Share Your Truth: GCSW PhD Student Ambassador writes about sharing her truth.
I recently attended a fellowship meeting in Chicago. The Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-being through Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago invited speakers to share with the new and returning cohort of students many things about research, policy, and advocacy. One speaker in particular talked about continuing to promote and encourage open conversations about child abuse. He spoke of his hope that individuals who have experienced child sexual abuse will talk about their trauma in an effort to make the issue known and to stimulate ongoing efforts for communities everywhere to face these issues and improve prevention and intervention. The alternative, silence, can be misleading and damaging. Silence can be like a dense fog covering over an entire landscape, making it impossible to see the road immediately in front of you. It can make you question what is real.
Sitting at this presentation, and later thinking about the speaker’s message on the plane ride home, I realized that this argument really relates to so many things. I for one completely support strategies for uncovering the veil of child sexual abuse that leaves so many individuals struggling to pretend it never happened. In the midst of all of this thinking, I realized that we should consider our personal experiences as potential springboards for great advocacy. And, although I am typically very private, I recognize that even sharing a story about being gay might stimulate others to think and share. Conversations can be the birthplace of revelations and understanding. I hope that sharing my truth will promote dialogue about LBGT issues and encourage recognition of human dignity.
I know a simple truth. I love my partner Sara. We have a wonderful relationship. Like many of my friends in various types of relationships, we have our own ups and downs. Growing up Catholic, it was very difficult for me to reconcile the messages I heard with what I learned about LBGT issues. This tension truly reflected how layers of systems influence individuals and relationships. While I was able to resolve the clash of opposing doctrines with a firm belief in the rights and dignity of every lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender person, the community around me is not necessarily of the same opinion. The recent media firestorm around a chicken franchise, reflects the opposition to equal rights that is alive and well in our society. In fact, some of the family around me can be of these very steadfast, non-accepting positions or vehement resistance to equal rights. So while most individuals would agree that individuals should love whom they love, many strongly object to same-sex love or legal recognition. And I find myself asking, not only how has this affected me, but what do I do about it?
Sitting back and thinking as a social worker, I recognize that many individuals suffer isolated battles to be accepted or have a same-sex relationship acknowledged. There are plentiful examples of LGBT individuals facing prejudice, discrimination, disenfranchised grief, and just plain ignorance. Having encountered my own situations, I believe we need to critically analyze our positions and have meaningful conversations. We need to run toward the discomfort, not away from it. This personal evaluation may lead you to ask who your money supports (be that businesses, politicians, or causes), ask how you can learn more about LBGT issues or discuss differing opinions, maybe you ask how you can share your own story (and then do it; not just LBGT issues, but any personal experience), and still for others it may be simply determining how you interact with LBGT individuals. What I have found least effective is facing one who leaves when an LBGT individual walks into a conversation or room, ends a relationship when they learn of a person’s LGBT status, or even worse, is a relative who removes his/her children from a family function lest an LBGT family member influence them. I don’t believe extremes provide the framework for truly solving problems.
I am proud to have grown from the person I was 15 years ago. That was a time of great personal conflict. It was a time when I wouldn’t have imagined advocating for LBGT issues. And now, as a social worker and a PhD student, I am continuing to learn new ways of supporting the issues I believe in. I am so very thankful for every single person who has been supportive, loving, and accepting of me as I am and for acknowledging my relationship. I am grateful for hearing the struggles and accomplishments other LBGT individuals have experienced. I recognize the immense beauty inherent in a story. There is such richness and depth attached to owning our experiences and sharing them with others. The thousands of moments that have passed have been integral to shaping the person each of us is and who we will become. The interchange of stories is like knitting spools of wool together to create a magnificent quilt, the real fabric of our communities.