Archive for the ‘Identity’ Tag

Some things

I’ve said a few times over the last several weeks, both on here and in conversation with various friends, that there are some awesome cool things going on in my life lately. I’m grateful to be experiencing it all. Life isn’t perfect and there are good days and bad. But I’m thankful that I average a goodly percentage more good than bad. It’s a privilege and a blessing to experience joy in a world gone haywire. And because it’s a blessing bestowed when sharing your joy, I am gonna relate a few of the awesome things going on right now.

1. Although I said in my post at the beginning of the year that I wasn’t keeping a report card of my progress this year, I did post a few goals that I wanted to advance this year. One of those was to pluck up the courage to ask someone I find attractive out on an IRL date before the end of the year. I am happy and proud to say that I have accomplished this goal and more. She asked me out first, but I have since asked her and we’ve actually been out several times and are looking forward to more. So, if you happen to notice a certain lightness in my step and an enigmatic grin on my face at odd times, you have your explanation. 😎

2. Connection is an incredible, life-giving ‘magic’ that defies my ability to define. But it is undeniable, joyous and freeing when it happens. Finding common ground in habit and experience and philosophy and passions brings such a wonderful feeling of belonging and validation. Being seen and affirmed and encouraged in your identity is one of the most beautiful things one human can do for another.

3. OMG, another one of my absolute favorite lesfic authors followed my blog!! Excuse me while I fan-girl for a hot minute.

4. Gifts aren’t everything, not even the main thing. But when it’s something the giver heard you describe as an aspiration, not as a request for anything, just something that would be a joy in your life, and they gift you that, that’s a great thing. It means they see and hear you, not just with their eyes and ears, but with their mind, their energy. Those are moments and gifts to cherish, no matter how small they may seem.

5. Finally getting my shot at playing D&D! And not just any old game, an online game of a bunch of cool queer people from a bunch of different places around the world. I know nothing and am pantsing it with minimal research, but the group knows I’m a noob and graciously welcomed me anyway. So excited! Been trying to get a chance to learn and play since I was 12. Can’t wait for the fun to begin!

6. Bonus: Recently I’ve had occasion to note how good it feels to be happy for, and to rejoice with, friends for whom great things are happening. The speed at which warmth and happiness can spread when good things go right for good people is astonishing. A promising job interview here, a realized transition there, a new home for that one over there, the start of a professional practice for that friend on the other side, and the giddy elation of a new relationship for still another over yonder. What a bounty of goodness surrounds us, even when there is darkness in the world.

My friends, I hope this new month and new season is full of joy and positivity for you all. May the fun little things and the inspiring big things lift your spirit. Enjoy the turn of the season and the colors and smells and unique hallmarks of the season in your corner of the world. Keep warm and dry and happy.

Contemplations

I wrote this a couple days ago, after a particularly rough bout of ambush emotions. I’ve let it sit and after some sleep and a re-read, I have decided it’s not entirely cringe-worthy and over-emotional, so I’m publishing it. But be warned: it isn’t the most logical or inspired thing I’ve ever posted.

— oOo —

There are times when I regard my brain as a foreign entity, as if it weren’t really a part of me, as if “me” is separate and distinct from my brain. I guess that’s the essence of the mind/brain debate. Does consciousness exist apart from cognition? Does the biological organ of the brain exist separately from the consciousness? Is consciousness the soul? These are unknowable facts, in my estimation. But what I do know as fact, as lived experience, is that my brain occasionally begins to work in ways that I do not recognize nor understand, leaving me feeling as if it exists separately from who I understand myself to be.

That’s often frustrating and sometimes scary. I cringe putting that admission in writing because I’m conscious of the fact that many will think me crazy, deranged, defective for thinking my brain and my self are severable in any way. But that’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of recognizing a thought pattern playing out in my brain and simultaneously feeling as if I’m separate, observing that pattern progress from outside of it because I feel no connection to that thought’s genesis and feel powerless to terminate it.

Lately, I’ve been actively thinking about a bunch of different concepts that intersect in my life in ways both predictable and surprising. There’s no way for me to encapsulate all of these thoughts in a blog post and no one, even me, would want to slog through it if I could. But a few of the connections and intersecting concepts are intriguing and might benefit from a public airing just to get them out of my head for a minute.

