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Back from Amsterdam!

January 21, 2018
The main stage, from which I spoke at the RAI
Photo by Ruth Holloway, CC BY-SA 4.0

I spoke last Thursday morning at Booking.com‘s annual employee meeting, on the subject of empathy and how it can transform your work and your life–and how crucial it is that we as a species get more on board with embracing empathy and compassion.

I had a lovely trip, despite departing in a heavy ice storm. My KLM flight was cancelled, so they helpfully rebooked me on United, departing a half-hour later, at 4 PM.  A slight delay at the gate, then a *four hour* delay on the tarmac waiting our turn to de-ice, and off we go.  Booking put me up in a decent-but-nothing-fancy hotel, conveniently right across the street from the RAI, where the conference was to be held.

The conference team was wonderfully well-organized, and the technical team for my presentation (eight people!) was smartly professional about everything, and (of course) it went off without a hitch.

My talk was well-received. As is usual for this talk, I got swarmed by folks coming down front after the talk, to tell their own stories, to thank me, to collect hugs, and (in a couple of cases) to cry on my shoulder or ask advice about dealing with unempathetic people in their own lives.

One was a young Syrian man, probably in his late 20s. He told me that one of his brothers had disappeared in the civil war there, and part of his family was in a city that was surrounded, in an attempt to starve the people out. A pair of young women came to me asking whether they should give up the path of empathy because of criticism from a colleague (No!). Several more told me stories of the pain and loss in their own lives, and how my presentation encouraged them to open up to their peers, and find the people who care about them in their own communities.

One sent me an email, which I read that night at the hotel. He thanked me for opening his eyes to the shortcomings in his own use of his natural empathy in recent months. The wake-up call sent him onto a phone call with his partner for an uncomfortable conversation, which left him “sad and exhilarated,” and he thanked me for the brutal honesty.  His story was so touching and beautiful, I had a long, hard cry after reading it–the realization finally hit, and hit hard, that I’m actually making a difference in people’s lives.  It’s a wonderful, scary feeling.

I spent Friday touring Amsterdam and reconnecting with friends, and getting interviewed for an upcoming podcast (keep an eye out for that soon!). I met so many wonderful people in Amsterdam, including several other outside speakers (hat-tips to Penny Locaso, Dorie Clark, Daniela Papi, Yossi Ghinsberg, and Adam Conlon). Each and every one of them is a top-shelf pro, and an amazing person, and I’m honored to have gotten to meet them.

…but I’m glad to be home.

We see stories about bakers refusing to do same-sex wedding cakes, but this is a cut above.

January 2, 2018
A pair of scissors and a comb sit on a plank of wood with peeling white paint.
Flickr user Peter Fleck. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As reported by LGBTQ Nation,  Casey Franklin, a transman, went into a barbershop in Queensland, Australia, and asked for a haircut. Should be a straightforward transaction, right?

Wrong. He was repeatedly misgendered, and denied service. He went and fetched his (also trans) girlfriend, Blaise Harris, whom they also misgendered repeatedly. They were speaking Arabic to each other, and one uttered a transphobic slur, not knowing that Harris speaks Arabic.

A complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board has been filed, of course, and the barbershop’s response is full of enough misgendering and nastiness that I don’t have a whole lot of doubt about the outcome, really. Such discrimination is against the law in Australia.

Here’s the punchline: If that happened to my husband, all either of us could do is say, “okay, sorry, thanks for your time,” and walk out. We have no recourse in law at any level to prevent such discrimination and harassment. In the last seven years, I’ve been denied service at restaurants, tossed out of women’s clothing stores, and even denied service by a physician, because I’m transgender. And in most of our fair land, there’s nothing whatever I can do about it. It’s something I worry about, almost-constantly, and it’s why I’m not usually going to try new places when I am alone; in my experience, having someone else along tends to cut down on that sort of nonsense.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2018
A list of years is on endless scroll. 2018 is raised, and in color.
Flickr user Animated Heaven. CC0

I know, I know…early risers.. Blah.  Get used to it; it’s how I roll.

Nothing much to say this morning–over most of the country, it is bitter cold, so please do be careful if you must be out and about. I hope this year brings you and your loved ones health and happiness, whatever form that takes for you.  My own family has good things happening, and we’re looking forward to bringing new things to fruition.

Please stay safe out there, as the world is the same crazy place it was yesterday!

New Year’s Eve 2017

December 31, 2017
Fireworks light the sky over a group of buildings.
Flickr user Dieter Weinelt. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It’s the final day of 2017, and there are a couple of things I’d like to reflect on, as we ring it out.

For me, it’s been a mostly-positive year: my husband, our partner, my job has been on a upward swing all year, speaking engagements including my first keynote gigs, and my writing continues to improve. My family and I have a comfortable home, and enough money to take care of ourselves, and even help others a little.

