Friday, March 28, 2014

Speaking as a Lesbian...

I just did my first big conference this March – as the General Speaker.  I was asked to present my Structure and Function program (assessing infant structure in relation to breastfeeding challenges) and to present on Counseling Same Sex Couples and LGBTQ Culture.  Speaking about Structure and Function is easy for me.  LGBTQ?  That’s a little different.

I am a Lesbian.  I have 3 kids, a Wife and I own my own business as a private practice Lactation Consultant.  I am also Out.  Not in your face Out, but I have no problem (most of the time) talking about my wife and kids and letting people know if they have questions about working with LGBTQ parents and families to ask me.  LGBTQ Issues are coming out into the forefront in a big way right now – we are making strides with equality in some areas while atrocities committed against us in other areas are making headlines and countries are being taken to task for it.  So, when I was asked to speak about my community – I was honored.

Let me set the scene for you:  Out Lesbian living in California (relatively safe), out on Facebook and professional groups online (relatively safe), being asked to speak in the Deep South…what is known as The Bible Belt…in Louisiana…safe??  To say my wife was concerned about my flying into and speaking in that environment is an understatement.  To say I was mostly unprepared (read naïve) for what would come is also an understatement.

You see – I live my life as if being gay is no big deal – because to me it isn’t.  Am I very much aware of the issues my LGBTQ family around the world deals with day to day?  Absolutely.  Have I dealt with such issues myself?  Yes.  But, frankly, I have it really good where I live and I feel ‘relatively’ safe.  And people I come into contact with daily in my professional world don’t give a care that I am gay, in fact they generally appreciate that I am as Out as I am and come to me fairly often with questions and ask for input – which I am more than honored to give.  But I was asked to speak in an area that is not known to be LGBTQ friendly.  We, as a community, are lacking in equal rights, civil rights and face discrimination on a regular basis in the Deep South.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are MANY people there who are progressive and accepting and absolutely LGBTQ Allies fighting beside Us for equal rights for all.  But – there are, without question, those who are not. 

My trip out I had a seatmate (a 21 yr old young man) who made it clear he hated ‘faggots’. 
I needed to work on my LGBTQ presentations on the trip out but did not because, frankly, it just wasn't safe for me to do so sitting next to a young man who talked about putting the guy who called him a ‘faggot’ into the hospital.  This to me was, scary.  Who I am was clearly a threat to this person who, since he did not know I was lesbian, had no problem talking to me assuming that I had a husband back at home.  No I did not correct him on that.  Why not?  Think about it.  

On my way home, I sat with a preacher man whose church is welcoming, affirming and now is honored to have LGBTQ preachers.  Talk about opposites...and it occurred to me that this is the world we live in - and it is frustrating and contradictory - and something no one should have to live with...the fear of just being yourself, never sure if you will be safe or not.

At the conference I came out to 150 people I did not know – and who did not know me.  And while it may have looked easy to those watching me speak, coming out the way I did was NOT easy. But I needed to put a face to the topic – and that face was ME, my family and my LGBTQ community.  During my last session it was made very clear to me and the group by one individual that she was highly offended at my presentations and made no bones about saying so – repeatedly – to many others – including the conference programmer who was accused of having an ‘agenda’ – to which she replied yes she did have an agenda:  To Educate.

Now, while I have no problem being who I am, knowing that there are others who will take great personal offense at my being open about my life and world makes it an emotional challenge to 'put it all out there for strangers' to see. Being out on FB with people I like and know is one thing...going in to a room full of strangers is something completely different.  And something I wasn’t fully prepared for.

The backlash was intense.  Apparently 2 sessions on LGBTQ Issues is just Too Much Gay for Some People’s Day.  The point was missed, by some, that we all need to learn about LGBTQ Culture and Counseling just as we need to learn about other Cultures, how to counsel appropriately and how to work with that culture without inadvertently offending.  Rather the point on how the LGBTQ community is regularly treated (blown off, discriminated against, marginalized, oppressed…) was made loud and clear.   The backlash was present during the presentation, after the presentation (that day) and even several days after the conference was over.  Apparently the organizers received some ‘unpleasant evaluations’ and were told I was an incredibly unprofessional speaker…because I talked about LGBTQ Issues – because I put it ‘in their faces’ – because I was open about my being a ‘lesbian’.  I was told they didn’t ‘need’ the information I was providing…I’d have to disagree with that.  And perhaps my laid back style of teaching/speaking isn’t what they are used to…I use slang terms, humor and talk to people as if I am talking to my friends. 

Frankly, the fact that this conference had the vagina to actually ask me to speak on LGBTQ topics in the Deep South speaks volumes to me.  The fact that some were quite rude and disrespectful to me and to them was surprising to me and hurt.  The fact that many others, however, were angry at how I was treated was amazing!  So many people came to me later, in person, via email, via Facebook messages saying Thank You for what I presented – how they were so angry with the person who was rude to me, how the information I shared was helping them already to understand how better to work with and communicate with LGBTQ families.  To me this is amazing – and I am humbled and honored.  I have been told that I made an impact that I may not even be aware of…that I have educated on topics that are desperately needed and the resources I provided will help them help the LGBTQ community far better than they have been.  I have been told by many now, that I made people think about stuff they don’t want to think about.  That I challenged them in a manner they are most uncomfortable with.  That whether or not they wanted to be educated on this topic – They WERE. 

THIS is overwhelming to me!

I simply went to speak on a topic near and dear to me.  Though I know there are those who don’t like the LGBTQ community, and I have been treated rudely by others because I am Lesbian I did NOT for one second expect to be treated like that by other lactation professionals – my colleagues.  That shocked me.  It just didn't occur to me that I would be treated like that.  I know – I am naïve.  I know this about myself.  I expect others to be polite, respectful – as I would be to them.  I am just me, trying to educate people in the best way I know how on a topic that is very much needed.  

Will I speak on these topics again live?  Sure.  
Will I change the way I present my topics?  Nope.  
Will I change my speaking style?  Nope.  
Will I change me to make others more comfortable?  HELL NO.  
Will I continue to do my best to educate others who want that education?  Absolutely.  
Will it challenge some to think a little and others to think a lot?  I sure hope so. 

The LGBTQ Community is not going away – in fact we are coming out more and more and as Lactation Professionals it is our JOB to be as educated as possible in working with the LGBTQ Community, myself included.  And frankly, who better to educate the Lactation Community about the LGBTQ Community than a Lesbian Lactation Consultant?