On three different occasions in my life, I have been homeless and on at least five occasions, I’ve tried to kill myself. For reasons that are obvious, I’m not going to describe the method I employed and why this method allowed me to experiment in the way that I did, but I will tell you that what saved me in each of those attempts was my own mind, and not a failure of the method itself. To this day, I am terrified by the power of that knowledge.
I did find some small success as an actor. I taught improvisation and stage combat to other actors. I served as the Director of Operations for The Actors Center of Philadelphia. I had poems published and my essays were often lauded by friends. I started and ran two improv comedy troupes and I spent two years as a guest host on QVC, representing the Memorex line of consumer electronics.
While acting and writing have both served as catharses for me, I never felt confident enough in either of those skills to make them a career. So, I taught myself to code websites. It sounds so coy to say I taught myself. It took me years. It cost me relationships. I was lucky to have support from friends and family. I had access to the internet. I had access to the infinite tomes of information freely provided by generous authors and experts in technology. I am now a senior software engineer and a respected member of a unique and gifted team of experienced engineers and developers.
I’m now 40 years old. Only 18 short months ago, I finally unveiled my authentic self to the world. I have benefited from many privileges in my life. Passing is not one of them. I suppose that with enough plastic surgery, I could improve my chances as passing. Even if I did, however, I would still live my life authentically. I would still be out, bold, loud, and proud. I would still be visible. I never imagined that visibility would be so important to me. For years, I dreamt of stealth. I imagined transitioning and moving far away from anybody who knew me during those false and frivolous years.
In July of this year, I was asked to speak at Yahoo as part of a panel on visibility. It was a transformative and empowering experience. It occurred to me that it might be important for me to live visibly. It might be important that I share my story. It might be important that you know I’m not a software engineer because I went to an Ivy League college, but because I got lucky when I needed to.
Certainly some hard work played a role in every success I’ve had, but so did the privilege of appearing to be a white, cisgender male. I am still the recipient of privilege for being white. I wish it wasn’t so, but since it is, I use every opportunity I can to leverage my success for those who do not benefit from such an arbitrary thing. I volunteer my time teaching programming to others in our community because I owe so much to the technology community for all they have given me; I owe the LGBT community for accepting me and making space for me; I owe all my lovely and talented thespian friends for their support, their knowledge, and they love.
To listen to the entire panel discussion visit this link.
I am visible because I’m authentic.
I am visible because you are not alone.
I am visible because I am not ashamed.
I am visible because I can be and because it might make it safer for you.