As someone who “came out of the closet” at 39 years old, and as someone who, at the core of my work, promotes connection, self-expression, and non-judgment, I have so much to say about what happened in Orlando and I haven’t really formulated it into words.
I was trained as a “diversity” coach in my first corporate job, with the goal of empowering people at every level to bring their best self to the table in their own way, and cultivating a culture of acceptance. In this role and training, I saw how terrified people were to speak their Truth, and how much people held back to conform, keep the peace, and get ahead. And this was at a company that would have diversity coaches! I later learned other companies were even less truthful!
I taught in public high school in Cincinnati, OH, home of the Underground Railroad Freedom Center, in other words the very place where escaped slaves became “free.” I coached the JV girls basketball team. I experienced how our girls were sometimes treated when traveling to all white schools. I was one of the teachers on a Civil Rights tour of the southeast. The tour included both black and white kids. I watched them observe what had happened in the past, and facilitated a conversation about what they were experiencing at that time. I could not believe the level of hate that was present in their day-to-day lives, and we could feel the tensions rise as we opened up this conversation. I devoted the rest of my time as a teacher to creating experiences for the kids to connect across cultures. (One of my students in my “Cooking Across Cultures” course now owns a restaurant!)
All of this was before I knew I was gay.
I grew up in a town of 500. I didn’t even consider the idea of being gay, it wasn’t something that was presented to me as an option. I was a good student and people pleaser so I didn’t even LOOK outside of the norm. Even with all of the training I’d had in owning my truth and in diversity, I had never considered that I may be drawn to this work because I too was a minority who would be judged in this world.
I didn’t come out (to be clear it still doesn’t feel like coming out… since I had no awareness of being gay, I never felt like I was in a closet, I simply felt frustrated because I had relationship issues) until I was in a place in my life where I had taken ownership of my circumstances and surrounded myself with non-judgmental people. This was where it felt safe for my subconscious to stop protecting me from the awareness of who I was. This is when the Truth finally emerged.
I am happy with my journey. It was perfect for who I am meant to be and the work I do. The experience of hiding is part of why I can support others to stop hiding. Yet I can’t help but to think about how life could have been had I lived in a world in which it felt safe to know all of me earlier in life.
In light of what has happened in Orlando, I can’t help but reflect on that deep knowing of hate that is in the collective consciousness, the knowing that would have had me hide from myself all of those years.
For me the journey since knowing has been relatively easy – I am grateful for each person who supported my growth and change. Yet I live in a world I’ve crafted for me to be supported. The thought that there are people out there who would want me to die without even knowing me is still baffling. Each time I get present to that I feel completely disempowered. As a recovering people pleaser, I feel sick at the thought of people disliking me. It is NO WONDER I avoided the knowing for all of those years.
I’ve seen many of my LGBT friends post to Facebook their declarations of “I will not be afraid”, and I agree. I cannot un-know what I know about myself, and I will never hide from my own Truth again.
Those in Orlando gave their lives to rise to a bigger conversation. And we need to keep having it – louder, more vocally, with more people. We can’t stay insulated in the safe little world of entrepreneurship. (And yes I’m speaking to myself here too).
The conversation is not so much about hate for others but hate for self. No one could take an action like what happened in Orlando were it not for a huge helping of self-hatred. And we hate ourselves so that others don’t have a chance to hate us. We hate and hide our true selves to keep from being judged, and then we turn that hatred on others.
My prayer is for each one of us to take responsibility for healing our own hearts, and our own hurts, such that we no longer project what we thing we think we should be onto others. We are all energetically connected. Your healing heals the world. Owning your truth creates freedom and peace. Look within. And then connect. <3