Archive for October, 2014

Where Do You See Yourself In Five Years?

1

My employer has a pretty standard set of interview questions, and since it’s been a long time since I interviewed externally, that’s all I’ve had to deal with over the years. They are much more focused on how you’ve handled a situation in the past and much less concerned about how you will handle hypothetical future situations near as I can tell. I’ve also been on the asking side, so I’ve seen some of the methodology. But I can tell you the book does not have any of those esoteric questions (at least that I saw) about what kind of pizza topping you’d be or how to solve random problems that you would never actually encounter like what you’d do if stranded on the moon with these five objects or where you see yourself in five years. This isn’t to denigrate those questions. Well, except for the last one. That one, while not worthless, is the kind of question I like least, a question that just opens people up to poor answers. Seriously, what are you going to say to a question like that? I understand the point, but I can’t even tell you what I’m going to be doing tomorrow, let alone in five years. I can tell you what I plan to be doing (which I see as the point to some degree), but the problem is the further away you get from what you are trying to forecast, the more difficult it gets, the less useful that plan becomes. I am working in a role that essentially didn’t exist 10 years ago, and sometimes I’m applying for jobs that didn’t even exist five years ago. I’m supposed to forecast that? Anyway, it’s really hard for us to figure out where we are going. It’s great to have ideas about where you want to go; I have them too. It’s just important to occasionally look back and see just how off-base they were because we’re really bad at predicting the future. It’s hard enough to trace a path back. If my previous boss had asked me where I saw myself in five years when I got my last job, I probably would have said Wells Fargo, but I don’t know if I would have believed it. I probably wouldn’t have said San Francisco. If I had, it would have been a guess on a very long list of guesses.

2

Recently I decided to go vegan. I’ve been building to it for a while, honestly. And I had just reached a point where I said to myself, you know what, why not? If you want some grandiloquent explanation as to why, I’m afraid I don’t have one. Health is a consideration, of course. And ethically speaking, I get the arguments, but that wasn’t a tipping point for me. It’s the same with the environmental impacts. I get all of those things, but I can’t give you a nice succinct statement as to why if that’s what you really want because I don’t have one myself. Because I can seems like a weird way to answer that question, but it’s the closest to the truth.

Now I’m not here to tell you what you should do. All we can do is put information in front of each other. It’s up to us as individuals to decide what to do with it. And honestly, I don’t really care what you choose to eat. That’s up to you. That’s not a judgment, either. That’s how I approach my own life as well. I have to be the one to make the decisions, no matter what anyone else says. It’s something I learned to truly embrace when I came out, and it’s been a guiding force in my life ever since. Many things, we have to do ourselves. This isn’t to say that we don’t have good support networks that help us, or that some of us don’t have better opportunities or access than others. Some of us obviously do. I’m no exception. It’s just to say that even with those sorts of things, we all still have decisions to make that no one can make for us. Whether we can follow through with them? That is a different discussion altogether. But in this case, where I am right now, with what I have access to? I can.

I live in a time where it’s easier to go vegan because there are a lot more options. I have access to tools, simple things that make life easier like a smartphone that can help me find places nearby that I might not have known about otherwise or even a reliable internet connection at home to figure out the same things. I live in a place where I really have a lot of options when I go out to eat, or even when I’m buying groceries. Of course it still takes effort; there’s still work and considerations and questions when I go out. There’s still habits to change. But mostly, it’s just that I’m in a different place in my life than I was years ago, a time and place where it just makes a lot more sense to me. Whether it’s because the ethical cost of the decisions I make wears more on me now or it’s because I’m more cognizant of what I put in my body because I just can’t get away with what I could even five years ago or just that I can is hard to pinpoint. It’s probably all of those things, and a lot more. Was it a possible future in the past? Of course, because here I am. Was it a probable future? That, I’d have to say, seemed less likely even a couple years ago. And yet, here I am.

3

The Golden Gate Bridge is about a mile and a half across. I’ve walked it a couple times and I’ve ridden my bike across it a couple times as well, but finally, on Saturday, I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while now: I ran across it. It was kind of annoying, to be honest. Super-windy and full of tourists that weren’t paying any attention. And while I’m used to some degree of that in Golden Gate Park, at least there they can hear me when I try to get their attention. But the views? You really can’t beat them. Plus, it’s a beautiful run to get there from my place, up and through the Presidio and out to the old batteries. I ended up going it was just over 11 miles. It was a nice way to kick off my Saturday morning, though it meant I didn’t particularly care to do much else the rest of Saturday.

