Realising I'm trans has saved my life

Name: Meg Amber Lightheart

Pronouns: She/her

I’ve had a sense of melancholy since I was a kid. Whilst never genuinely thinking of doing anything drastic, if you’d offered me a choice, I’d have preferred to not be alive.

Always thought it was just existential ennui.

On the 4th March, it literally went, and hasn’t come back.

I searched Impact Hub Brum’s What’sApp group and turns out I put a message in on 23rd March 2016 about experimenting with my gender expression (‘think Eddie Izzard, not Caitlyn Jenner’ - bless).

Then last year I went to Trans Vegas in Manchester, organised by Trans Creative, Kate O’Donnell, a festival by trans people for trans people. As well as hearing the incredible CN Lester sing, I met Kate, Juno Roche, Kate Hutchinson, Charlie Craggs and Kuchenga.

Here were a bunch of trans women who seemed to be living their lives and were comfy in their skin. 

I weaselled my way into the speaker dinner on the first night and was able to be part of a conversation with other trans people like I’d never had before. Me in my dress and my beard, living my best non-binary life.

The next day, saw Kuchenga interview Charlie about her book To My Trans Sisters. I stood at the back of the room sobbing, feeling a shift in my bodysoul, a deep sense of recognition.

I walked up to Kuchenga in tears afterwards and said, ‘I think I might be a girl.’ 

‘Ok. I’m with you,’ she said. And ever since she has been. She also called me ‘sis’ and it was like a deep pool of longing just opened up in me.

Flash forward six or seven months of conversations with my people and I realised I needed to work out exactly what I wanted, separate from other people. I then spent a couple of months talking to a lovely therapist who specialises in talking to trans people.

Two things happened.

I had messed up my timings and was in Brum town centre for my phone therapy appointment, so ended up wandering around Pigeon Park, the busy grounds of the cathedral. We’d been exploring authenticity and Marianne The Therapist asked me ‘If you’d woken up this morning the most authentically you, would you be wearing these clothes and would you be using these pronouns?’

Everything in me said ‘No.’

The second thing was I was reading The Art of Being Normal, by Lisa Williamson. I was reading the end on the 4th March, having breakfast with Zed and Dan. The end is pretty happy for the trans girl main character and that happy ending just BROKE me. I sobbed and sobbed.

It lead to a big conversation where I realised my last worries about transitioning were about Zed and Dan’s reactions. They assured me that they loved me and fully supported me and wouldn’t be embarrassed or disgusted or anything else my mind was scaring me with.

Somewhere between first and second breakfast, I made the decision that I wanted to pursue a binary transition.

And the melancholy just WENT. It’s gone. My whole life just lines up, so much of my childhood (and adulthood to be honest) makes sense, and I want to be alive. I am alive.

In the past few weeks I’ve been telling my close people, all of whom have been so wonderful, including my Mum (who sent me a card),  my Dad (who said he felt relieved and only wanted me to be happy) and my Auntie June, my Nan’s sister (who said she must be a witch because she’s been waiting for someone to tell her since I changed my name to its most recent incarnation).

Meg Amber

I was off work on Wednesday which led me to going through name list websites to see which names pinged. I’d been pretty sure it would be Amber, but wanted to check to see if there was a name I hadn’t thought of. Arwen was a popular contender on my Facebook wall, but I’m not really a graceful elf.

It was Zed who said ‘Have you thought about books you love?’ which was his sneaky way of getting me to think of A Wrinkle In Time (he quickly left the room and got busy doing something APPARENTLY.)

A Wrinkle In Time was my favourite book in my childhood and formed a lot of my morality. I always identified with Meg, the awkward girl who didn’t believe in herself but found courage to fight the shadow and the dark.

It feels so good to be called Meg, so good I can’t believe it’s actually allowed. I’ve kept Amber as a middle name as (a) I do love it and (b) it gives me the social media handle of MEGALIGHTHEART.

Today on #TransDayOfVisibility, I’ve changed my name by deed poll so it’s reeeaaal.

I’m having laser hair removal on my face once a month to stop the hair growing and I’m exploring hormones. Everything else is up for exploration and, well, pretty private really. Happy for you to ask any questions you have by private message/email - if I think they are relevant to everyone, I’ll post things about them.

Tl;dr: I’m a girl and happier than I’ve been since I was a kid. 


March's Circle of Curious Complexity

Hey Brummies.

The next Circle of Curious Complexity - a space for leaders/doers/deep thinkers with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the horizon - is tomorrow night (Weds 13th March) at Impact Hub Birmingham

Let me know if you're coming (so I can order food for you - it's normally burritos which I pay for so it needn't cost you anything).

6.30 for 7.00-9.00pm.

Everyone welcome - even (especially?) if you've never come before - I run a very inclusive space with no BS of any type - marginalised people are centred here.

Have something in your life in mind that you feel could do with some thought.

Here's what happened last month

Join the list if you'd like to know when Circle stuff is happening:

Access: The Impact Hub has step-free access to all areas, including loos. You arrive and ring a buzzer and I answer the door. You can message me if you'd like me to meet you somewhere nearby and walk in with you. The space has no background music and plenty of space to wander around. The meetup is super-chill and quiet, with really thoughtful people.

20 questions to explore your relationship with hope

Exploring hope

After reading about Brexit and the insects and all that, I was feeling pretty lacking in hope.

So on Wednesday night at the Circle of Curious Complexity face-to-face meetup, we started a month of exploring hope and what it is. (The Circle is free and open to everyone with their feet on the ground and their eye on the horizon. The physical meetups are in Birmingham, UK, but you can participate online by writing or creating on the monthly theme - tag me in! - or just using the theme to reflect.)

After each person checked in with their mood and reason for coming (obvs!), I placed a card with ‘HOPE’ written on it and we stood in the room where our body wanted to place ourselves in connection with it. (Thanks to my pal Rachel Donath for introducing me to the the world of embodied learning - finding out what our bodies know that our minds don’t. We added this after an experiment last month with time.)

