Several years ago, a 4-year-old girl in a pink dress asked a lesbian waitress in a small Boulder cafe if she was a boy or a girl. In that moment, the waitress, Ash Beckham, had a choice: she could unleash her pent up anger, spouting the “women’s studies 101” rant she had prepared or she could calmly have a hard conversation. As Beckham took a deep breath and peered down at an innocent child with a question, she decided on the latter, knelt beside her and said,
“Hey, I know it’s kind of confusing, my hair is short like a boy’s and I wear boy’s clothes but, I’m a girl. You know how sometimes you like to wear a pink dress and sometimes you like to wear your comfy jammies? Well, I’m more of a comfy jammies kind of girl.”
To which the little girl nonchalantly responded, “My favorite pajamas are purple with fish. Can I get a pancake, please?”
While this conversation may have happened years ago between a misunderstood adult and an inquiring child, the entire nation is now reaping the subsequent benefits of self-reflection and kindness. Ash Beckham took that moment and ran with it in her personal life. In September, she was gracious enough to share life lessons about coming out of the closet and having hard conversations with a TEDx audience in Boulder, Co; except her message isn’t just one about coming out of the “LGBT closet,” it is an eloquent and profound message that will easily make any listener’s life better. Beckham’s entire speech is worth many listens, one of those internet pages you tab for a rainy day but, here are a few highlights you’re going to want to put on a post-it and stick on your mirror for morning affirmation.
“All a closet is, is a hard conversation.”
Almost immediately, Beckham brings us all to the realization that “being in and coming out of the closet” is a universal experience; no matter the topic, coming out of the closet is having a hard, scary conversation. These words somehow humanize the act of coming out the closet. With this notion and throughout her speech, Beckham gives those who struggle with LGBT rights an eye-opening opportunity to empathize with and understand the gay community, while spreading a message of compassion and understanding for all people.
“Hard is hard.”
Possibly my favorite message of the speech hits on our fierce need to compare our individual successes and failures to the trials and tribulations of those around us. Beckham hits the nail on the head when she advises that difficulty and struggle are not relative, nor are they emotions that should be compared. Everyone is fighing their own unique battle. “Hard is not relative, hard is hard,” she expressed. “There is no harder, there is just hard. We need to stop ranking our hard against everyone else’s hard to make us feel better about our closets and commiserate on the fact that we all have hard.”
“A closet is no place to live.”
As Beckham shares her ideas on individual battles and unique closets, she also opens up about her perspective on the importance of coming out of them, even in the face of great difficulty.
“At some point we all live in closets and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what is on the other side of that door, but I am here to tell you, no matter what your walls are made of a closet is no place for a person to live.”
It takes a considerable amount of courage to come out of any type of closet, to have a difficult conversation or to be authentic. No one is saying that these acts are easy but, Beckham reminds us that breaking down a door is better than living life scared and in the dark.
“Be ready for real in return.”
We each face choices every day, some more difficult than others; nearly all of our actions are associated with some type of choice. Many times, we have the ability to choose between mockery and sarcasm or empathy and kindness. It is easy to forget that tough conversations are not just a struggle for the person coming out of their unique closet but, can also be tough for the recipient. Whenever we are in the midst of tough moment, it’s important for us to acknowledge when the other half is making an effort and meet them halfway. After reflecting on her own personal experience with the audience, Beckham advises, “Meet people where they are and accept the fact that they are trying. What else can you ask someone to do but try? If you are going to be real with someone you have to be ready for real in return.”
“The 3 Pancake Girl Principles.”
1. Be Authentic. “If you want someone to be real with you, they need to know that you bleed too.” Many times we forget that a defensive nature breeds an offensive response, likely seen as an attack. If we are preparing to defend ourselves, we aren’t really preparing to tell our truth; we aren’t giving anyone the opportunity to truly hear us. We need to take our armor off, as Beckham would say, and control our hypothalamus. Ready and raring to go for battle is no way to walk through life.
2. Be Direct. “Be direct. Just say it. Rip the band aid off.” Each of us knows our truth. Give the whole truth and don’t hold back. Nobody benefits from the false hope bred from the abridged version of our story.
3. Be Unapologetic. The passion in Beckham’s voice stands on it’s own here as she says, “You are speaking your truth. Never apologize for that. Some folks may have gotten hurt along the way so, sure apologize for what you’ve done, but never apologize for who you are. Some folks may be disappointed but, that disappointment is on them, not on you. Those are their expectation of who you are, not yours. That is their story, not yours.”
Personally, I think Ash Beckham is superwoman with an undeniable, enviable power to inspire. I am so grateful that she shared her story with Boulder, Co. and, subsequently, the entire nation as she continues to go viral. TEDx has been known to bring the world some amazingly profound messages, ideas and people. Ash Beckham and the 3 Pancake Principle are my favorite discovery thus far. I could never do her speech justice with written words so, I urge you to watch it for yourself.
Thank you to Ash Beckham for coming out of her closet, sharing her journey and teaching us all about our own closets, rainbow colored or otherwise. Hard is not relative, hard is hard but, it gets a little easier when people like Ash are willing to help us all help one another.
Featured image via We Belong Project.