I’m not entirely sure at what point the switch flipped, but since I’ve lived here, I’ve come to think of myself more as a runner. I hated it in high school, and over the years had sporadic bursts where I tried to run a bit more, but I never really put anything solid together until just before I moved here. And while it’s still a challenge to get out as much as I’d like, I still find myself at least doing a 4.5 mile loop through Golden Gate Park with enough frequency, down to the bison and back, more often than I even thought I would when I moved here. Part of it is a function of the fact that it is a bit more difficult to just get on my bike and go for long bike rides here. Part of it is that I have spent more time running. Once a three mile run seemed to be an insurmountable challenge. And though I was out for quite a while yesterday, it didn’t really feel like a challenge in that same way. I was pushing my body, sure. But I knew I could do it. Like most things, a lot of running is mental. And it took me a long time to get over that initial hump, to get to that point where what was once felt like a long run is now a short run, to know I can do it instead of wondering if I could. Though I’d still like to do a better job with it, it’s less a question of when I’ll run and more a question of when I’ll do the other things I need to get done after work.

4

I know there are reasons why people do, but I still can’t fathom why so many people choose to drive in this city. Even when I moved here initially, when I still had my car, I chiefly drove it once every week or so to make a Target run. It was not something I used to get around town. Have you tried driving here? It’s awful. And though it took me a while after I got rid of it, I have finally become the bike commuter I knew I could be if I just didn’t have a car. Of course there are times I miss it. I probably would have gone to Bridge School with a car; not that it would have necessarily been quicker, just that it would have given me greater latitude. As it was, I didn’t particularly want to deal with Caltrain, and no one I knew expressed any great interest, so my next trip to Mountain View will just have to wait.

As long as I live here, I don’t envision a future where I’ll own a car. But there I go again, forecasting. It’s hard to say. What if one of the parking spaces opened up in my building? Or if I were making more money? Or if my job were no longer in the Financial District? Lots of things could impact my decision vis-a-vis car ownership. Lots of things enable it right now, the fact that I’m able, that I live close to where I work and much of what I do after work, that it’s actually basically the fastest way to get from place to place much of the time. Suffice to say, I don’t see a time where I will enter into getting a car again lightly. I will definitely think about the impacts a decision like that much more. I no longer view driving as a birthright, something that was just what you did to get around the suburbs and reach your far-flung friends. But it stands to reason that if 33 year-old me has a drastically different view point on the issue than 18 year-old me did, who knows what 48 year-old me will think? At present, I do not know exactly what circumstances could change my opinion that I am a bike commuter and a bike commuter first. But that’s still a pretty new label for me, so perhaps I shouldn’t get too far ahead of myself.

5

Tomorrow morning will be like any other morning. I’ll get up for my 9-5. I bike in and it’ll take me between 24 and 26 minutes depending on which lights I catch. I’ll get a coffee at Coffee Bar, hoping the medium roast is the grab and go; I used to be a dark roast kind of person; then again I used to never drink coffee. I will sit at a job I’ve had for a year and a half and now people will ask me questions because I’m one of the experienced ones. I’ll eat a lunch I brought in because I’m in one of those phases right now, and when I’ve pushed enough widgets, I’ll reverse the bike ride back out to Inner Richmond. If there’s time, I’ll go for a run. If there’s not time, it’s probably because I’m going to a show. The World Series may well blow all those plans up. Because really, that’s all those things are. Plans. Some of those plans, like my job, are a means to an end, and something I’d never consider blowing off. You just can’t do that. Or at least I can’t. Not where I’m at right now. But most of those plans are highly fluid. Perhaps one of my coworkers will suggest Tlaloc and instead of leftovers, it’ll be an ensalada nopales and that wonderful pumpkin seed salsa they do so well. Perhaps I’ll get a text that an old friend is in town and wants to grab drinks somewhere after work. I still have the plans. I still have an idea of how tomorrow is going to go, and I still made preparations for those plans. But if you really want to know how it’s gonna go? Ask me again in a couple days.