Two people stood quite close to the card - one on the left, indicating their politics - and said that hope was present for them, and that it was what gets them out of bed. Another person sat far away and a bit sideways on: ‘I know hope is over there and I see it, but I’m not very close to it’.

I stood as far as I could get and kind of squinted at hope in suspicion. At least I didn’t turn my back or walk out of the room, I suppose…

We then gathered and, in true #CircleofCC style, wrote questions that might help us to explore our relationship with hope.

20 Questions to explore your relationship with hope

  1. Is hope the same as desire?

  2. Is hope always in the future?

  3. What links hope and faith/trust?

  4. What’s the difference between hope and belief? If I’m in a hole and someone jumps in to help me, do I hope they can help or do I want to believe they can help?

  5. How do we hope in the face of enormity and overwhelm?

  6. Does hope need to be based on something concrete?

  7. If hope were to go missing, how you salvage your relationship?

  8. Do you carry hope, and how much does it weigh?

  9. Are there different levels of hope?

  10. Is it more meaningful/useful to think about purpose?

  11. How do we take action when we are hopeless?

  12. What is the opposite of hope?

  13. Is hope created from intentions?

  14. What or who personifies hope for you? If how were a mythical character/theme what would it be?

  15. Is hope just a feeling?

  16. What are you expecting hope to do for you?

  17. Why do we need hope?

  18. Where has hope been in your life?

  19. Does someone else’s relationship with hope change yours?

  20. If I wish really really hard, where does it become hope?

We did not talk about all these questions but even laying some of them out on the table helped us to map what hope is for us.

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Hope is a flimsy basis for action

The main dingdingding for me was realising that, in a way, hope is just a feeling, which makes it kind of a flimsy basis for continuing action. If I can’t take action when I feel devoid of hope, then the change I want to see in the world definitely won’t happen.

It’s maybe more beneficial to think about purpose or meaning. Yes, it’s important to focus partially on ‘What change do I want to see in the world?’ but also ‘What kind of person do I want to be in times of crisis? What am I actually here for?’

Weirdly, ignoring whether something seems likely or not (one basis for the feeling of ‘hope’) means I’m more able to take action which, paradoxically, may make the outcome more probable. See what I mean?

We also discussed how infectious hope or hopelessness is - and how maybe we should talk more about where we are hopeful.

At the end of the meetup, I stood nearer to hope, but kind of side-on to it. I see hope as a bit of a red herring, now. Something that’s far too ephemeral and out of our control to focus on. Purpose/meaning/being seems more robust.

Of course, this has left me feeling more hopeful than I have for months.

Exploring hope - February's Circle of Curious Complexity

The Circle of Curious Complexity - the space for humane leaders, doers and thinkers with their feet on the ground and their eyes on the horizon - meets again tonight at Impact Hub Birmingham.

This month, we're going to explore the theme of hope - at the meetup we'll do this through conversation and a little bit of gentle embodied work (not scary, lol).

Meetup is open to anyone - Impact Hub Brum has step-free access and you know that I don't put up with any BS.


6.30 - arrive for food (message me what you want - it's normally burritos which can be veggie/vegan/gf)

7.00-9.00 - checking in, exploring the topic, checking out.

If you can't make the meetup tonight/ can participate by thinking about hope over the next month, and/or writing something about it. Tag me in and I'll email the other Circlers and generally spread the word.

Here's what we did last month, exploring the theme of Time:

27 writing prompts to explore your relationship with time

At the Circle of Curious Complexity in January we explored our relationship with time.

We all came up with some questions that would help the conversation and only got through five of them.

So here they all are in case you want to use them as a start point for thinking or creating something.

27 writing prompts to explore your relationship with time

  1. Are we running out of time?

  2. If you cannot remember an event, did it exist?

  3. How do you slow time down?

  4. Imagine time as a packet of Skittles. What could each colour represent? Is there a dominant colour in the packet?

  5. Do our children inherit memories?

  6. What was your favourite age? What if you could go back?

  7. How is time distributed in the home?

  8. How do you decide what to do?

  9. What are the times and places where time feels like your enemy… or your friend?

  10. If we enjoy a ‘timewaster’ is the time wasted?

  11. “I don’t have time.” An unwillingness to make time, or a sensible gatekeeping of a limited resource?

  12. Have you ever experienced the Mandela effect?

  13. If death is certain and the time of death is certain, what is the right thing?

  14. How do you know it’s the right time?

  15. Is time consumable? How can we measure this?

  16. How much does the past matter?

  17. How do the seasons influence how you feel about time?

  18. Time is a gift. Who deserves your gifts?

  19. Where does time come from?

  20. Can you put a value on an hour?

  21. Would you ever go a day without looking at a clock to know what time it is?

  22. Do you worry about how much time you have left?

  23. What is your most loved possession?

  24. Have you ever experienced deja vu?

  25. How do you feel about legacy and things lasting after you?

  26. How do you feel about time?

  27. Imagine time as a town. The present is home. How often do you visit other places in the town? What’s the furthest you’ve travelled?

If you write/create anything with these, tag me in and/or use #circleofcc and I’ll let other Circlers know. :)

January's Circle of Curious Complexity

January Circle of CC meetup TIME

A few evenings ago at the Circle of Curious Complexity, a space for forward-thinking leaders/doers and deep thinkers - we reflected on: TIME.

After checking in with names, pronouns and what brought us here, a group of us, most of whom hadn’t been to the Circle in-person before, wrote down questions, one per card, that we thought would help us have a conversation about our relationship to time.

We shuffled the cards, turned one over, and talked about it.

Then, when the time felt right, we turned over another.

There were twenty-seven (I’ve posted them here as writing prompts) and we didn't get through even a quarter of them!

Questions we explored were:

- How do you feel about time?

- How much does the past matter?

- Imagine time as a town. The present is home. How often do you visit other places in the town? What’s the furthest you’ve travelled?

