Every pronoun presentation, I tell this story about a bathroom in New Orleans. I was at an event for work and as I walked down the hallway, I felt two hands on my shoulders. Then, a jerk that threw me to the ground. The bouncer thought I was a man.
What people don’t realize is that minus the physical element of that story, this confrontation? This misgendering? It happens to me every single week, sometimes every day. This week it was in Denver’s airport during a connection as I crossed the country to get back to my van. While I washed my hands, she stared too hard. Then, she proceeded to get so close to my face that I could have hit her with a simple tilt of my neck.
Instead of offering the advice I offer every ally every day during Pride, I stormed out angry. Scared. I knew she wouldn’t hurt me but my fight or flight kicked in.
I get that sinking feeling every time. Sometimes it’s a look or a comment. A question in the bathroom that makes me feel like I’m right back in my childhood. That feeling that I’m never enough of a boy to be in a man’s space or enough of a girl to be accepted there, either. Just a human trying to be seen and feeling hidden somehow.
As I boarded my next flight, I was frustrated. Sad. Wishing that person a very turbulent, seated next to a baby with a diaper blowout flight. (Kidding, kinda.)
As the flight attendant collected our drink orders, I noticed her rainbow disco ball earrings. “I love your earrings,” I said. Even with a mask, I could tell she was smiling ear to ear. “I have a gay son and I’m just so proud of them,” she said.
Then she told me the sweet story of how she acquired those earrings.
On an earlier flight, she noticed rainbow earrings on a passenger and complimented them just like I did. That passenger also had a queer child and the two bonded over it. The passenger had backups and gave the flight attendant her very own Pride disco ball earrings. “I love love,” she said as she finished the story with a smile and tears in her eyes. Imagining their exchange, I choked back my tears, too.
I’ve been lucky to experience this kind of care with so many people who don’t carry some special label in my life but respect, love, and show up for me. People who I can call any time and they’ll be there. I am eternally blessed by that gift, a gift we just call friendship.
No matter how many nasty people I meet in bathrooms who behave so badly, I know there’s hope in that kind of protective, proud love I got to witness on that plane and in my life. There’s so much to be celebrated on the tarmac and online because we are living out loud.
There’s so much love to love.
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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.