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← Coming out of your closet: Ash Beckham at TEDxBoulder

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Showing Revision 10 created 02/15/2014 by Elisabeth Buffard.

  1. I am going to talk to you tonight
  2. about coming out of the closet.
  3. And not in the traditional sense,
  4. not just the "gay" closet.
  5. I think we all have closets,
  6. your closet may be telling someone
  7. you love her for the first time.
  8. Or telling someone you're pregnant.
  9. Or telling someone you have cancer.
  10. Or any of the other hard conversations
  11. we have throughout our lives.
  12. All the closet is,
    is a hard conversation.
  13. And although our topics
    may vary tremendously,
  14. the experience of being in
    and coming out of the closet
  15. is universal.
  16. It is scary, and we hate it,
  17. and it needs to be done.
  18. Several years ago, I was working
    at the Southside Walnut Café,
  19. (Laughter)
  20. a local diner in town,
  21. and during my time there,
  22. I would go through phases
    of militant, lesbian, intensity.
  23. (Laughter)
  24. Not shaving my armpits,
  25. quoting Ani DiFranco lyrics as gospel,
  26. and depending on the bagginess
    of my cargo shorts,
  27. and how recently I'd shaved my head,
  28. the question would often
    be sprung on me,
  29. usually by a little kid:
  30. "Mmmm, are you a boy,
    or are you a girl?"
  31. And there would be
    an awkward silence at the table,
  32. I'd clench my jaw a little tighter,
  33. hold my coffee pot
    with a little more vengeance,
  34. the Dad would awkwardly
    shuffle his newspaper,
  35. and the Mom would shoot
    a chilling stare at her kid.
  36. But I would say nothing,
  37. and I would seethe inside.
  38. And it got to the point that everytime
  39. I walked up to a table that had a kid
  40. anywhere between 3 and 10 years old,
  41. I was ready to fight.
  42. (Laughter)
  43. And that is a terrible feeling.
  44. So I promised myself
    that the next time,
  45. I would say something.
  46. I would have that hard conversation.
  47. So within a matter of weeks,
    it happens again:
  48. "Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"
  49. Familiar silence.
  50. But this time, I am ready.
  51. And I am about to go
    all Woman Studies 101 on this table.
  52. (Laughter)
  53. I've got my Betty Friedan quotes,
  54. I've got my Gloria Steinem quotes,
  55. I even got this little bit from
    Vagina Monologues I'm gonna do,
  56. so I take a deep breath,
    and I look down,
  57. and staring back at me
  58. is a 4-year old girl in a pink dress.
  59. Not a challenge to a feminist duel,
  60. just a kid, with a question:
  61. "Are you a boy, or are you a girl?"
  62. So I take another deep breath,
  63. squat down next to her and say:
  64. "Hey, I know it's kind of confusing,
  65. my hair is short like a boy's,
  66. and I wear boys' clothes,
  67. but I'm a girl
  68. and you know how sometimes
    you like to wear a pink dress,
  69. and sometimes you like
    to wear your comfie jammies,
  70. well, I'm more of
    a comfie jammies kind of a girl."
  71. (Laughter)
  72. And this kid looks me dead in the eye
  73. without missing a beat and says:
  74. "My favorite pajamas are purple
  75. with fish, can I get a pancake please?"
  76. (Laughter)
  77. And that was it, just:
  78. "Oh, OK, you're a girl.
    How 'bout that pancake?"
  79. (Laughter)
  80. It was the easiest hard conversation
    I have ever had.
  81. And why?
  82. Because Pancake Girl and I,
  83. we were both real with each other.
  84. So, like many of us,
  85. I've lived in a few closets in my life,
  86. and yeah, most often,
    my walls happen to be rainbow.
  87. But inside, in the dark,
  88. you can't tell what color the walls are.
  89. You just know what it feels like
  90. to live in a closet.
  91. So really, my closet
    is no different than yours,
  92. or yours,
  93. or yours.
