Amanda Simpson was amazing as she spoke to the Empire Conference this weekend, showing all the skills that she has developed so brilliantly over her career. She knows how to give a speech, how to handle a crowd, even how to get her picture taken.
When she talked about her choice to transition in place so she could stay with her staff and her son, she talked about how she worked on plan to ease the transition, not just for herself but also for those around her. She knew everyone needed to participate in the change, so she planned for that.
After the speech I mentioned I knew something about her when learning she was a test pilot.
She was quick to be clear. “People often think that being a test pilot is a risky thing, and it is. But the most important part isn’t just to be fearless and foolhardy, it is to make a plan, to work to manage, minimize and mitigate risk.” (Just for the record, I wasn’t in reporter mode, tape running, so that quote is what I heard her to say, not what she actually said, so any misquoting is on me.)
Ms. Simpson was amazing to watch because of her incredible discipline and focus. I love watching a real professional at work. I understood she knew how to get the job done, because I knew that is what a test pilot has to do, not just fly like an idiot. You don’t trust extremely expensive prototypes to people who aren’t going to be very careful and very professional with it.
Ms. Simspon wanted to tell us all that the fear that we weren’t good enough, weren’t capable enough, that we couldn’t compete and succeed in the world was wrong, and that we could. I knew she was sharing one of her most profound lessons about her fears, and I saw how those fears had shaped her expression to do what she learned to do — manage, mitigate and minimize risk.
Her talent and skills did out, and she attributes that to her authenticity, to integrating herself so she could work with integrity in both the personal and professional spheres. She has clearly succeeded, because she has the chops, the discipline and the raw talent to be great.
The line between risk mitigation and risk avoidance, though, is a tricky one, at least for me.
When we spend too much time avoiding risk, we end up avoiding potential rewards. The only way to find the centre of the pendulum swing is to swing it wide, to go over to the other side a bit “too far” and let it swing back. If we stay where life is definitely safe, without taking risks, we never find the edge of the envelope.
We don’t have a team to analyze the parameters and set test plans, no simulator to go over physics based scenarios, no thick binder full of past results and considered projections. But we don’t have the shared work and resources of others on the line, either.
For many of us, we are trying to find new and unique ways of taking power in the world, rather than just making a twist on the path of others. To me, it’s like the Harlem Renaissance, where people of colour gathered to find new ways to take power in the world, new voices that respected both respected their traditions and moved them forward, rather than just making small changes in the old aesthetic.
I know that I avoid risk, and I know lots of other transpeople who also do that. We may admire those young transpeople who choose to be visibly trans in the world, but we also see how that choice sometimes keeps them defended & protected, not taking the risk of being vulnerable and open to the feelings of others.
Do we need to smooth the edges, become more aerodynamic, to make it easier to slip into society? Or does a little turbulence — a little drag, as it were — change the weather more?
This is a personal choice, of course. Some of us need to mainstream, some of us need to break new ice, and all of us need to find that balance in our own lives
But when I see Amanda Simpson in a sleek party dress, in a room full of transpeople, I know that she does cross worlds, between Washington power and trans challenge. Is her solution perfect? No. No solution ever is.
But it’s right for her, and it makes her shine. Brava!