Updated April, 01, 2021
I honor and acknowledge that I performed my research, thus far, while I was located on the land of the Ute, Cheyenne, and Arapaho peoples. I recognize the Indigenous peoples as the original stewards of the land, water, plants, and animals who called this place home. I also acknowledge the painful history of genocide and forced removal from this territory. I respect the many diverse Indigenous peoples still connected to this land. I pay my respect to them and give thanks to all Tribal Nations and the ancestors of this place.
I am Caucasian and Native American. My ancestors are enrolled on the Dawe’s rolls, and the federal government has issued a certificate of Indian blood that is used to track my “pedigree”. ᏣᎳᎩᎯ ᎠᏰᎵ, in their sovereignty, recognizes me as tsalagi (pronounced: juh luh gee), enrolled me in the tribe, and has granted me citizenship. However, my phenotypic presentation means I am very white passing – of course with the caveat that my level of passing varies by the time of year, who I am observed around, and who is observing me (Feliciano, 2015). Whenever I think of my race, I feel lost. I don’t want to erase who I have come from and I don’t want to insinuate that I face the same barriers they face.
Many members of my family have been experiencing the compounding negative impacts of displacement, exclusion, forced segregation, and racially exclusionary zoning codes (Solomon et al., 2019). However, many other members of my family (mainly those who are white or white passing) including myself have been gaining compounding, unfair advantages for generations such as our middle class socio-economic status. I was raised in the midwestern United States. I grew up in a home in between the farmlands and suburbs, just outside of a small city. I had access to fresh nutritious farm grown food, public parks and pools, public education, clean air, and a quality healthcare system. One of my parents was able to stay home with me before I started school. We did not have access to the internet for a long time, but we had a full set of encyclopedias. My sibling and I were encouraged to use our imaginations, play outside, and build our own toys out of cardboard boxes. Once I entered middle and high school I was given many opportunities to engage in and explore STEM – competing in design competitions, meeting and shadowing engineers, and joining a robotics team. I had chores, and spent some of my summers as a farm hand, but I never worked during the school year. Instead, my parents, both having attained some level of higher education, pushed me to focus on school and participate in extracurriculars so I could obtain merit based scholarships. I was able to enter college at the median age, right after highschool, without first serving in the military or having to work right away. Scholarships, the financial support of my extended family, and having no dependents to care for, enabled me to spend most of my time participating in school and extracurricular activities, attending office hours, networking, and studying. My dad introduced me to the person who offered me my first STEM internship. Until my family started facing mounting medical bills I did not experience financial stress. Until I felt the financial strain of paying for my education, I never went hungry.
Until recently, I did not have the words to express who I was. In my dreams I alternated between male, female, and neither gender. I loved parts of my body and felt incompatible with others. As a kid, I imagined myself as a kick ass alien warrior, who was taken and held prisoner by being bound into a human body – which was, of course, incompatible with my alien soul. Gender identity is our personal sense of relation to a range of characteristics pertaining to the societal constructs of masculinity and femininity. Today I define my gender as non-binary , which I envision as a rainbow with two clouds at either end; each cloud is either “femininity” or “masculinity” and the rainbow is all the beautiful variations of gender in-between and outside of those clouds. I love cruising along that rainbow road (who wouldn’t want to explore a rainbow?) but I only explore things that seem affirming to me, which varies day to day.
I also identify at transgender. “Transgender” is an umbrella term describing a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with THEIR birth sex (male, female, or intersex). Transgender people use many different terms to describe their experiences. I have never identified as a woman but my my phenotypcial sex is female. I was assigned female at birth as I have what is considered female external and internal reproductive organs, hormones, and secondary characteristics; however I would like to know that my chromosonal sex has never been confirmed. Since I was a kid I knew I did not want to be a man or a woman. I hoped that one day I would learn I was one of the 1.7% to 4% of humans who are intersex (Jones, 2018). I hoped I might be an individual with two distinct sets of DNA also known as Chimerism (“C Is for Chimera,” 2014). I naively hoped that my body would start to change so that people would recognize me for who I was without the aid of surgery, hormones, or expression. I still hope more and more people will treat me as I ask to be treated. However it seems I will have to wait until I can afford and am willing to accept some substantial risks before medical transition .
