Thursday, November 26, 2015

Over Sharing? Maybe. Maybe not.

Photo Description: White writing on green background: I am who I am and that's all I can be.
I received some feedback about a lecture I gave recently. The person who filled out the evaluation really wanted me to know that they enjoyed the lecture, got a lot out of it but that there was something that bothered them. They thought I 'over shared' from my life. They listed three things that they knew about me from the lecture:

I am gay and my husband's name is Joe.

I am out and proud about my disability.

I am an anxious about my presentations and use anti-anxiety meds.

They thought this was TMI, as the expression goes and recommends that I consider removing the two that were not disability related from my presentations.

OK so that would be taking out the gay bit and the anxiety bit.

Hmmm.

I take feedback seriously and, so, thought about this a little bit. Each of those things in that list I have thoughtfully included in my presentation for a reason. Some of them caused me concern to mention, some of them were hard to mention. But I did and I do because of these reasons.

I know I lecture in places where being gay isn't wildly accepted with open arms and people fear rejection and unemployment if they were 'out'. By mentioning my sexuality and my relationship I hope to do two thing - get homophobes to rethink what they think about homosexuality and give the message to those from the LGBT community that they are not alone.

The idea of being 'out and proud' about disability is still a new one. Talking about disability, my own personal experience with disability, from a pride and by using identity first language, I hope to challenge what people think they know about disability. Just because you work in the field of disability does not mean that you have disability positive attitudes.

The hardest thing to mention was the fact that I live with anxiety, and a lot of anxiety about public speaking. I knew that people wouldn't believe it because I do it so much. I felt, and I understand this was wrong but I felt it anyway, a bit of shame at having to take an anti-anxiety medication. It's that shame that drove me to speak about it, there is too much silence about mental health issues and the kinds of ways that we can be affected by mental health concerns. Silence equals shame and shame can lead to suicide. So, I speak up.

Now let's be clear, I MENTION these things, in passing, in the lectures. If you haven't seen me lecture or heard a recording of me lecture then you might be led to thing that I harp on about these issues. I don't. They come into the presentation when it's natural for it to happen.

So, I wonder, and this is unfair to do publicly but I figure that anonymous means anonymous so I can respond publicly without fear of shaming an individual identifiable person, if the request to remove those two things is the reason I need to keep those two things in. I wonder if the request was because my sexuality and my acknowledging that I have mental health needs and supports caused some discomfort that needs to be explored. I'm just guessing, of course, but I do wonder.

Gay and Proud, Disabled and Proud, Anxious and Proudly Coping. That's me. And because that's me, that's part of how I present myself to the world.

So, after thoughtful consideration, I'm staying the course.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a College Instructor who teaches courses within the Human Services Program I often self disclose information about my personal life BUT only as it is connected with the topic at hand. Being a parent of a child with a disability, an advocate for those affected by disability,as well as being a front line support worker, most if not all of what I share is directly connected to the field. Students and colleagues have shared that hearing "real life" stories helps them to put the lesson/teachings into perspective. They can see it... theory is one thing... hearing/seeing/feeling the reality is a whole other ball game. It helps connect the dots. P.S. I LOVE YOUR STORIES!! :) Hugs from PEI

Colleen said...

I appreciate that you share those things about you Dave. And for the reasons you mention I also agree that they are important things to share. One person's discomfort does not outweigh the good you do by letting people know those things about you. You can't know how many times your mentioning those facts about Dave may have had a positive impact on someone.

Anonymous said...

I think people want the real deal, that's where the connection happens. Being honest and sharing the vulnerable bits allows us to see each other as human. My husband has some cognative and mental health issues that affect our lives. He doesn't attend conferences with me or go on vacations or travel much at all. I used to tell people he was busy with work or not feeling well. It made me feel dishonest and it also felt like I was saying his work was more important to him than going on vacation with me. A few years ago I stopped with the stories. I just started telling people the real truth. My husband has a traumatic brain injury and anxiety. He does not enjoy travel and chooses to stay home. Interestingly the only reaction I get is curiosity. This whole thing isn't something I bring up just to be awkward, but if it is appropriate and fits within the context of my conversation or presentation or whatever, then I'm honest.

