Monday, April 11, 2011

Travelling Home

I'm on a plane right now some where over Iowa, heading home.  Lately my job has taken me all across the country.  I own a small, as in tiny, company.  The simple way to describe what it is we do, is we fix television stations.  One thinks of Companies as having products, employees, and customers and most do.  We too have customers, products, and employees but the reality is we have only one customer and we sell them products they have payed us to develop. 

It can be quite confusing, I own my own company yet I have a boss.  I'm not an employee yet I do what I'm told and go where I'm told to go.  When I travel I am a member of a tight group of guys who see me as a member of their team, but I'm not.  Now add my struggles into the mix and things get out of hand quickly. They see Rick, yet I'm Dana.

This is my life these days; work at my office for a week.  Travel to a far away city, usually small and usually in the Midwest.  Join the 'corporate' team and install, test, and train people to use the new system software.  Usually stay for a week, go home for a week, and then do it all over again the next week.

All of my employees know me as Dana and allow me to be myself at work.  I can honestly say they have all accepted me without the first bit of drama or problems.  But when I travel, I work with a team of guys who only know me as Rick.  To say they'd be shock to learn of my struggles would be an understatement.

My team at home is a small group of women I love and adore.  Each one unique, each one talented at what they do, each one loving and giving. They treat me with utmost dignity and allow my struggles to be public and out. 

My team away is the complete opposite.  We all fly into some strange city and then live, work and eat together for a week.  The team is all men, all white, all middle age.  Diversity is not a strong point of this team. 

These weeks away have become harder and harder to do.  I leave home as Dana, and arrive in some far off city as Rick.  I'm greeted with Rick, Sir's, Gentlemen and mingle with the team as they would expect Rick to do.  But every trip gets harder and harder to fit into the team's bonding moments.  The stories of the families being told, the laughing at the wives, the bragging about all the standard guy things, the cars, the stocks, the golf game.  The endless sports debates and the latest gadgets they've just purchased and display proudly.

The weeks away turn grey and lifeless.  The color's gone, I wear ill fitting clothes.  I wear grey sweatshirts to hide the budding breasts, and baseball caps to manage the long hair.  I go without makeup and see a funny looking old guy in the mirror every morning.  Every Sir, every Rick, hurts more and more. I yearn for Dana, a single ma'am, a single conversation as a woman. It's hard to come from a place where I judge my progress in this journey by the count of ma'ams and lady's every day, to a place where there are none.  I'm greeted at breakfast as just another business traveler one you don't look at twice and don't remember ten minutes later. 

The more we all travel together the more everyone exposes of themselves.  Each little story, each glass of beer, gives a better and better look into their lives.  On the first few trips, I protected myself with a wall.  It was all just business, no banter, no wine, no laughter.  E ripped that wall down and now I find I can't put the wall back up anymore, E doesn't just want Dana,  it demands her. 

I find myself struggling to suppress the urge to just start screaming 'There's so much more to me than what you see.  There's color here, there's life, and there's a woman in here.'  I want to place myself outside this club.  I want a 'Good morning maam' from the waitress.  I want the colors I have during the weeks at home.

My boss, H, as in my only customer, usually flys in for a day or two on each of these trips.  Usually to provide motivation to the people who's work it is we forever change by our projects.  I struggle with whether or not to tell him of this journey.  He is truly a good person who I trust.  And has earned this trust and my respect over the last 10 or so years.  If one day I stand up and start screaming, I'll have to tell him first.  It's his team and his TV stations that I would be stirring up trouble in.

But there is no upside to this.  I risk my only livelihood, I risk the loss of respect from the entire team, I risk the instant respect the local staff gives me on my arrival.  I risk the very thing I want the most, being kicked out of the men's club.  I'd cause H headaches and political issues for the rest of time. 

The only upside to this is my sanity.  To keep from flipping back and forth from Rick to Dana.  To keep moving forward on this journey. To keep from turning around and seeing everything I'm letting go of every two weeks.

How much longer can I keep doing this?  At what point do I do the inevitable, when do I expose my struggles to the other half of my life?  When do I really risk everything I've worked for my entire life, just to stay on this journey.  The reality is I have not risked much yet in this journey.  Everyone I've told I was reasonably sure I'd be accepted and loved no matter what.  My family, my friends, K and mostly M, I knew they would all be there for me, and I knew all would be there for the entire journey out of here.

H and the team is the real risk.  I could lose it all, is this journey worth that cost.  Or the better question I suppose is when on this journey am I going to be forced to take the risk? At what point is there no going back, and no going forward without that full disclosure?

I'm somewhere over New Mexico now and I'm not sure how many of those around me see a woman, a man, or just some odd person somewhere in between.  But for the first time in my life there is no one on this plane I'd rather be.  No shoes I'd rather fill, and no life I'd rather have.  And that is what makes this journey worth all the struggles and risk.  Where our journey goes I have no idea, but it's already somewhere better.