For our nation, and our planet, it’s been a topsy-turvy, crazy year, driven in large part by the Toddler-In-Chief, the President of the United States. He’s temperamental and capricious, self-absorbed, and completely ignorant of how to run a country. Nevertheless, the nation chugs on; he’s tried–and is still trying–to deny transfolk the right to serve in our nation’s military, but it’s looking more and more like he will fail at that plan. He never did succeed at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. While he did harm it–a lot–it’s still there, and the very important pre-existing condition clause still stands. His own Congress, controlled by his own party, is rapidly losing patience with his shenanigans, and with midterm elections coming up, the winds of change are starting to blow.

I hope your 2017 hasn’t been too crazy. To my trans brothers and sisters, if you’re going out tonight, please be careful. As with any other night that a transperson goes out, this night has dangers to you. So don’t go alone if you can help it, don’t overdo it with the booze, have a safety plan in place, and always be mindful of your surroundings. I don’t want to learn your deadname from the papers tomorrow, y’hear?

Have you missed me?

December 30, 2017
Captain Midnight, 2008-2017
Captain Midnight, 2008-2017. Photo by Steven Holloway

…no need to answer, really.

 

It’s been a busy, busy few weeks, with some spectacular highs and painful lows. Getting ready for the holidays, and a visit by our partner and longtime friend, spending time with her…that’s all been fabulous, truly. The abrupt illness and death of our cat, Capt. Midnight, not so much; the whole house is still grieving over that. In other news, I got a promotion and a raise at work, and our team has restructured itself to be even more the kind of team I really want to work on; the switch from Scrum to Kanban has made a dramatic difference in my work tempo and satisfaction. Additionally, the team at Opensource.com is talking to me about taking up a new column on Perl programming in 2018, there’s a book deal in the works, and I have two paid presentation gigs come up in the next few months.

On top of all that…well, writer’s block is a real thing.  I’ve seen quite a few tidbits in the news lately that would make great writings, but just haven’t felt like writing much. It happens from time to time, I suppose.  I really don’t know how every-day-plus bloggers do what they do.

I’ve got a few things in my queue that I’d like to chat about, so I’ll see how many I can throw out there for this week.  Thanks for all your patience!

More doctors, more hospitals are handling transpeople’s surgical needs

December 7, 2017
The outside of Hahnemann Hospital, in Philadelphia, PA
Flickr user raymondclarkeimages, CC BY-NC 2.0

With the uptick in recent years of transgender people coming out and being who they are, the need for medical professionals that won’t outright reject us is greater than ever. I spotted this article last week, and it encourages me. When I had my surgical work, in 2011, there were only a tiny handful of surgeons in the US that would do the work, and surgeons that would, frequently had difficulty finding hospitals that would allow the surgery to proceed. Philadelphia seems to be turning into a bit of a hub for such things.

The medical part of transition is breathtakingly expensive, and few insurance plans will cover it, even though, mathematically, there’s really no reason they shouldn’t.  They’ll pay for bypass after bypass after bypass, at tens of thousands of dollars a shot, but a once-in-a-lifetime, carefully planned surgery that will dramatically improve a transperson’s life, they’ll not only tell you no, but until the Affordable Care Act, they’d then use being transgender as an excuse–“pre-existing condition”–to eject you from any plan you tried to get on for anything.

Why? The same old tune: bigotry, and lack of education. The same reason I’ve had trouble finding a general practitioner ever since 2010, as do a great many of my trans brothers and sisters.

We’ve gotta get past this, sooner or later…don’t we?

 

Corporate America: It’s not just about a policy, okay?

December 4, 2017
Three people sit at a meeting table: two men, with a woman between them. The woman and the man on her left are talking to each other, while the other man observes.
Flickr user Zach Graves, CC BY-SA 2.0

I’ve been very fortunate, since my transition in 2010, to have been working for companies that didn’t discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexuality.  The place where I was working when I came out was located in Maryland, in a county where such discrimination is illegal, and the job after that was based in California, which takes a dim view of discrimination as well.

My current job is in Houston, TX, where neither the city or the state provide any protection at all. But…well, read the relevant part of our Equal Employment Opportunity statement, current as of 12/2/2018:

cPanel provides equal employment opportunities to all employees and applicants without regard to race, color, religious creed, sex, national origin, ancestry, citizenship status, pregnancy, childbirth, physical disability, mental disability, age, military status or status as a Vietnam-era or special disabled veteran, marital status, registered domestic partner or civil union status, gender (including sex stereotyping and gender identity or expression), medical condition (including, but not limited to, cancer related or HIV/AIDS related) or sexual orientation in accordance with applicable federal, state and local law. This policy applies to all terms and conditions of employment, including, but not limited to hiring, placement, termination, layoff, recall, transfer, leaves of absence, compensation and training.

If that hadn’t been there, I wouldn’t have applied, period, and my life would be on a very different trajectory right now, no doubt. So, policies do matter, certainly–the Human Right’s Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index requires the policy to include us for a high score. But there is a lot more to be done, as this piece in the Advocate pointed out.

