March 7, 2008

A Parable

Posted in About, family, work at 1:43 pm by Michael

Just a little background on this. I’ve been at a leadership training class this week for work, and we had to create a “character sketch” that would explain ourselves to a small group. I wrote this, and thought it might be interesting to some…..

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Janus was two-faced, Shrek was an onion, but who has modeled being three faced? Well, I’d like to tell you a story about someone who I’ve come to know who was most definitely in that space.

More importantly though, why? How does someone get to having three faces – the outside, presented version of self, the self shared with the closest of friends and family, and a deeper, very hidden, inner voice.

From One Voice to Two

Jane grew up in a suburban, middle class household, with a stay-at-home mom, a hardworking dad, and two sisters who were more like parents early on, as they were much older than her.

The family was, to the outside world, close and high functioning. Jane’s mom and dad loved her deeply, and they told her so. She grew up in a house full of children – her parents were foster parents for a number of babies (although usually one or two at a time).

Her dad especially though set a high bar for success, and never wavered in his beliefs – which he was more than happy to tell you all about! There was little room for gray in her world, and success was relative.

Growing up, Jane was shy, and more than a little conflict averse. She learned to read the people around her, understand what they wanted, and try to give it to them. In many ways, she was the classic “pleaser”.

At 16 though, right on the cusp of becoming her own person though, something dramatic happened. She almost died, twice. Her own desire to “not make waves” almost lead (indirectly) to an early demise, as she was unwilling and unable to tell those around her that she wasn’t feeling well.

These months were formative for her, and formative for her parents. For her, she realized at that moment that life was brief, and fleeting, and something to be relished. For her parents though, they became even more protective. The timing of this event was crucial – it was on the cusp of her entry into early adulthood, but in many ways, this froze her image in the minds of her parents as a delicate person who needed protection and their constant concern and intervention.

Jane tells me now of being none-too-happy with this extra nesting phase, but being the pleaser that she was, she was unable to confront her parents with her own self-realized view.

Jane considered becoming a doctor, both in that it would be demonstrably a “success” that she could achieve and be recognized for, but also in that this could be something her parents could be proud of.

Again though, fate intervened, and Jane sadly had a true inner geek, that was trying to come out, and became addicted to the quick feedback and satisfaction of being a software developer. Success was immediate and demonstrable. It was also clear – either the program worked, or it didn’t.

On to college Jane went, with some newfound confidence, but also the trait of pleasing and conforming. Jane worked her way through college using her now seemingly valuable skills, gaining recognition for the first time from people she respected that weren’t her parents.

Exiting college, with a job and responsibilities that belied her years, and at the same time in a system with her parents that was still about pleasing and acceptance, the initial two faces were solidified for her – the external face that was about confidence and success (this was the face that made her parents proud), and the internal face where all the self-doubt had to sit. In the world in which she grew up – there was black and white. Doubt wasn’t for the strong, and Jane wanted to be strong, or at least appear so to those that she loved.

The Third Face is Born

Jane had never been that successful in dating or relationships, but finally met someone at 26 who she felt really loved her. However, this was really the start of the third face, as the person that was shown and loved wasn’t the internal, self-doubting, complicated Jane, but the external, confident, now successful, pleasing Jane. Instead of being a force of integration, this relationship lead to more cleaving.

So, here was born the outside face, the family face, but the inside face remained, and it wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Jane focused even more on building up the external face, and driving for success and recognition there. The external face was strong – an ass kicker. This was the place where she could gain self-satisfaction, and a sense of worth. The external face was great at her job – to a point – but that point hadn’t been seen yet – it was still over the horizon, but it was coming.

The family face, well, that one had a lot of work to do. Everyone had to be serviced and pleased. It was overworked and tired.

Predictably, after a time, this relationship ended, but not after a lot of pain on all sides, and careful sculpting on each of these faces. Jane the pleaser remained, and she had become a master sculptor.

Integration?

