01:56 - Episode Intro: Who is Casey Watts?
02:25 - “Gay” vs “Queer”
- Cultural vs Sexual
- Black vs black
- Deaf vs deaf
06:11 - Pronoun Usage & Normalization
- Greater Than Code Episode 266: Words Carry Power – Approaching Inclusive Language with Kate Marshall
- Spectrum of Allyship
- Ambiguous “They/Them”
16:36 - Asking Questions & Sharing
- Ring Theory
- Don’t Assume
- Take Workshops
- Find Support
- Set Boundaries
- Do Your Own Research – Google Incognito
28:16 - Effective Allyship
- Reactive vs Proactive
- Calling Out Rude Behavior – “Rude!”
- Overcoming Discomfort; Getting Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
- Recognizing Past Mistakes: Being Reflective
- Celebrate Progress
- Apologize and Move On
Mannah: The people on this show are all willing to start and have conversations.
Casey: I will make mistakes. I will find more support.
Mandy: Reflection is always a work in progress. It’s never done. Keep doing the work. People are always evolving and changing.
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CASEY: Hello, and welcome to Greater Than Code, Episode 268. I'm Casey, and I'm here with co-host, Mannah.
MANNAH: How's it going? I'm Mannah and I'm here with Mandy Moore.
MANDY: Hey, everybody. It’s Mandy and today, I'm excited because we are doing a panelist only episode. So our host and panelist, beloved Casey Watts, is going to take us through Casey did a LGBTQ panel for Women Who Code Philly a couple weeks ago and it went really great. He offered to do a show to talk about the subject in more depth on the show. So we're here to do that today.
So without further ado, why don't you give us a little intro, Casey?
CASEY: Sure. I'm going to start by talking about who I am a little bit and why I'm comfortable talking about this kind of stuff. My name's Casey, I'm a gay man, or a queer man. We can get into the difference between gay and queer [chuckles] in the episode. I live in D.C. and I really like my community groups that I'm in to be super inclusive, inclusive of people of all kinds of backgrounds and all the letters in LGBTQIA especially.
MANDY: That's awesome. So right there, you just gave us an in. Can we get into the difference between gay and queer?
CASEY: Yeah. I love it.
People lately use the term “queer” as an umbrella term that represents all the letters in LGBTQIA especially younger people are comfortable with that term, but it is reclaimed. Older people, it used to be a slur and so, like my cousin, for example, who's older than me hesitates to use the word queer on me because she knows that it used to be used to hurt people.
But queer people like this as an umbrella term now because it is just saying we're not the norm in gender identity, or sexual, romantic orientation, that kind of stuff. We're not the norm. We're something else. Don't assume that we're the norm and then it's not describing all the little nuances of it. It's just like the umbrella term. So I'm definitely queer and I'm gay.
Another distinction that I really like to make and that's cultural versus specifically what the term means. So I'm gay and that I'm attracted to other men, but I don't hang out at gay bars and watch RuPaul's Drag Race like the mainstream gay man does in media and in life. I know a lot of people who love that I'm not comfortable there. I don't like it. I think drag queens are fun I guess, but they're also really catty and mean and I don't like that, and I don't want that to rub off on me personally. Instead, I hang out in groups like the queer marching band which has a ton of lesbian women, bisexual, biromantic people, asexual people, intersex people, and trans people and has all the letters in LGBTQIA and I love that inclusive community. That's the kind of group I like to be in.
Some of the gay men there talk about RuPaul’s Drag Race, but it's like a minority of that large group. I love being in the super inclusive cultures. So I'm culturally queer, but I'm sexually romantically gay. So depending on what we're talking about, the one is more important than the other.
I have a story for this. Before the pandemic, I got a haircut at a gay barber shop. It's gay because D.C. has a lot of gay people and there's a gym above the barber shop that's pretty explicitly gay. They cater to gay people. They have rainbows everywhere.
I got my hair cut and this woman just kept making RuPaul’s Drag Race references to me that I didn't get, I don't get it. I don't know what she's saying, but I know the shape of it and I told her I don't like that and I'm not interested in it. Please stop. She didn't because she was assuming I'm culturally gay, like most of her clientele and it was really annoying and she wasn't seeing me, or listening to what I was saying and I was not seen. But she's right I was gay, but I'm not gay culturally in that way.
Does that make sense? That's kind of a complex idea to throw out at the beginning of the episode here. A lot of people take some time to get your head around the cultural versus sexual terms.
MANNAH: Yeah. That is interesting especially because with so many identities, I guess that’s true for every identity where there's a cultural element and then there's some other thing. For instance, I’m a Black man and no matter where I hang out, or what I’m interested in, I’ll always be a Black man, but there is associated with both masculinity and specifically, Black masculinity.