None of this is neat or tidy. None of it is resolved…maybe not even resolvable. It’s all a part of the messy, complicated, sometimes painful process of personal growth. My answers, to the extent any are forthcoming, are likely to be different from your answers on the same concepts and intersections. So, treat this as the thought experiment that it is and try not to get too caught up in problem-solving; rather, enjoy the journey of mere contemplation.

Three of the big concepts that have visited my cranial foreign office recently:

1.Apathy. Specifically, I have wrestled with how damaging apathy or indifference can be to interpersonal relationships, comparing (perhaps unfairly) the type and quality of that damage to that suffered from active abuse or intentional conduct of another ilk. Contrasting these impacts might be reasonable in some circumstances, but not in others. A big hurdle to taming this intellectual puzzle are the complicating factors, such as the nature of the relationship being examined, the relative power among the people in that relationship, any dimensions of privilege and marginalization that the participants occupy, and the personal characteristics of the people relevant to this relationship dynamic. That’s a ton of variables to control for in calculating the outcome of an analysis of the level of impact a participant experiences from the apathy or indifference of the other participants in the relevant relationship.

2.Authenticity. What role does validation of outside observers play in a person’s ability to live authentically in any given identity or presentation? If no one else within my inner circle of relationships (friends, family, colleagues, community) validates the identity or aspect of identity that I embody, am I likely to succeed in living that truth? Is this more complex than mere peer pressure? Is It more layered and nuanced than simply getting a nod or pat on the back as assurance that we’re “doing it right“? Does the community at large within the relevant demographic being evaluated as authentic feel the impact of an individual member’s failure to authentically embody that identity as a result of not being validated in that identity? What about if lack of authenticity is a result of something else?

3.Effort. This one is even more nebulous and hard to describe. My thoughts have been full of questions about effort, trying to quantify “enough” and “too much”, trying to ascribe qualitative value to types of effort, and trying to illuminate the points at which type and quantity and quality collide. This is all in relation to the questions on apathy and authenticity.

The ultimate culmination of all this thinking and puzzling and challenging and ideating isn’t clear. Is my brain trying to work out some therapeutic dosage of effort that promotes healthy authenticity and combats apathy, like some kind of emotional-political wonder drug? Or is this foreign entity trying to define the discrete boundaries of the emotional geographies of each of these concepts, charting the points at which borders combine? Or perhaps this is all just a lot of mental distraction to keep me from moving beyond the constraints and conditioned responses that my upbringing instilled?

I have no certain answers. But one thing that is certain is that my brain is not idle.

Vague Booking

So I’m a tad late to post. Most of the reasons for that are awesome, although I also have been fighting a bout of writer’s block. I’m not ready to go into all the details, but suffice to say I have been busy with other things and that’s a great reason to be a teensy lax here. Without context or explanation, here are some things from the last couple weeks that have me smiling:

  • IRL socializing is not as terrifying as I feared
  • Spending time with friends, old and new, fills my spirit in the best way
  • Paying it forward, in ways large and small, to help a friend or a friend’s friend gives me hope
  • Being seen, especially when you think you are invisible in one or more dimensions, is both scary and uplifting
  • Getting a push out of your comfort zone can land you in an exciting place
  • Chatting via text and video is a fun way to make connections and feel less isolated
  • Compliments that feel genuine are an exciting new experience
  • Smart, kind, quirky, fun and lovely new people are the best!

I’m smiling and looking forward to a lot of new experiences in the next few days and weeks. This is a great feeling. I hope you have something to smile about and look forward to, also. 😎

Multitudes

The other day, I was chatting with a friend, one of the few people I work with who is a friend more than a colleague. She is a straight, cis woman an a true ally to the LGBTQIA+ community. Her support and unconditional acceptance of me have made it safe and comfortable for me to talk openly with her about my gender identity in a way that I don’t with most others. So while we were laughing together about some meaningless absurdity that I no longer recall, I flippantly commented that whatever thing we were laughing at (I think some extreme fashion accessory) would “lose me my Butch card” if I wore it. We laughed and the conversation moved on. But a little later she asked me more seriously what “Butch” meant to me, if it was more than my fashion style.

This isn’t the first time I’ve been asked to describe what “Butch” means to me, to define the concept authoritatively. And since this conversation with my friend, I’ve seen multiple posts and articles online and overheard several other conversations among others that attempt to do this, some for themselves, others for the world at large. I didn’t attempt an answer for my friend, merely saying that it was a big topic and maybe we should try to cover that sometime when we weren’t at work.