Sometime after Jane divorced, she met Sue. Sue was everything that Jane wasn’t. Sue had one face. Sue decided if you got to see that face or not. She was in, or she was out. There was no in the middle. She told it like it was. Sue also loved Jane – all of her that Jane was willing to share, and as a result, the family face faded. She still had to use it with her parents at times, but integration was coming.

Wow, she had pulled it off – she had found the person for her, and was slowly integrating herself into a coherent whole.

Then the bottom fell out.

Jane’s dad died.

Jane’s mom died a little bit too when that happened.

Jane had reached the scaling point on her job, and the ways that she had succeeded before were no longer strengths, but weaknesses. Instead of continuing to move up, she moved sideways, and down.

What had been the source of strength for her was now an additional stressor.

Jane hadn’t always been as open or honest with Sue as she should have been. Sue demanded more, and had done so from the beginning. But, Jane wasn’t ready. Conflict arose – not because of what was in Jane’s heart or soul, but because it was really hidden, and burbled up like tar from a hot road.

Sue almost left, and Jane was terrified.

There was still something else that Sue hadn’t known, and Jane hadn’t told her. Sue didn’t even really know Jane. Who Sue thought she knew and loved was presented as Jim. Up until now, that’s all anyone knew of Jane – all they had ever seen was the face of Jim.

Sue wasn’t happy to have found out that there was more to Jim – the Jane part. She was pissed. Not because she didn’t love Jim or even Jane for that matter, but because Jane wasn’t honest from the start.

The Only Way Out

Jane was faced with an ultimatum – both literally and figuratively – either integrate, or have amazing loss.

The three faces had to be fully revealed – not just to Sue, who now had the whole picture, but to everyone. There was no room to hide, or to be less than transparent. Jane was like an alcoholic, and needed complete abstinence from anything except for total, often brutal honesty.

The integration of these three parts into a whole created an interesting “averaging” of the three.

But the averaging didn’t create mediocrity, the averaging lead to the creation of a whole that was greater than the sum of the parts.

What was an external, hard shell melted. Maybe not completely, Jane’s still a work in progress, but its mostly gone.

What was an internal voice, filled with self-doubt is gone now too. Its really gone, like the footprints on a beach after the tide rolls in.

Instead what’s replaced it is a more consistent, authentic voice. Jane maybe doesn’t appear as strong as she did before. Or does she?

When I talk to Jane now, she’s almost ashamed of the way that she conducted herself for many of her years. It clearly can be overwhelming at times for her. She has embraced the notion of “live, fail, ask for forgiveness, learn, repeat”.

I like Jane now. I’m not sure that I would have liked her if I met her for the first time even five years ago.

You go Girl!

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March 5, 2008

Hi There!

Posted in About at 11:03 pm by Michael

Me in Paris

If this is your first visit to this space, hello and thanks for coming.

(And for the regular readers of this space – thanks! I’m glad you have been here all along!)

If you are wondering what’s going on here, check out the “How to Read This Blog” link, as well as the “About M()” link on the top right – those are good places to start.

I think what you will find here is that I’m just an everyday person, with a wife (Anh), kids (Peri, John and Samwich), a great bunch of friends and a job that I love.

Yup, I happen to be transgendered, but I don’t consider that to be a defining characteristic, just one of many.

I hope that you can find something interesting, funny, new or informative here…. so welcome!

Megan

ABC News, Part II

Posted in life at 10:02 pm by Michael

Neal and Alyssa (the producer) came to our house on the 24th (Sunday) to meet with us for the first time face-to-face, and plan out the day a bit more.

After a few more iterations, we worked out a schedule for them to meet us at our house at 545am, go running with us, then tape us making breakfast for Samwich (although no pictures of Samwich’s face were allowed (or Peri and John for that matter)). After that, we’d drive to work, with them in the car part of the time, and then follow me inside for about half of my day. I’d then have lunch with Neal (recorded), then when I got home, out for dinner, then back for the formal “interview” with me and Anh.

