We Need to Get Out of the Closet

Gay Equality Advocate Ash Beckham is on to something big.

Today I listened to her latest Ted Talk – about the hardships of living in the closet as a lesbian. And about the courage, compassion, and empathy necessary to step out of the closet and start to really live.

She starts with some revolutionary ideas:

Everyone, at some point in their life, will experience hardship.

Hardship cause pain, shame, anger, and secrecy.

Hardships put people in the closet.

Everyone, sooner or later, will be in a closet.

The closet can be anything:  sexual preference, feeling “different,” divorce or infidelity, cancer or death, an addiction or accident, an eating disorder or financial problems, abuse, learning disorders, lawsuits, bullies, bad parenting, getting fired, a lie, making a huge mistake, mental illness, whatever.

Beckham says, “All a closet is, is a hard conversation. And although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.”

Beckham went through a militant stage, when she didn’t want to have this conversation. She worked as a waitress and spent her days waiting to launch verbal grenades at little children who all had the exact same question when they met her: “Are you a boy or a girl?” Then one day she looks down into the face of a four-year-old girl in a pink dress.  “Are you a boy or a girl?” the child asks, predictably. And Beckham takes a deep breath, leans down, and starts to explain slowly and simply, “Hey I know it’s kind of confusing . . . “

The child listens to the explanation, nods without missing a beat, and asks for a pancake. This is the beauty of children. Their question is answered, and now they can move on to what’s really important: breakfast. The difficult conversation is over, and as it turns out, it wasn’t that difficult after all. 

One of the surprises of  divorce is that many adults act similarly about the conversation. Oh, a divorce. A bad divorce. A bad soon-to-be-ex. Messy and difficult. Ahhh. Okay. Got it. How can I help? And let’s order a glass of wine.

Beckham’s brief conversation with the four-year-old makes her realize that not everyone is out to get her. Also, that life is hard, and we all struggle, and what’s critical is not to judge others or compare hardships. It’s all hard. Hard is not relative. It’s just hard.

So how did Beckham get out of the closet? Here is her advice:

Be Authentic. Take the armor off, be yourself. 

Be Direct, rip the bandaid off.

Be Unapologetic. Speak your truth, never apologize for that. Apologize for what you’ve done, but never apologize for who you are.

But of course it is not just gay and divorced women who live in closets. It’s everyone, at one time or another.

So I suppose the first question is: What is our closet? What are we hiding?

And the second question is: Do we have the courage to step out, have difficult conversations, and start to move towards bigger and better things? Because it’s true: a closet is no place for a person to live.

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