Talisman ūü¶č

The Blue Morpho butterfly is very special to me. It has become my symbol of transition and healing, partly due to its presence in the emoji lexicon. I use it on social media posts to denote transition progress and joy. I have always found its iridescence beautiful, as beautiful as I wanted to be, as I knew I could be, as I knew I was.

You can see the pain in how I presented myself to the world before I transitioned. Always in black, head-to-toe, with some dashes of brightness in my shoes and my sunglasses. They were the only iridescence I would allow the world to see from day to day.

Until, one day, I allowed myself to dream, and then quite a while later, after much soul searching and resignation, allowed that dream to become reality. I went into a cocoon of transition in the fall of 2020, and inside that cocoon, I liquefied in order to resolidify some time later as Nicole.

My outfits became colorful, vibrant, full of life. Today, I went to the Denver Botanic Garden to bask in the warmth, wet greenness, and wonderful smells of the rainforest. A treasure for the people of Denver on York Street.

I love the colors, the life, the beauty. I allow myself luxuries I did not, before. The joy of an orchid.

It’s important for human beings to create symbols for themselves, objects and ideas which guide the course of their life, and act as reminders of hope in the dark times. In the gift shop, on the way out of the gardens, I saw a framed set of Blue Morphos. I have wanted this set for years. I didn’t know why, before. Now I do.

So, I bought myself a gift.

The Morphos are a Talisman for me, a symbol of life, hope, joy in the brief time we have to emblazon ourselves with iridescence on the memories of those around us. Let me fly for a brief time under the sun, my wings shimmering with blue, aquamarine and flecks of violet. That is what I want.

End

She came out in the summer of 2020, when it was no longer bearable to remain submerged in fake masculinity. She had grown unimaginably tired of the ever-increasing levels of effort it took to maintain that façade. To look at herself in the bathroom mirror in the morning and try not to cry at the sight of stubble and receding hairline, broad shoulders and square jaw.

So, bit by bit, she told her wife, her friends, her family and her colleagues. And then she changed her name.

The next summer, she and her wife got Blizzards at the Dairy Queen on Arapahoe Road, on a warm summer night. They feasted in the red smoky haze of the forest-fire twilight overlooking the city center from fifteen miles south. And then she saw it: A pulse of blinding light high above the core of the urban front-range, and she told her wife of the vision. She tried to put it out of her head.

She thought the whole process of transition would probably take about two years, and she was right.

Alone, in the winter night, in her hospital bed just south of downtown Denver, no wife and no friends by her side, IVs slowly dripping Vancomycin and narcotics into the vein in her right arm, she watched the news of the invasion on her iPad.

This evil old boomer is there on live TV, bashing her. Literally blaming what she is for his monstrous acts of war:

“Do we really want … it drilled into children in our schools … that there are supposedly genders besides women and men, and [children to be] offered the chance to undergo sex change operations? … We have a different future, our own future.”

She cannot believe what she’s hearing. She kept it inside for so long, and she only just became brave enough to show up as herself. It seemed like maybe the world was becoming more accepting. And then this.

She tried to kill herself in March, but didn’t want to make her family sad. She couldn’t bring herself to do it.

Months passed, more surgeries, more friends lost. The pandemic started to ease. She went to Europe for work. People smiled at her out in the world. She was only pointed at and called a “boy” by a few people that summer. She drove through Texas to prove to herself that the world wasn’t as scary as she had feared. It mostly went OK.

In August, she survived an attack and carjacking by a man wielding a knife. Physically unharmed, mentally obliterated.

Work was OK, almost all she had left, sometimes.

She went to a concert with her ex-wife, it was fun. Afterwards, she cried for two days about what she had lost. She asked to be put on antidepressants. And then more antidepressants.

At Christmas, she kissed a girl for the first time as herself. Held hands. Both hands. Stared into the eyes of this person and saw a soul staring back at her that she hoped would melt into her own. The two of them becoming one, slowly, over time. Learning from each other, sharing with each other. Adventuring together through the rest of their lives.

