Equality advocate Ash Beckham hopes her habit of chronic over-sharing leads to more honest conversations.
I don’t really hide much. I’m essentially an open book, and honestly, I’ve always been that way. Since I can remember, I have always been the one at the cafe telling my co-workers everything — from bad blind dates to new business ideas. Partially that was to pass the time but also it’s because I cherish the input of family and friends. After all, nothing prompts people to open up quite like doing so first.
As a community, LGBTQ folks have been yelling for years – listen to us! Pay attention to us! See us as equal! Now people are listening and we need to yell less and talk more. Don’t get me wrong, there are still plenty of things to yell about. But one of the biggest issues that the LGBTQ community faces is the continued personalization of our cause. If the old adage applies – “Everyone knows someone gay, they just don’t know it yet,” then we have to make ourselves known. Not just in our safe circles, but at work, at the PTA, in our everyday lives. To do that, we must be willing to be open to questions. We’re independent, mobile advice columns, somewhere between Ask Abby and Savage Love.
Anyone who represents a “different” point of view also needs to accept that questions may not be wrapped in a perfectly politically correct bow. That doesn’t mean we should stop the questions from being asked. We need to keep conversations going; I would much rather someone stumble over their words or offend me or not know the HRC-approved way to ask me which pronoun I prefer than stay silent. Silence halts change.
We know when people are trying. I had an older friend who always referred to my girlfriend as my “lover.” I cringed every time. It was so 1970s gay porn. It seemed like it oversexualized our relationship. But in this woman’s frame of reference, that was the appropriate word. And in her head other options such as “friend” or maybe “special friend” would have minimized our relationship. By talking it through, she finally got it, and was able to say “girlfriend.” But first I had to be willing to tell her why I felt uncomfortable with what she said, to explain the negative historical connotations I felt when she spoke that way. This wasn’t about what was politically correct; this was personal.
If we get so hung up on our allies having to be perfect, we miss a huge opportunity to engage more folks in our cause. People genuinely don’t understand a lot of things about gay issues. They don’t know why gender-neutral bathrooms are important. They have no idea you can still be fired for being gay in more states than not. As Sheryl Sandberg put it, “we cannot change what we are unaware of, but once we are aware, we cannot help but change.” We can make people aware by sharing our stories. In my view, everyone has a responsibility to do what they can — no more, but certainly no less. For me, that means I can answer questions about LGBTQ issues too many folks are afraid to ask. Even if I don’t know the answers, I can do my best to find out. Because in the end, we just need to keep talking.
Ash Beckham spoke at TEDxBoulder in September 2013. Her talk, We’re all hiding something. Let’s find the courage to open up was later featured on ted.com.
Featured artwork by Dawn Kim.