When I take off my vulnerability armor and allow myself to be seen…..

Ade - WakeOne of the many things I love about storytelling is that each time a story is told, something is always discovered or rediscovered by the storyteller. No matter how many times I tell a tale, I am always finding another insight or revelation, which always leaves me feeling like I have never told the story before.

One such tale is an encounter that I recently had with a taxi driver in London. In fact, a few minutes after the encounter, I found myself telling the story in a business meeting, and in the days that followed, I must have told it at least once a day. As I reflected on the story earlier this week, I found that I was still uncovering newer depths to the story; very much like Alice, lost in Wonderland and getting more curious and curious!

I have wanted to write about the story for the past couple of weeks, but I had become so enchanted by the oral telling of the tale and somehow felt that putting it to paper might mean that the story no longer unraveled. But as I found myself going through the OutTales archive over the past few days, I noticed that so many of the stories here all have further levels to what has been written, and if I was to write many of them again now, there will be a different pair of eyes and hand bringing new life to the already told tales…

Anyway, enough of my sentimental nostalgic reflection and on to the tale at hand…

The encounter took place just shy of one month ago. I had been attending a workshop at the Old Vic Theatre, where myself and five other participants got to tell stories from the stage. I was beaming and feeling so elated about the whole experience, as I stepped into a taxi outside the Old Vic to take me to my next meeting.

As I settled into the back seat, lost in daydreaming about how the workshop had unfolded, I heard the taxi driver taxi_2586613bask whether I was an actor. I briefly explained what had taken me to the Old Vic. And before I knew it, we were deep into talking about other things. The driver was clearly someone who loved to engage with his customers, and whilst I love a nice natter too, I was not really feeling up to it on this particular afternoon; in between longing to continue daydreaming about the wonderful Old Vic session, I also wanted to read some of the papers for the meeting I was rushing to. In order to stop myself from talking too much, I decided to keep asking him open questions, so that all I did was ‘listen’, rather than engage. This continued for a while, until…

He suddenly asked me what I did for a living. I told him I worked in the field of personal development and helped people reconnect with their core self and live their best lives. He asked whether I worked for a company and I told him I worked for myself and was a partner in a company. I was conscious that my answers were short and to the point, but the driver did not seem bothered by that, he was just as engaging. He then asked what sort of people I worked with. As I heard him ask the question, I heard a voice in my head say ‘Are you going to tell him you work with gay men or are you just going to mention your corporate work’. This was followed by many other voices; in fact I had a full internal conversation going on. The whole experience took seconds, and in real-time it felt like the moment was happening in slow motion. The dialogue in my head went something like this –

‘So what if I tell him I work with gay men’,
‘well if you do, he might not be so chatty any more’,
‘or he might tell you to get out of his cab’,
‘or he might be homophobic, afterall he looks like one of those alpha male lads,
‘But I thought you said you want to embrace vulnerability, be authentic and show up and be seen’,
‘yes I do, but I will never see this guy again, so it does not really matter and afterall I do want him to stop talking’,
‘So are you ashamed of letting him know you are gay?’,
‘No, of course not. As I said I’ll never see him again. I am simply afraid for my safety‘.

I was also conscious that I was afraid of breaking that connection that we had developed – even though it was not a connection I necessarily wanted.

I heard myself say, ‘I work with gay men and also work with people in organizations’. There was a brief silence. I remember feeling vulnerable – exposed – in that moment. I had no idea what might happen and we were nowhere near my destination. He then looked over at me and said, ‘I think one of my sons is gay. He has not said anything, but I think he is. And if he is, it does not matter, I still love him. He is my son’.  He spoke about his family for a while, which was great as I had no words – all I kept hearing in my head was – ‘when I take off my vulnerability armor and allow myself to be seen, it gives others the permission to do the same. As I listened, I felt very privileged to hear this father talk about the love he had for his son. He turned to me, smiled and said, ‘I think my son will be okay’. I spoke about the workshops I co-facilitate for Gay Men. And I talked about how society was changing and how great it was that parents like him are starting to emerge and love their kids exactly as they are. I talked about how it was important to not neglect the fact that homophobia is still evident in many pockets of society, like schools, media and workplaces and that this can sometimes make it challenging for gay men, even those from loving homes, to have a healthy sense of self. He said he’d never thought of that before. He went on to talk about other gay colleagues he’d worked with in previous jobs and then conversation moved onto other topics.