I have chosen to keep my dating life private in my career so my sexuality seems to have had little impact on my career. A daily reality in some of my jobs has been having coworkers try to flirt with me, put their hands on me and comment on how beautiful I am or how smooth my skin is, ogling me, asking me about my dating life, and telling me how they would treat me if I went on a date with them. I’ve learned not to mention if I am dating someone or talk about anything that might encourage people to think I am comfortable about talking about my dating life. Just like my gender people make assumptions about my sexuality and usually assume I am a heterosexual cis woman. In reality my sexuality is fluid. I float between polysexual and omnisexual romantic and sexual identities. Basically, I have a diverse sexual propensity. I am attracted to many genders but not always all genders. Right now, a person’s personality, presence, and gender identity is more important than their assigned sex at birth, in whether or not I feel romantic or sexual chemistry with them. My ability to be sexually attracted to people is also dependent on my own internal sense of dysphoria – psychological distress brought on by the contrast between my gender and body gender dysphoria.
I believe my personality, along with my outward appearance, height, weight, manuresems, cultural background, national origin, religion, fluency in English, and speech patterns have helped me network with others, gain favor, and gain the mentorship of people in positions of power. So far, I have only come out or even mentioned many facets of my positionality in one job. Considering remarks people in power made about me in my other jobs, I believe I had just enough in common with them to be tolerated and just enough multi-faceted peculiarity to keep them entertained. When they put me on display, I tried to use the situation to my advantage, to network, and build my career. I never felt like they thought I belonged. I was left out of many conversations, but most importantly I never felt I belonged somewhere else. I wonder if never feeling I belonged anywhere helped me decide to insert myself in STEM.
I am also a person with multiple disabilities, some of which were present for decades without being diagnosed. I have an autoimmune disease that can cause significant pain, impact my mobility, and due to the immunosuppressant nature of its treatment limit my ability to fight off viruses and diseases. I also have a mental illness – post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic migraine – both of which limit my productivity. After I left industry to pursue grad school, I also received a brain injury. I had always seemed to be neurodiverse from several of my colleagues and professors. I had struggled in my undergraduate education, until I learned to teach myself. However, it had never been so difficult to have a conversation let alone learn something new. With cognitive therapy, physical therapy, psychotherapy, and accommodations I was able to start going back to school part time for a few years and am now back to full time. I had setbacks, the most impactful of which was losing my Dad, but I’m still here. I’m still in grad school. The course of my neurodiversity and disabilities has helped me learn a lot about accessibility. This journey has been one of my driving factors in pursuing my PhD. It was even one of the motivations behind me switching dissertation topics. It has helped inspire the change I wish to see in engineering education and it has helped me realize the advantages I draw from the abilities I do have. It has helped me see some of the barriers that might be overcome.
C is for Chimera. (2014, July 21). Intersex & the City. http://intersexandthecity.blogspot.com/2014/07/c-is-for-chimera.html
Feliciano, C. (2015). Shades of Race: How Phenotype and Observer Characteristics Shape Racial Classification. American Behavioral Scientist, 60(4), 390–419. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764215613401
Jones, T. (2018). Intersex Studies: A Systematic Review of International Health Literature. SAGE Open, 8(2), 2158244017745577. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244017745577
Solomon, D., Maxwell, C., & Castro, A. (2019, August 7). Systemic Inequality: Displacement, Exclusion, and Segregation How America’s Housing System Undermines Wealth Building in Communities of Color. Center for American Progress. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472617/systemic-inequality-displacement-exclusion-segregation/