- What are the times and place when time feels like your enemy? Or your friend?

- What was your favourite age? What if you could go back?

The conversation ranged across really different perspectives on time (‘You see it as a FRIEND?’), our relationships with our past and future selves, trauma, what the past and future are like for trans people, how far we can ‘safely’ look into our own future… It was a LOT.

As always, at a Circle meetup, the mood of the conversation is thoughtful, tender at times, warm, kind and, well, curious.

We did a bit of reflecting on this format of meeting - discussing a topic via questions as a whole group (it was the first time) - and we said it uncovered a lot of intriguing stuff, it felt a times a bit ‘heady’. We might involve some more embodied activities - maybe walking whilst contemplating a question, or placing a question card somewhere and feeling where we literally stand in relation to it

The Circle - always experimental!

If you want to be part of the Circle you can do two things:

(1) Participate virtually by focusing on the theme - either in your head or by writing/making etc. If you do write/make something, let me know/tag me in and I’ll spread the word.

(2) If you’re in or near Birmingham, UK, come along to the in-person meetups. We have a more structured meetup once a month (like the one I just described) and because getting to know each other is also important, we have a Circle supper too.

The next Circle supper is this Thursday 31st Jan from 6.30ish-9.00pm at Comptoir Libanais, Grand Central, which is part of Birmingham New Street station.

The venue has step-free access and there’s an accessible loo on the same floor. Also if you need/want to go for a walk at any point, it’s in the middle of the mall, so plenty of warm space to go for a wander. You can turn up whenever and go whenever. :)

I’ll lay on some mezze for the table, so coming along won’t need to cost you anything, but if you want extra, feel free to order your own food.

Suppers are super-informal - we’ll maybe explore some of the questions about time that we didn’t get around to at the Meetup, but mainly it's hanging out with lovely people.

Look forward to seeing/reading you soon!

Birmingham's Learning Marathon showcase

Brummies! This Tuesday!

I've been part of a cohort of 12 people following their curiosity over a period of six months.

Our learning questions range across: supporting Black woman to heal and grow, death dying and grief, citizen empowerment, nurturing humane leaders, embodied learning, sustainable creative practice, attribution, veganism and human evolution, ethical data, notetaking and journalling, creative identities, and developing a spirituality practice.

This Tuesday we're having an evening of sharing our journey. I'd LOVE it if you come (and share the event/tell people!). Tickets are priced so money isn't an obstacle.

Lots of us have 'stations' around the room with various interactive experiences where you can explore our work, plus there'll be some 5-min talks in the middle.

Loads of food - including veggie and vegan - and chill, warm vibes.

I'll be talking about my exploration of interdependent human and humane leadership that lead in part to the Circle of Curious Complexity, which is very sweetly growing.

Please come!

Here are the other learning questions:

  • Can storytelling and meaningful conversations help Black women to heal and grow?

  • How can I show that death, dying and grief can still mean life, love and hope?

  • How might citizen empowerment form the basis of changes in the urban environment?

  • How can I keep using embodied learning in how I work and coach?

  • How to stay in love with your creative calling when it becomes your vocation?

  • What is attribution and how can we use it as a tool to empower ourselves and others?

  • Where could veganism as a manifestation of spiritual connectivity to the Earth take our social, cultural, and cognitive evolution?

  • How might we gather and share ‘Ethical Data’ to help us build better places to live?

  • How can I continue supporting myself and communicating about the process?

  • How might I cultivate a spirituality practice?

  • How can we make creative identities for ourselves, as artists?


Accessibility: Impact Hub Birmingham has step-free access throughout. We couldn't raise the money for BSL interpreters, or palantypists for the presentations, sorry. There is a detailed printed booklet talking about the journey of each person.

Circle of Curious Complexity - TONIGHT!

Tonight is the Circle of Curious Complexity meetup - a space for forward-facing leaders and deep thinkers to get together.

At Impact Hub Birmingham 6.30 for 7.00-9.00 and I'll lay on a bit of (hot, vegan/gf - probably mezze or burritos?) food so it needn't cost you anything. Feel free to bring your own supper, though!

Here's more about it:

And a bit about what happened in December

Theme this month is our relationship to TIME (yes, I know, ironic as I'm letting you know at such late notice...)

Message me if you're interested/coming - - or on twitter/FB so I can plan food.

Impact Hub has step-free access throughout. It's 14 mins walk (according to Google Maps) from New Street Station. Circle meetups are quiet and chill.

Theme for December is: Relationships!

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Last week we had December's Circle of Curious Complexity meetup, the open space for interdependent leaders and deep thinkers.

The theme for this month (till the next meetup on 15th Jan) is: RELATIONSHIPS.

Could be personal relationships, work relationships, relationships between things...

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Six of us shared situations that were going on for us around friendships, marriage, work partners, gender... One person only heard about it minutes before and decided to stay! We listened, wrote questions, asked for advice, ate burritos...

I want it to be even if you can't make the meetups/suppers in Birmingham (UK), you can be a member of the Circle, so I thought I'd tell you the theme so you can use it as a focus over the next few weeks.

If any of this sparks thoughts, the hashtag is #circleofcc!

What happened in our first Circle of Curious Complexity

I’m holding a regular space for a thing I’m calling a Circle of Curious Complexity for interdependent leaders and deep thinkers to get together, hang out and get support each other. Even though I had some trepidation, the first one happened a few weeks ago and it was, well, pretty bloody great.

There is a Circle meetup once a month and a Circle supper.

For the first meetup, four of us… met up in my lounge to hang out and do a thing.

We started with M&S ready meals (I know how to treat you proper) then checked in with a colour for our mood (thanks Suriya!) and why we’d wanted to come.

Then we experimented with a process I’ve been meaning to experiment with from The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures.

The Process

Basically, the… client?… has a thing they could do with more time exploring. Could be a problem, but also could be an opportunity, a situation, a challenge, a thing.

