Threshold

The first time I injected myself with estrogen, a wave of calm washed over me within 20 minutes. I was driving to the UPS store to drop off a package, and I had to pull over into a parking lot half way there, because I thought I was going to pass out from the feeling of joy. For my entire adult life, my brain had been flooded with a hormone that made it think and feel in ways it was not built to. It was immersed in what, for me, is a poison. Estrogen broke upon the shore of my consciousness like an orgasmic tsunami of encapsulated patience and joy. There is no way to describe the feeling other than being able to drink a cold glass of water after crossing the hottest desert you can imagine surviving – for four decades. The person who injected herself with estrogen that day had no idea what the future held, but she was no longer afraid.

Five minutes after I jumped

Who I am is deeply connected to September 11, 2001. The image of those people jumping out of that building. They were trapped between something so terrifying they had to jump, and the terror of the hopeless jump itself. I lost 140 pounds not very long after that, because I realized that I had been given a gift, and I couldn’t waste it hating myself. After I lost the weight, I remember a very specific time, on the corner of two streets in my trailer park, standing there thinking, “if you can do that, you can be a woman.” Then, the terror of the two places I was trapped between forced a decision. I stayed in the burning building for fear of the jump. I stayed there for 20 more years.

Last week, when I saw those people at the Kabul airport, so terrified of something that they would cling to the side of a C17, knowing it would go to 40,000 feet and there was no way they could survive, still desperate to escape the terror. And then falling to their death, I thought again about September 11, and of jumping off that building. I’ve jumped, and I’m still in mid-air. I’m sure the ground is rapidly approaching. The terror of free-fall trapped me in a reality where I was forced to lie to myself and others, or risk losing everything. I chose to lie. Now that I’m being honest, no one believes me, I can see it in their eyes as they pity this confused soul and strain to… deign to, call it ‘her’.

Requiem For My Former Self

I need to honor Nicholas Spencer Roy. Although I’ve said I don’t like or believe in the othering of the self that happens a lot with trans people when they talk about their lives before transition, I think there is a degree of truth to this. I still feel like me, and you can still see a lot of what I used to look like in my face and body, but it’s rapidly fading. I definitely look like a woman version of myself now. After FFS, that will only become more pronounced. So, I want to say that the man named Nicholas Roy, Nick, was a good, kind, strong, compassionate person. He loved deeply, cared greatly for those he loved. His strength to endure through a world that didn’t know he carried me inside was impressive. Although I caused him pain, I think I also brought him kindness, sweetness, glimmers of beauty. Nick and I needed each other. He’s still here, but now he gets to rest. I love him, I will always love him.

(Originally posted on social media May 16, 2021)

Is There Anybody Out There?

What do you see when you look in the mirror?

I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I can tell you what it’s like for me.

In 1991, when I was thirteen years old, I had my first severe dissociative episode. I was looking in the bathroom mirror in my parents’ house, and I realized that I did not recognize the person in the mirror as me. I had seen this reflection my entire life, but this time was different. Imagine looking in the mirror and quite literally seeing someone who is not you, looking back at you. That is the plot of a horror movie. I got closer and closer to the mirror, staring deeply into my own eyes, letting my facial features blur. The only thing I could recognize in the image, were my eyes. I started to feel dizzy. I started to get very “meta” in my thoughts. I thought, “If that’s not me, who am I? Maybe I’m not really here. I don’t really exist.”

This was the first time I remember having facial dysphoria. The result of this episode was that I felt like I was “outside my body” for the entire rest of the day. It was extremely disturbing. After that, puberty started to kick in to high gear. I became increasingly depressed. I tried to avoid shaving for a long time, because I heard that if you shaved, you’d make the hair grow in faster. Then one day, a classmate of mine told me that I “missed a spot” and pointed at a patch on my cheek. I was distraught. I started shaving the next day. It got worse from there.