As we said goodbye, I thought of my own father whom I had never come out to by the time he passed away, and I imagined him having had a similar conversation with a friend, colleague or stranger. As I made my way into the meeting I felt grateful for the encounter, for it had been an ordinary conversation that had touched me much more than I could have imagined it doing when I stepped into the back seat of the taxi.

My FatherAs the weeks have passed since that encounter, I have found myself in many different situations where I have told that story. One instance was when someone in our workshop had said he did not think it was necessary for gay men to go around announcing that we are gay to everybody. I talked about my encounter, saying there was no ‘announcing’, we simply had a conversation that had unfolded naturally. I found myself telling the story once again as I talked to some friends about the relationship between fear and shame, and how the two co-exist. I told the story again as I talked about making assumptions about people, as I had done with the taxi driver.

And just this past weekend as the world celebrated Father’s Day, I once again remembered the encounter and I thought of my dad. And I took solace in the fact that whilst I never had that conversation with my father; I got to have it with the father of another gay son.

OutTales  © 2013

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49 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. aguywithoutboxers
    Jun 20, 2013 @ 15:17:09

    Excellent post and an outstanding unintentional (or was it?) outreach and teaching moment. You grabbed the opportunity and reassured the driver that it was okay for his son to be gay. Whether or not it encouraged him to share this encounter with his son, as an opening to a dialog, we’ll probably never know. However, you made an impact on the attitude and life of the driver, and that’s what counts. Great job, my blogging brother! 🙂 Much love and naked hugs!

    Reply

    • OutTales
      Jun 20, 2013 @ 19:17:54

      thank you my blogging brother for your lovely words……it was a wonderful unintentional moment indeed……

      …… as i think about it now, after reading your comment, i think of all those conversations that many of us don’t have….. sort of like a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’………

      …… guess it takes courage and interest to have certain conversations……..

      Love and hugs, xx

      Reply

  2. phillybookpicks
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 18:08:29

    Thanks for posting, awesome post.

    Reply

  3. rami ungar the writer
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 19:37:28

    I’m glad you decided to share that story. It’s beautiful and it shows how much farther we’ve come since my mother and her partner first got together. I hope that someday people can have these conversations without any hesitation at all on the topic of the LGBTQ community.

    Reply

  4. wewerenothing
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 21:36:00

    Lovely post. Thanks for that.

    Reply

  5. ladysoket
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 22:18:07

    i have several gay family members. I think they would all like this post.

    Reply

  6. Keith Wayne Brown
    Jun 22, 2013 @ 22:52:07

    Reblogged this on Reason & Existenz.

    Reply

  7. Ashana M
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 00:57:58

    It isn’t about announcing it, is it? It’s about taking off the armor enough that we can all feel human again and stop having to be soldiers through life.

    Reply

  8. 113yearslater
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 03:50:58

    You may have inadvertently given this man a way to let his son know he loves him as well, just something for him to mention: “I had this really nice guy as a fare today. I asked him what he did for a living, and he mentioned working with gay men. He seemed really nice.” Just one of those not-really-casual comments that people make to hint at family members, sort of an, “I suspect you might be gay, and I don’t mind, so don’t stress about it,” type things that people say in supportive families, like when your mom says, “You know I really like that Ellen Degeneres, she’s really great,” out of the blue for no reason. 🙂

    Reply

  9. cscatherine
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 04:10:32

    The topic of taking of the vulnerability attracts me to click on the link. It takes courage and confidence to do that? In April, I become a member of a toastmaster group. From reading your taxi ride conversation and telling a story, it reminds me of sharing my own stories that seem to connect with audiences more effective. But I don’t quite understand why? I always wonder if people would get bored if I talk about me. Somehow I thought people like to hear something that are more relate to them like you help gay men on personal development. In my toastmaster group, there are different people from different background. Sometimes, I look at them as I speak and their look makes me wonder. Although I do get some good feedback but I wonder if they are just being positive and nice? And I didn’t realized that perhaps I do find insights of each time sharing my own experience as much as it helps a friend who ask for advise or in public speaking format. I am just a beginner and actually I never thought I like it as much as I thought. Your article sure brings many questions to ask myself in my mind. Thanks! Catherine

    Reply

  10. tn84
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 06:54:23

    It only takes one person willing to be vulnerable to get the ball rolling. What’s to follow is usually a beautiful moment connecting us as humans. Thank you for sharing your story, this was lovely. :’)

    When I wake up tomorrow, I am going to consciously be more of who I am, and be it proudly. 🙂

    Reply

  11. Jackie
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 08:20:00

    What an inspiring story….I often forget that if I take off my protective armour that I am giving others the chance to do it too. A great reminder, and I was smiling as I read the post, thank you!

