A New Kind of Sustainability Crisis: Eliminating Minority Stress to Grow and Nurture Truly Sustainable Communities

The following lecture (sorry, this is long, about 7,500 words in several segments) was delivered as the 2016 Elizabeth Lockwood Wheeler Lectureship at Central Michigan University, on Wednesday, April 20, 2016. Thank you so much to Dr. Leah Markel, Eta Sigma Gamma, and the entire CMU Public Health department for the privilege of discussing this topic with you.

What is sustainability and what does it have to do with embracing difference?

Tonight, I want to push you to think about the embracing of difference as not just a social justice issue, but as truly an immensely under-considered public health issue, and an untapped reservoir for public health initiatives that can build better community health, both in the sense of making individual people in communities healthier, but also in the sense of making the community, as a gestalt, healthier.

Multiethnicity

Communities with room for all kinds of faces are better communities (Photo: Fotolia)

I hope that what I can do is not teach you public health, but rather to contextualize your work in this area, and maybe even convince you that your field is important in ways you haven’t thought very much about. Continue reading

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The implicit value equations of feminism

This follow-on piece to the workshops and blogs in which I have previously used the concept of “Queering the Value Equation” (see here and here) was originally intended to be a chapter in the book I am currently working on. The working title for the book changed, and with the change in perspective (funny how that is, one loves changes in perspective), this chapter now really didn’t fit in the book any longer, so here it is, for you, my dear readers. And let it be a slight apology that life events have not made the late winter / early spring conducive to writing, and so this blog has not been updated very often.

Happy students studying

Much like workplaces that include women actually become better workplaces and better performing organizations, can inclusion make feminism better for everybody involved? Source: Fotolia

I have recently given a couple of iterations of a presentation I decided to call Queering the Value Equation. I introduced this idea of a queered value equation in the context of ending discrimination in the workplace against LGBT people, but truly, it applies very well to a conversation about girls and women. In its simplest form, in the business world*, a value equation is a very simple decision making tool. Value is defined as the ratio of what you get, to what you give — high value is getting much and giving little, and low value is getting little and giving much.

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My fundamental “unqueered” value equation argument was that, when companies thought about LGBT inclusion, they understood the benefit to them poorly, and they exaggerated if not fabricated the cost. As a result, they approached inclusion from the perception that it offered very poor value, and even if they were not conscious of it, this caused them to drag along, struggle, and as advocates of inclusion (since they advocated for it, even though they perceived its value to be poor), placed them in a defensive, ineffective posture.

That queered value equation, in the context of the LGBT community, looks a little like this:

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In essence, the only reason that (straight) people were advocating for LGBT inclusion in the workplace was because it made them feel good about themselves, or even more particularly, better about than others. That’s fine and good, but it’s a weak business motivation. They perceived, and very clearly the depiction above is meant to make fun of this, some fairly absurd costs associated with inclusion, most of which circle from wanting to include LGBT people without actually understanding us or appreciating the way we think or act. You could see how this applies to women. Indeed, when women were not in many kinds of American workplaces**, and we began the process of changing this, this value equation seemed much the same. Of course water cooler conversations became awkward — many of them were about objectifying women, and it is certainly more awkward (although this seems to stop no one) to objectify us when we are standing right there. There were increased costs — many offices didn’t even have a women’s room, and certainly, those bins for tampons cost, well, a prohibitive amount. And the fun in work was, sometimes, rooted in the idea of the workplace as a man cave, to which a man went to avoid his wife***, and this would certainly be shattered as well.

A concept, dear readers, I wish to consider, is that this problem occurs not only when patriarchy, men, society, consider women, but it exists inside feminism, too. It is at the root of, say, exclusionary movements inside feminism. There is a perception that the “cost,” for instance, of accepting me as a co-advocate, because I am trans, is too high — you know, my “male privilege” and “male energy” polluting the environment like I’m leaching bisphenol A into the water, etc.**** — and the value, is too low, if even existent. Or there is some strange idea that if feminists were to include sex workers in their ranks, we would somehow have to move our meetings to strip clubs, or, I don’t know what. There is a perception that, if we talk about economic marginalization, “we” distract ourselves from “real” women’s issues. And certainly, there is a perception that we want more “women like us” to be part of the sisterhood, and if we don’t have anything in common with other feminists, we think it should be no fun at all.