I hadn’t had the life experience to understand what was making me upset. I thought everyone just dissociated when they looked in mirrors. After a while, my brain formed a cyst around this thought process, in order to protect me. I stopped having dysphoric and dissociative episodes from looking in mirrors. Instead, I was just depressed all the time. I started eating Kraft Macaroni and Cheese by the box, frozen pepperoni pizzas whole in one sitting, frozen dutch apple pies. I hated my body so much, but I did not understand why. The facial padding that weighing 300 pounds gave me hid my prominent brow ridge, wide-set jaw and enlarged trachea. It made my cheeks puffy and baby-like. The weight also gave me breasts. I didn’t realize that I liked these things. What I hated was what the weight did to the the rest of my body, my health, my prospects of joy or life in the future.

When I decided to lose this weight, I made it happen quickly. When I am motivated, I do things very rapidly. I lost 140 pounds in nine months. As the weight came off, I felt joy and vigor at being able to do increasing levels of activity that I had not been able to do in years. Unfortunately, my sharp facial features emerged, and I started to have to build up that cyst around them in some other way. I internalized the self-hatred and channeled it into things like my career, bettering myself constantly, always striving for a better skillset, a better job. I rewarded myself with a better outward appearance, in the form of a series of increasingly fancy cars. The cars were the projection of a desire to look attractive in a way that I could not. I’d buy a new one every year. This was not healthy, even if I was starting to become more physically healthy and seem more mentally healthy.

I was a genuinely more happy person, and I thought I had “fixed myself,” all the while continuing to ignore the parts of myself that I had encysted. They went far beyond my own image in a mirror or a photo, but I’ll save these other things for discussion at a later date. In any case, I tried to live as a man. I tried for 30 years. And then, one day, I gave up. Like a meteor impacting the earth and wiping out the dinosaurs, a series of mental self-revelations careened into the stream of my life and blew away the outer shell of “Nicholas Spencer Roy.” As I started to do things to align myself with this deeply-ingrained gender identity that is different from my assigned gender at birth, the cysts started to dissolve, and all these behaviors, fears, images, reactions and thoughts came to the surface. One of the most painful turned out to be about my face. I hated, have always hated, and will always hate the prominent brow ridge, hooded orbits, wide and angular jaw, and Adam’s apple. So, I have to do something about them.

It turns out that changing these things will be expensive, but not anywhere nearly as expensive as I had feared. It’s achievable, and so I will do it. You may wonder why I would subject myself to the physical pain of this procedure, which will be significant. I can only tell you that the pain of the procedure is slight, compared to the pain of looking in the mirror. The harder, and easily the hardest part for me, is what this will do to those I love. I hope that the love you see in my slightly different face makes up for that.

Letter to My Dad

Dear Dad,

I think of you every day and miss you so much. So many people have told me how much you meant to them. You made an enormous difference in so many people’s journeys. This week, in particular, as I thought about what would have been your 73rd birthday, I thought a lot about how badly I wish I could tell you about my own journey. I’ve thought about how to tell you this, and if you were still here, I would probably just call you on the phone and tell you, but I can’t do that now. So, I will just say:

I am transgender.

During your lifetime, I had thoughts that this might be the case, but I could not connect them to any kind of reality that made any sense. I remember daydreaming of being a girl as early as age seven. As I got older, I became angry at myself and the unfairness of a universe that had doomed me to be a boy and to become a man. These thoughts were not frequent or all-consuming, but rather, background noise that was easily dismissed as impulsive and not real or realistic.

When I lost a lot of weight in 2004, that was about being transgender. The thing that caused me to gain all that weight in the first place was a hatred of my own body, and a desire to hide from the world and keep people at arms’ length. When I finally rejected that attitude as unsustainable and lost the weight, I struggled with rationalizing why I was doing it. I told myself it was because I wanted to live – not to die at a young age from complications from obesity. However, once I had lost the weight, I remember thinking, “You lost all that weight, you can do anything you set your mind to. You can become a woman.” Immediately, I labeled that goal as unrealistic and that thought as dangerous and transient and dismissed them. I did not give another thought to these things until a couple years ago.

In mid-2018, I was out on a run. Running seems to be when I let my guard down and ideas are free to present themselves to me seemingly out of nowhere. On that particular day, as with so many others here in Colorado, the sun was shining, the weather was beautiful and warm. I remember seeing a woman out on her run, and she sort of resembled me. I thought, “You can look like that. Wouldn’t it be nice to be the person you haven’t allowed yourself to imagine?” Again, I dismissed this almost immediately as a spurious notion.