  94. Sure, I can give you 100 reasons
  95. why coming out of my closet
  96. was harder than coming out of yours,
  97. but here's the thing,
  98. hard is not relative,
  99. hard is hard.
  100. Who can tell me
  101. that explaining to someone
  102. you've just declared bankrupcy
  103. is harder than telling someone
  104. when you just cheated on them.
  105. Who can tell me
  106. that his coming out story
  107. is harder than telling your 5-year old
  108. you're getting a divorce.
  109. There is no "harder",
  110. there is just "hard."
  111. We need to stop ranking our "hard"
  112. against everybody else's "hard"
  113. to make us feel better
    or worse about our closet
  114. and just commiserate on the fact
  115. that we all have "hard."
  116. At some point in our lives,
  117. we all live in closets,
  118. and they may feel safe.
  119. Or at least, safer than what lies
  120. on the other side of that door.
  121. But I'm here to tell you,
  122. no matter what your walls are made of,
  123. a closet is no place
    for a person to live.
  124. (Cheers)
  125. Thanks.
  126. So why is coming out of any closet,
  127. why is having that conversation,
  128. why is it so hard?
  129. Because they're stressful.
  130. We're so concerned about the reaction
  131. of the other person, and understandably.
  132. Will they be angry?
  133. Sad?
  134. Disappointed?
  135. Will we loose a friend?
  136. A parent?
  137. A lover?
  138. These conversations cause stress.
  139. So let's kick out
    on stress for a minute.
  140. Stress is a natural reaction
    in your body.
  141. When you encounter a perceived threat,
  142. -- keyword, "perceived" --
  143. your hypothalamus sounds the alarm,
  144. and adrenaline and cortisol
  145. start coursing through your veins.
  146. This is known as
  147. Fight or Flight.
  148. Sometimes you rumble,
  149. sometimes you run.
  150. And this is a totally normal reaction.
  151. And, comes from a time
  152. when that threat was
    being chased by a wooly mammoth.
  153. The problem is
  154. your hypothalamus has no idea
  155. if you're being chased
    by a wooly mammoth,
  156. or if your computer just crashed,
  157. or if your in-laws just showed up
    on your doorsteps,
  158. or if you're about
    to jump out of a plane,
  159. or if you need to tell someone you love
  160. that you have a brain tumor.
  161. The difference is
  162. the wooly mammoth
    chases you for, what,
  163. maybe 10 minutes.
  164. Not having those hard conversations,
  165. that can go on for years,
  166. and your body just can't handle that.
  167. Chronic exposure to adrenaline and cortisol
  168. disrupts almost every system in your body
  169. and can lead to anxiety,
  170. depression, heart disease,
  171. just to name a few.
  172. When you do not have hard conversations,
  173. when you keep the truth about yourself a secret,
  174. you're essentially holding a grenade.
  175. So, imagine yourself
  176. 20 years ago.
  177. Me,
  178. I had a pony tail,
  179. a strapless dress,
  180. and high heel shoes.
  181. I was not the militant lesbian
  182. ready to fight any 4-year old
    that walked into the café.
  183. (Laughter)
  184. I was frozen by fear,
  185. curled up in a corner
  186. of my pitch-black closet,
  187. clutching my gay grenade.
  188. And moving one muscle
  189. is the scariest thing
  190. I have ever done.
  191. My family,
  192. my friends,
  193. complete strangers,
  194. I had spent my entire life
  195. trying to not disappoint these people.
  196. And now, I was turning
    the world upside down.
  197. On purpose.
  198. I was burning the pages of the script
  199. we had all followed for so long,
  200. but if you do not throw that grenade,
  201. it will kill you.
  202. One of my most memorable grenade-tosses
  203. was at my sister's wedding.
  204. (Laughter)
  205. It was the first time
    that many on attendance
  206. knew that I was gay.
  207. So in doing my Maid of Honor duties,
  208. in my black dress and heels,
  209. I walked around the tables,
  210. and finally landed at the table
    of my parents' friends,
  211. folks that had known me for years.
