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 –
Kat Kibben [they/them] is a keynote speaker, writing expert, and LGBTQIA+ advocate who teaches hiring teams how to write inclusive job postings that will get the right person to apply faster.
Before founding Three Ears Media, Katrina was a CMO, Technical Copywriter, and Managing Editor for leading companies like Monster, Care.com, and Randstad Worldwide. With 15+ years of recruitment marketing and training experience, Katrina knows how to turn talented recruiting teams into talented writers who write for people, not about work.
Today, Katrina is frequently featured as an HR and recruiting expert in publications like The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and Forbes. They’ve been named to numerous lists, including LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Job Search & Careers. When not speaking, writing, or training, you’ll find Katrina traveling the country in their van or spending some much needed downtime with the dogs that inspired the name Three Ears Media.