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.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

My 2016 resolutions (after the dismal results of my 2015 goals...)

I've been thinking about whether I should be making any resolutions at all, since I didn't achieve ANY of my resolutions for 2015. But it's tradition, and so, 5 days in, I'm going to give it a shot. No pressure at all, actually...achieving just ONE would be an improvement over last year :)

My goals for 2016:

  • Learn to play my ukulele
  • Keep up with my workouts
  • Take a picture every day; post them in Flickr (or on some 365 day photo challenge site that I might find...).
That's it. I have professional goals, I have some travel goals...but my resolutions this year are my selfish, personal goals to do things that I know (will) make me happy. 

Here's to achieving all of your goals in 2016. Do something for yourself this year. 

Happy new year!

Burning bright

Last Sunday I served as Worship Associate at USSB and shared this reflection in the service titled, Dark of Winter. I didn't know what the reflection was going to be about when I started writing...I was thinking about winter and cold and darkness and how they resonate for me. Sometimes just writing triggers memories to work through; one of the benefits of having this space to blog.

Welcome 2016. Here's to winter and writing and having community to support you.


I grew up in Michigan, and during my preteen years, in Northern Michigan. Because of where I was raised, I have very particular mental references for what constitutes winter. Snow, of course. Lots and lots of snow. Cold. Burn your nose and ears and fingers cold. The kind of cold that creeps into your clothes and takes a while to shake off once you’re indoors. Blinding whiteness. Everything white and shiny and bright. Glittering whiteness. But the thing I miss most is the quiet.

When it’s so cold and snowy in the heart of winter in northern Michigan, you spend a lot of time indoors. Everyone does. Fireplaces crackle and blankets and slippers are the preferred fashion of the season. Indoors is loud and cozy and bustling with life as you stick close with family and friends to stay warm. In my house, there was a lot of laughter. A lot of reading. My sister and I put on shows for each other. There was safety and love in my house.

That wasn’t true for everyone. Winter in Northern Michigan for some meant being trapped. The winter I was in 7th grade, I went over to a friend’s house after school. You know that feeling, when you walk into an environment and immediately feel like you need to leave? I knew something bad was happening in that house. I could feel the suffocation all around me. I could sense my friend didn’t want me to leave. Her sister clung to me. I could feel the tension from their dad, asking when I was getting picked up. It felt like he wanted me out of there.

When my mom finally did pick me up, I didn’t know how to describe to her what I felt. The days were short then, so even though it was only 5 o’clock, it was already dark as night. When we got home, I went outside to think.

There’s nothing like the dark silence of winter. When heavy snow has fallen, there’s nothing to make noise: no crickets, no birds, just the occasional sound of branches breaking under the weight of heavy snow. Sometimes, when there’s no moisture in the cold air, the snow itself can creak, an icy, low-pitched crunch as the snow gives way underneath you.  I remember sitting in my backyard, thinking about my friend. The cold air hurt to breathe in, but I kinda liked it. It made me feel alive.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so helpless. Maybe that was the first day I really understood what empathy was, knowing that my friend and her sister wanted me, needed me maybe? to help them, but not knowing why or how. I could just feel it. The only thing that made me feel better was sitting in the dark, feeling the cold, and surrounding myself in the deep silence of the winter night.

Eventually, my mom came out to get me, made me brush off the snow in our vestibule, and then brought me in to sit by the fire. She knew I was upset, and she knew that neither one of us could fix it. Sitting in our warm, glowing family room that night felt wrong to me. I wondered what my friend was doing. In the era before junior high kids had cell phones, wondering was all I could really do.

A few weeks later, my friend handed me a note in class. It was a suicide note. I was only 11 years old, but I knew that I couldn’t let me friend hurt herself, even though she had written in the note that if I told anyone, she would never talk to me again. I took the note to my school counselor and there was a huge hubbub. My friend was whisked off to meet with counselors and administrators. Calls were made. I knew big important things were happening, but I didn’t know what. I knew my friend was safe, though...I knew that she had a chance to tell people she could trust what was going on in her life. I still don’t know what those things were. She was true to her word for a long time...she didn’t talk to me, and even when she did, our friendship was never the same.