Then, you got sick and I forgot all about the box of puzzle pieces my brain kept trying to assemble for me. For eighteen months, I became more and more depressed. Then, the pandemic hit. Thank goodness you didn’t have to experience the pandemic. While your extensive experience with and passion for online teaching would have served you well in this environment (your online lecture material is still being used to teach your courses, still with record enrollments!) I think you probably would have been driven mad by not being able to go to restaurants, movies, the bookstore, etc.

Shortly after the start of the pandemic, I had decided that this thing was going to be with us for a long time, and I needed to get outside and get exercise, or I would also go nuts. I started running on the trails near our house, with a mask on. Something about the “social distancing” (a terrible Newspeak term) environment – masks, standing at least six feet apart in line, staying inside much of the time, felt liberating to me. It was liberating in the ways I imagine it is for many introverts like me. But, beyond that, there was something else. On the run, with a mask over my face, no one could tell I wasn’t a woman. Obviously that’s not true, but for some reason, this was the first sign to me that I had facial dysphoria. I decided that running was a safe place to start to come out as trans. I bought some women’s running clothes. Nothing too obvious or over the top. Nothing too colorful. It was still cold out in March, so I bought insulated leggings. I loved running in them- they kept my thighs from rubbing together and chafing, and were nice and warm.

Things progressed from there. I had to tell people. In May, I told Jill, Mom and Megan that I was non-binary, and they all took that quite well. And, it was the truth. I am not totally a woman and not totally a man. That’s what being non-binary is. I was emboldened by their support at that point, and continued to explore my gender more freely. I started buying more kinds of women’s clothes, trying them on when Jill wasn’t around, because I didn’t want to shock her. I had the biggest smile on my face the day I tried on a women’s button-down flannel shirt and jeans. I looked much more how I wanted to look. I bought makeup at Target. I clumsily applied that makeup and I kind of looked cartoonish, but it was so much closer to how I wanted to be, I smiled so much!

Eventually, I came out to Jill, Mom and Megan as transgender. I’m still non-binary, but I am clearly very transfeminine – want to be much more feminine in appearance and action than I have ever been.

This may be shocking. It was certainly shocking to me to learn this about myself. When my brain finally assembled all the puzzle pieces in July, I was distraught. How would I ever do this? Could I tell Jill? What would it do to my relationship with her? I love her so very much, and I don’t want to lose her. So, now she and I both have to figure out how to work through this. I hope we can, and I have to believe we can.

I am so sorry that I could not understand this earlier. In many ways, I wish I had listened to myself years ago, and not been afraid to see what the assembled puzzle looked like – mostly, because I feel like I’ve been hiding something from very important people. It hurts when this is suggested, probably because I feel like it’s true, as much as I know it’s not. What hurts the most is that I could not ever tell you about this while you were here with us. For that, I will be sorry for the rest of my life.

I love you, Dad. I hope you understand.

Nic

You Can Call Me Al

I have heard that some people who follow me on Twitter or other places may be confused about my pronouns, my name, the state of my transition, etc.

When last we met, dear reader, I had acknowledged to myself and to many others that I’m nonbinary with significant parts of my personality that are feminine. Since that time, I’ve continued to learn more about parts of myself that I had been keeping locked away on a shelf. The brain is very good at boxing up stuff it thinks will harm you and isolating it from you and others. I quite literally did not know a bunch of this stuff or connect the dots until I made a conscious effort to dig into “why am I like that?” in a couple places. Then it was like pulling on a thread on a sweater and it totally unravelled. Mixed metaphors enough?

It’s hard finding out this stuff about oneself so late in life. I haven’t had time or been given societal permission to be acculturated as a woman, and there is no room in our society’s image of men for even the slightest display of femininity. To add to that, our culture is tailored to binary gender settings, so even things like what name I use with my email address cause shock when I change them. People are confused when I show up at a store in women’s clothes with makeup on, but then speak with a masculine voice and show my ID or credit card and it’s a man’s name. People are confused when I tell them I prefer “they” pronouns but I still look like a dude when I’m camping, and I dress like a girl when I’m out running or at work.

