“Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”
This one is personal. It’s first person-personal. Like “you found my diary” personal. So you’ve been warned.
I’m not totally sure who reads this (and for what reasons) but this blog is about my life on and off the podium. What I’m going to share is about the intersection of those two realities and how finding peace in the space the two occupy together has changed me.
Been wondering for three weeks if I should post what I’m writing. If people would be put off.
And so I didn’t write for almost a month.
Shame is a jerk like that. And then I kicked shame in the shin and realized I needed to share this story.
It’s been 16 years in the making.
I’d heard recently three separate occasions of students playing this three note motive on their instruments. I was never the intended audience but each time I heard it I was destroyed.
30 years of shame, of feeling less than, of being hidden, came rushing back. And in my own classroom. A space I had created to be safe for my students to be whoever they were. For me to try and be who I was. A space that now felt far less welcoming.
I did deal with each incident and student individually, but after the third time I knew I had to address it with all of my students.
I’ve led difficult talks at many points in my career so this was not totally uncharted territory but it was far more personal than anything I’d dealt with before. I made the choice to do something I had long wanted to do, hadn’t found the voice/courage/opportunity to do but felt I had to do.
To come out to my students.
Can I back up for a minute?
It was likely not a surprise to most of my kids that I’m gay. Over many years I have felt increasingly comfortable with coming out in small and incremental ways.
Ways that left more unsaid than said. Ways that didn’t create a space for me to speak clearly about my life. Ways that were always just, but never quite, enough.
But see limits have a way of catching up with you. And that direction was not as clear as I needed. It felt like I took the easy way out and never said the thing I’d needed to say.
What happened to me living in such a compartmentalized world was that I was blocking myself from my kids, hell, from myself. I was afraid and ashamed to be fully visible. I mean I was good at giving enough of myself to get the job done but something was missing. And people I respect noticed it. I’d been told that there seemed a wall up. I knew it. I felt it, too.
So last week I faced up to a two-decade fear and showed up to work ready to be vulnerable. To be seen. And the door was opened to this conversation because of the musical acts of homophobia I encountered. Silver linings, right?
I shared the events with my students. I was honest and clear. I was able to say the words “This is particularly hurtful because I am gay and this is where I work.”
I shared a story of having the word FAG scrawled across my photo as it hung on the wall outside the office when I was in high school. And how that has stayed with me for almost 30 years.
I let my students see me. I let them know their actions have real consequences for those around them. I let them know that we needed to do better for ourselves, for one another. I let them know I love and care about them a great deal and that our band room and program demand that we care deeply and respect boundaries with good actions.
And I felt like Pinocchio when he comes to life. The shackles of so many years of hiding came off. And I’m not kidding, I cried tears of joy on my drive home at finally finishing the task of coming out. Of showing up fully for my students, for myself.
And it’s been just a couple of weeks. The sky didn’t fall, my kids have long moved on to the more pressing matters of their lives. But in many ways I’m just getting started.
Because here’s the deal…you can’t truly create when you’re faking it. At least I couldn’t. There was always a barrier. That barrier got smaller over the years but it was there, always reminding me I had to work a little harder to protect myself. All that energy hiding taking away from creating.
I know I’m different. This past week I conducted what was one of the most musically satisfying concerts of my career. The kids played with passion, conviction, and maturity. I conducted with my hands. My eyes. My heart. My whole being.
What I gave of myself was returned by my students ten fold in spades through their love, trust, and musicianship.
And there is no turning back.