Saturday, May 3, 2008

Easing in to Some Peace with My Gender

The postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent IBM's positions, strategies or opinions.

...Just In Time to Lose It

My friend Jack used to produce "The 10% Show." I've written here before that I co-anchored the show on Chicago's Cable Access TV, 1988-91.

This morning, I wrote to Jack, "I was thinking of how boyish I used to be, and how inevitably womanly I've become, just in time to lose my gender, i.e., now, at 42, I think I'm in perimenopause...."

Here I was at 35, at the Millennium March on Washington with the IBM delegation.

When I was four years old, I wore a hand-me-down outfit from my older sisters, which I adored: a navy-blue, corduroy sailor-suit with a matching tam. (I don't know why my mother bought such an outfit for girls, but I wasn't complaining.) One day, while dressed in that outfit, my mother took us to eat lunch at a Ridgeway Shopping Center's restaurant, the walls of which featured Peter Max murals. It was right next to the Finast supermarket. (Both stores are gone now.)

After lunch, I asked my mother to take me to Finast and to buy me a can of spinach. She said that she did not remember this incident when I told her about it as an adult, but my mother complied. I walked around, holding the can of spinach for the rest of our day out, but was disappointed that people didn't notice me, being Popeye. I thought I was so cool, yet no one else seemed to get it.

Just a year after the March, I decided to wear a formal gown of my choice for the first time in my life. The occasion was the GLAAD Awards dinner at the Kodak Theater, where the Oscars are held every year. I wanted to look like a celebrity, and did, I felt.

When I was in high school, no one invited me to my proms. The other two times I had occasion to wear gowns, they were chosen for me, as a bridesmaid for both of my sisters' weddings. When I got to choose, I opted for Armani and bought a pair of Bruno Magli shoes with higher-than-flat heels and long, pointy-toes.

It was a challenge to wear the gown, as I felt aroused by my own beauty in it. Now, I'm waiting a year, till my niece Zoe is 16, so I can give it to her, whose beauty is less conflicted, or at least apparently not conflicted in the way that mine was.

When traveling on business in my late-30s and 40s, I felt drawn to more feminine clothing and jewelry, especially the more remote the country. In 2005, I bought the cinnabar earrings I'm wearing in this picture in Shanghai, and the silk top, in Bangalore. Pat took the photo outside at night, during a trip to the Adirondacks last spring. Regardless of the feminine accoutrements, I looked more handsome than pretty in this photo, I thought.

When I was in my twenties and had much less money, I remember investing in two neckties, one from Liberty of London during a trip to England with my mother that she kindly paid for -- the trip, not the tie -- and another from Brooks Brothers that I felt sheepish, buying, but which I held up to myself in the mirror at the store, rather than trying to pretend I was buying it for a man.

Several weeks ago, my colleague, Mike Gautieri, kindly photographed me at work because I wanted a fresh photo for our employee directory. The Tahari blazer in the photo is from 1990, when red was a hot color for women's jackets, and the black blouse is beaded, by Jaeger, from 10 years ago.

The earrings and necklace are pearls from the same 2005 trip to Shanghai. The only thing new in the photo is my 42-year-old face. This face...and body...are an interesting blend of genders, as I was writing in my previous entry.

The small nail-beds of the long fingers with which I'm typing this blog entry make my hands appear to be more feminine than masculine. I guess I'm a bit melancholy that I can no longer pull off boyishness and am becoming more visibly womanly just in time to become invisible; from my observations, I believe that that's what women become when we age.

Though I was a pretty teenager, I was paid little attention by anyone then. When I came out as lesbian at 21, suddenly, I was noticed by lots of women and felt attractive like never before. I became handsome, and then I allowed bits of prettiness to sneak out now and then, and now, looking at the two most recent pictures here, I want to be at peace with being handsome and pretty in parallel...even if decreasingly visibly.


cynthia said...

Sarah, you are one of the most remarkable and beautiful women I've evern known. I can't imagine there was ever a time when you weren't beautiful and fascinating. As for getting older......I think you'll be remarkable. Anyone can be pretty, cute or boyish looking when their young and I'm sure you had all of that and then some. But now, the beautiful person you are, plus all your life experiences shine through your natural beauty and you dazzle a room. XOXOXO

Sarah Siegel said...

God, Cynthia, you're so generous! Thanks for your lovely friendship.

The rest of my response is simply that it takes one to know one!

Claes Redin said...

I'm impressed by your courage.
Got here from your IBM blog that I like to read and going to continue to follow. We all have issues and one of mine is procrastination, but I'll worry abot that later...
All the best.

Sarah Siegel said...

Thanks for your kind feedback. I can relate to the procrastination point, actually, but usually the other side of the same coin...if this makes sense: I tend to finish things early, and they might have been a better product if they had brewed a bit longer, but then I have the disclaimer that if only I had held onto that paper, e.g., and not turned it in early, I could have written a better paper.

...just like I have friends, who tell me that they wait till the last minute to get things done, and if they'd had more time, the things would have been better.

I want to blog -- when I get the time -- about how I channel anxiety into over-action orientation, and also, about the nature of procrastination....Is it procrastination if there's blogging involved, or is blogging a sort of innovation? When does a product qualify as innovation? When does something qualify as a product? When is something innovatively collaborative vs. just an e-mail exchange filled with smart thoughts?

Claes Redin said...

I am just getting aware of the extent of anxiety driven behavour where procrastination is just one of many strategies. Interesting and surprising things you find out when you start to think about what you are thinking about...and why.
(Btw. The word issue in my last post was not the best choice but I see you got my point anyway. Tricky when you are Swedish... ;-)

Sarah Siegel said...

Your English is 100% better than my Swedish!

That's what blogging lets me do: think about what I am thinking about. That's a perfect way to put it. And rather than thinking of myself as more self-conscious by doing all of this thinking, instead, I just feel more alive in nearly all my interactions.

I was thinking about this yesterday: I was at a conference and thought, Probably almost none of these people have ever seen any of my blog entries, and yet just knowing that I express my thoughts publicly, routinely, gave me a vitality/confidence with them that I don't think I'd have had otherwise.