They talk about it for two or three minutes. People in the coach role can ask clarifying questions.

Then the client sits in silence whilst for ten minutes coaches just ask whatever questions they can think of that might be helpful.

The client goes on to reflect back what their experience was, and what changed.

First go

Well. The first person tried it and it was really strange. They said it was hard to have a smart question that made them think deeply followed swiftly by another one. Then another one. Then another.

As question-asker, I think we had all felt it too.

Here’s the bit that made it magic

We then moved into a mode of thinking ‘What could make this work?’

Would it be better if we recorded our questions for you to listen to afterwards?
Would it be better if we recorded the questions and you were OUT OF THE ROOM?
Would it be better if you signalled when you were ready for a new question?
What about if we wrote down the questions?

That become the next iteration.

The client described their situation, took clarifying questions, then in silence we wrote down our more probing questions on index cards and put them near the client. When they were ready, they picked them up one by one.

This worked really well. There was no pressure on the question-asker or the question-receiver. Plus no worry about forgetting a question as you knew you were going to walk away with all the questions literally in your hand.

Then we added in an extra step with the next person - as we came to the end of the allotted time, someone asked ‘What’s the one question you’re censoring yourself from asking? Write it down.’

We realised that 10 minutes was actually way more time than was needed. Six minutes was plenty.

After everyone had been a client we reflected on the whole process

We talked about how useful it was to hear the reflections from the client after they’d received the questions - that we would like the option to ask one more question.

Someone said, ‘Well, the thing that I’m missing is… you’re smart people. I don’t just want your questions. I kind of want your advice too.’

New format for getting help with A Thing

We suggested next time we would do:

* Client describes their situation (1-3 mins)

* Coaches ask clarifying questions (1 min)

* Coaches write down questions on index cards (6 mins)

* Client reflects back what has shifted/what was useful (1 min)

* (Optional) Client can ask for one piece of feedback or one more question from each coach - written or spoken (3 mins)

Total of 15 minutes of, like, incredibly helpful intervention.

My experience

My partners are going to be away for a few weeks at a time, several times a year and I asked about how I could make that time positive and nourishing, rather than something I just endure (or feel like I waste).

The questions were WILDLY helpful. So many things I hadn’t thought of.

This whole experience really demonstrated the beauty of the Circle

Not only was the intervention deep and light, but also the form was held lightly and we experimented and iterated on the fly. It was fun and emotional and engaging every minute of the two hours.

This won’t be the format of every Circle meetup but maybe once a quarter?


If you’re in Brum here’s a description of the whole Circle concept

If you’d like to come to the next meetup on Tuesday 4th December here’s the link

Feel free to share with other human-and-humane leaders/deep thinkers who might want a some warm company.

Why questions and silence are important

Andi Lightheart Enrol Yourself

Ever had that moment where someone says something and it’s such a profound truth the room goes silent, but filled with presence?

That happened to me on Monday, and I was the one speaking.

I had been guiding the Enrol Yourself Birmingham team through some exploration of how to grow our capacity to deal with complexity. We’d moved through extending timelines, increasing the breadth and depth of empathy, and pattern-spotting.

Then it came time for me to get the brains and hearts of this really smart group on my area of inquiry.

The moment came when we had been talking about a circle I’m holding twice a month for humane leaders and deep thinkers. I was feeling a strange mix of pretty sure it was a good thing, as well as holding back from committing.

We’d been talking through a bunch of stuff and then Rachel asked me the pattern-spotting question we’d been practicing: ‘What does this whole situation remind you of?’ I closed my eyes and felt into it.

And suddenly I got it. ‘It’s like when I’d be in school plays that I was convinced were amazing, and when I look back they were awful. I’m scared that I’m going to think the circle is great and then later find out that everyone was rolling their eyes at me.’ Profound silence.

Luckily this group is, as my friend Jane identified, an amazing mix of both smart and vulnerable. We aren’t scared of silence.

Everyone made eye contact with me, smiled gently. 'When you look back now, do you feel the same?’ I realised that of course I looked with much more compassion. ‘I was just a kid. Plus… I wasn’t the director…' Then Mikayla asked the killer question, the one that pulled a whispered reaction out of me. ‘What did everyone else in the play feel?’ ‘We all thought it was great.’ ‘SO the people it was FOR thought it was great?’ Oooooh.

That was the one.

The people it was FOR thought it was great.

The circle will be great FOR THE PEOPLE IT'S FOR. 

Such a beautiful confluence of the right group, the right questions and the capability to listen in silence. 

First circle is tonight at mine, btw. Email me for details. 😊

A third of the way through my six-month learning marathon

Yesterday I hung out with ten incredible people who I’m on a six-month learning journey with (there's actually twelve, but two were on holiday).

We’re a third of the way through our journey and we were sharing our progress, by each presenting our evidence tables, talking about what we’ve done and what we’ve learned. Five minutes of the learner sharing, ten minutes of questions from a whip-smart group of supporters, couple of minutes of writing feedback, questions, thoughts, encouragement.

Each participant at some point in the twenty-six weeks runs a session based on their expertise (we dot-voted on which topic we wanted each person to teach). Afterwards, they get the group's attention on their learning question for a good 90 minutes, helping contribute to the research or giving feedback or whatever the person wants.

Yesterday Rachel did a session on embodied learning - working off a hunch that our bodies know stuff that our minds do not, and that doing embodied work goes faster and deeper than just talking.

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One of the things she guided us through was an inter-psychic exploration of parts of ourselves. 

In pairs, we picked an object to represent our learning question, then wrote on pieces of paper selves - mine included my activist self, business self, academic self…

Then we intuitively placed them where they were in relation to the question.

Funny thing was, they were all quite far away from my question!

Uncovered some worry and stuckness.

I think this comes down to two areas:

1. When we lived in Singapore, I threw myself into some side projects which I thought would give me more business, but it didn’t end well. When I was doing Open University study (and writing the book) it took over my life.