Good Exercise

When I tell people I bike commute, there is something a general flow to the conversation that follows. It doesn’t vary that much now that I live in San Francisco, though my perspective has changed now that I don’t even own a vehicle other than my bike. In general, there’s admiration mixed with some incredulous statements (good for you!, I don’t think I could do that, etc) that segues into questions/statements about the general danger of biking. Now, I don’t need anyone to tell me that biking isn’t the greatest here. I bike on Market Street several times a week, and I get all the examples I could ever want. But something else curious happens every time I have these conversations.

I generally don’t pay much credence to Willie Brown’s columns, and this one is no exception, but there is an odd observation at the end about bikes. I’m not gonna link, because he doesn’t particularly deserve the clicks in my opinion, but here’s some random text from the end of his most recent opinion piece:

Willie Brown

People say things like this a lot about cyclists. I’ve gotten used to hearing it. I’ll give you a minute to get past the astonishing random sexism there. Perhaps I’ll save that for another time, but right now, I’d rather focus on the other aspect of that which I hear a lot: an unsubstantiated opinion about cyclists. That isn’t based on anything. I don’t even know how you could determine the age of the cyclists you see. There are plenty more where that comes from. Sometimes people tell me that cyclists should stay in their lane (even on roads where signs explicitly say cyclists have full use of the lane, even in situations where motor vehicles are parked in the bike lane); other times they just say they shouldn’t even be in that place (even though bikes have just as much right to be on the road as other vehicles, so much so that it’s recognized by law), or follow the laws of the road if they want to ride on the road (while ignoring the differing mechanics of biking versus driving or ignoring the fact that drivers frequently don’t follow those same rules). Most people will profess at the beginning of the conversation that they do not bike commute, and don’t even go out much except for an occasional social ride, yet they seem to have “the solution” to whatever the bike woes of a place are. I rarely have conversations like this with other cyclists. In those situations, I tend to have conversations about routes, preferences, secrets, gear, whatever. The conversation might be focused on bikes, but it’s quite a different conversation.

San Francisco likes to tout its mileage of bike infrastructure, and looking at a map like this leaves you with the impression that there’s quite a bit. I guess there is if you are counting the roads where they drop an arrow on it and indicate bikes will be present, but as someone who’s ridden quite a bit of it, I still haven’t found a good east-west route from the Financial District to Inner Richmond. Perhaps my perspective is skewed by the fact that my east-west ride in the Twin Cities was Summit and The Greenway, two really fine examples of on-street and separate bike lane systems that I didn’t have to share with pedestrians or even cars all that much, but there’s definitely nothing like that here. San Francisco certainly does some things really well (the green waves are quite nice) and has strong organizations like the San Francisco Bike Coalition fighting to make things better here, to make more bike-first routes. I am not saying that I have any brilliant new ideas. I don’t honestly. I think a lot of the ideas I’ve seen are good, but it’s a matter of getting from “we have an idea” to “we have the means to accomplish it” to “it’s done”. And no matter what that is, that’s a tough thing to accomplish in this city. Plus, I get that it’s not just going to become the bicycle utopia I’d like to see. I want East Bay bike infrastructure in San Francisco, and that’s just not going to happen overnight. Of course, there are different elements that created that infrastructure in Oakland/Emeryville/Berkeley. Perhaps we will get there some day, but it’s a long game. Which is why, even if I jest a bit about the protected contraflow bike lane on Polk (which I’ve never used since I’m rarely in a position to), I know that what is two blocks today could be two miles in five years. It is an important step, and nice to see.

Here’s what I see when I bike. Yes, I do see bikes run lights and stop signs. I also see cars do that. I see buses rumble through intersections when they should probably wait. I see pedestrians step into the flow of traffic even though there’s already a car coming and at that time they do not have right of way as dictated by the traffic signals. I see cars block pedestrians by trying to get through an intersection when there’s no space. I see cyclists ride through pedestrians when they don’t have right of way and probably shouldn’t. I don’t know what the impulse is that drives that behavior. I’m not going to claim to be immune to it. I am definitely not claiming I haven’t done some of these things (in most modes of transit) I don’t know if it’s just that we all think our time is more important or that we are all in our own little worlds at times. I am sure there are probably studies on these issues that point all sorts of ways. What I do know, what I do observe, is the mode of transportation isn’t what drives this behavior. It’s us. So it feels a little strange to lay it on a particular vehicle type. For me, I know not all bikers are like that, just like I know not all drivers are and not all pedestrians and so on and so forth. But that attitude does have impacts.

