Speak Now

For the majority of my time as a student, I would not voluntarily speak in class. I rarely raised my hand, unless I was 100% sure of the answer and there was no chance of embarrassment. If a teacher ever called on me without warning, my very pale face would instantly flush bright red. When we were reading out loud, I would count the students ahead of me so I could practice the paragraph that I’d have to read on my turn. Anything I could do to minimize any sort of spontaneous speaking was crucial.

I was required to take a public speaking class my first year of college, which you could imagine was my version of hell. Our professor gave us a questionnaire at the beginning of the semester to gauge our comfort levels with speaking in front of people, and she said if anyone’s answers showed high enough levels of anxiety, they would be allowed to drop the class and find an alternative GE requirement. So you know I was all about bombing this questionnaire. But no luck. Turns out I had totally normal fears about public speaking, or at least that’s the lie my professor told me. Whenever we had to present and my professor asked for volunteers to go first, I couldn’t raise my hand quick enough. I was Katniss levels of desperate because I needed to get it over with as soon as possible; I couldn’t have the uncertainty of when I would be speaking looming over me for the entire class. I managed to survive the course, but there was no part of me that felt more comfortable with public speaking when that semester was over.

The following year I declared an English major, and what I didn’t know – but admittedly should have anticipated – is that meant a lot of class discussions. Cue the daily panic. It didn’t help that I had absolutely no idea how to prepare for a discussion on a book I couldn’t even follow. The language was weird and confusing and I could not figure out how anyone actually knew what was going on. I couldn’t even fake it half the time. I found myself Googling “how not to turn red from embarrassment.”

This fear of speaking wasn’t limited to school. The thought of talking on the phone was – and in a lot of ways, still is – the most stressful thing in the world. Ordering take out required a full script on my end. I avoided talking to retail workers at all costs. I didn’t go to the dining hall my entire first semester of college because I didn’t know how use my meal plan and didn’t know how to ask without sounding dumb. I never ate lunch at my first internship because I didn’t know the break policy, and once again, I was too afraid to ask. The thought of asking someone for any sort of help or clarification was crippling; I can’t even begin to guess the amount of experiences I missed out on because of this single fear.

I’ll admit that it wasn’t until my senior year of college that I started to work on making a difference. The fact that I was back in therapy and starting medication obviously had an impact on my development in these situations, but at that time, I had also changed my major to something I was actually interested in. I found myself raising my hand to share opinions with my classmates. I had a moment of epiphany when it came to asking employees questions or talking to someone on the phone: I shouldn’t feel weird about asking questions from someone whose literal job it was to help me. Which was also something I could apply to school. I needed to own the fact that I didn’t have the answers for everything.

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who uses a vocabulary word or makes a reference that you don’t understand, but you let them carry on as if you did? I was the queen of this for the longest time. I thought that if I stopped to say “I don’t know what that word means,” or “I don’t know who that person is,” I would sound dumb. Notice a pattern? I eventually came to realize that not knowing and trying to continue on with the conversation probably made me sound even dumber, and obviously a lot less genuine. If you have to fake understanding, it’s a lot more work to maintain that facade than to admit you’re unsure.

Looking back on all of this now, it’s wonder I managed to get hired at jobs or get decent grades. I managed. I coasted. But I didn’t quite thrive. And to be completely honest, I don’t even know if I could pinpoint exactly what I was afraid of. Was it embarrassment, judgment, magnifying insecurities, failure? Probably all of the above.

I discovered a big part of finding my voice included listening. You would assume that listening was something I’ve done plenty of because I wasn’t speaking. But the truth is when I wasn’t speaking, I was still only listening to myself. There would be a million thoughts racing through my head, ranging from what I would say if I had the nerve, to how I could possibly recover from a potentially wrong answer. It’s true when people say that you shouldn’t care what people think about you, because odds are, they are too preoccupied about themselves.

So with the minor adjustments of owning my uncertainties and being a more active listener, I started to notice some changes. It was a slow process, but eventually, I found myself craving those moments when I could engage. By absorbing more of what was going on around me and opening myself up to the ideas and opinions of others, I got more comfortable with not only responding to people’s thoughts, but also challenging them. It was miraculous to me that my initial worry about admitting I didn’t know something had turned into a tool I could use to learn more. I was asking questions of everybody – professors and classmates, whoever was on the phone helping me schedule a doctor’s appointment, or even friends when we needed to solve a problem. Not only does asking question help you learn and communicate better, but it also takes the pressure off you to take the lead. It’s honestly a win-win.

