Years ago, I attended a concert of a prominent lesbian musician from Canada. I was an instructor of nursing in a major university, and actively involved in the lesbian community as well. There were about 400 people there – mostly women, and mostly lesbian. I recognized a few friends from the lesbian community, but as usual, I did not see anyone else there from my nursing and university communities.
About a week later, a graduate student approached me in the hall, and asked to speak – she had been at the concert, and she recognized me in the audience. She was a bit timid about actaully talking with me, but she told me that seeing me there meant more to her than I could know. She was still struggling with family rejection since they found out she is lesbian, and had assumed she would need to be very careful about disclosing her identity in her nursing program. She told me that seeing me there gave her courage that she was not alone – that just being there gave her hope that she too could be strong, out and proud! I had provided, she said, a mirror of what her reality could be in nursing!
Mirrors have a significant place in all of our lives. We often take for granted the one on the bathroom wall as we peer at ourselves to get just the “look” we want several times throughout the course of a day. But there are other equally important “mirrors” that affirm our existence in ways that go deeper than physical appearance – including for example:
- Movies that portray people who look like us, who behave in ways that we would like to emulate
- People around us who we admire and want to fashion our own lives after
- Characters in books and magazines who open up possibilities we can imagine for our own lives
- Stories and “gossip” we exchange with our friends and families that reflect ways to deal with daily life – ways that we internalize and acquire as our own – or not.
But for many people, these “mirrors” do not reflect anything close to what they know to be the deep truths about themselves. Some of these truths are pretty obvious – skin color being one of the most significant, and least accurately represented in many of the social and cultural images that abound in our culture. People with dark skin colors and other physical features that are not white (and typically masculine) have far too few images that affirm and reflect who they are.
For LGBTQ people, these “mirrors” are almost non-existent. No matter when a person begins to realize that they are, or might be LGBT or Q, one of the most important things that they need are “mirrors” to find out if there are others who have similar feelings and experiences, and if so, what their lives are like. There are ample negative portrayals, and many messages from the culture that proclaim that they are either alone, abnormal, or sick.
But there are positive, affirming images and messages, and it is incumbent upon those of us in LGBTQ communities to make those images prominent, accessible, and easily visible. Living our lives in the open is the most important thing that any of us can do – by doing so we provide that “mirror” that might reflect something that someone needs. The student who saw me at a concert glimpsed something of what her life could be by simply seeing me at a concert. From then on, we formed a friendship that included many hours of sharing stories of our lives, books and articles affirming our experiences, and images conveyed in our handling of difficult situations!
So here’s to being a mirror – every day, and in every way! We never know when we are showing something that really matters to others!