2. I’d decided that I needed to get to a certain place by the end of the marathon and that would entail massive amounts of work.

I really need to be focusing on my business right now, being more visible, finding clients who really resonate with my new phase of work, and new phase of identity.

So if I were to really throw myself into my question in a huge way, a part of me was understandably worried that I’d take the eye off the ball, business-wise.

As soon as I realised all the above, I felt a release in my body.

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I’m going to narrow my question.

At the mo it’s basically: what’s all the scholarship on the transition between independent and interdependent logics, how does it compare, and how do I interview a load of people from both marginalised and non-marginalised identities to have data to analyse to see if there’s a difference in the way they/we transition.

I definitely want to do all of that. A million per cent.

And it’s unrealistic in the next four months.

So I’m changing my question to something like:

How do I develop a more instinctual understanding of the transition between independent and interdependent logics?

This way I can focus on the scholarship, plus the interviewing, but it does become about my understanding - not necessarily a comprehensive piece of scholarship… YET.

Then/at the same time, I can move on to see if there are differences in the people I’m interviewing.

What this feels like is giving myself permission to do all three of the things I presented on the evidence table - going through the scholarship, learning about Subject/Object interviewing, interviewing interdependent leaders - a BIT, rather than complete all three in four months.

When I was doing the embodied exploration, I kept coming back to

‘How do I hold this question as I move through the world, rather than it be a separate thing?’

This, I think, might be how. 

Where I'm at with gender

A couple of weeks ago made a post on Facebook that my name and pronouns had changed to AJ or Andi and either ’they’ or ’she’. I intended for this to just be a small thing, but was blown away by the love I received in response. 

The post I made about my name/pronouns was more of a… triage post. I just wanted people to stop calling me Andrew and ‘he', and I had to supply alternatives. I think it came across as a big, final announcement when from my perspective it was more of a ‘Can you stop doing this thing that feels jarring? Oh, and I suppose these are the less-jarring alternatives’.

I’ve been sitting with it all and I would like to clarify a couple of things. EVERYTHING I’m talking about applies only to me, and I’m in no way judging anyone else who makes a different set of decisions. I’m also aware that all of this sits inside my protective cocoon of being white, able-bodied/neurotypical, middle-aged, financially okay, and happily married. 

For me there are three overlapping aspects to my gender.

1. My internal sense of my gender
2. How I want to express that
3. How I want to be ‘read’ by the world.

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1. My internal sense of gender is complex.

If we’re going to assume/pretend the boy/girl gender binary is a thing, I’ve discovered I feel kind of 70-90% girl, 10-30% boy. Feeling that in my body has been a revelation, a sigh of relief where I can let go of this level of masculinity that I’ve been unknowingly working hard to maintain all my life, particularly my adult life. Things just line up when I feel that. What that doesn’t feel like (and this may be some deeeeep misogyny/transmisogyny but I don’t THINK so) is ‘woman’. i just feel profoundly not-man. In the binary world, not-man = woman, but #ithinkyoullfinditsabitmorecomplicatedthanthat.

When I say to myself ‘girl’, it’s like I can pick up young, soft, vulnerable bits of me that got lost on the way. ‘Woman' doesn’t match my internal sense of self, but ‘man' is (currently, often) dizzyingly wrong. Maybe if we had more mainstream concepts, I could just go ‘Oh, I’m that’. Somehow non-binary/genderqueer don’t really fit my concept of myself, even though probably objectively they are a description of what i’m saying here? Non-binary femme?

I’ve had moments recently with trans women where I felt incredible sisterhood, uncovering a longing I’ve had all my life. 

I also remembered that, right up until my late teens, that I would have to remind myself that I wasn’t a girl. And one day let me tell you about the two years I was in an all-girl PE group. 

In my twenties, I mourned not having a womb. My trans mum says that’s a standard experience for trans femmes.

Some days i feel a little bit more up the ‘boy’ end, but only within that 10-30% kind of range. 

There’s also the added complication of having done a particular type of meditation every day for 15 years, and the eternal ‘soul’ aspects of my self are not gendered, so what the heck am I talking about anyway?

2. How I want to express my gender changes on a daily basis. 

Literally I sit in bed and think, ‘What do I want to wear today?’ I’ve been experimenting in both directions. 

  • What is it like to shave my face and body hair, cover my stubble with makeup, wear dresses/other clothes/shoes/bags coded as ‘female’ in our current society?

  • What is it like to let my face hair grow, wear ‘boy’ clothes?

  • What is it like to combine the two?

  • Which aspects feel most like me?

  • More annoyingly, how long can I be bothered to spend getting ready (I’m a bit of a stay-in-bed-reading-to-the-last-moment kind of person), where am I going, what am I doing, who am I meeting? The weight of patriarchal gender expectations really fall on femmes, right?

Currently I can deal with a day’s stubble but two days makes me go ‘bleaurgh’. I feel really happy with some subtle makeup on, especially covering my stubble, but don’t feel like i need it every day. I feel such a sense of relief to not have hair on my hands, arms and legs. Like, DEEP sigh of relief. 

I love how I look and feel in a dress that suits me, and i also like the look of a dress and skinny jeans. My heeled Doctor Martins are awesome. I like the thought of heeled shoes and tailored office clothes. Also just casual femme clothes - doesn’t have to be ‘high femme’/glam. If I’m not working, I seem to default to femme clothes, if I have them. I haven’t worn ‘boy’ jeans for months. 

Funny thing is I don’t mind wearing ‘guy’ clothes sometimes, but it feels more like dressup, like, well, a girl wearing boy clothes. 

So, yes, there’s an aspect of finding the external expression that helps me feel comfortable in my body, but it feels connected but different to my internal sense of gender.

I currently have no thoughts of changing my body with hormones or surgery, but who knows what Future Andi might do.

3. How I am read by the world seems to be less important to me. 

I played with the idea of wanting to be read by strangers as a woman, and it was freeing. And, maybe if I was going through this as a young person now, I might be someone who’d want to transition socially and medically. 

