Identity Vectors

4 minute read Published: 2020-09-27

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been at Microsoft for almost a year now — and that I came down with COVID-19 six and a half months ago. When I look back at the tumultuous political landscape that is 2020, these two events will doubtless color my memories of this year in ways that I can not yet really understand.

Eighteen months ago, in the summer of 2019, I doubted whether I would ever work in the tech industry again.

Eighteen months ago, I was in the best shape I’d been in ever since a fateful tick bite I got while backpacking Germany in 2001. This led to a rapid decline in my health over the coming years, which I spent in and out of hospitals, and eventually doctors reached a determination that I was infected with a trifecta of bacteria – Babesia, Ehrlichia, and Borrelia. A decade later, I put that all behind me and swore to maintain better health and be more cautious outdoors. By 2015 I was fit, if not athletic, running 5k’s and even hiking small mountains now and then.

The summer months of 2019 saw me doing a little off-roading, move across town to save on rent, camp at a regional burn (Critical Northwest), build one of the most intense camps at the big burn (Suspended Animation), and then go to DefCon!

Take it easy during my sabbatical? Nah, not me! If something is worth doing, I commit to doing it completely.

Thinking back, it’s a stark contrast to today: it’s hard to walk even a quarter mile before my heart pounds and I start gasping for air, reaching for an albuterol inhaler. COVID-19 has knocked me down, but not out of the fight. With help from several friends, I bought a house and moved into it, though “settling in” will likely take me many months as I don’t have the stamina to do much each day. I’ve also been diving in to new projects at Microsoft, working within the Confidential Computing Consortium and the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, and keeping very busy within our product teams.

I’ve been loving the challenge of wearing a Program Manager hat, supporting our engineering teams in ways that I struggled to do when I was a Master Engineer at HPCloud. And, to my surprise, I’m embracing the opportunity to bring myself more authentically to work in ways that I have not been able to since I left Hydra Media in 2007.

“more authentically” …. This is an odd phrase, worth pondering for a moment.

It implies there is a spectrum of authenticity, and that at some times we can be more or less authentic than at other times. It also seems to imply, at least in my usage of it, some judgement that one state might be better than the other. Authenticity might be measured in the number of masks we wear in a given social environment, or the distance between how we present from one moment to the next, the difference between our workself and our homeself, our innerself and one of many outerselves that we share in the different circumstances of our ever-changing lives.

When I say “distance” here, I imagine a vector-space of infinite identities comprised of all possible lived experiences, whether through different bodies, or in different cultures, speaking different languages, with different socio-economic privilege, in different religions … and how this affects all the infinite ways of being seen by our fellow humans and existing in their contexts. Because how others see us is separable from how we see ourselves.

To be human is to be seen as human, even if we are the only one seeing inside ourselves.

Identity exists like the sea shore, a constantly shifting border between our inner senses and our best guess of how others perceive us. The ocean waves will never know what it is to be dry land; they can only identify with it through the pressure, the solidity, with which the beach pushes back against the oncoming tide.

And so I find myself, on a Sunday afternoon, sun streaming into my bedroom along with the distant scent of pine trees and the pacific ocean, writing this post and rehearsing a talk titled Crossing The Gender Divide, simultaneously inspired and terrified that Microsoft has given me a platform to talk about my transition, my experience of identity, and the path by which I learned to see (some more of) my own biases.

I’ll be delivering it tomorrow. The invite has gone out from several CVPs… to something like 10,000 different calendars. This is the largest audience I’ve ever spoken to. It is also, perhaps, the most important topic I’ve ever spoken on.

And I love it.