially dependent on your partner, what would be the impact of them losing their job, losing their insurance, or simply being passed over for raises or promotions?
  • Have you ever noted in a conversation that you "have a black friend" or "work with a Muslim" etc., to prove you aren't racist?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist, but..."?
  • Have you ever said in a conversation, "I'm not racist."?
  • When considering Black Lives Matter, do you more closely identify with those who support, those who oppose, or police officers? If you don't most closely align with supporters, what would it feel like to change your perspective for a week? A month? A year? Could you view this movement through the experiences of a black woman? 
  • Consider how your experiences and opportunities would be different if you were black. Or Muslim. Or born to undocumented parents. Or born with male anatomy but feel very much like a woman. How would your life be different today? What challenges would you face that you don't have to think about today?


Sunday, January 1, 2017

The passing of time, the realization of dreams, the challenge of optimism (happy new year)

Welcome, 2017.

I haven't blogged for 6 months. I've thought about it a lot, planned out posts. I wanted to write about politics, about accomplishments, about failures. I wanted to write about funny things my kids have done, my job, things I have learned.

2016 was a weird year. It was a year that made me fear stating my opinion. It was a year when I attended rallies to support my kids in saying loudly and publicly that Black Lives Matter. It was a year when I saw the ugly face of gender discrimination everywhere I looked. It was a year when I feared for my family. It was a year when I often didn't feel safe writing a blog post, sharing my innermost feelings and thoughts. It was a year that pushed me into being quiet.

It really wasn't the year, I know. It was me. It was me feeling guilty that personally, I wasn't having a terrible year, but the events of the world made it difficult to feel like I had the right to celebrate personal and professional victories. With so much conflict, so much noise, so much fear, I didn't feel like it was ever the time to say the happy things. Or even to voice my own sadness and grief and anger and frustration. After all, I'm just another white liberal cis woman, passing for straight, not the 1% but living in Santa Barbara county, well paid and with health insurance. The best I can hope is to be a good ally and let marginalized voices fill the silence, not mine.

Worse, I started to feel like my eternal optimism, the feeling baked into the core of my being that everything will always work out, was breaking apart. John calls me Pollyanna, but I have been struggling to hold on to that feeling. What if I was wrong? What if things don't always work out as they should?

Every time I went to write a blog post, I stopped myself. Thinking I'd be too angry or too happy or too anything. Thinking that maybe everything I felt or believed was wrong. Thinking that maybe my time for making meaningful observations had passed, if they had ever been meaningful at all.

This morning, when I woke up and welcomed 2017 next to the love of my life, surrounded by dogs and listening to my kids stirring in their rooms, I thought maybe I'd skip the annual new year blog post. I barely wrote anything last year, after all. And looking back, I didn't accomplish even one of my three goals for 2016. Funny. My resolutions clearly have been lacking the resolve. Still, I'm a sucker for traditions. And this is one I think I need, a milestone that needs marking for me. A way for me to reflect and take stock, and then pick myself up and start anew. A way to mark the passing of time and measure progress, a tenet of a good product person, I think. And since my life is in a way the greatest and most important product I manage, I can't shirk my responsibilities in holding my annual retrospective.

So here it is, the annual taking stock. What did 2016 hold?

