There’s a fella named Tom. I met him last September in a parking lot of a box store to exchange a little bit of cash money for three hulking shelves he had once built but no longer needed. Our brief chat in that parking lot led to a brief email exchange, one I would have joyfully continued had Tom’s wife not been suspect of any friendships between men and women. So it goes; we all have our things.
The bit of our exchange that always comes back to me was Tom’s observation of a “subliminal” message in my website (pre-recent-rebuild) that I am, to use Tom’s word, a lesbian. I loved his willingness to engage and his squirrely approach to the word “lesbian” in his email.
I didn’t mind him labeling me as a lesbian though it’s not how I tend to self-identify. I do name drop my female fiancé with the same ease and assumption that people who don’t know Theresa will gain enough from contextual clues to get the gist as I once name dropped Rob, the man with whom I shared my life for 13 years.
As I noted in my email exchange with Tom, I write about my life “to illustrate greater points about what it means to be human, and I tell my stories instead of others’ because I know my stories, because I value keeping what others tell me confidential (key to trust), and because I never want to come across as thinking I’m the guru on the mountaintop with everything figured out; I’m a co-learner along with those I teach and coach.”
It’s inevitable, then, that the person with whom I share my daily life, who sees my messy wholeness more clearly and consistently than anyone else, would make regular appearances in these musings of mine. I never did get to ask Tom this but I suspect that had he been reading my site during my time with Rob, he would have found the reading less compelling because heterosexuality is all but invisible to us. We assume it unless noted otherwise. As a fella clearly devoted to his wife, he might have been charmed for a moment to note my dedication to my fella, but it likely wouldn’t have been worth noting.
Tom often comes back to mind when I run across one particular recurring thread of debates in my LinkedIn feed. Perhaps because of who I’m connected with there, I inevitably see these debates on the threads of posts by people whose intersections of identity factor prominently into their presence – usually women, usually women of color, usually women of color who identify somewhere in the LGBTQIA+ spectrum – with the naysaying appearing in comments left by people whose profile pictures suggest they identify as white. The rest of their identity is unknown to me though, based on both statistics and behaviors, I’d take a swing at straight, cis-gender, and Christian-identified.
No disrespect to white, straight, cis-gender, Christians. Some of my best friends are white, straight, cis-gender Christians. (Both a wink and a truth.) I make this assumption because that is the standard assumption – that if we don’t note identity, it’s likely that this identity, this very specific combination of identity intersections that has long been our default for “normal” in the US, is the one at play.
For the rest of us, noting our identity is often treated as subversive instead of self-affirming.
And therein lies the debate. While the posters are advocating pride in identity and equitable opportunity for all people, the naysayers are insistent that personal identity isn’t appropriate in professional spaces – as though they cease to be white or straight or cis-gender or Christian when they enter their workplaces. Or as though it would somehow be professionally valuable to do so were it possible.
We each wear numerous hats in these lives of ours, and each hat stretches and challenges and fulfills us in different ways. We are, perhaps, partners and professionals, parents and siblings, children and grandparents, team coaches and athletes, volunteers and congregants – and on and on. Our hats, however, sit in their tall stack on the crowns of whole humans, humans with identities (consciously noted or not) related to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, physical ability, spirituality (including lack thereof) and so on.
No matter how much a workplace might prefer it, a hat can’t walk on its own.
Your wholeness is not only okay to bring to coaching, it’s got a hand-engraved, personalized invitation. Let’s talk about how building your wholeness strengthens your ability to balance all those wonderful, valuable hats.