That Chip On Your Shoulder


This weekend, I was doing my weekly check-in with my Mom when she and I got on the topic of hiring and management. She told me that managing people was one of the hardest things anyone has to do in their life. Mind you, this is coming from a woman who has gone through a lot of things I’d consider much more challenging – basic training, 20 years in the Army, two births, two deployments and plenty more. Even at my pushing, she insisted managing other people has to be one of the hardest things we do as leaders and adults.

Why? In her world, it’s because you’re balancing so many chips on so many shoulders. Then she casually says “and the chip on your shoulder is that you’re gay.”

It has been stuck in my head ever since. I should give the premise that to know my Mom is to know that poignant, sometimes harsh, one-liners are her signature move.  Her filter and sense of how other people might perceive something isn’t always the sharpest but she is the smartest woman I know. I respect her and I know that there’s something I can learn if she’s taking the time to speak.

She said I have the chip on my shoulder in regards to some recent “attention” I’ve been getting as a short-haired lesbian living in the South. In her opinion, I’m overly sensitive. In mine, I’m perceptive. Every time I bring it up, I know people’s tendency is to want to hear the stories so I’ll share a few.

  • I was pulled out of a bathroom at a night club because they thought I was guy going in the wrong direction. Literally, pulled. By the shirt. Backwards into a hallway. A little scary when you really have to pee. Or anytime.
  • I was approached on the street by someone asking if I had a cigarette, “hey man.”  That’s a whole story, though.
  •  I get stared at in the gym as people wait to see what locker room I’ll go in. I avoid it altogether because locker rooms kind of gross me out and there are lockers on the floor. Oh, and everyone is staring.
  • I was in a bathroom in Boston when a drunk girl actually just yelled “hey buddy, wrong bathroom!”  I was also a drunk girl so I believe my exact response was: “I’m a girl, not a boy and it’s really none of your business what bathroom I decide to use.” She’s lucky I didn’t take a swing at her.

My fundamental issue here is that people don’t take the time to notice each other, not that someone casually uses the wrong pronoun when they say something like “Good Morning sir.” Take the time to take in all the aspects of a person. Hell, if you’re confused, don’t use a pronoun at all. And fun fact – a toilet is a toilet and if you think they’re drastically different on the other side of the wall, minus the urinals and overall cleanliness, you’re wrong. Fucking North Carolina.

But to actually notice people, you have to be aware of what you see when you see someone and the assumptions you make based on where you come from. If and when you really understand yourself, your biases and “chips”, as a pivot point for living life, for managing teams and for teaching other people – you’re on a whole new level.

I can’t explain your unconscious bias for you. I can’t tell you what your go to self deprecation “thing” is. But I can tell you knowing it and stopping to think about it is worth your time.

I know there’s some unspoken rule about not writing two posts in a row about diversity but what the fuck.