We all have a lot of affinity with drivers because most of us are or have been at some point a driver. I do think that affinity matters. It influences our perspective I live in a city where most people are multimodal when it comes to getting around. That increased modality leads to increased affinity, whether it’s with transit or walking or bike or driving. What I think would be a good exercise is for people to increase that modality. There are going to be people who still make lazy judgments and assessments with no experience. But something I’ve noticed in other areas of my life is what people are most frequently missing is perspective and exposure to different ways of thinking, of being, of doing things. I don’t say this to justify some of the things I observe when biking, or even some of the things I do (like I said, I’m not immune by any means), though, like I said, I think there’s a far broader reason than “it’s a bike”. But I do think it’s an important exercise, and not one that is all that hard. It takes me less time to bike to work than any other means of getting there. It takes me less time to bike to just about anything here in the city. It is the best way for me to get around, the least time consuming, the most flexible. I also live by myself, have no kids, and am able, which invariably affects my perspective on the flexibility of this means of transit. Biking isn’t the right answer for everyone, but it probably is a good answer for a lot more people than just me and the others I see riding around. And even if it isn’t something you end up doing full time? I think you’d be amazed at how you might see your city, your commute, and your fellow travelers differently. Besides, it’s good exercise.

Forget-Me-Not

Perhaps you don’t know, but October 11 is National Coming Out Day. I wasn’t going to say anything (last year’s entry sufficed in my opinion), but I saw something earlier that I felt deserved more words than a few pithy ones with a tweet. Facebook had the following in their Trending section:

Facebook fail 2

Which, hey, cool National Coming Out Day is trending. But…maybe don’t casually erase trans identities in the process of saying that? Not to lay it all on Facebook or anything. This just happened to be an example I saw that got the gears turning. Plenty of people do this all the time. I am not immune myself. I am sure I do it in ways that I don’t necessarily think about, on issues that I lack the same level of sensitivity on. This is just as much a reminder to me on other issues as it is to others on this one. I am not saying whoever puts together the little bullet points for that section set out to do it. Words are finite, and only getting more so as we try to find ways to say as much as possible with fewer and fewer words. I have seen some articles recently about how that affects how we talk, how we reach consensus (or don’t), what effects that as on our word choice, mostly in regard to Twitter, but any time we aim for brevity those sorts of phenomena are potential issues. And it could be that. But in this case, I don’t think it’s really the case because when it comes to trans issues within the LGBT sphere, it’s far more common that they are just forgotten. To be clear, I have no issue with just discussing issues in regards to sexuality. There are plenty of great discussions to be had, and plenty of voices I’d like to hear more from on those issues. Just maybe don’t use LGBT when that’s all you mean. The words we use to discuss issues have an impact. They have meanings. A tacit omission is an omission nonetheless. Because perhaps it was just implied. But that in itself shows how frequently people conflate concepts of gender and sexuality. And to some degree why they are together in this regard. I’ve talked about it before. I am guessing this won’t be the last. But perhaps it wasn’t implied, it was just forgotten. And if you don’t think about that? I think you probably should.

