Month: March 2020

Goal-oriented brain

March 13, 2020 Coding No comments

Claire Novotny - head shot

Goal-oriented brain

Originally posted at Medium on March 12th

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot more personal content that is more in alignment with my authentic self. Writing technical content is easy for me – I try to explain my understanding of “The Thing” in a way that’s approachable. I guess writing about non-technical things is somewhat similar, putting words to paper that represent my thoughts. We all have an internal monologue, a narrative that lives within our own head. Mostly, we keep that to ourselves.

It’s interesting how our internal narrative drives our results. For example, I used to be terrified of needles. When I was a kid, they had to hold me down. I used to run away, out of the doctor’s office when it was time for a shot. Now, as an adult, I’ve learned how to give myself an injection, and I self-administer weekly.

Hi, I’m Claire, and I’m transgender. I’m right in the middle of the most difficult part of transitioning, where I’m working on figuring myself out, where things aren’t yet where they’ll end up, where I don’t yet see myself in the mirror, and where my goal-oriented brain has been working overtime on sorting it all out. I wrote this post about living authentically because the weight of secrets is overbearing and it’s joyful to get it off my shoulders and just be me. It’s liberating to just be, but it’s also sometimes terrifying when my brain goes down the path of wondering if I’ll pass, if people will see through me. Outwardly, people so far have been quite kind and supportive, but then my imposter syndrome kicks in and wonders how much of what they’ve said is true.

Over the past months, since things snapped for me last April, I’ve been trying to figure out a timeline. Everyone’s transition is different and there’s no set path, no playbook to follow. For me, my biggest source of dysphoria is my facial/body hair, followed by voice and physical form. I fear that my appearance betrays my inner being and I didn’t feel comfortable going out in public until I could make significant progress in these areas.

After researching and gathering as much data as I could (and there’s very little hard data in this area, mostly tons of anecdotal data), I decided to tackle hair and hormones first, as they would take a lot of lead time. There’s a place in Dallas, Electrology 3000, that is the best for hair removal because they’ll use multiple techs for full days (at the same time), and they use lidocaine injections to minimize the pain. It’ll probably take 10 or 12 clearings to remove most of my facial hair, and you need 6-7 weeks between clearings due to hair growth cycles. For the most part, this has gone as expected: I fly to Dallas, sit in a dental chair, and get poked for hours on end. It’s difficult, though, as it adds a lot of travel into my already busy schedule. At the time of this post, I’ve completed six clearings so far, and I hope to be done sometime over the summer. Hair is hard, as it took until the fifth clearing for my beard shadow to go away. Every time I look in the mirror or feel my face, I feel reminders that my body betrays me.

Hormones were easier because New York is an informed-consent state. There is not much to do but go to the endocrinologist where I receive estrogen and a testosterone blocker. I chose injectable forms of each, as a weekly estrogen dose was more appealing to me than taking a daily pill. For the testosterone blocker, I went for a monthly injection, Lupron, as it seemed to have the fewest side effects and is very effective. Most of the changes from hormones take six months to a year to become apparent, so it’s mostly a waiting game. Certainly some areas have developed and seeing that is reassuring. I do recall quite vividly, that the day I was taught how to properly, and safely, give myself injections, I felt like I’d learned a secret knowledge—something not known to large parts of the population who have never needed to administer injections. It was a weird feeling.

With hair and hormones underway, there wasn’t much else to do for a while; I just buttoned up the mask called a shirt and went on with things. In October, I started with a speech therapist, helping me raise my default speaking pitch and change my resonance and intonation to sound more feminine. I was scared to death of needing voice surgery and have been able to avoid it with practice instead. I have a long way to go, and as any singer knows (I am not a singer), your voice is an instrument and it’s all about practice.

Bootstrapping clothing was also hard. Without any women’s clothing of my own, I didn’t feel like I belonged in the women’s section, particularly in the fitting room. With the support of my best friend from high school, we went to Target and I made it to the dressing room to get a few basic items. Subsequent trips have been easier as I was able to shop as myself and I felt much more like I belong there.

These are some of the things I’ve been processing. It's been hard. It's been confusing. It's been freeing. It's been exhausting. While I don't have all the answers, I am navigating these changes as best I can. If you see me at a conference or event and want to chat about it, please feel free to approach me to respectfully discuss some of the themes I’ve been writing about lately.

Humans are Hard

March 4, 2020 Coding 2 comments

Humans are Hard

Originally posted at Medium on Feb 27th

As long as I can remember, I’ve been working on figuring other people out. I am data-driven — observing, gathering information, then anticipating possible outcomes, is my thing. Needless to say, I love preparation and not just professionally. This extends to nearly every aspect of my life, but I am not always successful at being fully prepared. My mind’s proclivity for hyper-analyzing and overthinking in an attempt to avoid making mistakes is my mind’s way of trying to bring order to chaos, to borrow a phrase from Star Trek’s Borg Queen.

I hesitate whenever I am not certain that my response is perfect in any given scenario. This self-doubt seems surmountable only when enough data has been processed but even that can lead toward blind spots remaining… blind. For example, at work recently, I was into a deep email thread with some very smart folks discussing ways to address an issue. I read every response, trying to think of something intelligent to contribute. Later, I responded to a smaller group in a sub-fork that elicited a response from my boss — just a single question mark — which prompted me to further elaborate before realizing I had been too “in the weeds” and missed the point of the original thread — a blind spot.

It’s hard to accept the imperfections that make us human. In order to see the blind spots, we have to shine a light on them, consider them, and move forward with that new information, adapting and growing. Easily recognizing the blind spots might be more intuitive and natural to others but for me, it is part of my data-gathering personality as I seek to know who I am and accept the results the data gives me or adapt if needed.

Focusing too deep on the wrong thing — the blind spot — and realizing it once it’s too late happens far too often and it makes me feel bad, reinforcing my overthinking the next time. This makes me hesitate even more, questioning if I’ve stopped my data-gathering too soon, letting my insecurities filter information out. I want to embrace the best parts of me while strengthening my weaknesses. What if I am filtering out information I need in order to know myself better?

Recently, I was in Marrakech, Morocco with a friend. One night we went out to a high-end Moroccan restaurant that had belly dancers. One of the performers pulled me up to dance with her and I was momentarily terrified. I wanted to dance but there were people looking at me. I didn’t know how to move standing next to a professional belly dancer — I was fumbling around, clumsily moving my arms and waist. But I stuck with it, forcing myself into the discomfort zone and I danced. I wasn’t graceful and I can only imagine what the audience witnessed! Haha! I was certainly uncomfortable, wishing I looked less foolish and more impressive. This is the recurring theme for me: being uncomfortable, feeling like I don’t know what I’m doing or supposed to do, and pushing forward to do it anyway. I am unpleasantly aware that this discomfort is where growth can happen. I have been working with a therapist for a while now who has helped me to understand, interpret, and make sense of my life. I can say without a doubt I am not the same person I once was. In order to grow, we must learn from our journey. At the end of the day, I guess we are all a work in progress. My hope is that reflecting on who I am leads me to better understand and accept myself.

I don’t love talking about myself. The battle that ensues with my imposter syndrome only reinforces my penchant to overthink, overanalyze, and underestimate myself. But there are reminders along the way that just like each of you, my story has value. So, even if somewhat reluctant to do so, I will continue to tell my story, pushing myself out of my comfort zone into the spaces that allow me to grow and to accept... me.

Humans really are hard but then, we are all human, right? To me, this means offering myself at least the same grace I would offer others. Doing so helps increase my self-awareness to make me a better leader, a better collaborator, a better communicator.