In February 2016, I was invited back to the Lesbians Who Tech San Francisco Summit.
The summit invited me to speak about the subject of fear. This would be my first time ever in front of an audience of over 1000 people. The irony (or perfection) was inescapable.
Many of us in tech who are LGBTQ or women have intimate experience with fear. It ranges from fear of technical failure to fear of harassment and much more.
In distinctive ways, “fear” has shaped my personal experience.
In 2011, I sat at my desk at AT&T. I was scrolling through the AT&T online document library. I don’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but it was something routine starting with a “T.”
While going through the documents, there was an entry that caught my attention — AT&T Transgender Guidelines. The 19-page document laid out how an employee transitions on the job, including the routine steps to change their name and gender.
I had been presenting as a woman everywhere except at the office for five years. It changed my life, but out of fear I had waited for this possibility to come to me.
Five years later, I still worry about my place in the technology world. I worry about my ability to move and live in the world at large.
There are countless forms of exclusion, rejection and danger unique to transgender people. I have been treated in demeaning ways as a woman, harassed and accosted for being transgender, and now see myself being written out of society by new laws in some states.
Being mostly successful at “passing” as female relieves some of that constant fear, but it comes at the cost of dignity. I worked hard to exit the box of male conformity – only to land in another box. And by becoming invisible I would lose the opportunity to promote awareness and change. I wanted to create that change and knew that I could.
Have you heard of “fighting through fear” or “silencing fear?” These strategies are common. They reveal that our usual approach puts us in battle with fear, implying that it is something to be conquered.
I had learned of a new way to relate to fear. Fear has become my companion and no longer a constant obstacle. I see the fears that serve me and those that don’t. This informs me where to push for change in the world. And it allows me to reclaim my energy from the fruitless battles and empower me to take the stage at Lesbians Who Tech to share what I had learned:
- Acknowledge your significance. Know that you are bigger than a pile of feelings. You are dreams and principles. Feelings, such as fear, as big and messy as they may be, are just the measure of a fully lived life that meets real world issues.
- See that there are different kinds of fear. Look deeply and tease apart the fears. Some are immediate and there to save your life from danger. Others are messy and may come with anxiety. They may appear long before and linger long after anything even happens. They might be connected with relationships, or upbringing, or cultural values you were taught. See and feel how they are different.
- Find where the messy, non-lifesaving fears come from. Trace those fears back to the situations that created them. Recognize the stories you crafted in your childhood or adult mind that sought to prevent those situations from ever happening again. Is this a childhood strategy to avoid shame or ridicule that still plays out today? There are usually powerful stories, dictated to you by your world, and retold over a lifetime by your fears. And they are in your way today.
- Give those stories some love. Each story did what it had to do to get you through a situation. But they are just stories. Rather than fight them, honor them, thank them, forgive them and ask them to step aside to make room for new stories with which to guide your life.
- Make the new stories yours.
I’m proud to be part of AT&T’s diverse and inclusive family. AT&T not only supports my journey, but embraces me for who I am. Our tradition of inclusiveness is one that every employee is honored to carry forth.
To learn more about AT&T’s longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion, please click here to access the recently released Diversity & Inclusion Annual Report.
To learn more about the AT&T Live Proud campaign that celebrates awareness, empowerment and pride for the LGBT community, please click here.