October 11th is Coming Out Day. So in honor of that celebration, I want to tell you my coming out at work story. It’s a story of learning my truth and coming out of an entire belief system over the last year.
I became convinced that I needed to be someone different at work at some point in my life. I don’t know exactly where I got the idea. Maybe it was watching my Mom put on a uniform every day – a costume covering who she was when she wasn’t a soldier. That’s the whole thing about being a soldier: no identity. It’s one for all and all for one. It’s about how you contribute to the whole, not how you stand out. Uniformity.
But I wasn’t allowed to join the Army when I turned 18. I didn’t quite understand why at first. From the time I was very young, I assumed that whatever I did, I would do it in the Army. My Mom spent a lot of time showing me that you can do any job you want in the military ecosystem – marketing, recruiting, you name it. I even met the people who came up with the Be All You Can Be campaign to recruit people to the Army.
Then, when I turned 16, I told my Mom I thought I was gay. It changed everything. There was no more talk about how I would sign up or the military paying for my college. That was my real incentive, by the way. Free college? Fuck it. Let’s give it a shot.
I remember the recruiters calling my house during my senior year – Army brats are always first on every branch’s recruiting list – and hearing my Mom demand they never call again. “Do you understand, soldier?” That’s how she ended the call. I wasn’t even on the phone, and I was scared. I imagine they were frightened, too.
When my sexuality changed, I thought my dreams had to change. So did my family. I think this was the moment when I knew that who I was and who I was at work had to be separate. Somewhere in my mind, I couldn’t be good at my job and gay.
I decided to be good at my job. I made up pronouns and names for my partners to pass. I wore a lot of pink and kept my hair long. I didn’t want my gayness to take away another dream.
So I spent the next 15 years trying to figure out how to hide who I was behind how good I was. I became a managing editor, so everyone would know how I wrote. I became a speaker so they could see I had ideas. I did everything thinking I was being seen when the whole time I was hiding in the belief that any minute now, someone would find out I was gay and take it back. Take back the kind words, take back the projects, take back the achievements.
Fifteen years of my career brings us right up to the last year of my life. The first year of my life where I let people know who I am. It’s the first year I have ever consistently spoken about being queer and my life experiences.
Allowing people to see me has allowed me to see the world.
I stood in front of thousands of people this year and told them about my trauma, too. I allowed them to experience what it feels like to be ripped out of a gendered bathroom by a bouncer. To take them on a journey of exploring new ways to know who they are. To teach others how to be safe. (I can tell your team, too.)
I shared my truth and I was rewarded repeatedly with the truth: I don’t have to choose to be good or gay. I am both.
So on this Coming Out Day, I want to remind you that who you are is your gift. Maybe you’re not out yet, perhaps you are, but I pray you never live in fear. I hope you know that you don’t have to change your dreams if you’re gay. That you are good just because you exist. Because you open your eyes and look this world in the face every day, you are worthy of your dreams – whatever they may be.
If your dream has anything to do with DEI or a role working in that space, my blog this week is for you.
Katrina Kibben is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Three Ears Media. For most of Katrina’s career, she has been a marketer living in a recruiter’s world – listening to both sides of the talent equation to understand the real issues and find solutions for engaging and hiring better people. Today, she uses her technical marketing know-how and way with words to help both established and emerging brands develop and deliver content that fuels smart recruitment marketing that makes the right people apply.
Katrina has written for Monster.com, HR.com, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.