  • The biggest, best thing: Arial. We brought our 7th kiddo into the brood. She joined our family in May, and she has been a blessing to all of us. I can't imagine our family without her, and I can't wait to officially adopt her this year. 
  • The job I started the year off with was a bust. I probably should have known that joining a startup with a bro-culture would mean that when times got tough, I'd be the first to go. In retrospect, it was a great thing, but man, it sucks in the moment to lose a job. 
  • SBTAN hosted the first annual Trans Day of Visibility event in Santa Barbara. I couldn't be more proud of our community, our trans kids, teens and adults who live bravery. It was an honor to be part of that day, and I'm looking forward to the second annual event this year. 
  • I got a new job that I love. It's challenging and I work with lovely, smart people and I believe in what we're doing. I don't know that you ask for much more than that. 
  • I officially joined the advisory board of a VR company. I am still trying to figure out the perfect mix of immersive tech and learning, and while it's not my full time job, I love staying connected. Who knows what the future holds?
  • I "rebought" my house. When I bought this house 4 years ago, my divorce wasn't finalized and my ex graciously agreed to put his name on the house so I could finalize the purchase. This year I was finally able to buy my house outright, in my name only. I don't know if I can capture here what it felt like to sign the paperwork. If ever there was a metric of success, of me feeling like I have accomplished something in my life financially, it was buying this house this year. 
  • I officially came out as bisexual. This was a surprisingly big deal, since I've only ever had long-term relationships with men, and I'm currently married to a man who is...everything. The truth is I've never been straight, but when I grew up, saying you were bisexual was not something that you did. But my kids have made be brave, and so, yep, the "B" in LGBTQ is me.
  • We hosted an exchange student from Japan who is our honorary 8th kiddo. We miss Yu, and have loved staying in touch with his family in Toba who hosted Jackson after Yu stayed with us. It was an amazing experience.
  • I spoke at my 9th consecutive DevLearn. Professionally, DevLearn has been my favorite annual connection to the industry I love and the people who I've connected with through the years who are now, personally, my lifelong friends. I can't wait to make it 10 years this year!
  • I joined Pantsuit Nation. This is a heartbreaking one, but also my source of hope through what was a bleak year. For every story I heard of hate, discrimination, and marginalization, there were stories shared of love, hope and solidarity. 
  • I lost 15 pounds. It wasn't a resolution to lose weight, but I started on a program in the last few months that helped me lose some weight and lower my blood pressure. And I got a FitBit for Christmas, so I'm thinking that will help continue on with improving my health in the new year. 
  • Not my accomplishment, but John went back to college to get his teaching degree. I honestly couldn't be more proud of him. It makes me so, so happy to see him excited about his future career and doing something he loves. I am living vicariously.
So, I didn't learn to play the ukelele this year. But still, I did some pretty big things that weren't on my list of resolutions. Not a bad year, after all. 

2017, though. And the matter of resolutions. What should I set as my goals for this year?

I've decided to stick to three, keep it simple. I've decided to keep them closely aligned with my life goals. I've decided to not try to set myself up by picking new things to do, but rather to resolve to keep doing the things that are most important to me. So here they are.

Goals for 2017:
  • Adopt Arial. 
  • Do things to improve my health.
  • Smash the patriarchy.
Here's to you and yours for a happy, healthy new year. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

What #PokemonGo means for immersive learning

I, like many of you, spent my weekend hunting for Pokemon while tracking my progress on Nintendo's new Pokemon Go game.

To say it was a revelation was an understatement. And the bigger question: will it lead to a revolution?

For many years now, I've talked about how technology can be used to create immersive experiences, how giving people the sense that they are performing real tasks and receiving real-time feedback is the key to that immersive feeling. I've talked about avatars and virtual worlds and alternate reality games and augmented reality and, recently, virtual reality. I've talked about how biometric data can be used to impact your experience within an environment, and I've talked about how all of these things are converging. I've also talked about the shortage of big design thinking in better leveraging the technology that is currently available to bring together storyline and experiences. Design has been lagging behind technology where immersive learning is concerned. I would tell people to keep their eyes open, because there would be a point where someone figured it out and it would go mainstream.

I'm pretty sure most people thought I was talking about a few years in the future. Turns out, I was talking about this last weekend.

Finally, FINALLY, there is an example of an augmented reality game with characters, avatars, interactive game play with feedback and leveling. And the whole world is, or wants to be, playing.

Our kiddo was working alongside a Meowth
This weekend I spent with my family, walking all over my home town Carpinteria and Santa Barbara. We were finding landmarks we didn't know existed which had been designated as Pokestops. We were exploring new neighborhoods and talking to strangers. We were walking, walking, walking. We were smiling and laughing. We were bemoaning our ridiculous battery life and speculating on our data usage. We were running into friends and chatting. We were teaching each other nuances and strategies in the game. We were laughing when we saw a large group of people wandering around a parking lot, looking for a Koffing we knew was there. I was sending messages to a friend halfway around the world in Milan, Italy, who was experiencing the same server issues we were.

Suddenly, everyone is playing and experiencing immersive learning.

For those of you who haven't played yet, imagine you are a Pokemon trainer (if you don't know what Pokemon are, google it). The world is filled with Pokemon, and you can find them via a phone app, then catch them using Pokeballs that you throw at the Pokemon on your phone screen. You can get more supplies at Pokestops, and train with the Pokemon you've caught at Gyms. All of these locations are populated from data collected over the last several years from another game, Ingress, which is (of course) a product of Google.

