Image courtesy of satit_srihin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Standing by my bed the other night stretching my legs, I was reminded of all the times I stood to save face when I could’ve sat when asked. I stayed standing because it was far easier than sitting and rising again. Too much trouble, too much fuss, and way too much production. It was simpler to stand, felt safer, even when it appeared slightly awkward.
Speaking from experience, opting to stand is most often the convenient thing to do; sitting is sometimes an act of defiance for this sis with compromised mobility. Imagine that! Sometimes, many times, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and an imaginary middle finger in the line of vision of naysayers/nosy folks who are watching “the show.”
And speaking of acts of defiance I’ve been away for a minute working on a small boatload of things but I’m back now. In mid July I was asked to be keynote speaker at the inaugural Disability Intersectionality Summit that took place Saturday, Nov 5th. I was so bowled over at being asked, immediately said yes and also shared my bit of social anxiety when it comes to public speaking but could not however pass up the opportunity to keynote, my very first time actually.
But still, I semi-fretted about speaking for months and must’ve practiced in my mind a million times. I talked to the air and empty rooms envisioning the audience playing with pitch, emphasis, and effective pauses. I asked friends and fellow advocates to send well-wishes and asked for tips and advice. Repeatedly, I received the message to “be yourself, be authentic” and I thought about that- how simple yet radical that is. To be one’s self, to be authentic in a society and social atmosphere that would rather have you conform and perform, tap dance with jazz hands. So much easier to entertain and maintain status quo rather than show up sans apology unmasked.
The minute I affirmed that I would speak seemed to set off in motion a chain of events preparing me for the big day. I received 4 requests to be part of trainings and panels, each with slightly different focus but all incorporated disability lens. And even though I’m in leadership positions on the boards I serve, speaking is done on a bit more intimate and in smaller settings so this would require me to be present in a larger way.
Lemme just say, fear is strange subjugation, and mine was bringing me to my knees at the thought of speaking before a large crowd with the challenge of captivating audience with potency. *bites nails* Boy do feelings have such edges and endpoints, knowing is more encompassing and extends far beyond the horizon; I needed to journey there and find more confidence, risk my comfort..to grow..and augment my skillset. But oh the vulnerability.
So I wrote a Post-It® note and planted it on my vision board that hangs on my closet door knowing I’d have to read it daily as it stared me in the face from my bed. It read “You will give a phenomenal keynote speech at Disability Summit!!!” I had no chance of not seeing or avoiding it. It practically dared me to do well and coupled with the chance to speak on panels was great practice, and I might’ve checked out a few or ten YouTube keynotes.
I also thought about the following quotes I included in keynote that initially came to mind after panicking upon confirming participation and closing out Skype session with lead organizer:
“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind – even if your voice shakes.” –Maggie Kuhn
“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.” -Audre Lorde
In defiance of my fears, armed and comforted with these directives I committed the very revolutionary act of being authentically me- however that might’ve manifested, splotchy red face, shaky voice, beating heart..I was boldly me.
And what an exceedingly glorious day it was- cooperative weather, paratransit arrived on time, stellar line-up of disabled speakers majority of color who shared perspectives from intersectional lens on topics ranging from queerness, kink, mental illness, disability justice/trans liberation, media diversity among compelling insight where light was shed. So lovely to meet advocate friends from outta town and network with new ones…from start to finish- steering committee to scan of room filled with disabled folks!
Oh and my keynote went well, none of the extremes I’d envisioned happened – aside from the tiny horror of my presentation slides not wanting to move smoothly and actually stopping after the 4th slide. Thank gawd I had my notes, and my voice and message were clear! *win* The lesson of the day was don’t aim for perfection, be genuinely present and the rest will fall gracefully in place. Fear did not hold dominion and was no match against my defiance.
As I shared in my keynote and remind myself… strength and leadership look different on different bodies. My presence was evidence I can take pride in as an #IntersectionalCrip!
headline image: empty bright blue chair facing view