These are just some of the reasons it’s called “transition.” It’s a process. I, personally, could not bear to save up all the things that I’m doing as part of my transition, perfect them, and then let them loose on the world in a single day. I would never be happy enough with my “progress” to say “today’s the day,” and I’d never get good at these things without practicing them, in many cases, in public. I have to try bits of it, at different times, when it’s convenient for me, pretty much constantly. I think this is more the case with me than with a much more binary-gender-conforming trans person, because they can aim for the binary gender they know that they are inside. I have to figure out where I am on this spectrum and aim for that, and it keeps shifting around.

Even though where I need to be shifts and is in a gray area of the “male” <–> “female” spectrum, I know some things:

  1. Where I am going is much more feminine than I am today. At the end of this, I’m likely to appear to be a cisgender woman, but I will still be nonbinary. Because our culture doesn’t deal well with nonbinary gender, it’s simply much easier to conform to a binary gender presentation, and I’m much more comfortable being a woman than being a man.
  2. I have not had time to learn how to be a woman, so it’s going to take years of learning that and being awkward before I master it.
  3. Because I know these things, I will take actions that appear to be incongruent with how I present in day-to-day life today, things like changing my email address and email display name from “Nicholas Spencer Roy” to “Nicole Siobhán Roy”. There’s no such thing as a gray-area “I’m still transitioning and awkward” email address when my middle-ground name is super short: Nic Roy. My email address would be something dumb like nicroy12345@gmail.com instead of just my name@gmail.com. Because of that, I was forced to pick the long form name where I think I’m going to end up. Migrating all my accounts to a new email address is already painful once. I don’t want to do it again.

So I’m a biosex boy, who in her heart of hearts knows she’s a largely gender-presentation-conforming girl, and intends to get to that point, but will still be a pretty masculine-trait-having girl and will be somewhere on the gender identity spectrum about 3/4 of the way to the girl end of the spectrum.

To sum up:

Call me “Nic” which is easy because it sounds exactly the same as “Nick” and that’s why I chose that name.

To the State of Colorado and the US Government I’m still “Nicholas Spencer Roy” with a gender marker of “M” but I intend to change those things so that I will be “Nicole Siobhán Roy” with a gender marker of “F” and I will eventually both look and sound like that in a way such that someone who’s never met me before will not know I’m not biosex female.

My name is “Nicole” but I won’t get upset if you call me “Nicholas”, although that shouldn’t be a problem because nearly zero people in my life have ever known me as anything other than “Nic[k]”. My sister knows me as “Nicky” but that’s OK because I can also be “Nikki” see how clever and lucky I am?

I prefer “they” pronouns but that will probably change to “she” pronouns. Until I present as a woman full-time and am speaking like a woman (my god that’s hard to do) don’t worry about it, just call me “they” or “she” or “he” or “hey you”.

If you have any questions about any of this stuff, please DM me on Twitter, or email me at: n i c o l e s r o y [at] i c l o u d [dot] c o m.

Dreams

I woke at 3 a.m. a few nights ago, in terror. My mom was screaming to be let into the house. Pounding on the front door. I woke and sat bolt upright in bed, listening, my heart pounding furiously in the quiet dark. The AC had turned off, the house was completely silent. I reached for my phone. The security camera showed no one at the front door. I drank some water and went back to sleep. An hour later, I awoke in the same way. Same dream. A woman was screaming at the front door. Was she afraid and running from danger? Hoping to be let in to safety? I couldn’t tell. I almost woke my wife Jill up, but thought better of it. I got out of bed and went down to the front door. Unbolted the deadbolt, cracked the door. No one was there.

I stepped out into the warm darkness of a Colorado early morning, the birds starting to make noise, the sky an inky blue in the East. I breathed deeply – scent of pine and smoke carried on the air. I went back inside and went to bed.

At dawn, in the half-light, I rolled over in bed, facing away from Jill. There was a beautiful woman there, floating in mid-air, seemingly on an extension of the bed that wasn’t really there. I could swear I was awake. I felt awake. This woman was familiar, gorgeous, blonde, dark eyes, striking features. I was in love with her. She told me it was OK to love her. Again I awoke, and went about my day, ashamed to tell Jill about this dream. I thought it was a dream about infidelity.

Now, I realize that she was me, telling me it was OK to love myself, as a woman. She had been screaming to get in the house. Full of rage and anger. I let her in. I’m glad I did. When I finally figured out what these dreams meant, I wept.

