The dreaded question when meeting someone new. At least for me anyway. Especially in a professional setting when my mind is racing about what is appropriate to disclose. How much of my authentic self can I share with this person? Can I be vulnerable in this moment or should I keep my guard up? Questions I can barely hear over the anxious thumping of my heart and the worry that my face is turning red.
This is a common occurrence for me, a lesbian living in a heteronormative society. When nearly everyone around you assumes that heterosexuality is the norm and you are rarely asked questions that allow you the option of proudly answering “Wife!” or “Girlfriend!” you begin to wonder if lying is better. It’s certainly easier. Shut down the conversation. Change the subject. Don’t stress yourself out about finding the courage to come out again. And just like that I hide a piece of who I am. While everyone around me is forming relationships and talking about their families, their interests, the latest vacation they took with the person they love, I am lying about who I am to protect myself from an uncomfortable reaction.
*Let’s pause for a quick PSA: This is not a sob story. I love who I am and wouldn’t change it. This is purely an honest reflection of the range of emotions myself and I’m sure other LGBTQ persons have experienced when being unsure about how a new acquaintance will respond to who they are.
Everywhere I’ve worked and in every professional organization I have been involved in, the message is the same: “We’re all about relationships.” Makes sense, right? We’re human. Forming meaningful relationships and authentic connection with your colleagues, fellow board members, clients, etc. creates trust and if you know and like someone it is much more fun to work together. But what assumptions are we making about those that we meet? Are we being welcoming and inclusive when we get to know our peers? What language are we using when we ask personal questions? Are we allowing those around us a comfortable way to share?
My most valued professional relationships—including those within CREW Network—are with people that create an environment for me to be exactly who I am. They approach networking and our work interactions as relationship building, not as transactional, and are now people I consider friends. 2021 was a year filled with extremely challenging situations for myself and my family (girlfriend, not husband) and I am thankful that I have a network that has allowed me to bring my full self to professional settings. There are certainly times I still lack the confidence to be myself and am ridden with fear about coming out to someone new. For this reason, I implore you to approach anyone you meet with an open mind, a commitment to be vulnerable and an encouragement for them to be vulnerable with you.
This is why I am passionate about diversity, equity, and inclusion and am committed to doing everything I can to help everyone feel welcome and safe at CREW KC, and I encourage others to do the same throughout the entire global CREW Network. I wholeheartedly believe that sharing our stories and connecting on a deeper level can only make a positive impact on our community. Let’s be brave together, be curious about other perspectives and experiences, and commit to being our whole authentic selves while welcoming that in others.
Your friend and ally,
Christina Fenwick is 2022 Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for CREW Kansas City and Commercial Real Estate Relationship Manager for UMB Bank.
Want to learn more about inclusive language?
Don’t make assumptions about marital or family relationships (for example, use “spouse” or “partner” instead of “husband” and “wife;” use “parent” instead of “mother” and “father”).
If unsure of an individual’s gender, use “they” or “them” pronouns instead of “he” or “she.” Avoid guessing someone’s gender identity, sex or sexual orientation. When in doubt, ask the person how they identify and what terms/pronouns they prefer.
Exchange generally biased words with gender-neutral terms such as “businesspeople” instead of “businessman”, “team, folks, people, everybody” instead of “guys.”
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June is Pride month, an opportunity to focus on and learn about the complex, multifaceted issues facing the LGBTQIA+ community today. Read CREW Network’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion here.