I could talk about the social learning implications (this game has no social features, but is an amazingly social game). I could talk about the health benefits, both mental and physical. I could talk about how the game is driving behavior change (my kids keep opting to walk instead of asking for rides...crazy...).

But instead, I want to talk about what Pokemon Go means for the future of learning. Because we finally have a flagship immersive game to build from. Where we go from here, and how we push technology to support our design, is really up to us.

First, let's talk about technology needs.

  • WE NEED BETTER BATTERIES. If we are leveraging our phones for experiences like this, we can't have our batteries last an hour. 
  • Also, WE NEED UNLIMITED DATA. It's well past the point that this should be the case, and the first major company who goes there will get my money, and hopefully yours too, so that the whole market will follow. 
  • We will need data to be able to interact in the world, unless, of course, we have UNIVERSAL WIFI. That would be ok, too.
  • And finally, the device-specific access is a drag. Most of the people we saw playing were adults, not because kids wouldn't want to, but because kids don't have smartphones that they can use to play. MAKE ALL DEVICES CAPABLE OF PLAYING IMMERSIVE GAMES. Photo apps, GPSs, data accessible (with unlimited data, as previously mentioned). Let as many people play as we possibly can. 

What about design?

Honestly, the possibilities are endless for future applications, but let's start with what we could do with Pokemon Go.
Santa Barbara Park Ranger
chatting about the Pokemon in the park

  • Tie Pokemon Go to biometrics. What if you could get certain Pokemon by keeping your heart rate in the ideal range for exercise for 20 minutes? What if you were rewarded for number of steps (not just distance covered, which is how you hatch eggs)? What if you were rewarded for consecutive days of hitting exercise targets? There have to be some easy partnerships to be made with fitness trackers. 
  • Add some social features. My kids already want to trade Pokemon. I'd love to see a way to do that through proximity, rather than some online marketplace. While I've been having great conversations with people I meet while playing, it would be great to have a game mechanism to prompt more interaction. Also, how about adding a way to friend other players you meet? It was great meeting folks all over town, but now there's no way to stay connected. There are already social groups forming outside of the game, why not enable it within the game?
  • Leverage Pokemon Go for medical treatment. If there were enough Pokemon in a hospital or rehabilitation center, patients could collect Pokemon as part of their recovery. Therapists could track distance walked or number of Pokemon caught to help encourage patients to get out in the world and walk. 
  • Pokemon Go as the new marketing angle, both customer and internal-facing. We already saw this with Foursquare, but is there something more to be done here? I would definitely frequent a place that set up a Lure to attract more Pokemon...beyond attracting more customers, could this type of activity work for new hire training? My family was chatting yesterday about what type of Pokemon we might find at our zoo; what if the zoo could strategically place Pokemon?
What are some issues that need to be addressed?
  • Accessibility barriers. Already, my color-blind husband can't see the difference between the blue and purple Pokestops and has to ask me. Can options be included for blind players? Hearing impaired players? Players with physical disabilities? Let's get everyone playing.
  • Technology barriers. Let's not make immersive learning only accessible to the privileged. While desire for immersive experiences might drive buyer behavior toward technologies that can support it, if only high end smart phones can play the experiences and only people who can afford more data can play, we are cutting out major segments of the population based likely on age and socioeconomic status from participating and benefiting. Immersive learning should be available to everyone. 
  • Societal barriers. There has been nervousness already around women playing alone at night, players who are ethnic minorities worrying about accessing Pokemon in particular neighborhoods, and general unease about what a gaming experience that everyone can play everywhere might uncover about our own biases, prejudices, and fears. These are things that already exist, that game play is exposing with heightened visibility. Ironically, it has also been prompting people from all walks of life to start interacting and supporting each other. Maybe there's something to us all just playing a game together that may lessen this barrier. 

But let's end with some larger implications for learning, particularly organizational learning.

  • New hire training: tour facilities with augmented reality or virtual reality. Meet key folks in the organization. See behind the scenes production, or visit HQ virtually. 
  • Skill refinement: once the basics have been taught, present ongoing practice scenarios. Could be internal, customer-facing, or software/equipment training. 
  • Product training: provide the ability to interact with multiple customers and see how the product benefits them differently.
  • Application in context: how do you navigate a real-life complex environment effectively? Think busy retail, insurance adjusters, combat/disaster zones, crime scenes, etc.
  • Don't mind the rattata in my kitchen
  • Just in time geographically relevant support. Have a question in context? What if an app let you access training and tips relevant to where you are?  
And that's just to name a few.