DC82A40CD16773F13D9C085394B17FF856CB9574

When I was a child, I was enamored of the babysitter. I wanted to be the babysitter. Specifically, I wanted to be a girl. I felt a strong affinity for the feminine. As I grew older, I learned to suppress this feeling. There was no way to change who I was, and I thought “nature doesn’t make mistakes like that”, and “you’re a boy, be happy being a boy.”

As I got older, the girls started changing and I was jealous of them. I hated my body. I rejected my body, first dressing in baggy sweatpants and sweatshirts to hide it. I was depressed. I had no idea why. I saw a child psychiatrist, who diagnosed me with seasonal depression. I’m sure there’s a seasonal component to it, but I was depressed all the time to some extent. Now I realize it is because I hated who I was – physically. I started to over-eat as a self-medication for the depression, but also because I hated my body. I was punishing the body I hated.

After college, I decided I needed to stop being depressed and overweight, and I started eating better and exercising. I lost 140 pounds. I started dating girls for the first time in my life. I started really loving my life. I felt good.

Fast forward 15 years… I’m married, I love my wife, I love my job, I love where we live and our life together.

But.. I had fallen back into a severe depression after a particularly traumatic job experience, and the horrifying and soul-crushing experience of losing my dad to cancer. I started dressing all in black, every day. A uniform of grief. I gained a bunch of weight again. I started vaping. And then the fucking Coronavirus hit. I needed to do something to kick myself out of my funk and get healthy again, so I started running again in March, 2020. Colorado is such a great place to run, there is sun nearly every day. Even in the winter, it doesn’t stay cloudy or cold for very long. I started running along the trails in our neighborhood, and started to feel happy again. I stopped vaping.

And then one day in April, I was running along the High Line Canal trail and started to remember my wish to be a gender other than the one I became. I thought, “maybe my name is Lisa.” I started wearing women’s running clothes, and I felt good in them. Outstanding, actually. Confident. Feminine. I started to think about other appearance changes. I cut my hair in a specific way, with the intent to grow it out. I started dying it – first, gray. Then gray and blue. Then all sorts of fun color combinations. I started wearing brighter colored clothing. Running further and faster every day.

I came out to my wife as genderfluid and non-binary. I was terrified of doing this, but I had to. I am extremely thankful that she took it quite well. I am definitely still attracted to women. I also am at least partly a woman!

I started painting my nails – this was a big deal for me, because you can kind of explain away hair color, but there are certain gender signifiers that are less easy to explain away, and makeup is one of those things. Painting my nails felt liberating. I felt closer to who I actually am. I am slowly coming out to people at work, and they have also all been supportive. I love where I work, and I love my colleagues. I started wearing eyeliner and mascara. I am not sure where it goes from here. I feel like a tomboy. I am athletic, I like camping, knives, motorcycles, shooting guns, but also makeup, and I’m starting to care a bit about fashion. This is quite a change for me, I always rejected fashion, much as I rejected my body. Now I’m rejecting less of myself, and I’m only sorry that it took me 40 years to get there.

Today, I went to Costco with painted nails and eye makeup. I got compliments. I have gotten probably 20 compliments from random people over the course of this journey so far. I think this is because I’m confident, and people see that. I never, not once, got a compliment about my appearance from anyone other than my wife or family in the preceding 40+ years of my life. This is interesting, and maybe it’s because I’m letting the real me be seen.

Identity In Transit

In my last job, one of the things that kept me up at night was the notion of electronic identity “in transit” or “on the wire.”  Specifically, I was concerned with protecting the electronic credentials of our customers from any kind of eavesdropping, spoofing or tampering as they were transiting the network at the moment a person entered them in a web form, login box on a computer, on their smart phone, or anywhere else they used their officially issued username and password.

Now I find myself in physical transit, from Iowa to Pennsylvania.  Along with that transition comes the need to re-prove who I am to a number of different agencies and institutions.  Those agencies are rightfully concerned with the prevention of any kind of tampering or spoofing of my identity in physical transit.  Along with that concern comes the need for rigorous forms of identity proofing and vetting in order to obtain new credentials.

