Happy Pride 2021!
June is “Pride month” across much of the USA (where I’m located). This is a great opportunity for me to write my first Atlassian Article.
A goal I have is to stretch beyond the usual LGBTQ+ prose and, I hope, offer some information which might be new to you.
Eschew the Binary
To truly open up to all the diversity in the LBGTQ+ community we have to get comfortable with “rejecting the binary”. The binary tends to manifest in either-or assumptions like:
The problem with these black-or-white choices is the quiet assumption that the only options are one OR the other. But there are many shades of grey between these endpoints. Many LGBTQ+ folks feel “erased” (not acknowledged as even existing) when they identify themselves as being between the ends of a spectrum.
One easy example is that bisexuality falls between being gay or straight. However, even here there aren’t just three options. The Kinsey Scale outlined 7 gradations between the extremes — and that was over 70 years ago.
What can we do? Listen for the binary in conversation, and gently challenge assumptions. For example, saying "I read that butch-or-femme is actually a myth" can be a safe way to help people challenge their binary thinking.
Question: do you share most of the details of your personal life with everyone at work? Of course not. We are selective about what we share.
LGBTQ+ folks sometimes don’t have this opportunity. If you see a wedding ring, you might ask the new hire about his wife. But if he’s gay, things might get awkward fast, for both of you.
I found myself facing such situation in a large, group job interview a few years ago. The CEO asked me for an example of community advocacy in my life. I took the risk and outed myself as a lesbian, leveraging that into my years of lobbying efforts for same-sex marriage. It felt like a huge risk (spoiler: I got the job).
Lesbians and gays can’t avoid some of these situations in society. It can be easier (sometimes, but not always) to be bisexual, transgender or otherwise queer, without it being apparent to anyone else.
How to help here? Simply be considerate. Use requested pronouns and names. It’s ok to apologize for assuming your colleague was straight. Be accepting of the many LGBTQ+ folks you encounter.
Insides vs Outsides
While sexuality is often one aspect of the LGBTQ+ experience, there are other aspects to remember. Consider the social challenges for someone who is transgender. Here the issue is gender identity, not sexuality.
I followed the story of Jazz Jennings, who knew at a young age that she was a girl, not a boy (despite what the birth certificate said). Hers is an inspirational tale, to be sure. But let’s consider a mythical person named “Sam” instead.
At 30 (or maybe 45) years of age, Sam finally realizes the need (and it truly is a need) to be in the world as a gender different from that assigned at birth. Currently, everyone in Sam’s life sees her as a woman. But Sam has longed (for decades!) to be in the world as a man.
Sam starts the substantial process of gender transition, yet it is gradual and takes years. Take a moment and consider the challenges Sam will encounter with family and friends, in society, and in the workplace, during this metamorphosis.
Fast-forwarding a few years, Sam now moves through the world more easily. As a man, how he is seen by others is now consistent with how he feels about himself. Sam’s outside will finally match his inside.
Action items: be supportive during gender transitions, especially in the workplace. Follow their lead on pronouns. Discourage transphobia.
I acknowledge that I’ve barely scratched the surface with this article. The “Q+” in LGBTQ+ is a placeholder for a fantastic smorgasbord of different ways to be in the world, in relationships, and within oneself.
I’ll share two resources that can help further your learning journey.
One great resource on these topics is the Genderbread Person. It helps clarify the various aspects of inside/outside, seen/unseen, and the spectrums between the binaries.
Also, if you’re up to it, here's a “word-a-day” challenge for you! Bookmark this LGBTQ+ Vocabulary Glossary of Terms and learn the lingo. I just learned what it means to be a “skoliosexual” — you can too.
This is more than trivia. Let’s try to better understand each other, and move toward greater respect and compassion for the amazing diversity of humanity all around us.