Mutual Vulnerability and the Rewards of Being Known

I hadn’t expected my voice to shake. Putting down my emotions to complete a task is a skill I’ve come to manage so well that I’m pretty literally considering a career in doing so. Public speaking is familiar and nonchalant from years of filling a role of informal educator, but as I stood before a crowd of mostly-familiar faces, exposing a truth about myself, I was surprised to feel like I didn’t want to be seen. Self-consciousness about non-academic writing left me feeling the urge to crack a joke, interrupt the reading, revoke my decision to present—anything that would allow me to forgo my time and sit back in my comfort zone. The defensive walls that give me the illusion of safety rang alarm bells for agreeing to read anything my own.

A sea of nodding heads and responsive, attentive faces indicated that I was doing okay. Smiles and appropriately-timed laughs from knowing friends reminded me that I can be both known and loved. As I have to often remind myself through Tim Kreider’s words, “If we want the rewards of being loved, we must submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.” I didn’t expect my voice to shake because I forgot how important the subject is to me. It’s been minimized and brushed off for the sake of other people’s comfort (and no small amount my own defeatism), and I make jokes about how normal and common being misgendered is because I work in customer service. But that’s another combination of excuses to not let myself feel the hurt that comes with the inevitable. It was nice to speak up for myself a bit, even if perhaps too little too late, as some form of self-validation. Taking up space that isn’t centering someone else is difficult, so moving past guilt to give myself a platform was a necessary challenge. If anyone else was speaking—especially any of the students who reacted strongly to my presentation—I would have been beaming with pride. It feels acutely summarized by a line I included in an essay for highest honors in my history degree, saying, “If I believe that queer stories matter and that queer people deserve to take up space, that also applies to me.” This is evidenced to me through students’ responses.

A—‘s solidarity-filled, “I use they/them too!” and following note reminded me the importance of representation, especially in mentorship. When I see someone like me who is older and safe and happy, it feels intensely promising in ways beyond words, so I hope to have given some brief indication that despite everything difficult there are always pockets of that are loving enough to make up for it (though hopefully they already know). B—’s near-tears hug and teasing “you weren’t supposed to make me cry!” as I sat down indicated that I had been heard the way I wanted to. Any self-consciousness over the failure of my prose was erased with her hug, knowing firsthand from certain friendships that teasing is its own form of showing love. More than anything, Shortridge seems accepting in contrast to a frequently harsher world.

Brooks Hosfeld is a senior Gender, Women & Sexuality Studies major.