Lavender Reception Keynote 2015 – “The World Needs People Who L-I-V”

So, this year, I was honored to be selected by some of Michigan State University’s queer-identified graduating students to deliver the Lavender Reception Keynote address.  Truly, I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity.  However, I apparently did not share that news much prior to actually giving the keynote.  So, I asked someone to record it for me.  The transcript of the talk is below; talk starts at 00:35.  I should also note when I speak with passion and want to deliver a powerful message, I often speak extemporaneous.  So, this talk had an outline and some quotes, but nothing completely written down.

Before I begin, we must recognize the efforts of one Ms. DaShayla Bradford for organizing and making this event possible.

(Alex disappears and there is laughter)

I’m back.  Change in the presentation, just like a jack in the box.

I am honored and humbled to be here before you today, privileged to be chosen by students in this very room to give this keynote.  Generally when I stand in front of a room, I am defending queerness.  I am defending the idea of being LGBTQ+.  I don’t have to do that today.  Today I get to speak from my spirit, from my mind, and my heart about this community.  As a community over the past year, we have faced incredible odds and incredible triumphs.  The goal for liberation, not just rights, but liberation is ongoing.  We are not stopping any time soon so you better tell somebody.

So I thought about today – what can I do?  I can give a really inspirational keynote address.  I could make jokes and hope that you laugh.  I could even make a Buzzfeed with appropriate gifs about how you should all feel today in a bulleted list (laughs) – I will tell you the Buzzfeed list was drafted. When I debated what I would share today, I wanted to share what our world needs most out of you, our students, our graduates.  I wanted to share today how to live – L – I – V.  How to love.  How to lead with integrity.  And how to be vulnerable.  And to say this was inspired today by three very important women in my life because I do not stand here a proud genderqueer, gender-neutral pronoun using educator without them.

So #1.  Let’s talk about some radical love.  Let’s talk about love that transcends romance and desire.  Let’s talk about love of filling each other up, of nurturing one another’s spirit and soul.  Because we often focus on one but not all.  Psychologist Erich Fromm* once said love “is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing another’s spirit or our own spirit.”  The woman who inspired this part of my talk is bell hooks.  Because bell hooks talks about love, but she talks about how to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients together – care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust as well as communication.  That all of those are ingredients of radical love, something our world is in dire need of.  Something that we as a community know all oh too well what it is like to not have that love present and what it means to do.  Mother RuPaul once said, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” (Amens) But bell hooks has one little caveat to that – “do not expect to receive the love from someone else you do not give yourself.”  Do not expect to find love outside of yourself first because you must find it within yourself before you can move forward.** I mean, y’all can snap, that’s fine.  And it was Cornel West who once said, “justice is what loves look like in public.”***  And so we need to start loving our brothers, sisters, our kin more and more each day.  So that’s number one.

Number 2 was inspired by Janet Mock.  Janet Mock challenges us to lead and love and live with integrity.  Integrity is not just about staying consistent with our values in times of comfort but also times of challenge.  She talks about how we have to believe in ourselves and trusting ourselves at all times.  We can talk about for some of us, it has been very hard to live lives of integrity.  How it has been difficult for me to express myself in my fierce gender way.  We can talk about how there are challenges of integrity so we must create worlds that inspire integrity and allow everyone to have integrity.  If we want to isolate the problems and develop transformational strategies for our lives, we have to hold our aspirational values up against what I call our practiced values – how we actually live, behave, and think.  Because oftentimes we espouse something but something completely different becomes enacted.  But the true leaders, the truly remarkable people of this world, live, believe, and think in their values all the time.

Finally, we’ve come to vulnerability and dare to be vulnerable.  I will not lie and not say that Brené Brown, a shame researcher, has not influenced my life profoundly because Brené talks about – and I say Brené as if I know her (laughs) – but Dr. Brown talks about how vulnerability is not weakness, it is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.  Once again, something we are all too familiar with.  And look, vulnerability is not fear, grief, or disappointment – it is what we all want to see in each other but we are scared to see in ourselves.  Vulnerability is what was displayed up here on this stage before I got up here.  Vulnerability is telling your boss that you really miss home, that it’s been the hardest six months of your life to do a job.  Vulnerability is how we create connection and trust and create our most authentic relationships.  In a world where we are ever more connected but not in connection with each other, vulnerability is the key.  Vulnerability is the birthplace of love and connection and owning our story and loving ourselves is the bravest thing we will ever do and the greatest challenge to the question “am I enough”?  I will not lie and tell you that I stand up here an expert, that I stand up here confident in everything I have ever done, most see that, most impose that on me, but there are times where I question if I am enough.  There are times that I question if I am enough to be an Assistant Director of an LBGT Resource Center for a fabulous community.  There are times where I wonder – Did I stay late enough?  Did I do enough?  Was I enough?  That is not weakness; that is courage.  That is me being in a space with you and saying “I am here with you.  You are not alone,” as Michael Jackson once said.

So graduates, I challenge you to LIV when you leave here.  Students and community members that will stay here, I challenge you to LIV here.  Because it is what our world needs, you are what our world needs.  Never forget that.  Radically love.  Live with integrity.  And dare to be vulnerable.  Congratulations to this year’s Spartan class.  Thank you.

* – The quote was actually by M. Scott Peck (a psychiatrist), not Erich Fromm.
** – Dr. Z Nicolazzo, I think, has an excellent rebuttal to this part of my talk.  Check it out here.
*** – Dr. Dafina-Lazarus Stewart has an incredible post about West’s words about love in private.  Check it out here.

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