Thursday, October 30, 2014

You Never Know Who Is In The Room

I was required to go to a training last week as part of a wonderful campus initiative to improve awareness and response to sexual assault and sexual violence. The training was conducted by the fantastically amazingly awesome Juliette Grimmett, who I cannot say enough good things about. Since I've written on being the only one, I want to talk to you today about how it feels to be seen and heard. How powerful it is, especially when you're not expecting it.

And we don't expect it. That's the nature of being in a marginalized group. You get used to not being accounted for, you expect it, you develop strategies for dealing with it.  So when Juliette conducted an entire training session with attention to using gender neutral terms and being inclusive of gender non-conforming folks throughout our three-hour session, without making any kind of deal, just as her way of being, I was blown away. I really was. At first I thought "oh that's nice, nice to hear these things," but as the session went on, I started to feel... safe.  This was all on the acts of one person, nobody else in the room (to my knowledge) had made any kind of special commitment to being gender inclusive. Nobody else was being forced or even asked to be gender inclusive. Having one person speak in an inclusive way without being asked and without making a huge deal about it in a room of dozens of people told me that at least this one person, I could trust. It made me think: maybe there is a world where this is the norm, maybe we can get there.

This is the weight of it: I felt that I should thank Juliette because I have NEVER seen that before, and I went to tell her, and when I did, I cried. That surprised me. I don't know that it surprised her, but it probably reinforced what she told me, which is that she does it because it is important to her.

I'm telling you this story because it is an example of the kind of profound impact we all can have, every day, by being careful about and attentive to our language. You can create a space where someone feels safe, feels heard, feels at home.  It is so easy, especially as we live busy lives, to use lazy and dangerous language. You, me, we might think, I will be careful to use inclusive language when it is appropriate.  But look, you never know who is in the room. You don't know their entire story. When you are careful all of the time, you will surely happen upon a staff member, a student, a teen, a colleague, someone who will be changed. Someone who will be open to working with you because they know you care about language and you care about them because you use careful language.

It isn't just that it's the right thing to do, it is that the biggest impact is going to happen when you least expect it. So let's be open by being careful. Let's make the world that I didn't dare hope existed. Let's go.

Keep rockin',

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