I Wonder

I know that I am a fortunate trans woman in many ways. I get that. I understand that I have plenty of other things going for me. I would like to live in a world where everyone has that experience, and I hope to do my part, whatever that is, to help move in that direction. For me, I think it’s important to acknowledge when I experience privilege just as much as when I don’t, because it helps me critically think about the world in which I live, and the ways I interact with it. While I am trans, because I am white, because I came from a degree of means where I didn’t worry about where my next meal would come from or whether I could do things frequently, because I am college educated, because I have a job, because I have stable housing, because I’ve never really had to consciously worry about many of those things, those are all ways that I experience privilege, and that lens invariably affects how I view everything. Because of many of those advantages that I enjoy, not necessarily because of anything I did, I enjoy greater access.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized there are a lot of layers when talking about trans experiences. Of course no two experiences are alike, but in a general sense, there’s the initial layer that exists of just being able to find those basic things, access to basic services. And that’s something we really need to do a better job with as people. It’s one of the reasons that as the paychecks go up, I try to find ways to put more of that back into a system that gives back, financially trying to direct something towards institutions like the Transgender Law Center or the SF LGBT Center that I know are trying to do good things, that are trying to help with the most basic elements of access, safe housing, jobs, medical service, legal service. That’s why when I see someone trying to raise funds for surgery or basic needs, I try to do what I can. Even if it’s just a little. I want to be able to enjoy life. Beyond that, though? I want to be able to give back. There are lots of ways to give, of course. Being able to help out financially is just one of them, but I feel like I have a responsibility to do that since I am in a fortunate position. It is literally the least I can do, to give back a little out of each paycheck, something that requires very little thought on my part. I wish I had enough so that I could give to everything that I see. I do not. But I am on the side of the divide where I can meet my basic needs, because life has worked out that way, because like I said, I still have a lot of things working in my favor just because of who I am. Everyone should have access to the same things, but I’m not so naïve as to believe that everyone does have access to the same things.

However, there are still challenges when you have a supportive employer, there are still challenges when you have insurance coverage. Because unfortunately, the people checking the boxes, the people on the other end of the phone, the people at the doctors’ offices, they might not be transphobic, per se, but they still stand a good chance of being trans-ignorant. There’s still a good chance that I’m the first trans person a lot of people are interacting with. And it’s an even better bet that they haven’t thought about the impact of something they take for granted (say, the immutability or difficult requirements behind updating certain pieces of information within systems, like sex or gender markers) because of their experience, or lack thereof, with people who are not cis. I constantly pay the price because of a box some doctor checked 33 years ago. I constantly pay the price because I continually encounter people who do not deem me a reliable narrator when it comes to my own story. Every trip to Target results in someone calling me he or him or sir. Every phone call is still stumbling over pronouns and not believing they heard me correctly when I said my name is Jane. I don’t think those people are inherently transphobic in many cases as much as they have not challenged themselves to think about how they experience privilege as cis individuals in society and what assumptions that may lead to. The thing is, those people are still the ones making those decisions frequently, and the lack of diversity informs how they experience the world.

I remember how hard it was to get everything properly covered when I first got hormones. I certainly had the privilege of insurance that said they covered it and the funds to cover my appointments and prescriptions on the front end, something that I am cognizant of. But it was still a fight to get my insurance to cover my doctor’s appointments for quite a long time. They kept telling me to look in-network for my various needs, and I kept telling them their network didn’t address my needs even though their policies supposedly stated they would cover what I sought. Eventually, that all got straightened out, and now it’s a pretty easy process. But I’m always wary. I always know that even though I have the privilege of good coverage, I’m still at the whim of the people who populate that system, of a doctor or a pharmacy that decides they don’t want to cover that. It’s a different fight, certainly, but it’s a fight nonetheless. And it’s still a problem.

This is not to compare problems or say what is worse. Both overt and less obvious forms of discrimination are bad, and I am not interested in rankings because that’s worthless. Well, maybe not worthless, but not what I’m here to do. It’s just to say that even when it looks like as a society we are past something, we aren’t usually. Though I am guessing you probably realize that. If we pass trans-inclusive legislation but it is still enforced by transphobic individuals, or people who aren’t necessarily explicitly so who still end up enforcing and implementing transphobic rules, then how much better is it? Why is the burden on us to have to do so much more? Of course just having access is a barrier, but once inside that system, we still need to find the right people, the ones who fairly enact the rules, the ones who understand them. That is that next layer. Changing the rules doesn’t change the fact that as trans individuals the power is frequently not in our hands when it comes to our needs and care. We are at the whims of employers, doctors, insurance companies, landlords, whoever, really, and though there may be rules against discrimination based on us, there is an energy required to fight that, and that’s not even a fight we are guaranteed to be successful in.

