Caitlyn Jenner and the Water Cooler

The news and social media have been inundated with Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and transition, so obviously it has become the hot topic around the water cooler at work.

If I had a dollar every time I walked by and overhead someone talk about her with the wrong pronouns, or something generally stupid, I could probably take a nice vacation. But I really don’t know people in other departments so I really didn’t feel like it was my place to speak up. This is frustrating in itself. Just because I’m a lesbian doesn’t mean I’m the pronoun, gender, and sexuality police.

Then it came up in my department. I was preparing for it, but hoping I didn’t need to interject. It’s not like most people were saying things purposely wrong or ignorant but it made me cringe nonetheless. My brain really started to race. Do I say something, and if I do speak up how do I not sound like a condescending asshole. Teaching moments are fast and fleeting, and a hard tone or a judgmental look could ruin the entire moment.

I really have a hard time finding the right time and the right place to speak up. When I’m with people I know and I’m comfortable with I’ll tell them they’re wrong in less than a heartbeat. Coworkers or strangers – am I being too aggressive? What is my tone like? Do I really need to speak up now? Surely someone else will speak up?

Eventually I put on my big girl pants and jumped into the conversation, not correcting their language, but just using the correct pronouns. And then something fantastic happened – they self-corrected their language. It’s like I had magical queer powers.

I do believe that most people want to be truly opened minded and understand. That if they say something wrong it’s out of ignorance and not maliciousness.  I’m not entirely naïve, I know that sometimes people are just bigoted and downright terrible. That sometimes you do have to hit people over the head with how wrong they are. Other times, luckily, you can guide the conversation in a way that lets people figure it out for themselves.

I’m proud of Caitlyn and her journey – that she (like many other LGBT celebrities) is empowering so many people to learn and grow into truly open-minded and understanding people.

Assuming Does Make You an Ass

Culture isn’t real- at least what most of us think of when we hear the word culture. The “homophobic culture” of a country (i.e. Russia) is not the entire country. Saying that there is only one culture in a country or geographic area is ridiculous. Yes, there are features that are unique to specific countries, but saying there is only one homogeneous American culture would negate the differences that the North, South, East , West, and Midwest are proud of.

I think it is getting better, but a large amount of the aid/non-profit/government workers still treat countries and regions as having one collective mindset. Going into City A with locked in expectations is counter productive to whatever your mission is.

Assuming that a group of people in any aid/non-profit/government situation has nothing to offer will also decrease the chance of your program making the most positive impact. We are not the true experts, and utilizing  every resource, even if it’s not an obvious one, is crucial.

I do need to remind myself of these things quite often: every time I travel, give a workshop or work with volunteers. Assuming that a person, group of people, or entire country hates who I am closes me off from creating the most positive impact.

I’m not saying that every gay humanitarian should tattoo the word “Queer” on their forehead, but putting every Russian, Ugandan, or American in the same homophobic box discredits the diversity of opinions that exist in humanity’s spectrum.

When going into a new location, we need to remind ourselves that politics and political agendas are not people.

And it’s not why we do the work we do. It’s the people.