    Reply

  12. Weird and Wonderful
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 09:10:16

    This is so beautifully written and as I read further I felt a connection to all beings – it is absolutely okay to be vulnerable; to embrace this emotion for when we do so, we only leave the door open for others to do the same… Very touching story and thank you so much for sharing it with us… xx

    Reply

  13. Antara
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 09:57:56

    That is so, so beautiful. And you are right, it is not all about getting up on a stage and shouting. It is more importantly about speaking, talking, listening, sharing. The less we talk and share, the more we build a a box and start living in it, not knowing what it really is like outside.

    Reply

  14. greenmackenzie
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 11:19:02

    How clearly and passionately you have written this, it reaches in and touches me as I read….connecting us as vulnerable human beings. What a great reminder to have the courage to be ourselves, and in doing so allowing others to do the same. Being real….it’s so important 🙂

    Reply

  15. islandrain2013
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 11:28:57

    Thank you for this post. It rings with such truth. I have similar experiences of vulnerability in my own life. The more we take off the armor the richer life becomes.

    Reply

  16. inthebarberschair
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 12:03:53

    Love this story, keep up the good work!!

    Reply

  17. lynngailphotography
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 13:21:41

    in a world where we can be anything…..be yourself…. A great quote I recently read 🙂

    Reply

  18. OutTales
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 16:28:57

    Thank You All for the ‘likes’ and comments – its really overwhelming and deeply touching as this story has generated the highest traffic since i started the blog 2 years ago……

    Taking off my vulnerability armor is something that i still navigate on a daily basis, sometimes fear holds me back and sometimes its those moments where i wrongly equate vulnerability with being weak…….

    …… and what i am taking away from the comments and my own realization (as mentioned in one of the comments above) is that “The more we take off the armor, the richer life becomes”……

    Thank You!!

    Reply

  19. danielctidwell
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 17:33:08

    Thanks for sharing this lovely story with those of us who wouldn’t have the chance to hear you tell it in person.

    I’m grateful for the way that you articulate what feels like a very common experience for LGBTIQ folks, where we’re confronted with negotiating fear of the external society and internalized shame all in real-time conversations where we have to make those choices around comfort, safety, vulnerability, and openness.

    You’ve poignantly reminded us of the gift we offer others by simply letting them see who we are. Whether that gift is their own discomfort (I’m thinking of the “announcing” comment) or the open door for them to step into their own vulnerability, like the man driving the cab. Beautiful.

    Reply

  20. Not quite 40
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 18:20:45

    It is interesting that you felt vulnerable. You were aware of the fact that you were gay, and wondered if the taxi driver would react badly to that. Interestingly enough, you made the assumption that he would *know* YOU were gay from that fact that you work with gay men. Funny how we make assumptions. I wonder if the taxi driver did indeed make that assumption…

    Reply

  21. Sooziesnowflake
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 18:43:47

    I’m on the vulnerability journey too and have very recently started blogging about it. I “came out” about being alcoholic a few months ago and have been on Brene Brown’s online course recently which has been really great and helped me in a huge way. I’m so pleased to have found your blog to join in your journey also!! I firmly believe that by showing up and being seen as we actually are and not how we think we are meant to be, does indeed give others permission to start doing the same. Thank you so much for sharing, you now have a new follower!! xx

    Reply

    • OutTales
      Jun 23, 2013 @ 19:45:24

      congratulations on your journey too and ‘coming out’…. wishing you courage as you journey forward…..

      ….. i love Brene Brown too and will be interviewing her in a couple of weeks in London….. will blog about it 🙂 xx

      Reply

  22. margueritequantaine
    Jun 23, 2013 @ 18:45:24

    This is a lovely piece of writing. I’m certain it touches many different on variety of levels for multiple reasons. One which interested me is how you were concerned with the reaction of the taxi cab driver before you spoke. Worried, even. I have never felt hat. I’m always on automatic, letting others worry about their own reactions without my care. To be honest, it never occurred to me that anyone else would edit themselves prior to speaking what’s on their minds or in their hearts. I will listen for hesitations more closely now, a necessity for putting others at ease. Thank you for that. For it all, actually.

    Reply

  23. THE EXPERIENCE 1
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 00:46:34

    “when I take off my vulnerability armor and allow myself to be seen, it gives others the permission to do the same” Such a powerful statement!! Enjoyed reading your thoughts and experience.

