Who I am (and why I make people uncomfortable)

In the speech that became A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf told her audience: “When a subject is highly controversial and any question about sex {and I would add power – Joe} is that one cannot hope to tell the truth. One can only show how one came to hold whatever opinion one does hold. One can only give one’s audience the chance of drawing their own conclusions as they observe the limitations, the prejudices, the idiosyncrasies of the speaker.”

For so long, most students have been told that their feelings, and truly their thoughts, weren’t important. Many educators present their subject matter as if it exists separate from them, objective and absolute. Many educators are uncomfortable that they must, in essence, stand naked and vulnerable in front of their students. As a result, most students are resigned that they will never hear an educator speak honestly about their life. Most don’t expect to see any adult speak honestly. Many people who can’t speak comfortably, won’t. Some resent/envy/misrepresent me because I can and do.

I’m not uncomfortable when students ask me questions about my private life. I am comfortable speaking candidly. In fact, in the workshops I use my experiences as a male growing up to illustrate important points. The broad details of the participants’ lives are familiar to me, but to avoid the impression that I think I know everything about each of their individual lives, I use my story as an efficient way of getting deep into the material. Many males in groups are unlikely to reveal much important information or even to ask questions. As I discuss the “normal things” I learned as a boy, most participants can see themselves in my story.

A chaplain at a school said: “You can bet that some people are going to resent you. You can joke on a really high level and communicate very effectively. Many people can barely talk seriously about these topics.”