In my LGBT inclusion work, I argue that the antidote to this is to — substantially — revise the value equation. I argue that, in fact, there are a host of benefits and hardly any costs to LGBT inclusion in the workforce. And, importantly, I argue that one should do it because it delivers benefits, not because it is the “right” thing to do. This is actually really critical. Oh, I like it when people feel good about themselves because they help me. But I also believe that charity as a model is ephemeral and unsustainable. It lasts through the feast and not the famine. And I really do believe that inclusion is something that works. In this same way, we need an inclusive value equation for feminism.

My queered value equation may actually serves as a good starting point.

With respect to ending sexism, although I focus on girls and women, I do talk about men, too, like my blog, “Sexism is Bad for Men, Too” from 2015. But consider some concrete examples. Quantopian did a study of Fortune 1000 companies between 2002 and 2014. The study, summarized by Forbes Magazine, found that women CEOs outperformed the S&P 500 benchmark by a staggering 226% over eight years. Lest you think we just do well in the “big box” (where I, myself play) Forbes also reported results from a Centre for Entrepreneurs study in 2015. The Centre found that women make better entrepreneurs, too, because they are better at managed risk and self-monitoring. Outside of business, a 2015 Washington Post piece summarizes decades of research that shows that putting more women on the police force reduces police brutality. These, and many others, are “mainstream” benefits — not some medal given out by us as feminists.

And like my queered value equation, if the “I” in the equation is men*****, the result actually improves men. I’m not saying that women are just intrinsically better CEOs, for instance. Rather, the systematic differences in performance in this role that are seen when women hold it are relatively underrepresented, because there are few female CEOs, and men do not particularly have to worry that, say, their board will read the results of these studies and fire them in favor of a woman who will outperform them. Because of this, men are incentivized to act “like men” in this role, as well. Imagine, for instance, a situation in which 50% of Fortune 1000 CEOs were women, instead of the <10% in the article. In that situation, while it is still probably unlikely a man would explicitly be fired because replacing him with a woman would improve company performance******, men would be frequently compared to women, his processes to her processes, and his outcomes to her outcomes, and men would likely be strongly motivated to emulate the winning strategies of women (which are probably not, at least not entirely, immutable characteristics of something like our different cognitive architecture or our hormonal milieu).

Inside feminism, similarly, we need to think about these challenges I’ve been highlighting as signs of inborn error in our value equation. The value equation is not an attempt to commercialize feminism. This is, itself, an important discussion. The authors of the #FemFuture report and others have coined the Non-Profit Industrial Complex (a term that seems to go at least as far back as Ruth Gilmore, Dylan Rodriguez, and others at the initial The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, on my birthday in 2004, more than ten years ago, and before that, goes to a much longer discussion of shadow states and shadow governments. There are important consequences of deferring important, mission critical (if one’s mission is sustainable, ethical society) work to a diffuse network of non-profit organizations relying on donor funding, and, when the state feels like it, grants, much as there are serious consequences for privatizing things like the military, police force, or prison system (not that we’d do that). On the other end, Dan Pelotta, in his 2013 TED Talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong,” argues that nonprofits are hampered from efficacy in many situations because they play by a different set of rules than for-profit entities, limiting their access to capital (from a capitalistic / entrepreneurial standpoint, access to capital is the lifeblood of innovation) and limiting their access to great talent or world-class solutions. Both of these arguments are important arguments*******.

However, economics does not just apply to money. Economics is much more broadly an analysis of the way things work (and the ways they don’t work). The value equation isn’t about money, although that is the way it is usually considered. It’s about decisions you make about whatever you value. A slice of your time. Your energy. Your thoughts. Your voice. Your heart or passion. Rather than making a capitalistic argument, I hope, like me, you value at least some of those other things way more than your money. And the value equation is about decisions you make about whatever demands whatever you value — causes, movements, issues, not just how you spend your cash or where you swipe your credit card or tap to pay.

