I laughed out loud when I read this Twitter notification:
The truth is that my only connection to this individual is my 4,981st place on their twitter list “My Fav Gays.” I’m also a straight, cisgender person, so I’m really not sure how I qualified. But, honestly, it’s nice to be part of anyone’s favorite anything.
It’s funny that this notification came when it did because I’ve been thinking a lot about the 3ish years I spent working at an LGBTQ youth organization. I met so many people, a handful of which have changed my life in different ways (all for the better). I learned a lot about the movement, from its turbulent history to how it impacts the lives of young people today. But there are two very specific and personal lessons I learned working in the LGBTQ space that I think about the most.
- Meet people wherever they are.
Perhaps it’s how we’re socialized, or maybe it even goes back to some primitive survival instinct, but our tendency is to try to “figure out” people within seconds of meeting them. Everything from race to socio-economic background to gender and sexuality. I’m not at all suggesting that I’ve transcended this behavior, but (thanks to my on-the-job education) I’m at least aware of it and can resist the urge to switch to “analysis mode.” I do my best to wait for people to tell me about their experiences and how they identify. And, I also know it’s perfectly OK if they don’t tell me anything at all or if what they do choose to share with me changes over time.
- Sometimes you have to question authority.
I recently texted a former colleague about how I missed working for an LGBTQ org because I found there to be a constant questioning of structure and authority that’s completely unique.
I kind of surprised myself with this realization. I never had a detention in high school. My in-flight carry-on items are always well within the size and weight restrictions, and if a cashier miscounts change in my favor I always return the difference. Basically, I’m a rule follower who’s always tended to avoid confrontation.
My friend (who is not straight or cisgender) talked about how when you constantly face authority and structures that fail or abuse you and your community it makes you question (and keep questioning) the status quo.
Makes sense. I think I’ve been fairly obedient because, for the most part, the structures in place have served and protected me when it’s come to the “big things” in my life. (There’s a whole other post in here about white, cis-hetero privilege, but I’ll save that for another day). And when the “big things” are for the most part OK, you stop paying attention to the less immediate impact of the smaller decisions made by authorities. And that makes it easier for people in charge to get away with stuff that’s harmful, inefficient or just stupid.
I think a smidge my peers’ bravery and an ounce of their collective chutzpah has rubbed off on me, because I am less and less capable of hearing “Well, that’s just the way it is” and being cool with it. And, even though this awareness can make things more complicated, I’m grateful for it.
Question: What work experience has changed who you are?