Why Being Your Authentic Self at Work is Important

Why Being Your Authentic Self at Work is Important

When I was in 9th grade I had a health teacher who insisted we call her “Coach” instead of “miss.” She walked into the classroom the first day and loudly declared to everyone that she would not tolerate the use of the word “gay” as a slur. I remember her saying “there is nothing wrong with being gay.” Believe it or not, that was literally the first time in my life someone had said that. Up until then, I had participated with kids on the bus or in the hallways with saying things like, “oh that’s so gay,” and in that moment in that classroom my whole world was shook. On my bus ride home I sat with my friend Alison who was also in that class, and we talked about what Coach had said and how maybe she was right and we should stop using gay as a slur, and that maybe, just maybe, there was nothing wrong with being gay.

As an adult now, I know it must have taken a lot of courage for her to declare that to a pimply bunch of teens. I also know why it was so important. Not only was she showing up as her authentic self at her job, she was creating a space that uplifted and protected any queer or questioning students in that class. It’s hard for me to imagine now, as a queer leader in my workplace and community that that was the first time anyone ever told me it was ok to be gay. While I didn’t come out for another decade, this remains a formative moment in my history as a queer person. It’s an important note to myself that these moments of being our authentic selves and standing up for what we believe in have an effect much larger than just ourselves.

It was this authenticity that allowed me to follow a path of discovery to my own authenticity, and it is for this reason that I try to live my most authentic self at work. I proudly tell coworkers that my spouse uses they/them pronouns and share funny jokes about RuPaul’s Drag Race. I educate on the significance of Stonewall and the impact of the AIDS epidemic. While it can often feel like a lot of work and isolating, the payoff is worth it. I now have coworkers who have wished me Happy Pride on June 1st, and tell me about nonbinary friends they’ve made. Coworkers who can make a Uhaul joke with me, and others who have since come out to me. I feel proud of the culture I’ve created and the impact I’ve had by simply not hiding behind a facade when I walk into the office elevator (or log onto my computer).

Now this seems all dreamy and even makes me a little teary as i type, but I admit it’s not easy. You have to work hard to find the right balance of calling people out and calling them in. Another formative memory I have is picking out a baby doll as a small child. I’d been pining for a Bitty Baby (hello fellow millennials!), and I showed my mom the white baby with the blue eyes — the one who looked like me — and she said, “have you thought about getting a different one that doesn’t look like you?” Wow. Another moment that shook my world. I hadn’t ever thought about that, and my little brain was like, wow, can I just choose any of them? This was a great example of my mom calling me in, instead of out. She didn’t demand I choose a different doll and shame me for not questioning my bias — she invited me to think in a different and new way.

Of course, there is also time for calling out and not standing for bigotry, and there are also times where you just need to preserve your energy. Once I was standing in line for an in-office event where we got to make bouquets and the straight men around me were making jokes about how all the wives tonight were going to be so happy. I felt left out and alone in that moment, but decided it wasn’t worth my energy to call those folks out. I chose to invest my time carefully, starting with my own team, and then moving on to the greater company once I found my people and support.

My last memory I’ll share is another high school one. I was with friends at the homecoming football game and my friend Amie had worn glitter that was super popular back in the early 2000s. A girl in our class approached her and said, “omg glitter! Are you a Lesbian?!” and my friend Amie confidently looked back at her and said, “would that be a problem if I was?” (spoiler alert she was not and is not a Lesbian...but turns out I was!). While I was awed by her bravery back then, I try to embody that bravery now in my life when it comes to calling out moments that do not get a pass. Moments that hurt others, or even worse, hurt myself.

So I hope you show up tomorrow, next week, next month, or even next year at the office and feel ready to be your most authentic self. Not only do you deserve that freedom, but the folks around you will be lucky to experience your shine, and who knows the impact you will make simply by showing up. Happy Pride, and remember, “no Pride for some of us, without liberation for all of us” - Marsha P. Johnson.