In this light, the value equation is just an attempt to uncover a process that is already happening, of which we are unaware, but, like gravity (or sexism) affects us anyways********. This makes it much like classic feminist analysis tools, such as inverting a gendered statement about the world and examining our reaction to the statement when applied to men in the way it is to women, and to women in the way it is to men. The more we recognize about our current value equation around inclusive, proud feminism, the more we can understand why we are not achieving it, and what we haven’t been ready to admit we believe. The more we create an inclusive value equation for future feminism, the more we can center ourselves on the benefits feminist movement derives from inclusion, which give us robust, sustainable reasons to improve feminism. And like the effects of ending sexism, itself, on men, I believe and intend to demonstrate that an inclusive feminism actually has more, and not less, to offer all girls and women, including the “bluebloods” among our sisterhood (of whom I may be sometimes a one*********) who are frequently most resistant to inclusion and who (when they are motivated to include) do it from a sense of noblesse oblige and not from a perception that it will make feminism better.

*  There are numerous jokes to be made at this point about men liking to measure things, etc.

**  Certainly, we have always worked, and much more often perhaps still than men, have essentially no vacation, ever. For instance (and I love my Teri very much), where we go on vacation, it’s incumbent on me to… make hotel reservations, pull up directions, find lists of sights to see and present them to Teri, go back and find alternate sights to see because I haven’t found what Teri wants, find restaurants Teri will like, and even in our case, do most of the driving. So, I quip, evenwhen we are on vacation I am working. As I take the week off, at the moment, for writing time for this book, I am still responsible for making the meals, grocery shopping, getting issues with the house addressed, cleaning, and so on and so forth.

*** There is an engineering joke in bad taste, although it really is more making fun of engineers than misogynistic, that goes like this: Why should an engineer always have a mistress? Because his wife will think he’s with his mistress, and his mistress will think he’s with his wife, and he can go in the lab and get some work done.

****  Something you should know about me being trans is that I made the least convincing pretend man, ever, and this I think contributed to why no one was particularly surprised when I came out. Teri and I have a game — I tell him, “I could totally be a guy,” and he laughs in my face.

*****  Which, one quips, it is — that’s kind of the whole thing about patriarchy.

******  One does feel the need to point out that, just weeks before I wrote this, Ellen Pao was forced from her role as CEO for an internet darling, Reddit. In her time there, she was well known both for changing company policy in innovative ways that improve diversity, such as eliminating salary negotiation, as well as for reforming Reddit as a service, by eliminating areas, or subreddits, that were perennially used for sexual harrassment. She stepped down after an epic wave of misogynistic trolling against her. Ironically, after a random feminist post, I did some reading through “The Red Pill” on Reddit… and, well, I’m not going to link it. It’s easy to find. Be forewarned.

*******  By way of disclosure, my employment was in the non-profit sector when I wrote this, although I currently own and operate a small, for-profit consulting firm. The NPO world was new to me — as an engineer, I worked in large for-profit companies, mostly publicly traded — Ford, Visteon, Textron. I’ve spent a significant portion of my adult life at universities, too, though, mostly public (the Universities of Michigan and Florida), but also private (the University of Chicago), which operate according to their own philosophy that is not exactly like cause-based non-profit work nor like for-profit enterprise.

********  And feminism is dedicated to the radical notion that sexism is way more endable and way less a basic reality of the universe, than gravity is.

********* I said sometimes, when I wrote this last Fall. Now I hasten to admit, quite often.

Towards a World Where Every Child Belongs

A few weeks ago, a mom brought her tween son in to the Center without an appointment, to ask about resources. I knew, since I know all my families, that she wasn’t the mom of any of our kids in the ABA clinic, and we weren’t seeing new patients at that day or time, that she wasn’t someone we knew. I caught enough of her facial expression to gently interrupt and offer to help in any way I could. They came back to my office for a chat. Her son told me about his experience being bullied by kids in his school. I spent some time getting to know them, what’s he’s good at, and what he likes. I told him briefly that I had been bullied at his age, too – I don’t talk about it a lot, but when I was in sixth grade, there were these boys who used to gang up on me and hit me. I was too ashamed to complain. My mom ultimately saw bruises, and then she went on the warpath, much as this mom was doing now. If you know me, you know I have an ugly mamma bear side, that doesn’t come out often, but it comes out when someone bullies or threatens our kids, so maybe this is where it came from. So, I supported mom in her warpath – you fight, sister, tooth and nail. I gave them some resources – my friend Anthony Ianni’s Relentless Tour to stop bullying, a toolkit from a national anti-bullying center, and also some resources for places to go to be social with people who won’t bully you or tease you and adults watching over who wouldn’t stand for that – our friends at the local YMCA, I told him about cool things going on like Autcraft. And I wanted him to know that there are people who think autistic kids are cool. We cried a little bit and he gave me a big hug, and to be honest, I haven’t seen him since then, and I don’t know how the story turns out. It seemed like an imposition on my time – there are lots of demands on my time – but it turned out to be a really healing conversation for me, too*. And it’s a good introduction to this topic.