But the question and topic have been running around in my head ever since, and I have some thoughts on it. The subject seems to hold a particular fascination for people.  As with so much in the human experience, this identity captivates people most because of the mystery, ambiguity surrounding it. Humans crave to know a thing. And when we can’t easily encapsulate it in a tidy description, the mystery grows and our thirst to know escalates.

The trouble is, all who are “Butch” are individual; we aren’t a monolith with uniform surfaces and symmetrical dimensions. Each unique person brings their own flavor and flair to this identity. There are commonalities, sure. And there are shared experiences among many who wear this name. But no one true definition will work for all.

“Butch” is as much the way we move through the world experiencing the highs and lows as any human of any identity, but engaging with those experiences from the vantage point of one who occupies multiple dimensions at once. Many of us enjoy male privilege to varying degrees due to the odd confluence of our outward appearance and the assumptions of careless observers who automatically file us away as “men” or “male” in their heads based on our clothes or hair alone. This privilege, however slight and fleeting, colors our view of the other identities we occupy.

For me, ‘passing’ as male up to a third of the time (by my rough, unscientific estimation) has tempered my understanding of being a woman, a queer, and a Latina. Other women of my acquaintance who are also queer Latinas, but are more feminine-presenting, for example, have experienced significantly more discrimination and non-acceptance in traditionally male-dominated situations (i.e. job interviews, professional advancement) than I have, though we are equally matched in qualifications. However, these same feminine queer Latinas are fare more successful in more female-identified roles or circumstances (i.e. socializing, attraction politics, fund-raising, etc.)

This unscientific observation of a very limited population of my own acquaintances is not an adequate foundation on which to base an all-encompassing thesis of the “Butch” experience. I offer it as an illustration of one dimension of how the surface of this identity may influence the deeper, more nuanced components of life as a queer Butch woman.

Ultimately, there is no one right answer for everyone to describe what it means to be “Butch”. There is only one answer for each Butch – the one that that Butch gives or makes for her/their/his self at any given moment.

When I speak of “Butch” identity, I speak of a queer identity that I wear in my very essence.  It unites energy and intention and attraction and the soul-deep knowledge of a place between the strata of sex and sexuality and gender and gender expression foreign to those who have never struggled with this in-between. It unites these ephemeral things with a physical aesthetic built from more than hair and clothing styles, but also from a unique embodiment of masculinity, chivalry and gentility. I speak for myself alone. But I know others for whom this will resonate. I also know others for whom this is not even close to their experience of “Butch”. Understand this before reading further.

 

Ok, ready? Good.

 

My answer for what “Butch is includes an affinity for bow ties and Oxford ankle boots, a quiet confidence in my skill as a professional, and a soft, generous heart that longs to be important to someone who cherishes that gentility and chivalry.  It includes a fierce desire to nurture and grow an emotional bond with an intelligent, ambitious, humorous and kind woman looking for those same qualities in a “Butch” package unlikely to ever meet any standard for superficial attractiveness.

My definition of “Butch” encompasses an appreciation for physical femininity, curves and delicacy and loveliness that are not confined to any one body type or size, but made evident by her confident embrace of her own nature. It responds to the presence of this feminine energy wherever it occurs, regardless if it is packaged in the form of a girlish figure in a pretty sun dress or the image of a powerful body doing manual labor in rough work clothes, or in a soft, round body in nothing but the rumpled folds of a bed sheet on a lazy Sunday morning.

The “Butch” I embody shows regard for the one I’m with in small gestures of care-taking; held doors, fetched drinks, smiles and soft touches. It acknowledges that she can do it all without assistance, but offers help for the joy of being helpful to she whose regard I seek. My “Butch” energy seeks to empower, not impose, to lift and hold, not constrain.

My definition of “Butch” includes some less-lovely characteristics, like shy awkwardness, body insecurity and a tendency to self-criticize. But my “Butch” self also is committed to self-knowledge and self-improvement, constantly reaching for a better way to engage with people and emotions and concepts that shape our world.

There is no neat, one-line answer to what “Butch” is to me or to anyone. It is more than my clothes, more than my sexual attraction, more than my impulse to care-taking, more than my snark and wit and vocabulary.  It is all of that and all of what that is not.

“Butch” is complex and nuanced and messy.

“Butch” is multitudes in one.

“Butch” is my gender and my being.

“Butch” is me.