Rachel in Idaho said...

And I wonder if they'd be at all bothered if you mentioned your WIFE in passing. I'm willing to bet they wouldn't. But mentioning your husband means you're flaunting your sexuality, don't you know? *steam coming out of ears*

CapriUni said...

Several people in my social circles (both within circles of friends I converse with personally, and those who write blogs I follow) suffer from anxiety disorders, and use medications to help manage those disorders.

Nearly all those people count anxiety disorders as a kind of disability.

It's a form of disability different from, but just as real, as those which are physical or intellectual. And using medication to help you get from Point A to Point Z (and all the points in between) should carry no more shame than using a wheelchair to get from Point A to Point B.

So -- as far as I can see, there's only one topic on that list that is not disability related.

Be out and proud about all of your identity, Dave.

emma vanderklift said...

I love this post, Dave. Resonant. It's only very recently that I've begun publicly disclosing - and that's because I only recently connected some dots for myself (with the help of a welcoming Autistic community and a supportive partner). The way I see it is that disclosure (in context, of course, as you've so clearly said) is an act of resistance, reframing, reclaiming and solidarity. In my case, if I don't disclose, no one knows. I get to pass. This is a kind of privilege I am increasingly uncomfortable with. And it's amazing how many times people approach me later to say that they felt less alone and more inclined to "come out" themselves. Perhaps it's the "gift that goes on giving", as my ability to disclose has been inspired by others - you included. So thanks. Your disclosure makes it safer for others in so many ways.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave,

As an educator and presenter I whole heartedly support the personal content you share and the way in which you share it. By being open about those things, you give others permission to be who they are in that space, especially if who they are is not always accepted and supported. Being silent just supports hetero-normative assumptions, ableism, and shame around being 'other'. Talking about it celebrates who we are as human beings. I'm okay with making some people uncomfortable. Sometimes we all need to experience that.
I also share personal stories when I present. Stories are powerful tools for teaching and shaping thinking. I am very clear about who's need I am trying to meet when I share. Is it to build community and increase understanding? If it is an area in my life that I am still working through, I keep that to myself. I am not there to get my own needs met.

I appreciate that you reflected on the feedback, but I'm sure happy you're going to keep 'doing you".

Jan Goldfield said...

I think you are handling things exactly right. And when I say right, I mean, what makes you comfortable, gets your point across and explains who you are. That's perfect. I mention Donna by name and whenever our relationship is germane - and that's most of the time. I mention disability as just a fact because that's what it is. Oh and anxiety meds. I don't use them, but I sure would if I took them. I love public speaking. Happy with a microphone in my hand and 10,000 people in front of me. We shy people are like that. Soldier on, Dave. Keep opening eyes, spreading information, teaching and taking the lids off what has been hidden for so long. Thank you for it all.

Anonymous said...

I think you're correct. If both were ordinary in people's minds, they'd be too ordinary to be 'oversharing'.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

No one mentioned that, if it were not NECESSARY to break the stereotypes over and over and over, it would not be necessary for you to mention these parts of you in context, because there wouldn't be any need if everyone already understood.

Sadly, that is not true. There are people who think their tiny view of humanity is the whole truth. I don't know if we can change their closed minds, but they often have control over other people, and make the lives of those people impossible to live.

Think of the countless kids whose parents have rejected them when it became obvious the kids were gay. And there's a reason people don't let their bosses know they're on anti-anxiety meds: the bosses would consider them unreliable at best and find some way to get rid of them at worst.

What was the other thing? Oh, yes - you're disabled. Hard to miss that one, but other people give you 'special' status because you're a presenter, and won't give people who have other disabilities, mental, physical, visible, invisible, equal status as human beings.

This says so much more about that person's insecurities and worldview that about you. AND gives you a teaching opportunity.

Don't change a thing!

Patricia Seeley said...