Yeah right, you're going to bully this guy. But back then, when he wasn't 6' 9

Yeah right, you’re going to bully this guy. But back then, when he wasn’t 6′ 9″ and he didn’t know how to stand up for himself, you did.

Teri and I watched this movie last night, After the Dark (it’s on Netflix). It’s about this senior philosophy class, and their last gedanken is that they are in a remote place, and atomic bombs are about to go off, and they have a bunker that can only save ten of them, and they have to decide whom. We really liked it – I gave it five stars on Netflix.

It fit really delightfully with this recent business of using personality inventories for leadership at work (in our management development series, we did a profile called the DiSC – see more in a prior blog post of mine). Elyse kind of went crazy on this, and may possibly have taken it multiple times to get the results she wanted. We had a couple of our newer leaders who hadn’t done the profile do it, and on a profile wheel, she mapped out all of my leadership team, so that we could see how our styles as twelve different people were similar or complementary. It turned out that many of our people were clustered together, and it taught me some important things about their desire for harmony and dislike for open competition (although, apparently not in the context of really long, admittedly slightly dorky board games, but that’s another story that’s apparently happening next month). We talked a little bit also about how we cluster leading to a gap space in our wheel – it turns out that we lack someone who is comfortable as a conductor, and this is true. I bring to the table at least some ability to inspire and motivate, and to give people a really amazing vision, that enables them to achieve explosive growth. Elyse brings to the table uncanny acumen and a brilliantly scientific mind that pushes us to be technically excellent. And a big group of our leaders bring steadiness and harmony – they are critical, because the pace of what we’re trying to accomplish can burn people out without steadiness and harmony. But, when there are things that would go more smoothly if someone just implemented a concrete process and held everyone to it, like schedules and managing our productivity and stuff like that, we honestly kind of struggle. This is a concrete way in which more diversity would help us, even if we also generate strength from what we have in common. Rather than being in conflict, the dynamic balance of the two is what makes us strong**.

One of the barriers in getting to this kind of realization, often, is reticence to accept the idea that people, in their dimensionality, bring both strength and struggle to the table. There are these questions, right, when you interview, and someone asks you what your weakness is? And you’re supposed to say something that sounds loosely like a witness, but which you can spin into a strength, to show that you know how to make lemonade out of lemons. But you can’t say you’re a perfectionist, because everybody says they’re a perfectionist. And, of course, you can’t admit to a weakness from which you don’t know how to benefit, because that’s the way the Bizarro world of interviewing works. One of my biggest weaknesses, which is hardly hidden from anyone, is that I take things personally. When our kids suffer, I cry, I feel it along with them. When an injustice is done to them, I rage. I don’t ask for ownership in the things going on in my life – I take it as a birthright. I’m unapologetic about my weakness – I know that it inspires people to both extremes in their feelings for me. I know that it can make things difficult. It really was also how and why I came to do the things I’ve done in the last few years, when I had the biggest chance in my life to take something personally.

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Like MLK, I argue that a world where your children and mine can play together, side by side, is a better world for your children and mine, for you and me, … for everybody.

After the Dark also took on this topic of weaknesses in an interesting and critical way. I don’t want to spoil the ending, but the kids in the movie are repeatedly pressed to be analytical, to accept that one person can objectively be classified as better than another, and to make choices based only on that kind of holistic and reductionist value judgment. And this goes wrong – terribly wrong. There is something to be said for seeing in our whole strength, our unified personality, that even when we come together, we are not just a collection of strengths, but also a collection of struggles and challenges and weaknesses, and that doesn’t necessarily just make us weak – it is also what makes us beautiful.

In a talk I recently did, I argued that failures in diversity and inclusion often begin with a failed value equation like this one.

In a talk I recently did, I argued that failures in diversity and inclusion often begin with a failed value equation like this one.