But I don’t.

I’m bothered by the pronouns people close to me use, but I’m less bothered by the pronouns a barista uses, even though it can be jarring. (Please can we stop gendering strangers, though?)

I am currently growing my hair, and it is fun to play with makeup, and, yes, I like the thought of sometimes going ‘full femme’ and being read as a woman in public, but it’s the aspect I’m less bothered about.

So what the heck does this mean?

Andi2018 hoodie stairs.jpg

When you refer to me, please say ‘they’ not 'he'. "They said... they wore... they are... they went to... " And it's cool if you don't get it right every time, intention counts here, for me.

I thought I might really like ‘she’ but it doesn't quite fit right now. I find it too awkward in our gendered society when I, you know, don’t appear like a non-trans woman, or even to be making any ‘effort’ to do so. So despite my internal sense of being very femme, 'they' it is.

I like AJ. Kinda neutral.

I really like Andi. It feels sweet.

Do with that what you will.

This is all in flux. 

All I can say is: I’ll keep you posted. 

Culture change starts somewhere

I've been working as the 'Culture Gardener' at Vanti for about a year, helping them to move towards a scalable, agile, inclusive culture whilst preserving the great things that already exist.

Screenshot 2018-08-27 11.37.30.png

I wrote about it in five posts on their site. We thought it was important to mark where the company is starting from, so that in months and years to come everyone can look back and see the distance we've traveled. It can be easy to look at successes and think 'It's easy for them,' so these posts are reference points for how things are now.

Thought you might want a window into a tech company that is doing groundbreaking things to become an amazing place to work.

1. We’re brewing some exciting culture stuff…

This post lays out the framework we're working towards.

2. Vanti’s strengths

Vanti has a lot of strengths already. Here's where I outline them from my perpective.

3. Some big challenges we face

There are some big external/slow-moving challenges that we're facing.

4. People questions we’re looking at

I split the questions we're working into two sections. People questions...

5. System questions we’re looking at

...and system questions.

I am LOVING working inside a company rather than just visiting. Culture change work is fascinating - you have to have long timelines in your mind, listen a lot, and start from where everyone is. I'll keep you posted as we do more. 

Embarking on my learning marathon


Today is the first Get Sh*t Done Sunday for the Birmingham Enrol Yourself Learning Marathon. Twenty-six weeks of exploring a learning question as part of an exquisitely curated cohort of twelve.

I'm exploring the transition from the independent leadership that comes from a very results-based form of mind to the type of interdependent leadership that comes from a less certain, more fallibly human, inclusive form of mind.

I have two hunches.

The first is that multiply-marginalised people go through this transition in a different way than people whose identities belong more in the dominant narrative.

The second is that we need more leaders who come from an interdependent lens, if we are to survive as a species through the massive ecological crises that are already happening, whilst creating a world that balances the wellbeing of ALL humans.

More immediately, if business and society want to actually walk the equitable talk, siloed results-based thinking isn't gonna cut it.

It's part of my job to help leaders evolve to a bigger form of mind that can look at inequity and turbulence in the face and still be able to take wise and timely action. You need to be able to unclench around the chaotic mess of world! 

I have five months to dive into the scholarship that already exists, do some interviews, think a lot, write a bit, peer at it all and see what emerges.

So: time to get sh*t done!

Framing the meeting

This is something that I’ve ended up talking to a lot of senior coaching clients about in different formats recently. I see people coming to them for meetings and not using the time wisely, and these are people whose diaries are incredibly full - I know because they have to battle to keep their appointments with me! This practice comes from a few patterns that I noticed in conversation with them:

  • leaders making forays into collaborative ways of running meetings but not getting the results they wanted (or secretly wanting people to collaborate, ahem, in a particular direction!)

  • meetings overrunning, to the detriment of the leader’s mental health/effectiveness

  • leaders wanting to grow a culture of collaboration but not knowing how to really grow different behaviours and attitudes

  • leaders developing into a more tuning-fork sense of being a leader, but people around them not really getting it.


A lot of my inspiration for these ideas is rooted in the incredible work of Sam Kaner and the Community At Work team. Their book “The Facilitator’s Guide To Participatory Decision Making” changed my life as a someone who holds the space for groups. Some of the idea of creating a process sequence and sharing it comes from my reading of Roger Schwarz, particularly his take on Unilateral vs Mutual Learning (itself an evolution of the work of Argyris and Schön, et al). He also influenced my thinking on the transparency of meta-comments (“I’m aware I’m not saying something to you, so I’m just going to come out and say it…”).

The Practice

Implemented well, Framing The Meeting allows for more productive and timely meetings that achieve their aims, but also more peace of mind for all concerned. Over time, this practice can build capacity and capability for more consciousness during meetings, for people interested in leading leaders.

This is how you do it.

I see two main ways of starting with this practice.

A. Being the framing guardian

There are many aspects to this.

Type: What type of meeting is this?

Is it a chat? Is it a consultation? Are you giving information? Is it a communal consensus-building meeting?

Outcomes and Decisions: What are you hoping is going to happen by the end of the meeting? Will there be a decision made, and if so, how?

Are there particular questions you are hoping to have answers to? Are there agreements that need to be put in place? Is it ‘just’ that you have both heard each others’ thoughts? Will there be an action plan?

If there is a decision to be made, who will be making it and how? Will you be consulting but ultimately making the decision? Will people vote? Do you have the deciding vote? If it’s by consensus, then does that mean everyone’s enthusiastic consent (ie can anyone veto it?) Or will you summarise and then check for any deep concerns, and otherwise go ahead?

Process: What are the big process chunks?

How do you see the meeting going? Is there an input phase? Who’s going to go first? Then who? Will there be discussion? If there is a decision/plan to be made, how much time will you need to keep for that?

(Although this seems complex and unwieldy, in most situations it just takes seconds.)

Reality check: Are we all on the same page?

