When you gotta go

My manager stopped by my cubicle signifying the start of our weekly check-in meeting. As we were heading out to find a conference room he excused himself. “I keep forgetting that we cant have our one-on-ones in the men’s room,” he joked as he headed for the restroom.

The main engineering building where I did my studies was called Hitchcock Hall. It seemed a fitting name for a place so dark and dimly lit that a significant pause upon entry was required on sunny days. When the blinding darkness subsided you could continue into the foyer without risk of running into someone or tripping up the stairs. Freshman engineering students on their way to drafting and design classes passed through this windowless hall with low ceilings, flanked with portraits of mostly white male engineering professors. It was a five floor structure.

During my time in school, Hitchcock had three women’s restrooms. We heard that the building didn’t have any women’s restrooms originally, an artifact still present in floors 1-4 where freshmen engineering classes were taught. There was a women’s restroom on the far end of the first floor near career services in a newer portion of the building, and an unmarked, converted men’s room available somewhere on the second floor. A few years later I learned of a third women’s restroom in the basement. Finding women’s restrooms in old engineering buildings; a scavenger hunt!

I remember one of my freshman engineering classes quite well. It was where I learned that I was good at programming. It was a class of 60+ freshman where my friend E and I were the only female assigned people. Long beige tables set out in front of a white board where our TA occasionally scrawled things in colorful dry erase.

On the first day of class E and I sat in the second row, close enough to smell the markers. As the TA gave an overview of the course and discussed a free form design project, a voice behind us shouted out

“Can we redesign women?”

While my face was reddening a few boys laughed and I heard another fellow mutter

“Dude – theres two girls up there!”

Shaking, I turned around to face him and said

“Only if we can redesign men.”

Welcome to college, freshman female-assigned engineer.

As if these interactions were not enough of a thorn in my side I was quite ill during my freshman year, sometimes necessitating several trips to the restroom during class. Our programming lab was on the fourth floor. I was afraid to try and find the second floor unmarked women’s restroom, which was later adorned with a colorful paper sign thanks to Society of Women Engineers, so I tromped from the fourth floor to the first and back with my sore belly, sometimes several times over a ninety minute lab period. More time away from class. More steps to climb than those who used the men’s room.

Recently I was preparing to attend a networking event. Two months post top surgery, nervously figuring out what to wear to appear professional enough but not overly formal, and figuring out how to negotiate the bathroom yet again. Overweight from holiday eating and bloated from monthly happenings I carefully gauged which size cotton stick would plug me up sufficiently to make it through the meeting. One more trip to the restroom before I leave the house. I could make it without using a restroom, I told myself.

Despite carefully rationing my fluid intake during the two hour meeting I found myself needing to go. I slipped away while the talks were finishing up, hoping to avoid restroom confrontations. This is my life now, split second judgements on which restroom to use based on a tradeoff of likelihood of getting harassed or perceived a pervert, need to deal with monthly happenings, and confusion of new acquaintances seeing me in a restroom unexpectedly. The bathroom is not four floors away but it may as well be.

I’m sitting. I’m peeing red. I’m wondering if expelling gas really loud will help establish that I am In The Right Restroom. I’m pretty sure I won’t bleed through my pants for the remainder of the meeting, the networking session I absolutely need to take part in to make business connections.

I put my business face back on and return to the meeting, confidently approaching strangers with businesses similar to mine, trading advice, business cards, and making off the cuff pitches of my services. Finding the right moment to intercept introductions to clarify that my pronouns are he and him, watching faces begin confused and shift to “ohhh… got it.” Today I am lucky; most of those moments end in affirmation, if slightly bewildered. I’m pretty sure I’m not yet bleeding through my pants. I return home clutching business cards and scribbled notes, totally exhausted but too anxious to take a nap.

I wonder what my old manager would say if we run into each other in the men’s room.

A Letter to Elected Officials regarding the Malheur Occupation

Ive really had enough of the lack of response to a community and public lands being held hostage & deliberately destroyed by armed domestic terrorists. I am sharing the letter I sent to my state reps & President Obama. I encourage you to let your elected officials know what your thoughts are as well. If you would like to contact your reps you can find them here

Dear Governor Brown, Senator Merkley, Senator Wyden, Representative Blumenauer, and President Obama

As an Oregon resident, tax payer, and outdoor enthusiast hailing from a small, rural community I am asking you to take action regarding the illegal occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge.

As someone from a town even smaller than Burns, the precedent set by the lack of response to the Bundy brothers & the band of militant, military-grade weapons wielding people that have come to support them deeply concerns me. Since nothing has been done to remove these occupiers or censure their prior activities what is to prevent such people from taking over my hometown and demanding what they wish of my family & friends? The lack of action to mitigate these situations sends a message to similarly minded domestic terrorists that they can do the same.