The causes of discrimination and bias are not lack of policy, and adding a policy won’t fix the cause: hearts and minds. In order for equality to happen, hearts and minds and operational guidelines must all be aligned with broad policy. Here’s some thoughts:

  • Does your company provide transgender-related medical care, including surgical intervention?
  • Do you have a clear, easy, private method for employees to change their name and gender marker with HR, and on computer system accounts?
  • Do you have a policy in place about outing someone as transgender?
  • Have you published policy indicating that a person should use the restroom that matches their gender identity–and do non-transgender employees know this policy?

I could go on and on, but I think you get the point. There’s a lot more going on here than bathrooms and hiring-and-firing policy, that must be fixed, before transgender people can enjoy full equality in the workplace.

Shameless Self-Promotion: I’m totally willing to help your company make progress, by coming to speak, and I’m kind of a cheap date for workshops of that nature–get in touch with me, if you need help.

Progress…not really, no.

December 3, 2017
A man with short black hair is closely hugging a young girl with brown hair, who is smiling broadly.
Flickr user Steve Baker. CC BY-ND 2.0

On November 15, Montgomery County, TX (an adjacent county to me, just a mile or two across the creek from where I live) held an Adoption Day with the coordination of county Child Protective Service officials, and the County Commissioners’ Court, which made a proclamation. The proclamation included support for adoption regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The rednecks up the road, as you might suspect, are outraged. They’re particularly upset, it seems about allowing gender identity into the proclamation.

The author of the proclamation, who did a copy-and-paste from somewhere else, made a tearful apology online, apologizing to the good people of MoCo for actually allowing that awful LGBT agenda to slip into the proclamation.

She apologized. For actually doing something progressive, by accident. Think about that for a minute.

I hear folks from time to time–mostly gay men, mostly white, mostly well-off ones–who think that now “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed, and same-sex marriage is the law of the land, we’ve got this equality problem whipped. We don’t, and here’s a perfect example.

My family is not interested in adopting; my girls are grown, and we’ve got other things going on in our life; our energy is focused elsewhere. But we wouldn’t be bad parents because there’s a transperson in the house! Indeed, a kid who is dealing with gender-identity or sexuality questions would be a great fit for us. There are a few agencies out there that wouldn’t immediately throw us out the door, even. But the broad base of public opinion, just a mile or two from our home, is that we are automatically unfit, merely by me being transgender.

We’ve got a long, rough road to travel yet.

Speaking of churches…

December 2, 2017
The interior of Missionary Baptist Church, Cades Cove, Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Flickr user Matthew Paulson, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

I grew up in a church tradition where the elders of the local congregation are as high up the food chain you can get–they are elected from among the members, and answer only to the members, and to God. Growing up, I never did understand the churches that have these vast hierarchies, aside from the obvious feature that capital builds up over long periods of time, which is useful if you’re at the top and have access to that–there’s a reason “richer than the Catholic Church” is a common saying.

The Baptists have always fascinated me. It’s like a mini-Catholicism, only without the really good music. Where I grew up, the Southern Baptist Convention was kind of the big bully on the playground, and other conventions were the underlings. What I didn’t know was that a church could be a member of more than one such convention!

It’s true, and the Kentucky Baptist Convention is watching the work of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, because this latter group is on the verge of dropping their ban on openly hiring LGBTQ people. They’re gonna kick churches out of their sandbox, if they do.

Couple of things here: I find it infuriating that they still have the right to debate this at all. LGBTQ people lack protection from employment discrimination in much of the country, and in places where they do have some protections, churches are all-too-often exempted, and can discriminate at will. We have a long, long way to go on this ground.

Secondly, as the article at LGBTQ Nation mentions, no actual LGBTQ people are being consulted in this debate. Didn’t we learn in kindergarten that it’s not nice to talk about someone who’s not there like that? Oh, riiiiight. “Religious freedom.” They get to do that, and if, by some chance, they do drop the ban, we’re going to be expected to thank them for their oh-so-progressive stance.

They can kiss my butt on that one. No way, Jose. I’m not going to thank them or anyone else for doing the minimum of being decent human beings.

Picture me giggling like a maniac…

December 1, 2017
The front face of Uppsala Cathedral
Uppsala Cathedral, home of the Church of Sweden. Flickr user RachelH_, CC BY 2.0

…thinking what American evangelicals would do if some US-based church moved to do what the Church of Sweden did this week, and start referring to their god in gender-neutral terms. They’d lose their collective minds–assuming they have one to share among ’em.

The Church of Sweden, which is an Evangelical Lutheran sort of church, made this move recently, to start next year, and they’re reworking some of the services to acknowledge that God is “beyond our understanding” of gender.

This is an argument I got into years ago, back when I was still a practicing Christian–God (I’m talking about the Bible God here, the one I grew up dealing with) isn’t like us, we’re made in their image–and they aren’t just one being, either, now that you mention it, but three…sort of.

If men are made in God’s image, then are women? The Church wants women to behave as if they were, but if God’s a man, then they’re not. The logic of God making humankind in their image breaks–because it begs a question of God’s gender.

I used to have more fun confusing literalists with that!

As for God addressing us, “foolish mortals” is a gender-neutral form of address, after all…