If it’s been you laying all this out, now it’s time to (genuinely) check: Is that what the other people expected? Do they want to add to/alter the plan in any way?

Time: How much time have we got?

I always check with the other person how much time they have  - sometimes things have shifted, or one or the other of us was late. It’s important to know that in advance. Also, as the process guardian, its your job to neutrally say how much time is left maybe half-way through and as you’re nearing the end of the allotted time. If things are taking longer than planned, you transparently adjust the plan.

B Jointly design the framing

Jointly designing the framing involves the same aspects as above, but encouraging everyone to build the framing together. Many if not most people are unaware of the process of meetings, so you may need to build their process consciousness over time via being a visible process guardian.

But if you put out feeler-questions at the beginning (“What are you hoping is going to happen by the end of this meeting? Is there a decision to be made?”) and people respond well, it can be good to get their input - maybe before yours - then co-designing the process to include everyone’s inputs.

(How are you holding yourself to truly welcome co-creation? Do you have any tension around it? Some meetings need to be sharp and to the point - that’s part of your framing!)

Maybe after a time, people come to expect that when they have a meeting with you, they need to come prepared with these kinds of process thoughts. And perhaps they can then take them into their own meetings.

Again, I’m making this sound cumbersome, but it really can just be a couple of minutes at the beginning of the meeting which make sure you’re all aware of each others’ expectations. And sometimes you both agree you just want an unstructured chat and that’s what happens!


Even if you don’t have many meetings, you can practice this with conversations.


Simple things like “We’re half-way through our time. How are we doing, do you think?” or “You said you wanted to ask me some questions and i’m aware we’re ten minutes from the end. Do you want to ask me them now, or would you prefer to continue as we are and leave them for another time?” can introduce aspects of framing without being too cumbersome.

One of the ways I started was by starting a meeting or conversation with “Can I just check how long you’ve got? We’ve got this booked until 11.30. Do you need to run away at that time?” Knowing in advance that there is a limited time allows you to not leave things for when the other person might be distracted.


Adding in signposting comments can be a simple way of introducing consciousness, even in a traditional meeting with an agenda as well as conversations. “So we’ve just covered points one and two… are we still okay to move on to point three?”

Checking in

I find that pausing and finding out how the other person is doing can really help bring awareness back up to the framing/process level.

Come clean

An inner practice that I try to implement is noticing when I’m hiding what I’m thinking or feeling and somehow ‘managing’ the other person. I then try and step out of the meeting by saying something like, “I think you’ve gotten a little reticent in the past couple of minutes and I’m avoiding asking if you’re okay. Can i just check: Is everything okay?”

This level of transparency often allows a deepening of the conversation so neither party are wearing heavy masks. Even coming clean about the fact you’re practicing framing meetings better can help you do it better!

How does this sit with you?

This was published in an edited form in Street Smart Awareness - a collection of practices that focus on developing in-the-moment wisdom.

First time, last time - A practical way to get out of a rut

After meditating for a few years, I realised I had fallen in a rut. I was running on a (peaceful) autopilot. I don’t remember how I hit on this practice, but it rejuvenated my meditation and I started using it for other times when I felt like I was in routine or bored and it really helped. It harnesses the benefits of being ‘mindful’ but gives me a route in, rather than connecting to an abstract or mind-y concept.

The Practice

First Time/Last Time is so simple I can’t even believe I’m describing it. It can be applied when you’re going to a situation where you think you know what to expect, or something routine like getting on the bus, having a meeting, making dinner, hanging out with your significant person.

Here’s how I do it.

First time

Imagine this is the first time you’re doing this activity.

What would you notice if this were the first time?

What would you be feeling if this were the first time? (I’m an inveterate starter, so the first time doing something is exciting to me!)

What leeway would you give yourself in terms of expectations if this were your first time?

Last time

Now imagine this is the last time you’ll ever do this.

What care would you give this activity if this were the last time?

What would you feel if this were the last time? (I often feel a kind of fond nostalgia…)

How much effort would you put in if you know you’d never do this again?

First time/last time

Can you allow both of these possibilities at once? What if this were the first and the last time you ever did this? What if it were the only time?

What would you notice if it were the first and last time?

What would feel if this were the first and last time?

What freedom is there in letting this be the first and last time you do this?


The thing is, there is more than an element of fundamental truth about all three steps. It is the first time you’ve done this activity, today, in this way. It is the last time you’ll do it right now, in this way. And one day, it really will be the last time! Either because you stop doing it, or because you’re not doing anything anymore.

At different times, this practice can freshen my approach, supply me with more energy, reconnect me with my body and allow an escape from sleepiness.

Where in your life are you doing things on autopilot?

This practice was just published in an edited form in Street Smart Awareness, a really accessible book on really grounded practices for developing wisdom in the moment.


The leaders we need

As leaders and organisers we want to be doing the wise thing at the right time.

In order to do that, we need to grow our capacity and capability:

  • To think in terms of multiple timelines. We need to be able to be in the moment right now, to think about next week and next month, as well as thinking ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred years ahead.

  • To look this messy, broken, beautiful world in the eye. By the way, this includes your messy, broken, beautiful organisation! There’s something profound and necessary about not turning away from complexity, from non-binary spectrums, from uncertainty, paradox and mess. Sometimes we want things neat and they’re just NOT. In fact, if you can be somewhat at peace with the chaotic truth of the world, you can still do stuff, you can still take wise and timely action, instead of freezing or getting overwhelmed.

  • To spot systemic patterns and flows of history. The ability to go ‘This is (partially) an example of this...’, or ‘This is a bit like this and this…’ or ‘Something like this has happened before…’  means you can discover links that allow deeper change to happen.

  • To embrace your own humanity and the humanity of others. The ability to include more and more people’s perspectives, in deeper and deeper ways, is a hallmark of someone who can find plans and solutions that are sustainable and supported, robust and inclusive.