While my friends participating in peaceful, weaponless protests have been shot by rubber bullets and tear gassed by the police, there has been no response by local, state, or federal law enforcement against the occupiers in Harney County, who are armed with semi automatic weapons, the threat of which has closed schools & businesses, who have threatened local government employees and harassed private citizens and destroyed public property. It is totally unacceptable that peaceful protest is met with violent militaristic force while aggressive, armed occupation met is with nothing save a few words of disapproval.

A few years ago I was on a backpacking trip in the Badger Creek Wilderness, a public land not unlike the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Some armed people showed up near where we had setup camp and started unloading rounds into the woods, unaware of our presence. If armed occupation of public lands is not met with swift action by state & federal law enforcement then any hiker, backpacker, birder or other enthusiast can be ambushed & taken hostage by such armed militants.

The availability of military grade weapons to civilians and the lack of response by law enforcement is giving a frightening platform to armed anti government terrorists. I am afraid for the welfare of myself, my family and my friends.

I ask that you do something about this situation, and the things that have enabled it to go on un-checked.  Please remove military grade semi automatic weapons from circulation. Please ensure that the response of law enforcement is consistent. White, armed men do not deserve special treatment. They should be subjected to the same tear gassing, bean bag and rubber bullets, physical intervention by the police for resisting arrest, and cutoff of utilities that other US citizens face.

The Bundys, armed white men, have occupied Malheur Wildlife Refuge for 8 days and have entertained the press, shaken hands with the local sheriff, and been visited by an Oregon legislator. Tamir Rice, a 12-yr old black child, is dead for playing with a toy gun, shot 2 seconds after the police arrived on the scene.  For the crime of wearing a hoodie, walking through a yard armed with skittles and iced tea Travyon Martin is dead, while George Zimmerman signs autographs at gun shows.

Please help make good on our pledge, because it is failing the majority of US citizens and the handling of the Malheur occupation is a prime example – “Liberty and Justice for all”

Thank you

Transitions

Exhiety – being simultaneously exhausted and too anxious to rest

Eight months ago I ran away from the cube farm. The grey walls, corporate mantras, and unscalable bureaucracy had finally worn through the optimism I tried to maintain during my tenure. Any energy I had left at the end of the day was sucked away in the long commute home, watching the sun fade beyond a sea of red lights. A slow march of white lights to my left. The work and the commute had the same maddening dirge. Stop. Go. Stop. Go.

Stop.

With the mental and physical tolls mounting I took a small bag of things and left. I walked away from security, unvested stock, a regular fat paycheck. I was chased down with promises of job titles and promotions long sought, but I was so exhausted that I just had to walk away.

Since then my life has been a mixture of recovering from the corporate world and figuring out how to start a business. Somewhat unexpectedly this time has also held the beginning of a transition of a different sort – gender.

For 20 years I worked and studied in tech. The only female-assigned person in many of my electrical engineering classes (and later, the professional teams I worked with), I learned to protect myself against unwanted advances and the pain of exclusion. Exclusion from the boys club that would later stymie my ability to advance. Quick wit was my weapon for shutting down locker room conversations, sexist quips, and covering up the insecurity I felt every day. I uncomfortably learned the language and mannerisms needed to be perceived as competent. Despite evidence that I excelled at my studies I constantly felt that I wasn’t enough, in part due to the external forces exerted to get more women into engineering. I always wondered ‘am I here because I’m female, or because I’m competent?’

The perception of myself as not being enough started much earlier. Since I was extremely young, perhaps 5 or 6, I struggled with this notion of being a girl. I perceived my inability to relate to other little girls as a failure on my part. As I took in the reaction of others to my presence, I realized others could see that failure too. I tried to smooth over the discomfort of others and myself by being funny and self deprecating, but over time this perception of failure at such a fundamental aspect of life turned into anxiety, depression, and self doubt.

I suppose its unsurprising that, as I started to let go of fitting myself into one ill fitting garment, I noticed I was wearing other items that were poorly suited for me. I didn’t intend to transition from technical desk jockey to entrepreneur at the same time that I began dealing with the emotional journey of gender transition, but here I sit.

As I have come into acceptance of myself as a FTM and begun getting acquainted with others like me, I find myself frustrated by the lack of FTM visibility. I hope that sharing my stories can bring increased awareness to our experiences. I have a similar frustration with the technology industrial complex and the lack of visibility of how it undercuts the well being of tech workers. I hope by sharing my story of transitioning from a cog in the tech system to an entrepreneur that I can help others do the same.