CASEY: Yeah, and I like the – lately, I've been seeing lowercase B black to mean a description of your skin color and uppercase B Black to mean a description of the culture and I like that distinction a lot. It's visual.
Deaf people have been using that for years. My aunt’s deaf so my family has a deaf culture. I'm a little bit deaf culture myself just by proxy, but I'm not deaf. I'm capital D Deaf culturally in amount. Her daughter, who she raised, my deaf aunt, is culturally Deaf way, way more than the average person, but not fully because she's not deaf herself.
So there's all spectrum here of cultural to experiencing the phenomenon and I was happy to see, on Twitter at least, a lot of people are reclaiming capital B black. And for me, it's capital Q Queer and lowercase G gay. That's how I distinguish into my head—culturally queer and I'm sexually gay.
MANNAH: So one of the things, I've been thinking about this since our intro and for those of you listening, our intro is scripted and as simple as it was like, “Hey, my name is Mannah,” and passing it off to Mandy. Generally, when I introduce myself – I just started a new job. I introduced myself with my pronouns, he/him, because I think it's more inclusive and I want to model that behavior and make sure that people around me are comfortable if they want to share their pronouns. I do think that this is championed by the queer community and as a member of that community, I'd just love to hear your take on people being more explicit with that aspect of their identity.
CASEY: I love the segment. Pronouns is a huge, huge topic in this space lately especially. I like to start from here, especially with older audiences that we used to have mister and miss in our signatures and in the way we address letters and emails, and that's gone away. So including pronouns is a lot like just saying mister, or miss, but we've dropped the formality. I'm glad to be gone with the formality, but we still need to know which pronouns to use and it's nice to have that upfront. I like and appreciate it. I try to include pronouns when I remember it and when I'm in spaces where that's a norm. I like to follow that for sure every time there.
But I'm not always the first person to introduce it. Like if I was giving a talk and there were 30 older white men in the audience who've never heard of this idea, I might not start with he/him because I want to meet them where they're at and bring them to the point where they get it. So I'm not always a frontrunner of this idea, but I love to support it, I love to push it forward, and help people understand it and get on board.
It's like there's different stages of allyship, I guess you could say and I really like helping people get from a further backstage to a middle stage because I don't think enough people are in that space and there are plenty of people getting people who are in the middle stage to the more proactive stage. Like, “We should use pronouns!” You hear that all the time in spaces I'm in.
It's possible I can get pushback for that kind of thing, like even meeting people where they're at, and that frustrates because I want to be effective. I don't want to just signal that I'm very progressive and doing the right things. I want to actually be effective. I give workshops on this kind of thing, too. That's where we're coming from for the today's talk.
MANDY: I think on the last show, it might have been Kate Marshall who said that normalizing pronouns is really important to do, but not just when there's an obvious person in the room who you're not sure. Maybe we even started off on the wrong foot on the show by not saying, “Hi, I'm Mandy, my pronouns are she and her.” Just adding that in to normalize it would be a really good step, I think.
CASEY: Yeah, love it. Here's where I like to come with my role. Say, “Plus one, I love that idea. Let's do it now.” I like to activate the idea once it's in the room, but it takes someone brave to bring it up in the first place and it's a different amount of social energy, maybe in a different head space you have to be in to be that first person. But being the second is also very important and I like to help people understand that, too. If you're the second person, that's still being helpful. Maybe you can become the first person in some groups, but I want to celebrate that you're the second person even. That's great.
Yeah, I think that's a good change we could do.
MANNAH: You mentioned allyship and I think that that is why am so proactive in introducing myself with pronouns because I do present as a traditional man. Well, maybe not traditional, but I present as a man and I have the ability to deal with some of that pushback.
We talk about superpowers on the show. I feel like one of my superpowers is I am willing to engage in those conversations, even if they are difficult.
CASEY: Mm hm.
MANNAH: So I can use my powers for good by starting that conversation perhaps, or starting to build that norm. Whether, or not I am doing it for anyone in particular, it is important for me to do it wherever we are. So I think that just wherever we can make spaces more inclusive with the way we can conduct ourselves and our language, it's important.
CASEY: I have a framework to share that's kind of related to that.
So there's a spectrum of allyship—that's my title for it anyway—that goes from an active detractor all the way over to an active supporter of an idea. In this case, the active supporter would be getting pronouns to happen in a space where they're not happening. And then in the middle, maybe you're neutral, not doing anything. In the middle on either side, there's a passive – like you're not doing anything, but you kind of support the idea. You're kind of against the idea, but you're not taking any action. And then on the active part, there's even a split between and being proactive and reactive.