Hopefully some of that gets better for a generation that comes out younger. Hopefully a lot of this will make no sense to them and I’ll just be the old woman complaining about those things the kids just don’t understand because they’ve grown up with better access, and the systems have grown up with them. But it’s also important to remember that it’s just going to take different people different spans of time to figure out who they are. I didn’t have a particularly dysphoric childhood; I knew that something wasn’t quite right, but I think even given a more open environment, it still might have taken me until I was in my late teens. I lacked the vocabulary to articulate to myself who I was for a long time, let along to others. And once I realized that this feeling I was feeling was something, it still never really seemed possible to me. Of course that was informed by external ideas of what it meant to be female. I could also see the social cost, so it took me another decade to come to terms with that and actually be authentic. But I still deal with that social costs every day. I hope that the environment is different in the future and that anyone can explore those thoughts and feelings when they arise. But people are still going to live in environments where they cannot freely explore their gender. Hell, we currently live in an environment where there still is a great cost to exploring gender and transgressing against norms and expectations, whether you are trans or cis.

Even as that gets better, it’s important to remember it is going to take different people different lengths of time to put together who they are. There are going to be trans people who don’t come out later in life just because that is how long it takes them to personally figure out who they are. And that’s okay. But we shouldn’t forget them. Sometimes I wonder if people are more comfortable with the thought of people transitioning younger because it makes them more comfortable to deal with trans people who are less trans, so to speak. Not that I think they are or would be unhappy bring open about being trans, just that they might be more likely to be perceived that way by many. Perception can be more powerful than reality, after all. They don’t have to interrogate how they think of gender if people are more conforming or at least meet the expectations they think others should meet more easily. Would people be more comfortable with me if my voice sounded “more female”, whatever that means? If my shoulders were less broad? If I fit into an idea of what they think a woman should be and didn’t have to challenge their own notions and limited categories of femininity and masculinity? Because I am not unhappy with who I am. I am unhappy with the way I am treated because of who I am, and because of that I spend a lot of time wondering: What if I fit in better, not because I particularly feel unhappy about me but because I am tired of the cost of dealing with other people being awful all the time? Of course, that isn’t addressing the root problem. The problem does not lie within any trans individual. But I think it’s natural to think about if you spend so much time listening to people refer to you on a daily basis as male, if you spend so much of your time being willing to have these conversations and it seems that few people are listening, if you spend so much time being expected to, if you spend so much time seeing very few people say anything to support you in those moments. At a certain point, it’s not living authentically, it’s pain avoidance. I spent so much time living up to certain expectations of who I should be that I don’t want to go back to that. But I am also tired of being totally broken down trying to buy a couple things at Target when someone asks what can I help you with sir, or when the cashier and another customer both agree he was first in reference to me. I try to not spend much time thinking about things like that, I try not to spend much energy on it. By how can I not? It’s rare that I deal with overt discrimination, which is just a function of some of the ways I experience privilege. But I certainly deal with nefarious forms of it all the time. And it’s still always more. The burden is on the trans individual to do more in the eyes of most people, to blend in, to provide more paperwork, to provide an explanation, to provide something to assuage others, something more than other people are asked for in a lot of instances.

There’s a net effect to all of this. Whether it’s the basic struggles or the more subtle ones, I never turn off being trans. I can’t speak to other experiences, but based on what I see and read, I think I’m not the only one who feels that way. Which isn’t to say I am uncomfortable acknowledging I am trans. I’m proud of and happy with who I am. I just wonder sometimes. I wonder what trans people could do if they didn’t have to spend so much of their energy meeting basic needs that shouldn’t be so hard. I wonder what life for trans people would be like if the step up weren’t from outright denial of service to de facto denial of service in most cases. I wonder what else we could accomplish if we didn’t have to spend so much of our time fighting, pushing back, or just wondering whether we should, whether it’s worth it. I wonder what trans people could do if we could just live our lives, if there weren’t gatekeeping hoops that denied or warped so many who wanted access to basic care, if we could just be authentic, free from the concern that we might lose our jobs, our homes, our families, our lives just because of who we are. There’s a psychic and emotional toll that goes along with being on all the time, with thinking those kinds of thoughts. Perhaps you understand it for other reasons, as being trans certainly isn’t the only way to experience it. Perhaps you understand it for many other reasons. Mostly though? I wonder when we’re going to get there. If we’ll ever get there. I don’t like to frame it in that fashion, but if I’m being honest? That’s what crosses my mind. But I don’t wonder for too long usually. Because there’s still so much more to do, and only so much time to do it.

 
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