So, to sum up, we need better consumer tech for immersive experiences, we can build on Pokemon Go for even more immersive design examples and applications, we need to be mindful of biases limiting access, and there's a lot of potential for organizations to leverage immersive learning to solve meaningful learning problems. Let's do this, folks!

(Related: Does anyone even use Foursquare anymore? I bet the kids don't even know what that app is...)

Monday, May 9, 2016

The power of putting yourself out there

In the early days of my writing this blog, I would be surprised when people, sometimes people I was meeting for the first time, would tell me they read one of my posts. Over the years, I've come to be less surprised, but more grateful. While people have told me they have disagreed with my opinion, and I've even been threatened to edit or remove a post or two, in general everyone who has talked to me about one of my posts has been really positive.

I've written before about how nice it is to have someone talk to you about how something you've written has impacted them, but I've always focused on the positive experiences. I have realized in recent weeks that there are just as many negative reactions, and just as many possibilities for people to think poorly of me, form an opinion about me without ever meeting me. As wonderful as it would be for everyone to always heap praise, it is just as important to pay attention to the naysayers.

Tomorrow I'm presenting on the power of social media at the 20th Annual Professional Women's Association conference at UCSB. I've been putting together my slides, and thinking about how blogging has helped, or at least shaped, my career. The reality is that for as many job opportunities, projects, introductions and recommendations my social media presence has facilitated, there are likely many that were squashed by my personal reflections, my mentioning my children, maybe even because of my love of my pit bull (seriously, I've had people contact me privately...but look at this face!). At some point along the way, one of these things that I've shared through social media has likely meant an opportunity lost.
Darwin would like me to finish up this blog post.

And what?

I am who I am. If I didn't get an opportunity because of my personal beliefs or interests, then it's very likely that opportunity would not have been a good fit for me. If hiring a mom is a problem, I'm not right for your organization. If my publicly sharing my personal reflections and faith is troubling, then we'd likely not be a good match. If my love of zombies and robots and taking selfies on the beach with my husband are turn offs, then it's probably best for both of us to just move along.

While I like to think I post a good mix of professional and personal content on my social media accounts, what's true is that everything I post is a reflection of me, the whole human being. Social media allows me to find my tribe and build a solid, supportive network, but for me, it's not a closed network of like-mindedness. I welcome the differences in life views and experiences, because reading about you helps me learn more about myself.

And learning from others is (almost) always a good thing.

So blog and tweet and post and I'll be reading along, nodding in violent agreement or crying in empathy or laughing because it's funny because it's true. But don't hide, because it's nice to get to know you better, even if we're not kindred spirits. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there because of the potential lost opportunities; there is so much more amazingness to be gained.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

An open challenge to be as accepting as you say and think you are from the parent of a trans teen

Today an article was published in my hometown on transgender teens. Written by a cis-gender person and including the perspective of two trans kiddos, a therapist and a couple parents, the article suggested our transgender youth have a "dialogue" about their gender identity and noted that most people don't have any idea who they are when they're 14.

Which is like telling a teen who comes out as gay that they should think about it and maybe try to be hetero for awhile? Don't rush into being gay! Maybe you're actually straight!

What if you never felt comfortable in your body, never felt that you were the gender assigned to you at birth? Do you really think any person who comes out as transgender hasn't already been "trying" to be the gender they were assigned? Do you really think, at the point that someone, at any age, is brave enough to say, "I know you've always thought of me as a (girl/boy) but I'm actually a (transgender identity)" that that person hasn't already been through a huge struggle? While you might like to think it's a phase or an experiment, the reality is that to come out as transgender means risking friendships and family. It means being ridiculed, ostracized and sometimes targeted by people you know and people you don't know. It means risking your safety. It means struggling to know which bathroom in public is safe to use. It means, for my agender kiddo, not wanting to fill out forms because they don't want to choose between two genders. It means having people constantly challenge and question an integral part of your identity that you know to be true.

