Last week at Learning Technologies (#LT20UK) I was one of the moderators in a #barcamp session. Here are some of my reflections post-event.
I volunteered to speak about nonbinary gender identity – mine. Choosing a mixed approach, deep personal storytelling, safely fig-leafed with a helpful framework. I spoke about identifying as nonbinary and what that meant for me over time, the reactions I got because of that, the near-loss of career and the lack of data around gender identity. Sharing my own story felt risky. It was the first time I had spoken about this to more than one person, and while I’m not in the closet, I also don’t wave it in people’s faces.
There were a few factors that made it feel “safe enough” to take the step of sharing it that evening. I will share them as I believe these to possibly be helpful to support deeper, personal storytelling in the inclusion space:
- I knew enough people in the audience were going to be open enough to the cause, given this was voluntary and tapped into an existing community, the audience wasn’t random and chose to be there. I knew and trusted the host, and I knew some of the other contributors.
- My own livelihood (the employment part of my portfolio) is “safe enough”. I trust my employer and my client with that information, and where they are aware, they are very supportive. I can not overstate how important that support is. When things go wrong (and in the past they did for me) the mop-up can take many years.
- Allow people to own their stories. Let people come forward in their own time and how they choose. People will love a good emotional self-disclosure but they are unlikely to drop by and pay your rent if you are struggling when you lost your job or career. I had a discussion with someone suggesting I share more of my gender identity on my LinkedIn profile. No. Seriously, no. Someday I would hope for this to feel safe, but at this present time, it isn’t quite yet.
- Beware of “vulnerability porn” — Sometimes, storytelling can turn into that, where people just feed off the latest misery or messy hero’s journey of someone else, the enlightened armchair intellectual’s way of NOT watching daytime TV but getting a similar buzz. I observe some of this out there, and I don’t like it. That is not my motivation and it is not helpful, not to the person disclosing, and not to the person receiving. Be mindful with other people’s stories and what these stories do for you.
- It’s a big deal. It is also, in many ways, not a big deal at all – when inclusion works. When I lead a global project, it’s not a “nonbinary project”, it’s a project. When I design a learning intervention, it is not a nonbinary learning intervention, it is a learning intervention. When I coach or facilitate, I coach or facilitate, as my whole self that contains multitudes – far beyond that extra bit of information you just got. So don’t roll around in bits of the story too much.
- Role models are key. Meeting someone like that, like you. I had plenty of times in the past where I thought “someone senior should…” to realize that, in that room, in that group, for that topic, that was me. Like with all these changes, future generations are hopefully going to have it easier, to the point of not realizing what everyone else did to make it so. We are all standing on someone’s shoulders, and they need not be giants. Do your bit, do what you can at that point in time, and then revisit later. Lift as you climb.
- Support people who are out there, sticking their necks out. It’s tough, it’s uncertain, the person gets all the risk. The reward usually comes later, and possibly not to them. A more inclusive society allows everyone to live and breathe easier and to share their awesomeness. These trailblazers stick their necks out for all of us. Support them.
I had a good experience that evening. I got a ton of love and support, very good questions and lots of personal follow-up messages about what this has sparked for others, personally or for better understanding others in their vicinity. Something has started.