Wow. Long day.

They were there right on time at 545am, camera crew and all. We went for our run, being followed by a sound and camera guy in a black suburban (Mike and Rob), but other than that, it was normal. Well, that and being asked to run by the Space Needle four times so the Rob could get the shot right (it was a really cool shot, and he really did want to make it right. He said to us: “You can always tell when you are shooting what will ABSOLUTELY make it in, and let me tell you, this will get in.”).

We were both pretty nervous during the run. We had wireless microphones on (which made both of our pants fall down from the weight of the battery packs on our back – if we look like we have baggy pants on when this airs – now you know why), but it was one of our quietest runs ever. Typically, our runs are the time for us to talk about what’s going on, and work out any issues that we have to deal with – with us, with family, with the kids, etc. We came up with Samwich’s name on a run. Anyway, not this one – we were pretty quiet.

We got back to the house, and went upstairs to get ready, leaving the crew downstairs. One of the big TG “clichés” that I didn’t want to get into was any shots of me getting dressed or ready. So, I really wanted to skip any part of that.

Mercifully, I made them coffee.

After coming downstairs with the baby, I started to make him breakfast (banana pancakes). Between being nervous and hurrying a bit, this was probably the single worst pancake I ever made for Samwich. It didn’t taste bad, it was just a mess. He had been in the middle of a “no eating week” – he basically would take two bites, and then be done, every meal. This breakfast was no exception – not a lot of the pancake was consumed.

One of the most fun parts about our morning ritual is watching Samwich dance and to the music (while singing along). However, because of the microphone/sound recording issues, we couldn’t have it on. Bummer.

We headed out, just about on time, with me in front, the suburban following, and Neal and Alyssa in a third car. Just over the bridge, we all pulled over, and Rob the cameraman got in the car with me, and taped me driving into work from the inside (they took outside shots before that).

Getting into work with four visitors, two of them lugging tons of gear was well, interesting. We went up from the garage, and out to the lobby where we met the PR representatives. No problem, we signed them in, and we started the work day.

First off, I do email. Wow. Super exciting…. You thought the Golf Channel was fun, woo whee – check out the eMail Channel!

Anyway, in the morning, I had previously scheduled meetings with my manager Brad (the ubiquitous weekly 1:1 at Microsoft), an old HR contact, and my current HR contact. The crew was there in each of the meetings, and after the meetings, they interviewed the folks I had met with briefly (I didn’t watch…).

I had meetings back and forth between meetings, and for those walks, they were following me back and forth… will be interesting to see how that comes out.

With each of these meetings, they stayed to watch the first parts, but then left. The meeting with Tobin was interesting though, as he hadn’t seen me since I got back, and we had a lot of catching up to do, and they caught a lot of it.

Before lunch, Neal asked me a few on-camera questions in my office – nothing too remarkable, except that he asked me, when seeing all the “Michael” stuff in my office – “Who’s office is this? Michael’s or Megan’s?”. I hadn’t really thought a lot about this before – other than I clearly am not trying to erase my history, and I have a lot of history at Microsoft, so my office reflects that! (It was definitely a fair question though).

We ended up going to lunch at Malay Satay Hut in Bellevue. I can tell you that if you want to get a bunch of looks, walk into a restaurant with a camera crew. Malay Satay hut is an extension of the MS cafeterias at this point, and it’s loaded with ‘softies – many of whom I knew that day. At one point, Neal asked me if I was conscious of people looking askance at me. I said: “Well, today I think they are looking at me because I have this camera crew posse with me!”

After lunch we went back to campus, they shot a little bit in Brad’s weekly staff meeting, then they went out to get some pictures of campus, and then headed back to our house to set up for the interview.

The interview setup was pretty interesting – they basically took apart our whole living room, and reset it almost like a studio – lights and all. They even set lights outside to light the trees, so in the shots of Neal, facing us, you could see the skyline, plus lit trees. It was a trip.