So for pronouns, I guess the way I'm self-describing here is I'm a reactive pronoun person. For better, or worse, that's where I'm at on that spectrum and that's where I like to help move things along. So I can talk to people who are more maybe passively against the idea because I'm not so far on the right.
I like to use the spectrum for another purpose, which is moving people from one space to the next is valuable and often invisible. If you can get someone to be loudly against pronouns to just be quiet, that's a step forward. You've persuaded them a little bit to go in that direction, or if they’re there to neutral, or neutral to passively supportive, but quiet about it. A lot of this kind of progress with people who aren't active supporters is invisible and that can be really frustrating for people; it feels like you're not making any progress.
So for people who are allies and want to be allies, there's a step forward you can do for yourself, which is getting yourself from being reactive to being proactive. But you're not just helping the people in the room, but helping people who could be in the room, or might be in the future. Reactive to proactive.
MANDY: I've been doing that a lot with just actually referring to everybody as they/them no matter if I already know how they present, or not. That, to me, is just the most inclusive way to refer to people in general.
CASEY: Yeah, that's generally a safe practice, but there are people who don't want to be called they/them.
CASEY: For example, I have some friends who… Let's imagine a trans man who wants to be considered he/him, they are very invested in this and they want the – If you keep calling them, they/them, even if they correct you, “He/him is my pronouns,” then they're going to be upset about that, pf course. But it is a safe, starting point because the ambiguous they is just generally, it’s good grammar, the APA endorses it even. You're allowed to use they when it's ambiguous by grammar rules. But if you know someone's pronouns and it isn't they/them, it's generally better to use those because they prefer it.
MANDY: Yeah. That's what I meant. If somebody says to me, “I would prefer you call me she/her, he/him.: But when I'm first, like if I'm even talking to say my dad and I'm talking about work, I would be like, “I have a friend, they did this.”
CASEY: Yeah. That's ambiguous day and that's perfectly appropriate there.
MANDY: Yeah. But as far as like addressing somebody on a regular basis who wants to be referred to as one, or the other, I have no problem doing that. I've just been training myself to use ambiguous terms because I see and I think it's wonderful. My daughter's 12 and almost all of her friends are non-binary. So when I meet them, or I'm talking about her friends for me, it's just more, I don't want to say easy. I don't want to make it sound like I'm doing it, like taking the easy way out, but I'll just be like, do the they/them stuff to have the conversation and then once I find out more, we can transfer over to the he/him, she/her as I'm corrected, or being asked to do one, or the other.
CASEY: Right, right. It's definitely safer to assume you don't know than to assume someone's gender based on how they looked, for sure and the ambiguous they is perfect for that. Even for people who use they/them as pronouns, there's a switch in my head at least—you probably feel it, too—from ambiguous to specific. Like now I know they/them is their pronouns.
MANDY: Yeah. I've had no problem. When my daughter has brought new people over, who I know are non-binary, I will say to them even if I already know, because she's told me, I'll be like, “What pronouns do you prefer?” And every single time these are 12-year-olds, 13-year-olds, they're like, “Thank you for asking.”
MANDY: Because a lot of times, I feel it's not very accepted yet. So when I hear, or when they hear me say, “How would you like me to refer to you?” They smile so big.
CASEY: Yeah, you’re treating them like the individual person they are.
MANDY: Exactly, and they're like, “Thank you,” and now I'm known as the cool mom. [laughs]
CASEY: Ah. Great. [laughs]
Yeah. If I could snap my fingers and change a behavior of mine, that would be one. I would consider everyone's pronouns unknown until they tell me and it also varies by context. I don't even want to trust secondhand. Like if Mandy, you said he for Mannah before I met him, I wouldn't assume that's his pronouns. If maybe you are assuming, or maybe you heard it from someone and they were assuming, or maybe based on context, it's different. I want to hear it from the person, ideally.
CASEY: I also don't necessarily want to go around asking for pronouns actively all the time. I'd rather us offer them upfront, or have them in our usernames, or something so it's less verbiage in the air about it. I like it to be normalized. We don't have to think about it. That's a dream state.
But for now, I'd rather ask people directly than assume anything. But it's a hard habit because I've been trained from school and everything, since a young age, to assume someone’s gender and not to use they at first. That's what we've been trained and I love this trend of untraining that. Ambiguous they is accepted and we should start with that.
MANDY: I love seeing people proactively put pronouns in their Zoom profiles, or their Zoom names and at conferences, I love the conferences having badges, or stickers.
MANDY: I love that.
CASEY: It's helpful.