The rest of that winter, I would go sit outside at night. I would let the air burn my lungs and my toes start to tingle as my boots couldn’t keep out all of the cold after awhile. I would sit in the silence of the heavy, snowy night and think. Did I do the right thing? Was my friend going to be ok? How could I enjoy being inside with the warmth and love of my family when other people were sad, in need, and in pain? 

I still like to sit out in the dark and think, although winter nights are not quite the same in Carpinteria as they are in northern Michigan. There’s no snow to muffle the noise, and no cold air to burn my lungs. But I can remember those feelings, and those nights, thinking about gratitude and fairness and empathy and helplessness. And I can still capture that clarity of vision in the dark that somehow is so elusive in the light.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015: My year in review

I just took a look back at my resolutions for this year...I did not accomplish one of them. Not one. Wow. Not sure if that's something I should be advertising, but my goal-setting was WAY off this year.

I don't know how I'll look back on this year, 2015. While there were some big milestones for me personally, this year was a lot more about our kiddos. I think that's ok. As they get older, I love getting to know them as the people they are growing into and enjoying the time we spend together.

We have a lot of really cool kids.

So here's a few highlights from the year, in no particular order:

My new tattoo

  • New job! This is really the biggest one for me personally. I'm loving the new adventure of heading up the Product group at ShipHawk. 2016 is going to be a very big year.
  • New tattoo! I finally did it! My third tattoo, but by far the most ambitious...I got my pirate mermaid with her jellyfish and octopus. 
  • I did the service on gender at USSB that I've always wanted to do. It felt good. I hope others got something out of it, too :) You can read the transcripts of my reflection here and my sermon here
  • We have redone a significant portion of our house...our room, our family room, our living room...and we did it all ourselves.
  • I finally got to the Monterey Aquarium.
  • I saw Oingo Boingo perform Dead Man's Party live onstage for the first time in 20 years.
  • We really got involved in and learned a lot about the trans community. I can use they/them like a champ.
  • We hosted 2 Spaghetti Western Wednesdays, and attended a few TuTu Taco Tuesdays. I like our new traditions.
  • We had a getaway to a dome treehouse and a private dinner in the trees. Highly recommended :)
  • We attended the Edward Gorey Edwardian Ball for Valentine's Day. 
  • We got married in Vegas by Elvis. Viva Las Vegas!
  • We finally made it whale watching! We saw an actual whale. We called him "Spouty." We saw some dolphins and sea lions, too. 
  • I jumped into some super interesting virtual reality ventures.
  • John saw color for the first time. It was inspiring.
  • Only fools rush in? Nah.
  • We made significant progress on getting HelloYello to market - 2016 will be the year!
I'm sure there is more that I'm missing. Our kids had great successes and great struggles this year. We laughed a lot. We cried less than we laughed. We dressed up in silly outfits on a regular basis. We were spontaneous. We tried to always say yes to adventures. We tried to be present in the moments and enjoy this time of our lives, with our kids, and not take anything for granted.

2015 wasn't a great year in the world. I feel like we were surrounded by injustice and sadness and pain. I struggled with how women are treated, how minorities are treated, how immigrants are treated...I struggled with how much we allow people to be marginalized, victimized and ignored. People are angry, but often at the things I think are insignificant. People are complacent about the things that scare me. I hope that 2016 is the year of hearts and minds prevailing, of us standing up for what is right even when it's hard, and for thinking globally and acting locally. Good bye, 2015. Thanks for the memories and lessons you've taught me. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

What does equality look like?

On November 9th, I led services at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. The service focused on gender equality; previously, I posted my opening reflection, "What Would Geraldine Ferraro Do?" Here is the transcript for the sermon I shared in that morning's service.

A few months ago, I heard through my "family grapevine" that one of my kids was not a feminist, or at least he had been saying negative things about feminists. I was in complete disbelief and that night at dinner, I asked him about it directly.

Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I hear you've been saying negative things about feminists."
Him: "Well, yeah. I mean, I don't get how they want to be treated better than men."
Me (seeing red, freaking out inside): "Feminists don't want to be treated better than men, they want women to be treated equally to men."
(at this point my husband and the other kids made some excuse to leave their half-eaten food at the table...)
Him: "I don't understand. Women ARE treated equally to men. These feminists want to be treated better."  
At this point, I totally broke down into a rant about how women are NOT treated equally, citing numerous examples of bias and discrimination against women in general, but also bias and discrimination that I've experienced personally. I pointed out all of his privileged statuses (sex, gender identity, race, class, geography, able-bodied, apparent sexual orientation...he's at the top of the privilege chain). My son sat there wide-eyed and in silence, finishing his tacos.  
I believe I ended with, "I can't believe you're MY son, you live with me, and you don't know that gender discrimination exists."

As I was preparing for this service, I recalled the stories shared last year when a group of women in our congregation who were having  a decade birthday gathered in celebration. During one portion of the day-long event, we shared what life was like in different decades and I was struck by how much, but how little, things had changed for those of us turning 40 compared to those turning 50, 60, 70, 80 and even 90 years old last year. Some of the women talked about having to choose between having a career and having a family. Others shared how career options were limited to teacher, nurse or secretary. It was a day full of reflection and joy, and still I left feeling a little disheartened. For all of the progress that feminism has made in promoting equality, there are still so many ways we fall short.

Women still only make 79% of what men in similar positions make. 

Only 29% of speaking characters and only 20% of employed characters in films are women. 

Only 20% of Congress and the Senate are women. 

Only 14% of top executives in the Fortune 500 are women. 

Eroding abortion rights. Rape culture. Catcalling. Gamergate. Mansplaining. 

Interviewing an all-woman team of astronauts and asking them about hair, makeup and men.

There are still so many ways, large and small, that gender influences your choices, opportunities and life experiences.

So why did my son believe that women are treated equally? And why, when I asked a female member of YRUU to share a reflection today, did she answer that she couldn’t share a reflection because she has never been discriminated against? Is the world that our kids are seeing more equal or inclusive than what the data would suggest?

One answer may be that we feminists have done such a good job of promoting equality that it has been ingrained in our children. My son truly believed that women are treated equally, and some of that I’m going to take credit for. He’s grown up watching me, after all: in his lifetime, I led and grew a very successful division of an agency, I started my own company, spoke internationally, wrote a book, and have been at various times the primary breadwinner at home. He’s also seen me speak on this chancel.

In fact, he’s seen a lot of women in leadership in our church. From Reverend Deborah Mero who led the congregation we joined while living in Pennsylvania, to Reverend Julia and Reverend Caitlin here at USSB, all but one of the religious leaders Jackson has had personal experience with have been women. And that’s likely true of a lot of Unitarian Universalist youth. Currently, almost 60% of UU ministers are women.

But even that majority percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. Although women are 60% of our clergy, they are still very underrepresented in the leadership of our largest congregations.  Senior ministers of large congregations are overwhelmingly male. And maybe in part because of the size of the congregations they serve, female ministers still make less money than their male counterparts.

Still, all of this could easily be lost on a teenager whose mom has been instilling feminist beliefs into him since he was born, or on any children of highly privileged feminists who have only been told what equality should look like and not shown the inequality that still exists. My son looked around his world and seeing his successful mom and women in leadership roles all around him, made the assessment that this is what equality looks like.

Our current world, however, is definitely not my vision of what gender equality looks like.

As I’ve thought about it, I realized I have no idea of what it WOULD look like. What is my vision of a feminist utopia? How might it be the same or different from your vision?

Last month, a new book, The Feminist Utopia Project, was published. It is made up of short stories, artwork, and other depictions from 57 different feminists of what the world might look like if gender equality existed. Each of these stories focuses on an aspect of society that the author or artist is passionate about.