Because I do this for a living, I knew the kinds of checks that were going to be required to prove my identity in my new location.  I was atypically well-prepared.  Before the movers arrived, I carefully packed all my incredibly precious, practically irreplaceable, highly combustible paper government-issued proofs of identity in a special box in the center of my car’s back seat.  Like a baby.  I knew that the checks to prove who I am to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania would be burdensome, but I never really had the opportunity to experience them first-hand, and all at once, before.  Here are my experiences so far.  Please note that these experiences are likely nearly identical in every state in the union (thank goodness I didn’t move to California or my ability to drive would have been in question and I would have had to get fingerprinted!)

The Drivers License

I started with what appears to be the “intermediate certificate” in the trust chain rooted in US citizens’ birth certificates and social security cards: the state-issued drivers license.  This form of physical identity has the following attributes:

  1. It’s highly vetted
  2. It’s issued by a state agency
  3. It has your photo and signature on it
  4. It has your address of record on it
  5. Its issuance is rooted in more deeply-entrenched forms of identification
  6. It’s not so irreplaceable that you can’t carry it with you everywhere, like you can’t with a birth certificate
  7. You must carry it with you everywhere to effectively operate in the modern world
  8. You can’t get one if you don’t already operate effectively in the modern world

As such, most other forms of daily identity proof are rooted in the state-issued drivers license.  To obtain this, I had to drive 10 miles out of town (good thing I have a car and an existing drivers’ license) to a small building where I had to write a check (no cash or credit accepted – are government agencies even permitted to not accept US currency?) to the PennDOT and surrender my Iowa license, present a Social Security card (why?) and any of the items from list A and two of the items from list B:

A

  1. Birth Certificate with raised embossed seal (not a copy)
  2. Certificate of US Citizenship
  3. Certificate of Naturalization
  4. Valid and original US passport (not a copy)

B

  1. Tax records
  2. Lease agreements
  3. Mortgage documents
  4. W2 form
  5. Current weapons permit (US citizen only)
  6. Current utility bills

Note that were I any less than a fully employed and housed person of good means (I carry a passport, and can afford a safe deposit box in which to keep my social security card, birth certificate and passport) I would have an extremely difficult time obtaining a license or photo ID in Pennsylvania (which, were it not due to the action of the ACLU, would be required to vote in an election here.)  If I didn’t have an Internet connection or at least access to a phone, I wouldn’t have been able to determine what I needed to take with me beforehand, and might have needed to make multiple trips, in the car which I thankfully own and am licensed to drive.

Luckily, the address on my check was not required to match my Pennsylvania address of residence, doubly so due to the tear in the space time continuum that would have been caused by identity in transit issue number two:

The Bank

I like credit unions- they exist to serve the membership.  The credit union I currently use in Iowa is a community credit union, meaning it has a community charter, and anyone in the area (a huge area) can use it.  I can still use it because I have existing business with them.  I want to get a new account at a credit union in Pennsylvania because I don’t want to pay ATM fees for withdrawing cash here, and I need to get a safe deposit box to put my incredibly precious and practically irreplaceable, highly combustible paper government-issued identity documents in.  The credit union here does not have a community charter, which means I need to have proof of employment at my new employer to get an account.  That’s fine, I can just do that when I start work at my new employer.  Here’s the fun one though: the credit union asked for my Pennsylvania drivers’ license.  Imagine if the drivers’ license office had decided that the address on my check (no cash, credit or Trobrian Island yams accepted!) needed to match my official Pennsylvania address of record.

Car Title

These next two things are not technically personal identity issues, although they deal with the state-issued identity of my car, which is almost as tightly controlled as the state-issued identity of me as a person.  When I went to the credit union in Iowa (which owns the lien on my car) to ask them about transferring the title to Pennsylvania, they said “don’t move to Pennsylvania.  Anywhere but Pennsylvania.  That is the worst state to transfer a title to.”  I’m not kidding, that’s verbatim.  So, clearly that’s not going to be a problem.

