About one hundred of us gathered to hear Voices: The B and T in LGBT, a panel discussion focusing on bisexual and transgender experiences as part of IBM’s celebration of Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender month. It was a very distinguished panel – you can find their biographies here. And a very diverse (and equally distinguished) audience of IBMers and other companies.
It was a reminder for me that you learn most from those you know least. And this is some of what I learned:
- That being a gay man doesn’t automatically entitle me to membership to the club of the educated and enlightened – even on a topic on which I think I know something. We heard about bi-phobia, the discrimination that bisexual people face, often from gay and lesbian colleagues. I confess that the “Bi now, Gay later” quip is something I’ve sometimes thought puns cleverly and contained a grain of truth.
- That my notions of gender, identity and sexuality are a confused concoction. But fortunately this mishmash of misunderstanding was beautifully deconstructed and elucidated by the Genderbread person.
- That just because the L and G and the B and the T aren’t all the same, doesn’t mean they don’t belong together. As Persia West pointed out, the same people that throw bottles at me throw bottles at all of us. There’s power in a diverse family.
- That I haven’t thought much about my own gender, it’s just something that I’ve taken for granted. By contrast, the transgender people on the panel had confronted issues about their own gender identity and I was grateful that they made me reconsider mine.
- That companies have so much to gain from by creating the space in which their employees can be authentic. It’s good for the individuals because they can put their energies into their work. But it’s also good for the companies because they profit from the experience of the exceptionally wise, witty employees that we heard from last night.
But most of all I learned that I am always profoundly grateful to those people who are proud and passionate enough to share their personal stories. They make us think about our own; they make us address our own shortcomings. They reinforced the power of listening. I was leaning in not, in the Sheryl Sandberg sense, to make my own voice heard, but to hear more clearly the voices of other people.
I was proud to be a part of the organising committee for this event. I was also very humbled by what I heard. Proud and humbled – prumbled perhaps? Not a bad emotion to have for Pride month.