Digging into these visions, I started to notice a trend. In their depictions of what a feminist utopia looked like, it wasn’t just about gender equality. Their works painted a picture of overall equality: gender, racial, class...the visions incorporated what the world might look like if we were all treated equally, respecting our differences and providing for freedom of choice.

I have a confession: lately I have been struggling with the label feminist. As our family has been learning more about trans identities and the gender spectrum, the word feminist has felt too limited, too tied to the binary concept of male or female. I have always been a loud and proud feminist, and yet, I have felt a tension in fighting for equal rights for women when there are other marginalized identities that feel left out of that fight. There are even tensions among people who identify as feminists in how to advocate for women of color or trans women. And what about people who are agender, like my oldest child?

And yet, as I’ve heard celebrities recently claiming, “I’m not a feminist. I’m a humanist,” my reaction to that generalization is a strongly negative one, as has been my reaction to the #AllLivesMatter counter-campaign to #BlackLivesMatter. Doesn’t it make it harder to fight for the rights of a marginalized group when you don’t name them? Doesn’t it become easier to obscure the struggle of gender equality if it’s lumped under the label of human equality?

The label of feminist is unique in that no other group fighting for equality have a name. There is no name for people fighting for racial equality. There is no label for people passionate about equal rights regardless of your sexual orientation, or immigration rights, or for fighting against poverty. The only other social justice group with an identity label are environmentalists, and even that name has fallen out of style.

So what is a feminist like me to do?

Maybe the place to start is to embrace the concept of intersectionality, a term used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, xenophobia, classism, etc. are interconnected and cannot be examined separately from one another. A vision of a feminist utopia wouldn’t be complete without addressing all types of discrimination, because our identities are not limited to our gender identities.

Feminism is meaningful to me as a starting point for thinking about equality because of the intersectionality of my identity and privilege. Perhaps for you, racial equality is where you start. Or accessibility drives you because of your disability. Wherever you start, whatever the inequality that inspires you to action is no more or less meaningful than what drives me or her or them. Much like how each of the pieces in The Feminist Utopia Project are from the author’s or artist’s particular view and perspective, so too will each of our utopian visions spring from our reality, our privilege, and what we feel passionately about.

For me, imagining what utopia looks like is still a struggle. As much as I want to be able to work towards a vision of what equality looks like, it’s hard to see it clearly through the day to day realities that obscure my view. If I can’t articulate my own vision of utopia, how can I explain the difference between the reality of today and my vision for the future to my son? In the introduction of The Feminist Utopia Project, the editors acknowledge the challenge we face in imagining a gender-equal world. They write:

“When we yearn for more - food, power, sex, love, time - we are gluttonous, egomaniacal, slutty, desperate, silly. To want less, to be less hungry, we are told, is to be “reasonable.” After long enough, we tell ourselves this, too. Sexism justifies itself by commandeering our logic and, quietly, the limits of what is constrict our logic of what should be. Misogyny comes to taste like air, feel like gravity: so common we barely notice it, so entrenched it’s hard to conceive of a world without it. So how can we propose new ways of living when misogyny fogs even our imaginations? And even if we tried - where and when would we organize not just to preserve what we have but to build a wildly better future?”

Where and when would we organize to build a wildly better future?

Where and when can we talk about, form, and challenge each others’ visions of what equality looks like? Where and when can we collaborate, support and inspire each other to reflect on our privilege and plan actions to move our world closer to equality?

Here. Now. And every Sunday.

Please join me in a few moments of reflection on what your vision of utopia looks like. Think about how we might think differently about gender, race, body size, sex, family or governance. Imagine about what equality would look like for you.

[Closing Words]

As we leave each others’ company this morning, hold on to your vision of equality. Share it with someone after the service. Share it with a friend over coffee this week. Write it down. Draw it. Know that it’s a work in progress. And as you go through your week, acknowledge the instances where reality differs from your vision. Name it. The only way for us to get to utopia is to work together today to build the path. Go in peace, go in love. Let us call out a blessing.