Vehicle Inspection

Iowa does not require any kind of periodic vehicle inspection (this shows in many of the cars on the road) and does not have what the EPA considers to be an air pollution problem, so does not require California Air Resources Board (CARB) certification.  You can legally (and actually) buy a car in Iowa that does not comply with CARB specifications.  If you take your car to Pennsylvania when you move, it’s MY2008 or newer, and it doesn’t have CARB certification, it must have over 7,500 miles on the odometer or you are out of luck, I guess.  Perhaps you could just drive to the King of Prussia Mall a few times to run up the clock before your 20 days to register your car expires.  Of course, in your formerly non-coastal, more-polluting, non-CARB-certified, extra-dinosaur-burning-mobile, that would just cause more pollution, not less.

Neighborly Identity

For the past week, we have had numerous neighbors in our condo association stop by to say “hi” – this was nice the first few times it happened.  Now it is becoming clear that they are investigating whether we are going to depreciate their property values and/or throw wild parties all night.  We are a prematurely elderly, workaholic grad student/professional couple with no kids.  Hopefully they will figure that out and stop ringing our doorbell while I’m on conference calls.

The Grocery Store

Loyalty programs abound!  They are all slightly different and all have weird different rules.  To obtain today’s lowest price on spaghetti sauce, I had to create an on-line identity at the new and different (to me) grocery store and print out a temporary loyalty card on my laser printer, which I bought at Staples, with a discount, using another loyalty card, with another on-line identity.

I understand the need to do many of these things, even most of them.  On the other hand, they are extraordinarily onerous and not at all customer-friendly.  In some cases (voter ID laws) they are blatantly and intentionally disenfranchising of certain segments of society.  That’s a problem.

Update (4/13/2013) – Title and Registration

I don’t know what the credit union thought would be so difficult about getting the title and registration transferred.  Within a couple days of me sending a form to them asking them to send the title to Pennsylvania, I had a new title issued in Pennsylvania, plus my registration and license plate.  It was probably the easiest thing to do yet.

Why Are Google and Verizon Fighting Over The TPM Chip In Your Phone?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s not about using NFC to exchange business cards, and it’s not even primarily about mobile payments. Why does Google want the TPM/NFC module in your phone integrated into the phone, and Verizon wants it in the SIM card? Simple: Identity ecosystem lock-in. Verizon and Google both have a huge vested interest in providing you with an electronic identity which you can use to execute high-stakes transactions. The only good way to do that for the general public is by putting a TPM chip in everyone’s phone and wirelessly provisioning high-assurance credentials to it via their trusted service manager of choice (much like “The Highlander,” there can be only one in control of the keys for each TPM, and they each want it to be theirs).

Why do I think this? Take a look at the OIX-certified FICAM Trust Framework-approved list of identity providers. What do you notice? Verizon is LoA 1, 2 and non-crypto 3 approved, and Google is LoA 1 approved but likely wants to be at LoA 2 and 3. Why is Verizon at LoA 2 and 3? Because they have a very well-established business relationship with their customers. They know, with a high degree of assurance, who they are. How will Google establish this high-assurance relationship with their customers? Google Wallet, Google Voice and their controversial “Real Names” policy.

So why do these companies want to be your default high-assurance identity provider? Simple: vendor lock-in. Can you imagine a more powerful lock-in effect for a specific platform than the one created when you not only use it for all your financial transactions, but also to open all the high security physical doors you use? With the advent of cloudsourced security, we aren’t just talking the front door of your house or starting your car. Your workplace will likely soon move to outsourced identity for login to your workstation, access to the VPN, and even the doors to the data center. Why? It’s much cheaper and easier (and less risky) to sign a contract with Verizon or Google to provide this service than to hire the people and purchase the infrastructure to manage it yourself. It’s also much less cumbersome to use a phone which everyone in the company normally already carries, than to set up some kind of expensive and cumbersome smart card system.

So which vendor will companies buy high-assurance identity from? The one with the largest installed base.

The Problem With Crypto?

I am not a cryptographer or even remotely capable of assessing the validity of what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it anyways.

The current set of cryptography techniques all seem to be increasingly clever and obfuscated iterations on the pattern of ROT13. They represent security through obscurity in that they always seem to be compromised over time, after enough knowing sets of eyeballs have looked at them. They are initially “secure” because they are so complex that no one (usually including the inventor(s)) can understand the end-to-end implications of every part of them. For example: Why do some elliptic curves allow creation of secure cryptographic rotors?