The Tyranny of “should”

It’s amazing to me how much meaning, import, weight, significance and worth can be bound up in a single word. What’s more, it’s at least doubly deep because all that meaning and worth has at least equal proportions of negative import and anti-meaning and measures of antithetical worth. And when all that density and mass of meaning is contrasted with the brevity and ordinariness of a small word, the impact of this recognition can be devastating.

Words like “family” and “love” and “happiness” can have this heaviness and can even be wielded as weapons. But for the most part, at least in my experience, the majority of the unnatural weight of these words comes from within the person who feels that weight as it is applied to them. Internal criticism and insecurity can lend this extraordinary significance to simple words.

But it’s the words with in-built judgement that have the greatest density and gravity and danger. Words like “normal” and “too” and “must” and “enough” and “should”. The culture and society in which any of these words are used have a lot to do with how sharp and powerful their density is. It is true that these words can be just a susceptible to the voice of individual insecurity. But these words, by passing society’s sentence over the object of these words, take on a monstrous degree of weight and power disproportionate to their size and ordinary linguistic importance.

Speaking from my own experience, “should” is the worst offender. Though it is a lowly auxiliary word, a verb form used to modify a main or dominant verb, it has no independent purpose, is always beholden to the main action word to have meaning and value. But cultural and social context synergizes it with secondary meaning and characteristics, magnifying its power. And when that magnified weight is used in anger or other ill intent, it becomes a destructive force that even brutally blunt adjectives can only inadequately describe.

“You should not be…”, “You should just…”, “You should have…”, “You should [do/think/believe/feel]…”, and countless other predicate phrases can be annoying, even rage-inducing when used to impose the speaker’s will on the recipient without regard to the recipient’s agency. Person to person, this can be anything from a mildly negative to a truly horrific experience. But these imperatives become tyrannical when wielded by a system of power to oppress marginalized people under the crushing weight of their unreasonable expectations.

Some examples, all taken from conversations I’ve either witnessed or been a part of in the last few weeks, may help clarify what I’m going on about:

  • “Women should look like women. They should make an effort to look good, feminine.”
  • “People should be required to take better care of themselves, be healthier, lose weight and exercise. Fat people put a greater strain on social systems and should be made to do something about it.”
  • “You should stop worrying about what other people think. You shouldn’t let anyone else tell you how to feel.”
  • “People with money shouldn’t get to whine and play the stress or anxiety card. They should be happy with what they’ve got. What could they have to be depressed about?”
  • “You should be happier, smile more.”
  • “You shouldn’t have any trouble sleeping and shouldn’t be sad. You have a lot to be thankful for, more than most people do.”
  • “You should just shrug it off, let it go. You shouldn’t care so much.”

See what I mean? Even though these dictates were imposed in private conversations, they also appear in the world at large as part of a number of systemic power structures. These same sentiments form the basis of expectations underlying some of the most erosive, caustic social constructs, from misogyny and patriarchy to racism and xenophobia.

When “should” becomes the driver, the metric, and the adjudicator, the power dynamic of that word no longer reflects a reality of free will. Instead, conformity and rebellion alike become matters of safety and survival, not mere choice. And when a person can’t live up to the “should”, the guilt, shame and disappointment are not just overly-dramatic emotional responses, but are catalytic forces with unpredictable potency.

I don’t know where I am going with this post. I have no orderly resolution or inspirational message to impart. It’s just been weighing on my mind and heart and I wanted to put it out in the ether in hopes of feeling some relief from the sharing.

List…again

I’m having a bit of a writing challenge and can’t think of a substantive, let alone creative, topic to write about. Also, honestly… I’m having a bit of a hard time with negativity and motivation lately, too. But I am committed to keeping my posting streak alive. So I’m calling on the old stand-by: a list of a few positives to refocus away from the negatives. Here are a few good things:

1. It’s snowing. The light, airy kind of snow that looks pretty and doesn’t make too much of a mess. I like it.

2. My custom suits are finally finished and I picked them up yesterday. They feel amazing. Having something made to fit both my body and my identity is exhilarating. I can’t wait for an event to wear them!

3. Some of the tools/methods of dealing with anxiety that I learned in my coaching group have been helpful in recognizing my anxiety and in helping to tamp it down. I’m not always…or even mostly…successful at that, but it’s a start.

4. I succeeded in completely disconnecting from my job for an entire week — no emails, no phone calls, not even checking my calendar. While the week off was not nearly the restful restorative that I and everyone else had hoped it would be, I am at least proud of accomplishing the disconnect.