    Reply

  24. iamjust10
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 06:08:04

    So, it’s really true that when you give love, it will come back to you or I’d say, you had this “bomerang” like experience. The time you give in and being honest to yourself, that made the taxi drivers speaks about it too.

    Reply

  25. Avani
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 09:11:28

    It takes courage to be vulnerable, but it’s definitely worth the price – the privilege of being oneself, accepting self, and a chance for others to open up too. Good post, could be an eye opener for the ones who are just too afraid to show their true side to others.:)

    Reply

  26. Fiona Wright
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 13:18:18

    The strength it takes to be vulnerable! Keep sharing your stories. (also x many of the comments, including Avani’s, above).

    Reply

  27. alexswallow
    Jun 24, 2013 @ 20:51:22

    Reblogged this on one swallow makes a summer and commented:
    What a beautiful story and a beautiful message

    Reply

  28. Trackback: She’s so lucky… | holly barber
  29. bennettonbooks
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 03:49:44

    I read your post when it was first “Freshly Pressed” and it’s stayed with me. The more we are willing to be open, to share who we are, what we know and what we love, the more we can relate to others. Your experience in the taxi reminds me of the moments when I wonder if I can “admit” to being a Christian or if the other person will dismiss me as one of “those people.” It reminds me of the times I confessed to others that my father was an alcoholic, and learned that many friends had the same kind of upbringing. It reminds me of how I built a community of caring friends once I admitted to others that I have migraines. Lo and behold, other people have them, too!!

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the Marianne Williamson quote: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    You liberated that father. We can all liberate one another, if only we speak up.

    Reply

    • OutTales
      Jun 25, 2013 @ 08:07:00

      thank you….. Yes, i love that Marianne Williamson quote and often quote the first few lines…..

      It does indeed only need one person to take that first step in opening up – sounds much easier said than done 🙂 …… but then i guess that is when we need to step into our ‘brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous’ self!! 🙂 x

      Reply

  30. segmation
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 05:10:47

    I think it is sad you didn’t have this with your own dad but glad you were able to share with another. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  31. moodsnmoments
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 12:33:05

    “when I take off my vulnerability armor and allow myself to be seen, it gives others the permission to do the same” the mantra has been stated and i know what it means when someone shares some of his fears with you. you have written so well. magnificent work – well done and congratulations on being freshly pressed.

    Reply

  32. paulineking2013
    Jun 25, 2013 @ 19:56:23

    What a beautifully written, poignant moment in time – one of those encounters where synchronicity shows her face! In my real life I am a life guide [coach – but I don’t care for that term] and help people live their best lives too – I work mainly with disadvantaged women……… which perhaps has many more parallels than obvious at first glance, with your work. I just wanted to say hello and thanks to ‘freshly pressed’, I’m pleased to have found you!

    Reply

  33. lakishajohnson
    Jun 26, 2013 @ 13:08:00

    Reblogged this on lakishajj.

    Reply

  34. TaijituMartini
    Jun 27, 2013 @ 13:33:31

    The foundations for change are ultimately constructed by the voices of those who choose to be heard. It was kismet that put you in that cab 🙂

    Reply

  35. LoveLyndaLovely
    Jun 29, 2013 @ 15:39:46

    This is very touching…the moment when you decide whether to let ourselves be seen…or not for whatever reason. We are all guilty of making assumptions sometimes. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

  36. Avee
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 09:12:19

    Simply awesome. Cabs can be annoying but at the same time they can be very inspiring.

    Reply

  37. Wisp Of Smoke
    Jun 30, 2013 @ 13:43:09

    Reblogged this on Wisp Of Smoke.

    Reply

  38. milambc
    Jul 01, 2013 @ 18:10:19

    Reblogged this on Ginger Musings and commented:
    An unexpectedly engaging story..

    Reply

  39. izzywoo
    Jul 09, 2013 @ 08:55:46

    This story brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing it. ‘when I take off my vulnerability armor and allow myself to be seen, it gives others the permission to do the same’ Think this might have to be my new mantra!

    Reply

  40. dspbb
    Jul 11, 2013 @ 10:20:28

    It is gratifying to see someone who is so open and obviously wonderful! I enjoyed your post. And if you’re keeping statistics on who visits your site, I am a 71 year old straight woman. I find it refreshing to have someone who can speak so openly and your bravery helps us all everywhere.
    Darla Bartos

    Reply

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