For dinner, we had made a reservation up at Sorrentino up on Queen Anne – they have always been super sweet to us, and we also really like the food. We warned them that this would be a dinner with a camera crew, so they knew what to expect. Our friends Alex and Kat had agreed to come out with us, and we met them there. The crew taped about 15 minutes of our pre-dinner conversation, then went back to the house to continue setting up for the interview (wow, that takes a LONG time).

As a funny aside, while Neal and Alyssa were sitting at the bar eating, one of the owners mistook Neal’s phone for her own, and took it. For the next couple of hours, there was intensive phone-looking (Everyone wanted to blame Samwich, as he has a known penchant for phone chewing!).

Anyway, we got back around 830pm, and the formal interview part started (if we look tired, you know why!). Neal interviewed me first, then me and Anh together. Anh has never done any press work before and she did great! Pretty high stress thing to do for your first time… national TV, on such a personal subject.

The interview lasted for just about 90 minutes, and by the time the crew was done tearing down and cleaning up, it was almost 11.

Long day for us, long day for the crew.

I have to say, that the experience of that day was nothing but positive. Neal and the crew were total pros – treated us with amazing amounts of respect and candor, and were great to work with.

I’m confident that tomorrow’s stories will come out well, and hopefully a few more people will get exposed to a normal family, but one that’s just a little different.

ABC News

Posted in life at 10:33 am by Michael

A couple of weeks ago (actually on my birthday), I got an interesting voicemail at work. It was from Neal Karlinsky, a west-coast based reporter for ABC News. He said on the voicemail that he had found my blog, and was interested in talking to me.

I called him back, and we chatted for a bit, and he asked if I was interested in being interviewed on camera, and if so, he was going to pitch his story idea to the “Folks in New York” to see if they were interested. I said that he should pitch it, but that I wasn’t sure to what degree I wanted to participate, or what participation that Anh would want to have, or what could be done at work.

The next day, he emailed back, saying it was a “go”, and we started talking about what they wanted to do. They were interested in a “long” (8 minute) story on Nightline, and a shorter version to air on Good Morning America. He talked about wanting to “follow” us around for day or so, at home, at work, and out and about. From the beginning he related that the actual “story” was how much of a non-story that this actually is. But, he did feel like being able to talk to and interview Anh was an important part of the story, as her voice certainly hasn’t been heard as much.

Anh and I had a number of long conversations on this topic – deep conversations related to the reasons for and against doing it. We were trying to balance the privacy loss with the potential benefit to getting the story of a “normal family with a transgendered spouse” out to a broader audience.

In the end, we decided to do it – we were either going to do it together, or just not participate at all.

Tomorrow’s the day (planned…) We expect that it will be on in the morning on GMA, and then on Nightline.

I’ll post more about what last Wednesday was like a little later, but here was a shot of Anh and I being interviewed.

Interview

March 2, 2008

Work Conference

Posted in transgender, work at 4:31 pm by Michael

TRE Conference

Over the weekend, Anh and I attended the Microsoft event for senior technical folks in the company. It’s generally at some sort of destination location, and spouses/guests are invited. Over the past two years, it’s been in Vancouver, then San Francisco, and this year it was in Palm Springs.

The date for this one was significant for me – my three month anniversary for my FFS surgery. The significance was that three months was the date for the last of the “restrictions” on me. The last two were wearing glasses of any kind (because of the “work” on my nose, and allowing the bone to heal so that I wouldn’t get permanent dents in my nose from the glasses), and then being able to start electrolysis again (infection risk).

Coming into this, I was actually a little nervous. This event has been on the calendar since early last fall, and we have been “looking forward” to it since then. I know a good percentage of the 500+ people here (maybe 20%?), and probably have only seen 1% since I’ve been back to work.

As I written about a ton before, work has been incredibly supportive. However, this was different. Instead of being in a day-to-day environment with my team, this was with peers and their spouses. I had expected that it would be “the same”, but really?