MANNAH: I want to change directions slightly and go back to something you said about the spectrum and how we move people – I don't remember the exact words you used, the two polar opposites.
MANNAH: But how to move people towards a more inclusive mindset, let's say and wherever you are on that spectrum, you might not know how to move forward and the way to kind of deal with that, you might have questions. I just want to hear from you how you would like to be approached with questions around how do you feel about pronouns, or whatever it might be relating to your culture, or your, I guess, I'm going to say sexual identity.
MANNAH: People are unsure how can they approach you with questions in a way that's respectful and a way that will allow them to learn more about you?
CASEY: Good question. I feel like you're reading my mind a bit here.
I want to start with another framework that you might have heard of. It's the circles of grief Ring Theory. Like if someone just lost their parent, then you need to pour support into that person who's closest to them and if you're outside like a more distant family member, or a friend, pour support in and then the grief gets stumped out. That's the framework, generally. So there's a lot of rings. People who are closer to it are affected more directly and people who are outside are affected more indirectly.
That applies to asking people personal things, too. So I'm directly affected by being queer and I've been discriminated against and people have said bad things to me before. To ask me about it and to bring up those feelings could harm me in some way so you can't just assume everybody's comfortable talking about their experience. Like, “Tell me about how you feel about your dead mother.” It wouldn't be sensitive either because they're experiencing the pain directly, but sometimes people do want to talk about that and they're comfortable, they processed it, and they want to help spread the word.
So I'm one of those people; you can ask me anything. Even if you don't know me, you can DM me on Twitter. Anyone listening, ask me a question about queer things. I'll point you to a resource, or answer it myself. I'm offering because I'm comfortable at this point. But a lot of people aren't and, in that case, you could ask if someone's comfortable, that's not a bad idea, or you could ask people who are in further circles out.
Like you don't need to ask a queer person about queer experiences if you can read about it in an article online, or watch a documentary, or talk to friends who have other queer friends and they know some things about it. It's not as good as secondhand experience hearing from someone with firsthand experience, but you're causing less harm by making the ideas come up again.
So you have a range of ways you can find out more about what it's like to be queer and I encourage you to think about all the different ways you can learn about a thing. You don't have to depend on the person who has [chuckles] this negative experience to do it.
Another way you can learn more is by doing workshops, like the ones that I facilitate. So I was thrilled to have a good audience at Women Who Code Philly, actively asking question and learning things, and that's a space where you're supposed to ask questions and learn.
I've heard of some people have peers they can talk to like peer support; people you can go to, to ask questions like that. Like my cousin asks me questions sometimes about her kids and that's like peers. Some companies actually have support groups like a weekly, or monthly meeting for people in the company to ask these questions that they have [laughs] and they don't know where to ask them and they can all learn from it.
I've seen in some Slacks, there's a Diversity 101 channel in one of the Slacks I'm in people can ask questions like when would you, or would you not use this word? That's a space dedicated to asking questions like that and if someone like me wants to go in and contribute, I can answer questions there, but I don't have to. I know I'm welcome to, and I know I'm not pressured to, and that's a great middle ground and that's a lot of options. You’ve got to figure out what works for you, who you have around, who you can offer the support to, and who you can ask for the support from. Both directions.
MANDY: It's great to have someone like you offering to do that and take on because it is of emotional labor and sometimes when people are curious, I know for me as being bisexual, some people are just like trying to – they're asking out of curiosity, but it's more like, “Give me the dirty details,” or something like that.
MANDY: Sometimes it's like, “We just want to know because I don't – so I want to know what it's like for you,” and I'm like, “I'm not going to share just because –” right now, I am in a monogamous heterosexual relationship. Normally, if I was in a single state, a lot of people just try to ask questions that sometimes can be, I find it more inappropriate and they want to know because they're interested in the salacious details, or something like that.
MANDY: That rubs me the wrong way and I can usually tell when somebody is asking, because they're genuine, or not.
CASEY: There's a big difference between asking to get to know you as a person in the context you're in with the background you have versus asking for salacious gossip. [laughs]
CASEY: And the one is much more kind than the other. It sounds like you've done a good job setting boundaries in these situations saying, “That's not appropriate. I'm not answering that. Sorry about it,” or something like that.
MANNAH: Not sorry.
CASEY: Not sorry.
MANDY: Well, in the same token, it's something that bothers me, too because I feel like a lot of times, I just don't even tell people that I'm bisexual.
MANDY: Because it's easier to not answer the questions because once you open that can of worms, then everybody comes at you and wants to know this and wants to know details. “Have you ever done this?” Or, “Have you ever done that?” It rubs me the wrong way again.