Starting this blog over two years ago was the perfect example of taking a step toward overcoming my fears. I had wanted to start my blog for a while, but I was constantly asking myself “Would anyone read it? Will they care? Will my content be good enough to keep people interested?” Self doubt has a way of seeping into our most precious aspects in life, and it’s difficult to ignore. Even as I sit here writing this, there’s a part of me that wonders if it’s worth posting. It’s a constant practice that I encourage everyone to engage in, because without it, there’s no growth. It’s still slightly shocking to me that I’ve made so many strides in this area of my life – enough strides that I feel confident in telling others to follow my lead. I’m sure there are plenty folks out there who can relate to these fears, and it’s definitely going to take some time to work them out. At the end of the day, when it comes to finding your voice, my biggest piece of advice is this: when in doubt…accept that you’re in doubt. It’s a much easier way to find clarity.

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Bisexual Awareness Week

Happy Bisexual Awareness Week, everyone!

While we passively acknowledge the bi+ community every time we say LGBTQ+, the B in this conversation is given little recognition. So this week, the bi+ community comes together with our allies to remind everyone that bisexuality is a valid identity and there is still plenty of work to be done to end bi erasure. We’ve all heard the ridiculous misconceptions; there continue to be predominantly negative and inaccurate representations of the bi+ community in the media, as well as discussed in queer spaces. Contrary to what some people believe, bisexuality has a very nuanced history, and the work that has been done over the years still continues today.

In honor of this work and the celebration of Bisexual Awareness Week, GLAAD hosted the first ever panel about bi+ representation in current media, which you can watch on their Facebook page. This panel featured intersecting perspectives from within the bi+ community, including advocates Alex Berg, Eliel Cruz, Bryan J. Ellicott, Ashley Ford, Denarii Monroe, and Mathew Rodriguez. All of the panelists have experience in a number of mediums that give the bi+ community a more prominent voice and tell the stories of community members across the spectrum. One thought that I couldn’t help but return to throughout the night was the fact that I had never been in a space that was so focused and dedicated to the bi+ community. Thanks to GLAAD’s Senior Strategist Alexandra Bolles, we were finally given that opportunity. It was an incredible party to witness.

The panelists discussed many issues facing the bi+ community, such as the lack of representation in the media despite statistically being the majority of the LGBTQ+ community, the negative connotations people tend to associate with bi+ people, like being indecisive, confused, or overly promiscuous. and the work that has to continue to be done in order to give the bi+ community a more positive portrayal in the media. These panelists spoke from places of personal experience, which added an incredible sense of authenticity to the panel. Their intersecting perspectives were a genuine treat for the audience to experience, as we were all there to celebrate bisexuality and discuss the ways we can all contribute to bettering visibility and offering more accurate representations of our community in the media.

Panel moderator and Mic writer Mathew Rodriguez asked the panelists to share their first memory of seeing a bi+ person in the media, and I realized how difficult that question was to answer. Panelists shared answers like Dr. Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror Picture Show and Callie Torres from Grey’s Anatomy, but I started to consider my own experiences and realized how upsetting it was to come to the conclusion I could probably count the amount of bi+ characters I’ve seen in the media on one hand. From a statistical perspective, Eliel Cruz, Executive Director of Faith in America, shared the correlation between visibility and funding. Using the trans community as an example, Cruz brought attention to the fact that there is a direct correlation between the representation minority groups have in the media to the amount of money and work being put into bettering their communities. We still have a lot of work to do.

On the topic of bi+ erasure, the panelists offered a number of experiences that contribute to one of the most prominent problems facing the community. Alex Berg, a producer at HuffPost Video, spoke about an instance in which a celebrity’s publicist forbade the word bisexual to be used – even though the celebrity has since come out about their sexuality and was in the process of writing a memoir in which the topic was featured. Denarii Monroe also spoke about a similar issue, sharing times when her work was not accepted because it was not the “typical” bi experience…whatever that means. In the words of Ashley Ford, “People are obsessed with certainty, which doesn’t exist.” As was proven by the different experiences of all of our panelists, everyone has their own personal relationship with what it means to be bisexual. There are different definitions depending on who you ask, there is no one “type” of bisexual person, and most importantly, our identity is not something for you to make assumptions about. Which is why we need our voices to be heard. Which is why we need to have better representation. Which is why Bi Week is so important.

I love being part of this community. After getting through the hard times of listening to people claiming that bisexuality didn’t exist and forcing people choose one side and claiming fluidity was just a way to get attention, I was able to grow and understand that my identity was valid. I am lucky enough to be surrounded by positivity within both my personal and queer spaces, but I know this is not the case for everybody. And this is why we have to keep working toward progress within the bi+ community. I want younger generations to be able to see their identities truly representation in the TV shows they watch. I want people to talk about bisexuality with the same validity they talk about gay and lesbian identities. Because of events like Bi Week and the recognition of the work that is continuing to be done within the community, I’d like to think that’s a place we can get to someday.

Thanks to everyone at GLAAD for hosting this event, and a special thanks to Alexandra for being such a rockstar.

Bi Week might just be until Friday, but for so many of us, it’s always Bi Week. 🙂

Check out my Twitter for some livetweeting from the event!