Don’t Say Gay

People are shocked when I say I didn’t know anyone who was gay until I was 16, but let me remind you where I grew up. I spent my days on military bases and being woken up by cannons and planes completing their field artillery exercises. When I went to work with my mom, we drove through barracks and walked into office buildings that all looked exactly the same despite their zip code. They smelled the same too, like burnt coffee. 

Our friends were military and we met them usually during the first weekend at some awkward family picnic with volleyball. I’m sure it was my mom’s form of making yet another house feel like home – just add friends. But not one of them was gay, or at least not out to me. 

That adds up. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was military policy. On the surface, not asking about anyone else’s sexuality seems like a good deal for anyone who wants to avoid conflict. “We just don’t talk about it,” works for my good Southern family and sweeping things under the rug broadly. 

There’s a catch. Avoiding conflict doesn’t help avoid your truth. 

I didn’t have context to understand my truth because I didn’t hear anyone say gay. I just noticed the subtle differences between me and girls my age without the context of what I could be. I observed how they sought out beautiful dresses and boys to have crushes on. How they felt beautiful in makeup while I felt like I was putting on a Halloween costume. I thought I was just weird. Wrong. Different. Ugly. 

The media sent its own affirmations – portrayals of gay people, butch women, and trans men. Today I recognize the caricatures, especially of trans people – women wearing big, poorly fitting clothes. Men with mustaches wearing ballerina costumes and faking a high voice. These subtle cues said a lot without saying anything at all – that you are weird, an exception. At it’s worst, it told me we were unlovable and it was unsafe to be who you are. 

When I see policies like Don’t Say Gay in the headlines, I remember the fear. But what I remember even more clearly is what it feels like to just not know. To experience a range of thoughts that feel so reckless and wrong when it was love. It made me think that how and who I love is bad. 

That is wrong. Making kids hate themselves by withholding information is an injustice that can very easily be resolved with education. How dare we fill kids with hate for themselves simply because we never allowed them to have context for a feeling? That’s what this bill does in it’s least harmful state. It implies that saying nothing at all will allow people to avoid a truth or stay safe.

But we, the grownups, know better. A lack of information does not help anyone. It only makes space for self-loathing – not understanding. Not more love – and we all know the world needs more love, not hate right now.

So be gay. Say gay. Speak up. Scream joy. Teach love. Live proud. It’s for the kids. 


Say queer, too. 

In this week’s blog, I co-wrote an opinion piece about the word queer with Melissa on my team. For a long time it was a “bad word” and something we didn’t say, but it’s time to talk – yes, at work, too. We all need to take on topics we didn’t discuss – even about the “bad words” and taboo topics, too. 

Take care of yourselves – 


Weekly Letters

Katrina Kibben View All →

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,, RecruitingDaily and many other digital publications. She is a recognized leader in recruiting and employer branding who speaks regularly at conferences around the world.

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