5. One of my internal clients, the head of our global sales organization, gave me a really nice bow tie as a thank you gift for my help over the very rough year last year. The gesture was a welcome show of support, not just for my work, but also an identity-affirming acknowledgement of who I am.

I’m clinging to the conviction that this focus on the positive and effort to reframe negatives to positives actually has practical benefits. It’s hard to remain convinced when the black sludge in my head seems more abundant than the light, but I’m not willing to give up on the program just yet. My hope for you is that the pros always outnumber the cons and that there is always a portal, even just a pinhole, for the light to shine in. Be well, friends.

Finally, a fit

My custom suits came in and I went for the first finish fitting today. I’m so incredibly excited for these! And they fit really well – only a few adjustments required. Who knew my left arm was half an inch shorter than my right? With a dart at center back to make the jackets sit better on my shoulders and taking in the waist and hemming the trousers, they will fit my body exactly right.

But more important is that even in this not-yet-finished state, these suits fit me, my self and identity, even better than they fit my body.

I surprised myself with a spontaneous admission to a friend on another platform to that effect. I said that this is what I have looked like in my most vivid imagination of my truest self since I was 10 years old. That’s precisely true. I’ve envisioned this identity for longer than I’ve had words to describe it and money to manifest it.

This outward presentation of the inner self is more critically important than I ever imagined. It’s silly to feel so emotional about clothes. But, really, it’s more than the clothes. It’s the freedom and agency to display this elemental aspect of myself. It’s the courage to be exactly myself and occupy this space and identity in exactly the way that makes me feel most genuine. It’s the feeling of completion and rightness. It’s the way my head comes up and shoulders square and my eyes meet everyone else’s. It’s the confidence that I’m exactly myself and everyone is seeing me exactly how I want them to see me.

Crazy how a change of clothes can make such a difference.

For those who have been privileged to occupy that authentic feeling in everything they’ve ever put on, this gushing excitement will seem insane. But for my fellow butches, tomboys, enbys, and others who have ever fought for the ability to wear the outward markers of their inner truth, it rings true.

Those fellow gender warriors will understand what I mean when I say that slipping into that suit, feeling it settle well on shoulders and hips, brought an immediate, blissful rest in my deepest self. With that on, I had no more work to do to make myself, the me that has been forever shrouded in the not-quite-right trappings of everyone else’s expectations, apparent to the world at large.

I can hardly wait to get the finished product and wear it out into the world!

A Fitting Experience

While I’m taking a few days off work this week, I’m taking the opportunity to take care of some personal errands. As you do. It’s not a glamorous use of vacation time, but it’s necessary. But today was a majorly cool experience.

My big gift for Christmas this year was a gift certificate for a custom made suit. My brother and sister-in-law gave me this gift for a couple of reasons. First they know that I don’t like shopping and don’t often spend a lot of money on myself, but would do both if given a nudge like this. Second, it’s something I’ve been talking about doing in preparation for the Alaska cruise our family is taking this summer. So my SIL went with me to be measured and have an initial fitting today.

I’m a bit of a nervous nelly when it comes to clothes shopping. The task has been fraught with stress and anxiety for me for my entire life. As a child, it was almost a war between me and my mother over what was “appropriate” for me to wear. I rebelled against anything “girlie”, which she felt was the only look fitting for my gender. As I got older, the experience became even more excruciating when size stigma was piled on top of gender discomfort, as well as being constrained by cost.

But since I attained a level of comfort (financial as well as gender identity), choosing masculine clothing exclusively, I’ve felt better about myself and the shopping experience. Yet even with that relative ease, shopping for clothes has still been a tense experience. So I anticipated that today’s activity would be as well.

I’ve never been happier to be proven wrong. Today’s experience was the most comfortable, gender-affirming, fun shopping experience I’ve ever had. My sister-in-law had prepared the way by talking to the stylist ahead of time, warning him that I am easily embarrassed and don’t like to shop.

It worked, because he greeted me by name and with a smile and firm handshake. He treated me with dignity and attention to detail, careful to discuss with me how he needed to touch me, asking my consent first. And he was carefully discreet with my measurements, which was so important to me. He even joked with me when I said I needed to be sure they wouldn’t add girl darts to the jacket that would give me cone boobs. 😜

It was so positive that I ended up ordering two suits and will likely add at least one custom dress shirt, as well. I’m surprised at how excited I am to have clothes made specifically for my non-standard body. Makes me feel pretty good, I have to admit. And that I’m going to have them in time for my 50th birthday is also really cool. I can’t wait to sport some custom fashion!