They were happy, these two women who had to fight for everything they had, had to fight to be themselves.

It was a sunny, July day in 2024, and they were out on the trail, they loved to run together. They were both pretty slow, but they didn’t care. As they crested the ridge overlooking downtown Denver, they both stopped to catch their breath, and to peer through the leaves. And then a bright light

And then they were gone.

Innie

If you’ve read this blog, you probably know that I put a lot of personal details out here. There are three reasons for this: One, I think adults probably are used to dealing with pretty tough topics. Two, I hope that by putting a bunch of this out here, it will start to be de-stigmatized. This is normal stuff, human being stuff that all of us go through. Just different stuff for different people. Three, I really do appreciate and need your help, kind of now more than ever.

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That said, if extreme realness isn’t your bag (and I don’t blame you) probably best to stop reading here.

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OK.

If you are still with me, here’s what’s up. On February 8, 2022, I am having “bottom surgery” or “genital reconstruction surgery” or “gender confirmation surgery” or “gender reassignment surgery” the last two names are pretty problematic for a number of reasons. In any case, I am getting my “outie” turned into an “innie”. It turns out that women’s and men’s sex organs are mostly embryologically very similar and/or develop out of the same tissues. So‚Ķ they are just going to put things back to how they used to be.
The thought of this surgery used to horrify me. I thought they “cut off your penis” or something. It turns out it is quite delicate and they are able to preserve sexual function. You can have the same level of fun afterwards that you had before. Usually more so because you’re not ashamed of your junk.
For my entire life, I have felt ashamed of my body, and this is a significant part of that shame. I am so excited for this to happen, and also quite scared. There are serious complications that can happen, many of them quite gross and painful, and in some very rare cases, death can happen. I hope that I have little to no complication, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take, in order to be me.
I know that not every trans person wants or needs this kind of surgery, and that is completely valid and they should be accepted absolutely as the gender they present as. In my case, this is a life-saving surgery. My mom is coming to Denver for six weeks in order to help me recover. In some ways, this is sort of like a second birth, and I’m so grateful that she can be here.
If I could go back in time to December, 2019 and talk with my pre-pandemic, pre-transition self, and tell that person that this was going to happen, I wouldn’t. They would not be able to deal with it, they were still firmly in the closet. On the other hand, if I could go back in time and tell 8 year old me that I would be able to grow up to be a woman, I think that person would probably break down crying tears of joy, because that is all they wanted. They wouldn’t believe how it could happen, they’d be very sad about how long it would take, and the emotional and physical pain involved.

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 Siobh√°n 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 Siobh√°n 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.

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.

Weekend Identity/Convergence Stream-of-Consciousness

I’ve been wanting to get a Galaxy Nexus phone for a while- as soon as I found out it was coming to Verizon. ¬†This summer I almost ditched Verizon for Sprint to get a Galaxy S 4G with an NFC chip in it, but held off because I knew this newer Nexus was just around the corner. ¬†I want to mess around with the NFC feature and see if I can make it store X.509 certs and act as an ISO 14443 smart card for things like workstation logon and door access. ¬†The secure element in the Galaxy Nexus is an NXP chip which supports a lot of different NFC protocols, but Google has been pretty open about their non-support for card emulation. ¬†This means there’s not a built-in way to handle this stuff yet. ¬†But then I found this:¬†http://code.google.com/p/seek-for-android/

Neat!

For a while I was hoping that InfoCard would be a champion for identity selection and user-centric identity. ¬†Now I hope it’s smartphones. ¬†We’ll see how well this turns out. ¬†I’ll be happy if my wallet can go away at some point. ¬†It would be great to have payment, drivers’ license, passport, work login/door credentials, etc, all on the phone. ¬†Some people probably think that’s a terrible idea and maybe slightly Orwellian (Dvorak:¬†http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2395071,00.asp) but I think it just makes sense. ¬†The secure elements in these phones truly are secure, until they aren’t any more. ¬†By that time we’ll have other things to replace them, and probably lots of other things to worry about.