MANDY: So sometimes I feel almost resentful. I feel resentful that I can't be my full self because it causes people to just ask and the whole conversation, or the whole time I spend with them is focused on this one thing and it's like for me, it's just not a big deal.
CASEY: Right, right, right. Like on my Twitter profile—I like to use this as an example—I list out like 10, 15 things about myself on my Twitter profile and there is one little rainbow flag emoji in there at the end and I'd rather you talk about any of the other things probably. I'm willing to share that I'm queer and rainbow I affiliate with, but so much more to me, [chuckles] I'd rather you learn about me before that.
CASEY: But it's the newest, novelist thing to those people who don't otherwise get exposed to it. They fixate on it sometimes and that, they might not realize, can be harmful. It can hurt people like you. It does hurt people. [chuckles]
MANDY: It absolutely does. It makes me uncomfortable. So it's not an aspect that I talk about much, especially living in rural/suburban Pennsylvania. It's something that I just kind of, aside from my internet friends and tech community, that a lot of people still don't know about me.
CASEY: Right. I can imagine not wanting to share. I used to not share my sexuality either in a lot of contexts and still when I go somewhere like the south, if I go to a place that has more bigotry around, I'm not holding my partner's hand there. I might get attacked even, that happens still in certain environments, they don't get it.
Okay, I want to acknowledge that people asking these questions might have good intentions and they're making a mistake and I want to explain what I think the mistake is.
CASEY: People want to be treated as individuals, but you can go too far in that extreme and treat someone like an individual and ignore their background. Like it doesn't matter that you've been queer. It doesn't matter that you're Black. It doesn't matter, I'm just going to treat you like an individual. Ignoring all this background is its own kind of overgeneralization in a way is ignoring that background and context. And then there's another way you can do an exaggeration, which is only focusing on that background in context and ignoring the person's individual traits and their individual experiences.
The best thing to do is to treat them like an individual who has this context and background putting them both together. So maybe these people are trying to understand you better by understanding this context. Maybe—I'm being very generous— [chuckles] some of these people are probably not this, but some people honestly want to know more about your context to understand you and that's thoughtful. They're just going about it in a way that's not the most helpful, or kind to you and I appreciate those people. But then there are other people who want to use the background and context to overgeneralize and just treat you as a member of this group, a token member, and that is a problem, too.
So it's like two ingredients and if you put them together, that's the best and a lot of people focus on one, or the other too much. The individual experience versus the group background context experience.
MANNAH: Yeah. That was really well put. I do think that as I said earlier, I'm someone who is very willing to have these. However, the downside of that is that becomes who you're and instead of the entire human being and the other – to take it a step further, some people are uncomfortable with that identity, or uncomfortable thinking about those things. Think about the discrimination that you might face and rather than confront it, or address it, they would rather just not deal with you, or limit their interact.
CASEY: Right, yeah.
MANNAH: So this is not a question for Casey, this is just something to the group. How can we navigate that and wanting to being willing to share of ourselves, but recognizing that there is some social backlash that can come from that?
CASEY: I think my number one thing I want allies to understand is they can support each other in being allies and it can take work to be comfortable talking to each other, to support each other. You don't have to just depend on the queer people to learn queer about things. If one of you learns and one ally learns, they can teach another ally the concept, or the idea, or share how to navigate it.
I did a Twitter poll for this, actually. Not a huge sample size, but still. A lot of people only have 1 to 3 people they can talk to about things like this. That's very few and they might not cover all the different situations.
So that's my number one thing to help people navigate it is get so support, find support, be support for other people and you'll get support in return for that, too. That's your homework. Everyone, write this down. Find 10 people you can talk to about inclusivity related topics, 10 people.
MANDY: And Google exists for a reason. So always, when things come up, I like to Google and I've gotten push back about that several times. “Well, I don't want to put that stuff into my search engine because then all of a sudden, I start getting gay targeted ads,” or something.
CASEY: That's true. That's a real concern. [overtalk]
MANDY: And I’m, “It’s not –” Well, hello, incognito mode.
MANDY: Thank you, everyone. That's a thing. Use it. [laughs]
CASEY: Yeah, and you don't have to feel icky using incognito mode. You can use it because you don't want to ads tracking you.
CASEY: Some people use it for everything. They never use the regular browser mode because they don't want the tracking. It's work to learn things about other people and so, that's why I like to focus on the support part. If you get support from people, maybe you can both be looking up stuff and sharing articles with each other, and that's really multiplying the effects here.
MANNAH: So we started homework for allies. I think now it might be a good time to talk about what makes good ally. We talked a little bit about how it can feel voyeuristic. Mandy, you talked about how people asking questions can sometimes feel a little picky and we talked about some better ways to asking questions. But are there any other ways that either both, all of us would like to see people be more effective ally?