  • To be aware of your awareness. Thinkers like MIT’s Otto Scharmer have a hunch: the element that determines the effectiveness of a system intervention is the quality of awareness of the intervenor. What you’re aware of and how warm, how open, how gently focused, how wide, how still you are when thinking, listening, speaking, doing, is key key key to how deep your influence can be.

We need to aim towards these capabilities because the challenges we face as individuals, groups, organisations, humans and as a planet require them. Siloed thinking that operates from simple causality is what got us into this mess.

The planet

We are already on the cusp of irreversible environmental disaster and although some of the actions required are clear, how to make them happen, particularly at scale, demands all the subtlety of thinking outlined above if we have any chance of keeping a planet that is capable of sustaining human life.

Social justice for everyone

We live in a world that harbours a huge one-way imbalance of power. People of Colour, queer people, trans and non-binary people, women, disabled people, poor people (and people who live at the intersections of more than one of the above identities) are constantly harmed just for existing in the world.

If we are to create a world that is supportive for ALL people, then leaders and organisers have to do in-depth, often tumultuous, transformational work. We have to learn to nurture the parts of us that have been programmed to feel less-than and melt the parts of us that have been programmed to feel better-than.

We also need to dismantle the oppressive systems around us that are rooted in racism, slavery, genocide and colonialism, and grow new ones that are collective and radically inclusive, so there is true equity in who makes decisions and who holds power and resources. This goes so far beyond laughably simplistic ‘diversity’ thinking.

We also have to face the fact that our ways of living are already forcing millions of people to live in horrific conditions. Reconsidering the way we live as individuals, organisations and countries is vital if we are to look after all of humanity, not just a wealthy, lucky few.


The world is only becoming more complex and volatile. Organisations that cling to outdated models of hierarchy and siloed outcomes will only fall behind, if they survive at all. Nimble, self-organising, responsive organisations with inclusion, sustainability and equity at their heart are the ones that will survive and thrive. We need leaders who can plant the seeds and nurture the spaces for these organisations to grow, and that is a complex, challenging path-that-isn’t-yet-a-path.


Humans, particularly western humans, don’t know how to meet in groups. Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless identified the Big Five ways that we tend to meet - presentation, open discussion, managed discussion, brainstorm and status update - as holding inequality at their core. We need to find ways to meet which include as many voices as possible, which use participatory ways of making decisions, which deal productively with the natural conflict and deadlock that happen even in healthy groups. Neither bombastic, black-and-white thinkers nor I’ll-find-the-answer-for-you lead-from-the-front leaders are going to do a tenth as well as people who genuinely know we each hold only a piece of the truth.


Most of how we interact with other people is through one-on-one conversations. Knowing how to actually listen, how to not shy away from awkward conversations and stay present (even in the midst of conflict and strong emotions) are tough skills to develop and maintain. They need flexible thought, responsibility and boundaries that move beyond rigid certainty. They also require a knowledge of power differences and an awareness of intention and impact as societal inequalities play out even in our close relationships.


You’re good at getting stuff done in the world, you’re smart, you know how to influence, you hit your numbers, but when you look up at the world, you see how much is still broken. You care sometimes so much that it’s hard to switch off. You see that you can’t do it all, but don’t see much alternative. You struggle with the seeming intractability of the people around you, of the frustrating rollercoaster of translating your vision into real reality.

These pressures, these tensions don’t have to stall you. They can transform you, if we hold them in the right way. Mainly we evolve when life forces us to. Knowing how to be healthily at the edge of our current capacity is how we grow in functional (as opposed to dysfunctional!) ways. There’s wisdom to be found when we’re in over our heads...

Only by working on all of these things can you become the leader you long to be and, frankly, a leader the world needs.

Becoming a wiser leader

There's a framework I've been working with the past couple of years which looks at how we develop our capacity to take wiser and more timely action.

I recorded a couple of videos to introduce you to the concepts.

Brief intro to Action Logics

Here's a six minute down-and-dirty intro to the concepts...

Captions are available on the video. Click here for a full transcript.

If you're more of an audio person, here's the mp3. Click the download link on the right if you'd like to have a copy on your device.

How to evolve into a wiser leader

If the short video made you hungry for more, here's a more in-depth peek into the leadership action logics.

Captions available. (Also, sorry for the coughing fit at the end - lesson learned about having a glass of water near me...) Transcript is here.

Voila the mp3, with download link.

Are you opening or closing?

I seemed to come to a new understanding of an old question today.

Listening to Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist nun, on an audiobook this morning and she was suggesting (I paraphrase) you pay attention to the question: ‘Are you opening or closing?’

Those of you who’ve hung out near me will know over the years I’ve talked a lot about clenching and unclenching.

Today, I notice that I close a lot. Especially in response to overwhelm at others’ sadness.

I close to my best friend having a terrible time.

I close to people in a FB group I’m in who are putting out requests for money and support.

I closed the other day when reading about the Great Barrier Reef bleaching white and basically dying. I often close to the facts of global warming and imminent/growing climate crisis.

I close to reports of the reality in Syria, Yemen, Burma…

I close to Trump, to Brexit, to possible nuclear war.

I close to Z when he is having a less than positive moment.

I close when wandering through the Christmas shopping mayhem thinking about people in the future asking why we didn’t stop buying stuff.

I close when I think that children have mined the ingredients of my Mac, my phone.

I close when I read about my friends having a hard time, struggling in the world the way it’s currently set up.

What I’ve realised today is that when I notice the closing and don’t turn away (either from the trigger or from the act of closing) I can take more action.

I can contact my best friend rather than letting another day go by without properly saying anything to her.

I can donate *some* money to *some* people in the group, rather than turning away in guilt and not supporting anyone.

I can continue to read books that offer clear-eyed ways forward to the climate crisis (like Doughnut Economics that looks at both social justice and the earth).

When I stay open to the closing (and maybe sometimes open more), I can take more action.

So, that’s my focus right now. Asking ‘Am I closing or am I opening?’ and noticing what happens when I, well, notice.