I feel like there’s some of this with the model of diversity and inclusion that we have. “We’re” afraid “them,” rather than thinking about how a broader definition of “us” would make us all better. And we set really exclusive ideas of things, and we set them in kids’ minds really early. Another example – I can’t talk a lot, yet, about this project, but I got to spend Friday morning on it, and it’s soooooo cool – I’m collaborating with some people on a  really cool science education project. I was brought in to help with things like sensory sensitivities the autism community may have, and to help make it accessible to a neurodiverse audience. But as it unfolded, I really saw some cool opportunities to be inclusive in so many more ways. For instance, telling the human story of sciences like physics is a great opportunity to critically address the fact that, if you talk about this stuff to a group of early grade schoolers, all the girls will be engaged and raise their hands, but if you talk to the middle schoolers, many of them will already think this is boy stuff and not really participate or identify. They ought to know stories of women like Shirley Jackson or Lise Meitner. Or even the great Marie Curie herself. If they do, they might get to see that doing science like a girl is pretty great, and that if they’re interested in science, they should be able to feel like they belong in science***. And people who are different in the way their brains are wired – well, there is more than a passing interest in the possibility that Einstein was autistic, and he, Feynman, and some of the others even among the most famous of that era, were nothing if not unique. So I’m taking the opportunity to go beyond making this project neurodiverse in the sense of sensory supports, but I’m pushing the team (and they’re being really receptive) to the idea that inclusion starts with how the story is told, and that stories like the one we’re working on can be a powerful vehicle to help make sure that those girls, those ethnic minorities, those autistic kids, those whoever is different for whatever reason – who might make really good scientists, don’t get faulty messaging from a bad value equation that tells them that they don’t belong.

People need to belong not just in professions, or, say, with the diversity of the leaders in my leadership team, in a place in leadership if they want one, but that they also deserve to belong, socially. Back to the young man’s who paid me an unexpected office visit a few weeks ago, the problem is that kids in his school don’t know how much better their life would be if they had an autistic friend. I live in a bubble, especially where I work, where every single person I interact with loves someone autistic. Where every single neurotypical person is aware – my fifty staff, our parents, our kids’ siblings – of the beauty a child with autism has brought to their life. And it’s more than that – some of our graduates, who are older now and in school – are rock stars. So many other kids have found out how cool it is to be their friends. In one case, a boy who was at our Center was in a class with a bully. But the bully didn’t have any friends. And our boy made friends with the bully, and the bully stopped being a bully. That’s the kind of magic I’m talking about. That’s what makes me dream that someday, we’ll all belong, we’ll all be a part of community as a birthright. I dream of a day when every kid has a friend with autism. And a world where everybody, more generally, has a friend who is “different” from them. And like all the people in my life who know and love someone “different,” I think you’ll all love it, when it comes true. Because it will. That’s what I mean by taking things personally.

* This boy wasn’t my patient, but this does also bring in this whole topic of therapeutic sharing – which is primarily for the patient’s benefit but sometimes also benefits the provider. I shared because there is a powerful cloak of invisibility around abuse, and breaking that cloak down helps the victims of things like bullying. In a recent panel discussion, I also, however, made the argument that some, particularly in psychology, of our ethics models and the way we think about multiple relationships with our patients, actually makes things worse instead of better and is ill thought out. As I say later in this piece, I am unapologetic, often, in positions I take, and in my defense, I’m not just saying this now because I’m a full grown clinician and no one can victimize me – I said the same thing during the ethics segment of my board certification oral examination.

** One example of this, I make fun of calls to have a “Straight Pride,” but just as many white people don’t really understand that they have a race like anybody else, I think maybe a future direction for enhancing our understanding of Pride as a celebration is that, when we celebrate nature’s diversity of sexuality and gender, plain old straight people are part of that diversity as well, and as I said in my Sorry, Not Sorry Conversation, one of the problems with the I’m Sorry movement at Pride is that the straight people who are part of it have failed to understand what Pride is about, and they don’t belong because they don’t understand what they’re celebrating. So, increasingly, I think we need to teach them to have pride, too, much like feminism is not about hating men, and anti-racism is not about hating white people. Not a Straight Pride event, but it’s okay to enjoy your identity as heterosexual.

*** When I applied for engineering and physics graduate programs, one of the physicists who wrote a letter of recommendation for me shared that, when she herself had applied to grad school, she had found out after the fact that one of her professors, who had agreed to write her a letter of recommendation, had put, in it, that she, as a woman, had no place in physics. She found out about the letter, thankfully, because it made someone at the university to which she applied livid, and they leaked it to her. And, obviously, she managed to make it to being a professor of physics at Michigan, so she did not half badly for herself. And in case it seems like this is a problem of yesteryear, we have the current inexcusable behavior of a Nobel laureate.