CASEY: Yeah. I want to call back to an earlier point. I want to see more people switch from being reactive to being proactive. To being the first voice. Me included, honestly. Whenever you can get away with it and whatever helps you be proactive, do those things, which might be the support thing I keep talking about. Getting support to be more proactive, becoming accountable to people.
If you're already an ally, I'm assuming you're being reactively supportive some of the times. A lot of the people I talk to, who consider themselves allies, would agree, but taking that next step. And there's a different spectrum for each issue, like pronouns is one. Pronouns being shared in meetings. How proactive, or reactive are you for that? I don't even know. There are thousands of things [chuckles] that you can do to become more proactive.
MANDY: I would like to say for allies, teaching our children love and not hate. I see a lot of nastiness coming from children and that comes from parents. It's really sad to see sometimes the amount of people who don't – they just spew hate and they're like, “I'm not referring to this person as a pronoun.” Like, “They/them, no. They're a this, or they're –”
It saddens me to no end when you are around children to model nasty behavior and I think if you are not the person doing that yourself and you're around it, and you see somebody say something and say, “That's not okay, don't. Do you understand how you sound? Do you understand what you're saying? Do you understand that you're having an effect on everyone around you by giving your nasty opinions and that kind of thing?”
CASEY: Yeah. I've got a one word, one liner thing that I like to pull out and I'm proud every time I say it. “Rude,” and I can walk away. It can happen in the grocery store. Someone can say something. It doesn't matter the nuance, what's going on and how I might explain it to them in fuller language. I can at least pull that one word out, rude, and walk away and they are called out for it. I'm proud whenever I can call someone out.
CASEY: I don't always do it, though. The stakes can seem high and it takes practice.
So this is homework, too. If you see someone and saying something hurtful to another person, it's your responsibility if you dare claim this to defend the other person and call the person rude, or however you would say the same thing. Say something.
MANDY: Yeah, say something.
MANNAH: I think that that can be really hard for allies.
MANNAH: And if I had one piece of advice for allies, it would be that sometimes allyship is uncomfortable and that is something that you have to navigate. You can't pick and choose when you're going to… Well, that's not true. There's some discretion, but recognize that being a part-time ally, or a tourist in that space has an effect on people and not confronting your own insecurities, or your own feelings limits your effectiveness in allyship.
CASEY: Yeah. It can be a deep question to ask yourself what made me hesitate that one time and what can I do to not hesitate helping next time? You can journal about it. You can talk to friends about it. You can think about it. Doing something more than thinking is definitely more helpful, though. Thinking alone is not the most powerful tool you have to change your own behavior.
Yeah, it is uncomfortable. One thing that helps me speak up is instead of focusing on my discomfort, which is natural and I do it, for sure, I try to focus on the discomfort of the other person, or the person directly affected by this and I really want to help that person feel seen, protected, heard, defended. If you think about how they're feeling even more, that's very motivating for me and honestly, it helps in some ways that I am a queer man, that I have been discriminated against and people have been hateful toward me that I can relate when other people get similar experiences.
If you haven't had experiences like that, it might be hard to rally up the empathy for it. But I'm sure you have something like that in your background, or if not, you know people who've been affected and that can be fuel for you, too. People you care about telling you stories like this and it is uncomfortable. [chuckles] Getting comfortable with that discomfort is critical here.
MANNAH: One of the things that is very uncomfortable is, I think that as we go through life, we all grow is being reflective on the times when maybe we’re not inclusive, or maybe were insensitive. At least being able to those situations, I feel like is a great first step.
CASEY: Mm hm.
MANNAH: Saying, “Hey, I said this about this group of people,” or “I use this word.” Maybe you didn't fully know what it meant and recognized the impact at the time, but being able to go back and be reflective about your behavior, I feel like is a very important skill to help become a more well-rounded individual.
CASEY: Yeah. Agreed. And it's a practice. You have to do it. The more you do it, the easier it gets to process these and learn from them. It's a habit also, so any of the books that talk about learning habits, you can apply to this kind of problem, too. Like a weekly calendar event, or talking to a friend once a month and this is a topic that comes up. I don’t know, there are a ton of ways you can try to make this habit, grow and stick for yourself, and it varies by person what's effective. But if you don't put it into your schedule, if you don't make room and space for it, it's really easy to skip doing it, too.
MANDY: Yeah. It's amazing to look back. Even myself, I'm not the same person. I was 10, 15 years ago. I'm sure. Even as being a bisexual person that back in high school, I called something gay at one point just referring to, “Oh, that's gay.”