A Case for Vulnerability

If you’ve read much of my substantive posts on this blog you’ll already know that vulnerability – specifically risking personal mental/emotional/social/physical safety for the sake of frank, open, transparent disclosure – is a huge struggle for me. While I always try to be honest and authentic, I don’t always have the courage to be as open and vulnerable in IRL discourse as I have been in some of my posts on this blog. Sometimes that’s intentional self-care, protecting myself from known risk. But often it’s habit, reticence borne of fear and practiced over years; an automatic response instead of a consciously reasoned decision.

Still, that habit was formed with a certain amount of logic, as a response to real-world circumstances and events, not merely the irrational response of the primal mind. I’ve experienced a fair bit of trolling, baiting, gaslighting, and other intentionally humiliating behavior in my life. Fear and a reticence to be exposed to that kind of abuse again is a logical, rational, healthy reaction to being called on to make oneself vulnerable. But that reaction, to be most effective, should be actively managed and consciously controlled so that opportunities for growth aren’t missed due to the automatic dismissal caused by fear.

For me, that’s much easier said than done.

However, being a thinker, I have thought a lot about how to make my experience in various circumstances better, more comfortable, more likely to meet my needs and desires than the current situation in any given scenario. In most cases, changing things for the better means a certain amount of (hopefully) short-term disruption, discomfort, and, yes, vulnerability. I don’t like that that’s the case, but it certainly seems to be the truth for my life.

So, what’s a logical, rational, risk-averse, sensitive thinker to do to reconcile the dissonance? For me, it’s just a matter of resigning myself to the necessary evil of risk in order to benefit from it. “Bite the bullet”, “grin and bear it”, and “just do it” are the hackneyed, yet apropos, expressions that spring to mind.

That’s exactly what I did earlier this week and – spoiler alert – it worked out fairly well. I admit I’m surprised at the outcome, which isn’t a great commentary on the state of my faith in this “just do it” philosophy, or in the generosity and compassion of the people I work with. But I’m counting it a win, anyway.

Here’s what happened:

As I’ve said a lot over the last few months, I’m struggling with stress- and anxiety-induced sleep deprivation. It’s been particularly bad over the last week, impacting my focus and precision at work. Wednesday was an especially rough day, with a ton of project work that required me to be ‘on’ and participate actively in substantive debates on the merits of our case, concentrate for prolonged periods of time and analyze lots of data and synthesize cogent legal arguments from that analysis – all on less than 4 hours sleep.

It was brutal. I yawned my head off, was slow speaking to particularly complex ideas, and generally felt slow-witted and sluggish all morning. By 2:30 in the afternoon I was running on fumes and about as stressed as I’ve been in ages. Making it through the afternoon without collapsing and without committing homicide was all I could hope for.

Then, about 6:30, my boss stopped into my office to chat on his way home for the evening. What I expected to be a momentary check-in, a “good job, have a great evening ” kind of thing, turned into a deeply supportive, substantive conversation in which my boss acknowledged not only that he recognized the burden and stress I’ve been bearing, but also that he’s been contributing to it by his venting to me his frustrations and his sudden changes in direction with the strategy on some of our matters that adds a lot of work for me.

Given his genuine contrition and sincerity, I chose to respond in kind, though it cost me a lot of vulnerability. I confessed to a high level of anxiety and the fear that I would let him and the company down because my ability to cope with the effects of the anxiety and stress is beginning to falter. I also shared with him that I am taking the matter seriously and have sought help to get the anxiety under control so that I can sleep again, including my unsuccessful attempt at counseling and my so-far successful engagement with an anti-anxiety coaching group.

His response was overwhelmingly supportive. He praised my efforts with the coaching group, calling it both smart and brave. Then he turned practical, saying that we needed to take action to fix it. He offered some good suggestions for things he and the company can do to relieve some of the stress that’s beyond the ordinary pressure that just comes with my role. We settled on getting me some administrative/process-oriented help – a gatekeeper, he called it – to give me some relief from so many operational and sales personnel having direct access to me and my brain.