Coolclusion: That Hip, New Thing

This is gentle criticism, and it’s directed at people I love. I’ve had some really interesting experiences exploring the inclusive church space over the past half year. I’m technically a member, or at least I was, of a certain large Protestant church that is thick as thieves here in West Michigan. I became a member in my 20s, in Ann Arbor, when I was an engineer, after going there through most of college. It was my church home altogether for most of ten years. I left for two reasons. The proximal one was that I was in the process of shipping off to Gainesville, FL, to do my doctoral studies. Of course, the sensible thing to do would have been to re-establish my churchgoing in Gainesville, but I want to be honest and admit I did not do this. The distal, truer, and less public reason, had to do with the fact that, at that time, I knew who and what I was, and I accepted it conceptually, but I was not anywhere near brave enough to do anything about it, and I wasn’t really ready to know how to love myself, either (anorexia, ironically, had already begun to lead me towards knowing how to love myself, but this was early in my disordered eating days yet). I felt a very strong sense in that church of the message from God that no one had the right to separate me from the divine. It almost was like a vision* that came to me, once, actually, when I was late and snuck into the choir balcony, and it was a stern rebuke, not a gentle reassurance. But I had become increasingly convinced, even though at that time, I really was just beginning to understand consciously the issues surrounding LGBTQIA+ inclusion, that this simple message received only lip service, and certainly was not the model of religious fellowship I saw around me, most of the time.

What I saw around me were generally more-or-less good people, with everyday problems (I went to Sunday school with a fellow Ford engineer’s wife, who complained about him “having” to buy Ford cars, which struck me as… disingenuous). I also saw, frequently, that they used the perception of sin as a means to bully each other and achieve submission. The most glaring time I saw this was a newlywed fellow graduate student (whom I legitimately liked) trying to convince me that, even if had not had extra-marital sex, I was an adulterer because I thought about it. These kinds of messages were always externally directed – one got these sermonettes about whatever the “preacher” didn’t personally suffer from, but figured other people probably did, and so they could be cowed by being confronted with it and thereby amplify pre-existing guilt. This is really not the life Christ wanted us to live, and I didn’t (and don’t) pretend to be any kind of saint, but I knew it. So I know it is not my place to bargain with the divine, but I simply told God that I needed to be in placed where people were in need, and I could be of service to them, and to places where I heard the divine voice, and particularly, that, at the time, church sadly was not that place. I also agreed to accept contradictory marching orders – whenever God wanted me in church, to church I would go, without question, but that I would look for divinity my own way until then. I had this negotiation in my own heart, although I transparently told as much to the one or two people who asked about it. For what it’s worth, I do know people kicked out of this church for being what I am (in the sense of my gender identity and my sexual orientation). Although they’ve started taking recent positive steps, my understanding is that I would probably not be welcome as a member, now.

I know it’s just the right size and it has a nice feel to it in your hand, and it swings nicely, but for the love of God, please stop thinking that the correct use of this thing is to hit people over the head with it

I didn’t feel that draw back to church until just the last few years (I went about ten years rarely going to church). Then, I started feeling the tug. I went to Catholic Church. Well, I was dating a Catholic. It wasn’t bad. The priests freestyle over the beat break in the Lord’s Prayer, which I find mildly unnecessary and disturbing (one of my favorite Bible verses is from Quoholeth, “God is in heaven, and you are on earth, so let your words be few.”) In this particular case, they also preach entirely too often on the state of their retirement accounts (and not the kind in heaven). Anyways. I actually kind of liked it, altogether. Since I am not Catholic, I extended my decade of not taking communion, and whereas Catholics do this all the time (which is not what Christ asked for), Protestants do not, and so even with intermittent trips by myself to my home denomination, I continued to do without communion.

If you’re not these guys, you do not get to freestyle over the beat break in anything, let alone the Lord’s Prayer

When she and I split up, I started attending a Universalist-Unitarian church. They’re hokey. But a well-rooted hokey – four of the first six presidents were part of this church. Harvard and Tufts are their seminaries. They’re nice, and they even did a transgender inclusion workshop. They’re not particularly interested in scripture, and they take a very hands off approach to developing right-mindedness, and it didn’t ultimately work out for me, but I like them. Now I’m at a United Church of Christ, and I like this so far. What I have to say goes to both of them, and to many other spaces.