MANDY: I’m sure I – [overtalk]
CASEY: I’m sure I did it, too.
MANDY: I'm sure I've said that. Knowing that I'm not that person anymore, recognizing that, and looking back at how much I've grown really helps me to come to terms with the fact that I wasn't always woke on this subject. We do a lot of growing over our lives. I'm in my 30s now and I've done so much growing and to look back on the person who I used to be versus the person I am now, I get very proud of how far I've come. Even though it can suck to look back at maybe a specific instance that you always remember and you're like, “Oh my God, that's so cringy. I can't believe I did that.” Having those moments to be like, “Well, you know what, that might have happened in 2003, but this is 2022 and look how far you've come.”
CASEY: Love it! Yeah, growth.
MANDY: Like that just makes me feel so good.
CASEY: Yeah. We need the growth mindset.
MANDY: And having discussions like this is what has gotten me to this place. Entering tech. I entered tech 12 years ago. I know this because my daughter's 12 and I always like, I'm like, “Okay so when my daughter was born, I got into tech. That's when I started actually becoming a decent person.” [laughs] So I measure a lot of my timeline by my daughter's age and it's just amazing to go back and see how much you've grown. Honestly, you should – another piece of homework, if you can just sit back and think about who you were before and who you are now and reflect on that a bit.
MANNAH: We talked about normalizing pronouns, but I think it's also important to normalize sharing that story that you just told. I know I had a similar story where wherever I am on the wokeness scale, I was definitely much less so a couple years ago. I just did not have the same – I did not have enough experiences. I did not think about things in the same way. I did not challenge myself to be empathetic as much as I do now. It is a process and we're all somewhere on that journey.
Who you are, like you said, 10 years ago is not necessarily who you are now. If it is, I don't know. I hope I'm not the same person in 10 years. I hope I'm always growing. So to make sure to share with others that it is a process and you don't wake up one day being woke. It is something that takes work and a skill that is developed.
MANDY: Oh, you definitely have to do the work.
Every year, I do a program. It's an actually a wonderful program. It's called Stratejoy. I can put the link in the show notes. But every year there's this woman who you sit down, you take stock of the last year and she asks a lot of deep questions. You journal them, you write them down, and then you think about what do I want to see? What can I improve? What do I want to do? How can I do so? And then we have quarterly calls throughout the year and really sit down, write it down, talk about it, and reflect on it because it is work.
A lot of people make fun of people who read self-help books and I love fiction books just as much as the next person, I want to get away and read before bed at the end of the night, too. But it's really important for me to read books that make me feel uncomfortable, or make me learn, or make me think.
I read a lot of books on race. So You Want to Talk About Race was one I read and it had a profound effect on me to read that book and take stock of myself and my own actions. It can be hard sometimes and it can cause anxiety. But I think in order to grow as a person, that's where you need to be vulnerable and you need to say, “No, I'm not perfect. I've done this thing wrong in the past and I don't know this, so I'm going to do what I can to educate myself.”
CASEY: Another thing I hear a lot is some people say, “You should not celebrate any progress you make. You should always just feel bad and work harder forever.” Do you ever hear that kind of sentiment? Not in those words.
CASEY: But if you ever say, “I learned a thing and I'm proud of it, here's what I learned,” there's someone on the internet who's going to tell you, “You are terrible and wrong and should do even better. Forget any progress you've made. You're not perfect yet,” and that is so frustrating to me.
So here's something I'd like to see from more woke allies is less language policing, more celebrating of people who make progress. A lot of it's invisible, like we talked about on the spectrum. I do like when people get called out for making mistakes, like there's an opportunity for learning and growth, but you don't have to shame people in public, make them feel really bad about it, and embarrassed in front of the whole company.
You could maybe do it privately and send a message to the companies talking about the policy in general like, “Don't use this word, don't do this thing.” You can do it very tactfully and you can be very effective. You don't have to just be PC police to the extreme. But if you are PC police to the extreme, I'm glad you’re doing something. That's good. But you can be more effective. Please think about how you can be really effective, that's my request for all my woke friends. It can go overboard. It can definitely go overboard, being a language police.
MANDY: Yeah, and it can make people who are trying to quit.
CASEY: Right. That's a huge risk. I want to give all this a caveat, though, because if – here's an example from a friend's company.
There was a presentation and there ended up being a slide with Blackface on it, which if you don't know is a terrible, awful thing that makes Black people feel really bad and it makes the person showing it seem like they are malicious, or oblivious and it shouldn't happen. And then we were wondering like, “What should someone have done in that situation?” Call it out, for sure and move on publicly is a good call there to protect any Black people in the room feel like they're being protected and heard, but not necessarily shaming the person and giving them a 5-minute lecture during that. You can be effective at getting the person not to do it again in private later calling it out to defend the people in the room.