Hi Dave. I've only heard you present once or twice, but you have a gift that is undeniable, no matter how anxious you might feel about it!
One of your anonymous commenters above thought that maybe "oversharing" happens when you are still actively dealing with an issue and trying to get your needs around that issue met by public disclosure and support. I know where that person might be coming from: as a sexual abuse survivor, when I actively started "working through" my issues, I started to disclose publicly (not in front of an audience, just in conversation) and was astonished at how often doing so opened a door for someone else to begin their process of working through. However, now that I'm all "worked through", I hardly ever mention it anymore, not because of shame or anything, just because it hardly ever comes up in casual conversation. In fact I started noticing when people who were in earlier stages shared, sometimes the innocent listener was exposed to all kinds of grisly detail that should have been contained inside a therapy session. That is, I think, what the commenter meant by "oversharing".
Now if the subject of my past comes up, I just say my dad was a jerk. The complicated truth is never appropriate for cocktail conversation!! But maybe I'm missing a lot of opportunities to open that nasty door for others. Something for me to think about.
In any case, you should just keep doing what you're doing for as long as it feels right for you to do it. There is no question that disclosure opens doors. And a bit of positive feedback from audience members is a GOOD thing. IF it makes a few people uncomfortable for a few moments, that too is a good thing. One never thinks outside a very comfortable box otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Dave, honestly, I think the fact that you make people "uncomfortable" with your total honesty about EVERYTHING, including yourself, not sugarcoating anything, is one of your huge strengths as a teacher. You represent "brave space" where people can be honest about their own truth rather than "safe space" where anything that might possibly trigger anybody is edited out. And we need courage to face the ableism of this world we live in. Your willingness to say some of the hard things, to put the elephant right on the table, is so amazing, and IMHO you crack through the shell of people's preconceptions and subconscious beliefs. Please don't change a thing, just be yourself! #DH4L

wheeliecrone said...

Dave, you are who you are.

It appears to me that your correspondent is uncomfortable with homosexuality and anxiety. That is unfortunate for her/him. I hope that he/she is able to get help for those problems. They are his/her problems.

You are entirely free to own and speak about your own problems. They are yours. They belong to you.

And for every person who is so uncomfortable that they ask you to remove a subject from your presentation, I wonder how many (dozens? hundreds? thousands? who knows?) people are helped by hearing you mention openly subjects that so many people feel that they still must hide.

Don't go changin', Dave!

Anonymous said...

I can understand where your commenter may be coming from. If I make an effort (and any outing is an effort) to go a hear about a certain subject, I want to hear about the subject. The presenter is a conduit for the subject. Yes, the personality of the presenter comes into play in the way things are presented, but their personal life is just that, personal. I'm not there to hear their stories unless they directly relate to the subject. What they had to overcome and deal with to get there, or who they sleep with or the color of their socks or of no interest to me if they are not related. I'm sure there was some sort of highlight of the speaker write up somewhere that outlined you and your accomplishments, using "stage" time to tell of your relationship and anxiety would be a bit out of place. Unless the topic was about sexuality or anxiety. I recently attended a conference in which the speaker used so many quotes and antidotes that you started to wonder if he had an original thought in his head. It sure doesn't hurt to keep your personal life private, you can always disclose more, but you can never take it back. Just because someone mentions it doesn't mean they have a problem.

Anonymous said...


I am hoping to respond to Patricia's post as I think she may have misunderstood my earlier post. I only share personal stories when they support the message and I have fully resolved my feelings about the content. If I were to talk about experiences that I am not at peace with, I can put others in the position of feeling they need to take care of me. I am not presenting or facilitating as a means of therapeutic venting. I most certainly don't see that you are sharing pieces of who you are as a way of working through your feelings.

As someone who tries my best to be an ally of the LGBT community and as the sibling of a transgender man, I do talk about him publicly because I see that if we don't talk with respect and love, the only voices heard can be of fear and condemnation.

theknapper said...

TMI?????? The bar got set very low here.

You challenge shame and invite people to be fully human. I've heard you speak.....you dont overshare. I want the mentors in my life to be human, to challenge me and to help me find my way in my work and life.