And when I expressed what is, perhaps, my greatest fear of asking for help (no longer having value for the company because someone else has to do some of my work), he was quick to reassure that not only would he not feel that way about me, but that he has plenty of substantive, high-value lawyering work for me to do once some of the stressful, lower-value procedural work is handed off to someone else. He then committed to do whatever is necessary to get me that help, including lobbying with the CEO and board for the necessary exception to add headcount and finding the budget to pay for it.

It’s not a silver-bullet solution to my sleep problem and it will take time to implement. But just hearing him admit to, and apologize for, the extraordinary stress and offer to help fix it was a huge relief. It validates what I’ve been experiencing and lets me know that I’m not crazy for feeling as I do.

And all it took was the courage to be vulnerable about an aspect of my professional identity that I’ve always held internally out of fear it would be derided or exploited: fear of being useless. It’s good to know my contribution is seen and my value as an employee is secure. It’s also nice to think that soon I’ll get some relief and have new and different responsibilities with opportunities to add value in new ways. That’s a really great thing.

Happy holidays, friends! I hope you all receive validation, support and opportunities to shine in your every endeavor.

Joyous, Vulnerable, and Deeply Thoughtful

It’s holiday time and almost the end of the year. That often gets me into a contemplative mood, reviewing the year and thinking about people I haven’t seen in a while. So I’ve made arrangements with several of my favorite people to meet before Christmas and share some time and joy together.

Last night I was blessed to have have dinner with one of my all-time favorite colleague-turned-friends. She’s effervescent, positive, kind, whip-smart and funny as heck. Because she’s supportive, welcoming and inclusive, she’s also one of the first people I ever came out to. In short, she’s an awesome friend and I really looked forward to seeing her and spending quality time catching up. I wasn’t disappointed.

We went to a trendy new restaurant with a hip, foodie vibe. Sharing some incredible charcuterie and all kinds of personal news, we laughed and cheered and commiserated. She told me of her triumphant negotiation for a promotion and raise, demonstrating her badass, smarty-pants self confidence. I told boring lawyer war stories. It was an all-around wonderful evening.

At some point over the risotto and salad, conversation somehow turned to my gender identity and presentation. She asked incisive, sensitive and smart questions and was so kind and respectful throughout. In the midst of this discussion she described a theory she has that she hopes one day to form part of her research for her PhD. I have no doubt she’ll complete that research and be a noted voice in her field. I found the premise fascinating and our discussion, far ranging and lively, was full of vulnerability and challenge and intellectual curiosity.

My friend’s “Refrigerator Theory” posits that, like the internal compartments in a refrigerator, the boundaries, labels, categories that humans create and impose on every aspect of human experience have no purpose separate from the primary purpose of the thing on which it is imposed (i.e. cooling of food for the fridge, or defining the self for identity labels). Instead, she theorizes, these compartments or labels or boundaries exist only to soothe the human need for order – we create boundaries to provide context to avoid the disquiet of chaos or disorder, but the boundary isn’t necessary to the essential function of the object it applies to. Her devastatingly pointed example (at least if you’re an appliance manufacturer) is the infamous, useless and dysfunctional crisper drawer. It doesn’t crisp or even cool to a significant degree more or less efficiently than the main compartment, but we like that it’s a special place to put the veggies.

I love the intellectual exercise of challenging a premise, debating points dispassionately and pushing each other to consider new and different points of view. This is especially true when the person I’m talking with is smart and as into the verbal and mental gymnastics as I am. That was definitely the case last night.

I challenged by proposing that the need exists apart from the order, that perhaps the order rises as a consequence of fulfilling the need. My premise was that where more than one option or condition exists simultaneously, there is a natural need for boundaries or compartments or labels, else there is only ever trial and error. My example is a sink with a tap and two handles; without a n ‘H’ or ‘C’ to distinguish hot from cold, you have to try each one, possibly risking the pain of being burned or chilled if you guess wrong. In other words, it’s not a need for context to generate meaning, but an existence of multitudes of meaning and a need for order to allow each meaning to be evident.

We didn’t get to any conclusions, of course. But it was an incredibly fun conversation, trying each theory out on various aspects of life – corporate communication, change management, gender identity and expression, to name a few. My friend’s passion for learning and unbridled joy in the process of learning and communicating her knowledge is so fun to witness. I can hardly wait to see the work she produces when she embarks on that research.

My hope for all of you, as the year winds down and you think about that one to come, is that you will find occasion and loved ones with whom to experience the joy and challenge and vulnerability of great conversation.

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