Protecting is goal number one for me, but what can you do to change the company culture effectively is a piece that I see a lot of people skipping. If you are just 5 minutes yelling at a person that might make them shut down, you're not being your most effective. So it's a hard walk to balance protecting people, calling people out, and changing the culture. But it's possible and it's work.
I guess, it's really two things you're balancing, protecting the person, making them feel part of the group included and cared for versus changing the culture of the group and of the individual. We want both outcomes, ideally. But if I had to pick one, I'm going to pick protecting the person first and then the larger change can happen afterwards.
MANDY: Yeah. And if you do mess up, which I've done. I've accidentally misgendered somebody and I felt terrible. All night, I kept apologizing to this person and finally, this person took me aside and said, “You're making it worse by keeping apologizing. Let it go.”
MANDY: So also, not rehashing and banging your head against the wall multiple, multiple times. Apologize and move on.
MANNAH: Yeah. If your apology is sincere, then you shouldn't need to repeat it multiple times. Make sure that the person you're apologizing to hears it and make whatever amend need be made. But I do think if you over apologizing, it's more for you so you feel better than it is more for the person that you potentially offended.
CASEY: Right and I don't expect you to know that without having thought about it like you are right now. Take this moment and think about it deeper. This is intriguing to you. It is natural to want to apologize forever, but it is also harmful and you can do better than that.
I offer a lot of workshops in this vein. Like there's one called Bystander to Upstander. There's another LGBTQIA inclusion where I go through a whole bunch of charts and graphs. There's one called preventing and recovering from microaggressions where you can practice making a mistake and recovering from it in a group. The practice is the key here, like really making a mistake and recovering from it, getting that the muscles, the reactions, the things you say to people, it does take work to get that to be a practice. Even if you already agree you want to, it's hard to put it into practice a lot of the time.
I give workshops, including these, for community groups a couple times a month and if you want to get updates on that, that's at happyandeffective.com/updates. Also, I do these for companies so if you think your company would benefit from having these kinds of discussions, feel free to reach out to Happy and Effective, too. That's my company.
MANNAH: Well, with that, I think it'd be a great time to move to reflections. What do y'all think?
I think this whole episode has been one big reflection to be quite honest, but does anybody want to share anything in particular that has stood out to them throughout the hour we've just spent together?
MANNAH: I'm happy to kick it off.
I think that we've made some really good suggestions around how people can create more through their own actions. Create more inclusive environments. I do want to say that these are not things that are kind of stone. There are a lot of ways. Everybody's an individual, every situation is different, and I don't want to be prescriptive in saying you have to do certain things.
I do want to say that when I'm speaking, this is my experience and these are things that I think can help. So please don't take what I say to be gospel. They are suggestions and if you disagree with them, then I'm happy to have that conversation. But recognize that the people speaking on this panel don't necessarily have the answers, but they are people who are willing to start this conversation.
CASEY: The thing I want people to take away is—and you can repeat after me, everyone—I will make mistakes. Good, good. I heard it. I will find more support. Awesome. You're great. Okay. You're on the right path for this now.
Mandy, over to you.
MANDY: This is not something that you do once and you're done. This kind of reflection and this kind of work is always going to be a work in progress until the day you're no longer here. It's not something you can read a book and be like, “Okay, I did that. I'm good now. I know things.” It's constantly changing and evolving and you need to do the work. You need to have empathy for others and realize that everybody is constantly changing and just because somebody isn’t one ting one day, they might be something the other day.
I tell my daughter all the time because she’s very unsure about who is she and I’m like, “You don’t have to know right now. Just because you think you’re this, or you’re this right now, in 2 years, you might feel differently and you might be this.” So people are always evolving, always changing, and that doesn’t just go for how you present either your gender identity, or sexual identity but it also just goes for who you are. I always try to grow as a person and the work is never done.
CASEY: No one has all the answers, no one knows everything, and anyone who says they do is lying because it’s going to change. It will change.
MANDY: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Mannah and Casey for having this conversation today. I know it’s uncomfortable, I know it’s a hard thing to talk about, and I’m so grateful that you both showed up to have it.
If we want to continue these conversations, I invite anybody who’s listening to reach out to us. If you’d like to come on the show to talk about it, reach out to us. We have a Slack channel that we can have private conversations in. You can find that at Patreon.com/greaterthancode and donate as little as a dollar to get in. We do that so we keep the trolls out and if you cannot afford a dollar, please DM any one of us and we will get you in there for free.
So with that, thank you again for listening and we will see you all next week.Support Greater Than Code