I can't imagine if everywhere I went, I had people challenging me to prove I'm a woman. I say I am. I am consistent and persistent. That should be good enough. No one has ever asked me to prove that I have a vagina to prove that I'm the gender that I say I am. And I REALLY can't imagine, although I now find myself thinking about it every day, what it would be like to not fit neatly into male/female, either/or. What if you are "both" or "neither?" And really, what is the big deal about that anyway?

I feel for my kiddo, having to try to explain using they/them/their pronouns and having to have the same conversations over and over:
Yes, they has always been used as a singular, nongendered pronoun.
Yes, I know it's hard for you to remember.
Yes, it's ok if you make a mistake, as long as you correct yourself and move on.

I have taken all of this for granted because I'm cis-gender. But I don't anymore, because my kiddo isn't. Their struggles and issues and obstacles are now mine too.

I want my child to be who they really are. I want their identity to be respected. I want them to be able to have a conversation about pronouns and the person they are talking to not make it all about them. I want my kid to be able to get a job and a drivers' license and be able to use their preferred name and their appropriate gender identity. I want them to be able to pee in public restrooms without being questioned, challenged, or assaulted.

I want people to get over their own discomfort and put themselves into the shoes of a transgender person for awhile. I want people to stop asking my kid if this is real, or if they're going to eventually pick a gender, or act like this is a phase. I want them to respect my kid's gender identity and stop making it all about them, what they are comfortable with and what would be easiest for them.

I know that's a lot to ask...people tend to focus on the impact and hardship to themselves over the impact and hardship for others. So let me end with this.

My kid's gender identity has no impact on you. Why do you care if another person has a different gender identity than the one they were assigned at birth? There is no deadline for gender identity. There is no requirement that you always have to be the same gender. We are autonomous human beings that should be able to choose the pronouns and name by which we are addressed, if the pronouns assumed at birth or the name given to us at birth don't fit.

If you don't get this, or if you are uncomfortable, then that is about you, not my kid. They know who they are.

Also? The labels liberal or progressive don't apply to you if you aren't willing to accept that others might have a different experience than you, even a different experience of gender.

The biggest challenge for my kid's acceptance in this close-minded, binary-gender world aren't the conservatives who spout hate and fear; we know those enemies and they are open with their opposition to accepting anyone who is different from them. Our biggest challenge are the wolves in sheeps' clothing, the so-called liberals and progressives who somehow understand that sexuality lives on a continuum but can't understand that gender does too.


So stop focusing on what transgender means for you; I have no sympathy that you have to wrap your brain around using pronouns that feel uncomfortable to you, or have to ask someone their preferred pronouns. It's a small price to pay for my kid to be accepted, respected, and honored for the gender and person that they really are.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The reminder that death gives

It's been a brutal start to the year with the news of several of my favorite musicians and actors passing away weighing heavily on my heart. It's tough to lose someone who has inspired you, entertained you, motivated you, validated you. It's tough to lose several of them within the span of a couple weeks.

It's funny what you think about when you're dealing with loss.

One of my overarching emotional responses has been what I like to think of as my death panic. As someone who likes to dig in and discover the root cause, solve problems and uncover unexpected issues that affect outcomes, death is really my nemesis. It is not a problem to be solved; it just is. And we don't know, no one does, what it really is. Is all of what I am here, right here, right now? All of these feelings and dreams and fears, are they just temporary, wiped out when I die? Or is there something beyond, and if there is, will I get to recognize and experience it?

A lot of questions with no answers + no way to really know = death panic.

But there ARE things you can control here and now. The death of my idols has been the catalyst to
reexamine my priorities. What is the life I really want to lead? Who am I, and who do I want to be for the people I care about? If today was my last day, what would be my regrets?

The big question: am I spending my most valuable resource, time, doing the things that are important to me?

As a product manager, one of the biggest factors in the day to day work that we do is time. Time is a known, limited resource. My whole job is to prioritize and make decisions around scope and urgency. I need to collect data and try to predict the future: what will have the biggest impact? what is the minimum amount of effort that will bring value? what should we do first?

When death affects me, I start applying those product management principles to my life. What is my minimum viable product? What bugs do I need to address? What enhancements do I need to tackle? What other resources do I need?

The world lost an immense amount of talent in a short amount of time; I lost some of my biggest sources of inspiration. As I'm mourning those losses, I'm also trying to appreciate the reminder that death gives. Thank you for one parting lesson, David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Natalie Cole, Lemmy Kilmister and Dan Haggerty.