  212. And after a little small talk,
  213. one of the women shouted out:
  214. "I love Nathan Lane!"
  215. And the battle of gay relatebility
  216. had begun.
  217. "Ash, have you ever been to the Castro?"
  218. "Well, yeah, actually,
    we have friends in San Francisco."
  219. "We've never been there,
  220. but we hear it's 'fa-bu-lous'!!"
  221. "Ash, do you know my hairdresser Antonio,
  222. he's really good, and
    he's never talked about a girlfriend."
  223. "Ash, what's your favorite TV show?
  224. Our favorite TV show:
    favorite, Will and Grace,
  225. you know who we love? Jack.
  226. Jack is our favorite."
  227. And then one woman,
  228. stumped,
  229. but wanting so desperately
    to show her support,
  230. to let me know she was on my side,
  231. she finally blurted out:
  232. "Well, sometimes my husband
    wears pink shirts."
  233. (Laughter)
  234. And I had a choice in that moment,
  235. as all grenade-throwers do.
  236. I could go back to my girlfriend,
  237. and my gay-loving table,
  238. and mock their responses.
  239. Chastise their unworldliness,
  240. and their inability to jump through
  241. the politically-correct gay hoops
  242. I had brought with me,
  243. or,
  244. I could empatize with them,
  245. and realize that that was maybe
  246. one of the hardest things
    that they had ever done.
  247. That starting,
  248. and having that conversation,
  249. was them coming out of their closets.
  250. Sure, it would have been easy
  251. to point out where they fell short.
  252. It's a lot harder
  253. to meet them where they are,
  254. and acknowledge the fact that
  255. they were trying,
  256. and what else can you ask someone to do,
  257. but try.
  258. If you're going to be real with someone,
  259. you've got to be ready
  260. for real in return.
  261. So, hard conversations
    are still not my strong suit.
  262. Ask anybody I've ever dated.
  263. But I'm getting better.
  264. And I follow what I like to call
  265. 'The Three Pancake Girl Principles."
  266. Now, please,
  267. view this through gay-colored lenses,
  268. but know,
  269. what it takes to come out of any closet,
  270. is essentially the same.
  271. Number One:
  272. Be Authentic,
  273. take the armor off, be yourself.
  274. That kid in the café
  275. had no armor,
  276. but I was ready for battle.
  277. Stupid hypothalamus.
  278. If you want someone to be real with you,
  279. they need to know that you bleed too.
  280. Number Two:
  281. Be Direct,
  282. You say it, rip the bandaid off.
  283. If you know you are gay,
  284. just say it.
  285. If you tell your parents
    you might be gay,
  286. they will hold that hope
    that this will change.
  287. Do not give them
  288. that sense of false hope.
  289. (Laughter)
  290. And Number Three,
  291. and most important:
  292. (Laughter)
  293. Be Unapologetic.
  294. You are speaking your truth.
  295. Never apologize for that.
  296. And some folks might
    have gotten hurt along the way.
  297. So sure.
  298. Apologize for what you've done.
  299. But never apologize for who you are.
  300. And yeah, some folks
    may be disappointed.
  301. But that is on them.
  302. Not on you.
  303. Those are their expectations
    of who you are,
  304. not yours.
  305. That is their story.
  306. Not yours.
  307. The only story that matters
  308. is the one that you want to write.
  309. So the next time you find yourself
  310. in a pitchblack closet
  311. clutching your grenade,
  312. know that we've all been there before.
  313. And you may feel so very alone,
  314. but you are not.
  315. And we know it's hard,
  316. but we need you out here,
  317. no matter what your walls are made of.
  318. Because I guarantee you
  319. there are others
    peering through the keyhole
  320. of their closet
  321. looking for the next brave soul
  322. to bust a door open
  323. so BE that person,
  324. and show the world that
    we are bigger than our closets,
  325. and that a closet is no place
  326. for a person to truly live.
  327. Thank you Boulder, enjoy your night.
  328. (Cheers)