The other nervous-making thing was that whole 20%/1% thing. Part of what’s made work pretty stress-free (from a transition POV) is that for the folks I work with on a daily basis – well, they are over it. It doesn’t really come up. This is a good thing – we’ve moved on to the “New Normal”.

Anyway…. In that context, Anh and I dropped of Samwich with family friends for the weekend, then went to the airport. The flight down was full of conference goers, and we got to catch up with a few folks who we haven’t seen in a while. Overall – normal.

We got down to Palm Springs and settled in late in the afternoon. Later there was dinner, followed by speeches by Bill and Steve. Although this year was an interesting milestone for Bill, as it’s his last of these conferences in his fulltime role with Microsoft, as he transitions to do more work for his charitable foundation.

Walking around and mingling before and after was pretty typical for one of these functions. Introductions this year became an interesting word-choice exercise. How do I introduce Anh? That one turns out to be pretty easy in this context at least – she’s my wife. How does Anh introduce me, if I don’t know the person she’s met or is talking to – husband, spouse, partner? What word works? We struggle with this one quite honestly. We are still (and plan to be!) legally married. Words escape us in this situation.

One thing that I was a little bit surprised by is by how many people were surprised to see us. I got the impression from the “how are you doing?” or “how are you feeling?” or “wow, I didn’t expect to see you here again so quickly!” that there was this impression that I was going to be gone longer than I was (it sure felt like a long time to me!). But, that being said there was nothing to take offense to in any of these comments or questions.

Later in the night, I was talking to someone who I had worked with quite a bit before, but not in more than a year or two. He had clearly read the blog at length, and still had a lot of questions. We sat down, had a drink, and he asked the really hard question – the “how do you know?” question, and we had a good long talk about it. He also had lots of questions about “how/why did you decide to transition?” – again, long conversation on that point. (I know, I’ve never really written about that… I will sometime.)

The next morning, we worked out for a bit in the gym and then went on to our planned activity – which was a GPS scavenger hunt. We teamed up with another couple (I had worked with the guy before, but not met his wife), and it turned out to be a great time, as we were all runners, and ran hard between all the way points. One of the tasks in the scavenger hunt was to take pictures of your team in various poses at specific locations. One of the poses that we needed to show was “Passion”. We came up with the idea (which is the same idea that all the other teams had) to get a picture of our team members kissing/embracing (obviously their own spouses!). No pause – nothing… we just did it, and later when the pictures were posted on our results boards, I don’t even think there was a stray glance. (We didn’t win the contest, but we loved it. Anh is mega ultra competitive, and this was right up her alley.)

That afternoon we ended up sitting by the pool, but I had to buy a new bathing suit (I didn’t have one, and ended up going modest all the way), and also sunglasses. Interesting milestone.

Saturday night was the “formal” dinner of the weekend as there are some awards given out to individuals and teams. Going to a formal Microsoft event is typically an oxymoron (it’s a super casual place still), but these events have become more and more over the top. One of the guys I used to work with came with a purple zoot suit, complete with fedora and matching purple patent leather shoes. His wife had a classic flapper (but shorter) dress, and they both looked great, and added a ton of class to the event overall. (The theme for the night was “Classic Hollywood”).

Me at TRE

As we were finishing up dinner, I felt a tap on my shoulder and it was someone who worked in the same division that I was last in, but we had never really worked together (or even met as far as I remember actually). He came over to tell me how proud of me he was, and how much courage he thought it must have taken to transition in such a public way. I’m not really doing justice to either what he said or how he said it, but I was blown away. It actually made me tear up a little bit. Here was a guy who knew of me, but no more, who took the time to seek me and Anh out to talk to us. Wow…. Thanks Dilip, that was incredibly kind of you.

As we were walking back to our room, Anh said to me: “This is really a year of firsts. It’s gone well, but I’ll be glad when all of these firsts are behind us. Next year, I bet no one will even notice.”

And on that note, we ended our night, under the stars, walking back as a couple, just like so many of our co-workers did on that same night.

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