As part of society, we are cautious to express our true colours. We disguise ourselves in order to meet the rules of social normativity. The real shame in this is that by being cautious, we not only put obstacles in our own way and cause our own unhappiness, but also prevent those around us, colleagues, friends, and family, from getting to know the real us.
In her TED Talk The Danger of Hiding Who You Are, Morgana Bailey reveals that she suppressed her true self for 16 years. She speaks the words that may not be extraordinary to others but have long paralyzed her. Bailey has come to realize that her silence has personal, professional, and social consequences. When she was young, she prided herself as a nonconformist: she didn’t follow the crowd, was extremely social, and wasn’t afraid to try new things and trends.
During her time abroad, she recognized something about herself that was somewhat unique, and this changed everything. She became the opposite of what she used to be, stayed in her room instead of socialising and no longer wanted to stand out of the crowd, suddenly seeking acceptance. The sad thing is that the moment she realised there was something different about her, was the exact same moment that she began conforming and hiding. Sadly, once you start hiding, it becomes harder and harder to step forward and express yourself.
As you probably guessed by now, Morgana recognized that she was part of the LGBTQ+ Community. It was very hard for her to admit to others that she is a lesbian because she didn’t want to be defined by it. She wanted to be known as Morgana, not “my lesbian friend, Morgana” or “my gay co-worker, Morgana”. This fear of not being accepted paralysed her all her life and forced her into this state of conforming and hiding.
A 2013 Deloitte study showed that 61% of all employees surveyed changed some aspect about themselves to fit in at work. Of all the LGBTQ employees, 83% admittedly do so. The study found that even in companies with diversity and inclusion programs, employees struggle with being themselves because they believe that conformity is critical for their long-term career advancement. On top of this, did you know the life expectancy is shortened by 12 years for LGBTQ people in non-accepting communities compared to accepting communities? This shows how important it is to try to make a difference.
If anything, this shows that there might be more scary things inside than outside, as Toni Morrison states in her novel Paradise. This not only applies to the LGBTQ+ Community, but to everyone not meeting social normativity. We must explore and embrace ourselves and give people the chance to see our true colours. In the end, maybe the biggest obstacles we have to overcome are our own fears and insecurities.
FS Unity is an open community at Frankfurt School focused on raising awareness for LGBTIQ* issues and providing professional networking opportunities. FS Unity organizes campus events, career fair visits, and guest speeches, all of which aim to connect LGBTIQ* students and professionals.