Inclusion doesn’t have to be awkward. I’m advocating for “coolclusion.” A wonderful gentleman introducing himself to my girlfriend and me at one of these churches said, “Well, you’re certainly a different couple, but we’re glad to have you here, and all really are welcome.” He was genuinely trying to be friendly and inclusive. I’m not mad at him, and I feel welcome there. Coolclusion is the gentle reminder that “Cool! It’s nice to meet you, and I’m glad you’re here” works just as well. Coolclusion also advocates that one generally needn’t show ally cred by doing any more than being friendly. One needn’t tell me, “Oh! My niece is a lesbian” as if this will prove one accepts my relationship. One needn’t stare at me and grin until I break down and explain why I might look a little different from other women (which, it turns out, is more often because they don’t know many Indians, and although my blood seems to go all the way back to the migration from Persia, I don’t really look like other Indians anyways). Actually, the point is totally applicable to ethnic inclusivity and many other kinds of inclusivity that have nothing to do with LGBTQIA+.

The truth is, before I went to this newest church for the first time, I had sat by a retired pastor of the church in which I was originally a member. I don’t know how well I “passed” that night, but his vision wasn’t so great, which takes the heat off! Anyway, he treated me like any other young lady (don’t even start with me, I still pass for a young lady in some crowds!). We talked about his daughter, about art and music, about early autism interventions and the value in giving young people all the chances we can, about the vicious cycle of poverty, and about economic development being a key to helping the underprivileged lift themselves out of the cycle. He introduced me to his best friend, and briefly to their wives, who were in the row behind. It was a lovely conversation, and I just want to emphasize that I felt absolutely included without a single moment spent affirming my LGBTQIA+ status or anything else that marks me as different. It didn’t even need a rainbow flag. I did send his daughter (whom I’ve never met) a note on Facebook, just to let her know how great her daddy is.

I have to admit I’m dealing with a lot of my own insecurity, too, and this layers into it. I feel like a hot mess many times even when I look my best. I think in my head that people compliment my appearance, my choice of accessories and sense of style, because they feel sorry for me, and not because there’s anything to compliment. I know. I’m working on this. I know it’s absurd – I got compliments on my style and accessories as a presumptive man, and even with the stress of trying to drape a body that’s just been freed of testosterone two months ago, I do kind of know I know how to do accessories. So I’ll try to be less of a bottomless pit of low self-esteem.

In the meantime, in general, I’m advocating for a more laid back, less-is-more kind of inclusion. If you want to include me, please have a conversation with me and talk about whatever we talk about. Please don’t think that you are not inclusive until you interrupt a conversation about something I find really interesting (autism, healthcare reform, politics, farm-to-table, Dig Dug, Coach purses, etc) or whatever you find really interesting (please don’t let it be NASCAR, please don’t let it be NASCAR) to steer the conversation to my ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. If you get to know me, as you’ve seen in this blog, I’ll happily talk about those things. And if and when you need help knowing how to fit into an environment you’re not used to and not screw it up, I’ll help if I can (because, god, I’ve had to rock being that only girl in a miniskirt at the party before!). And I’ll just say, “use she and her” if I need to (it’s actually only people who know me and are trying too hard, who offer me options I am unlikely to want, like gender neutral pronouns, again, I know they mean well), because I know you have no idea what I mean when I say I “prefer” female pronouns, because, honestly, less is more on our side too, and I’m also not sure why I use this clumsy language.

Slackware. It’s not just for Linux anymore. Look, the girl made a geek joke! Now sudo make me a sandwich, and stop staring at me! 

Just be cool, dude. And I’ll try to be cool and not-a-dude**. We’ll all be fine.

* We’ll have to see if it’s prophetic, also. The only prophetic dream I ever had involved dreaming there were storm clouds raining inside the optics lab I was working in. I told my fellow grad student about it, and then we went out to lunch. When we got back, the receptionist noted the funny pouring sound coming from our lab. A pipe had burst and it was raining all over the setup. I think it did $35,000 in damages. I don’t know if my utter failure to do anything useful with the prophetic dream got me cut off, if or if this is one of those things where one gets a second chance!

** Also I pledge not to use terms like “hip,” “cool,” or “dude” for at least one or two next blog posts.