Front Of The Room

I’m good for the group when I’m in the front of the room.

That’s not something I like to have to acknowledge.  My inclination is to stay on the edge of the room, observing, understanding, seeing connections.

I don’t speak unless I have something to say.  I have never been a person who likes to hear themselves talk, for many reasons.  Early I learned that it was safer if I kept my head down, so if I felt the need to rise up and say something it better value the time & attention of everyone in the room, better add something valuable to the conversation in a concise and sharp way.

When I do speak up, though, it is not unusual for me to feel something happening, see heads turning, sense ears cocking in my direction.  My words are more authoritative than expected, and somehow, I carry a bit of rock star energy.  Wherever I am, in that moment, becomes the front of the room.   The fast performer comes out and lights up the issues.

Reflecting the concerns of the group, I address the elephants in the room, making connections between threads that seemed disparate, illuminating what was lurking just beneath the surface of the conversation.  With a quick reference from my own exploration, I offer new handles, new metaphors, new ways of thinking that can lead to new solutions.

Training as a school teacher, I give good meeting.  Listening is much more important that speaking, the only way to bring forward the issues, get all the facts out and then to build consensus.   Encouraging others to share by creating a safe space, one in which a valiant attempt is more important than a by-the-book answer, I keep meetings flowing and on point.   Cutting through claptrap to reveal the essence with a wry laugh helps everyone stay connected.

My goal has always been to find a place where I could just stay safe in the corner and contribute as needed.   As a transwoman, I felt exposed and challenging, so I didn’t want to be intrusive, stirring up too much noise.   I wanted to support leaders, wanted to be the helpmate, encouraging and guiding a bit where needed.

If I want to blossom again, though, want to expand my audience, feel the connections and have other people value me so they will reward my presence, I suspect that, somehow, I have to choose to be in the front of the room.

That idea makes my stomach tighten, makes me queasy.   Sure I am smart, but I have never been popular, never been an easy pal.  Isn’t the person in the front of the room by definition set apart, isolated, a target?

My time as an observer has been powerful and that discipline may be why I am so effective at the front of the room: I listen first and foremost before speaking.   I want to help the awareness of the group to be honoured, not just the desires of my own ego.

“You spoke for your mother.  You spoke for me.  Now is the time to speak for yourself.”   My father repeated that many times during his delusional last weeks in the hospital.

My mother, when I asked her why she thought I stayed by her side in the hospital, suggested it was because I liked having conversations with smart people.  While I assured her that I didn’t go to hospitals for chats when one of my family was not a patient, she had observed something true, that staff quickly took me for smart & competent, accepting me as a member of the care team.  When my sister saw the imperious Russian ICU doctor a year or so later, he noted that he remembered me, surprising in the context of the sea of people he deals with everyday.

TBB is clear that she wants to see me in the front of the room because if I am speaking, she trusts that her concerns and experience will be represented.   My words spread wider might give her more points of reference to illuminate shared experience in the world, and that is something she believes would be valuable.

The exceptional have always had to understand both the mainstream and the marginalized existence in a way the normative never have.   By standing to show the connections, we can make the narrative broader, stronger and more integrated, including more people across the board.   Every apparently normative person has some places where their individual story differs from the norm, so when we respect the non-normative we respect everyone, even those who appear normative at first glance.

When someone like me is in front of the room, diverse contributions are valued, not just normative offerings.  Why shouldn’t that someone be me?

Well, I can think of many reasons, but all of them are about my human fragility and not about respecting something bigger than myself.   They are about ducking the spotlight and wanting people to find me, not about the truth that I actually am pretty good in the spotlight, pretty useful in the front of the room.

I have no plan to get into the front of the room, no strategy and no support system to encourage, affirm & mirror me.  I have no room in mind where I belong in the front, nor any idea of how to create one on my own, even if I do sometimes imagine the Church Of The Divine Surprise.

But somehow, I suspect, if I fit anywhere, it is at the front of the room.

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