It’s National Coming Out Day!

390x420_ComingOutDay-KeithHaringtPerhaps in this age of increasing support for gay rights, marriage equality laws, and the oh-so-popular Ellen, it doesn’t feel like there’s much of a need for this day anymore.

But it is needed.

We talk a lot about community and relationships here, on this blog and in the work we do throughout the state. Part of what makes a relationship healthy is integrity, right? If you’re not able to be your full, honest self due to safety concerns or worries about being cast out of your community, what kind of relationship is that? Not much of one, in my book.

Being out actually relates quite intimately to domestic violence. Abusers will often use sexuality and gender identity against their partners and threaten to out them to their families or employers. This is particularly the case for trans women and men: someone who has transitioned may not have told their employers about their past (partly because it’s really none of their business, but also because they may be fired because of it). Additionally, abusers may use their partner’s identity as a way to belittle and humiliate them (“you’re not a ‘real’ woman, no one else would ever want you” or “I know you’ll just leave me for a man”).

When you consider the disproportionately higher rate of unemployment AND higher rates of domestic violence (and all other forms of violence) for trans folks, particularly trans women (and even more particularly, trans women of color), you can see how this would make someone feel trapped in an abusive relationship.

Although the reality is that some people need to remain closeted for their own safety, coming out is still a powerful, vulnerable, and important act. Coming out helps put a human face on issues like  homophobia and transphobia. Coming out helps create a domino effect, allowing more and more people to be an integrated, authentic part of their communities.

Leaning in

I cried at work yesterday. I found myself overwhelmed, feeling like a failure. Turns out I’m not the only one who had this kind of day. I came across a post about Sheryl Sandberg—who says it’s OK to cry at work—and her new book Lean In. I haven’t lean-in-coverread the book, but am so fascinated by the media blitz that I’ve been clicking from one article to the next. Some are hailing “Lean In Circles” as feminism, revitalized. It’s Girl Power, grown up.

But others say that she is blaming women for not being better at climbing the ladder. Sandberg responds that she is simply identifying behaviors that typically hold women back so that we can recognize and change not only the behaviors but the reasons why they exist. OK, that doesn’t sound so bad…

Maureen Dowd criticizes her for not knowing the difference between a social movement and a social marketing campaign. She claims Sandberg’s elitist approach is not going to reach those women workers who are in low wage jobs. CNN ran an article on how Sandberg’s framework completely disregards the working experiences of single mothers, who “couldn’t lean out if they wanted.” OK, also a lot of truth there.

There is little agreement on how to take Lean In. But I’m not sure the top is the only place we should set our gaze. I’d like to see a system that supports and honors women in all levels of employment by offering adequate paid family and sick leave. I’d like to see employers create good policies and protocol for supporting employees who are experiencing domestic violence. If “Lean In Circles” can contribute to that kind of change, that would be a success.