I am one of the speakers for TEDxMileHigh’s Imagine event on November 16. I love Helena and Briar and Jeremy and all the good people at TEDxMileHigh. They run a wonderful and inspiring show. TEDxMileHigh is one of the largest TEDx events in the world, and from my perspective, one of the best! It is such a pleasure working with them. It was my TEDx talk two years ago that launched my speaking career on issues related to gender equity.
Occasionally people contact me and ask for help putting together a pitch to do a TED or TEDx talk. I’m not a curator for TED events and have no idea what causes someone to be chosen to do a talk, so I’m not much help. But I do know how much work you have to do once you have been chosen.
I have kept track of how many edits I have done for my upcoming talk. Each dated edit has about four or five smaller edits embedded within, and at this point I am at dated edit number 22, including two edits I named “Try Again” and “Try Again2.” That’s because Briar, my coach and the head of coaching for TED, and Helena, one of the leaders of TEDxMileHigh and also a coach for TED, kindly told me exactly 19 days ago that I needed to “start with a blank page.” In other words, in spite of all of my brilliant writing and wonderful edits, my talk was not measuring up to their expectations.
Briar and Helena are the kindest and most upbeat humans you will ever encounter. They bring sunshine with them all day every day. (And Helena has the most beautiful engagement ring known to man. Just sayin’ ) So, when Briar and Helena tell you to start over, they do it in the nicest of ways. But they are also very clear. You start over. Doing a TED talk is not for the thin-skinned.
So, I started over. And I ended up with a talk that has been painful to write, because it has asked me to examine my post-transition life for signs of lingering privilege. But the problem is that I do not want to examine my post-transition life for signs of lingering privilege. It makes me uncomfortable. I lost a lot when I transitioned, and lingering privilege is a right of mine, dammit. Except of course that privilege is no one’s right.
I am memorizing the talk now. That’ll take the better part of two weeks, which gives me hundreds and hundreds of opportunities to be reminded of my desperation to hang on to my remaining white male privilege. Sigh.
It’s not that hard speaking when you do not choose to be vulnerable. You just talk and people laugh and life is good. But being publicly vulnerable is another issue. You always risk crossing the line D. H. Lawrence talked about when he said, “A writer sheds his sickness in his writing.” Not a good thing.
Being willing to be human and vulnerable can be healing, both for you and your audience. But it also can be exhausting. To be vulnerable in front of a crowd of 5,000 and millions more online can be very exhausting. Our Red Table Talk episode has been viewed over three million times. That’s a lifetime worth of vulnerability. I’ve watched the show exactly three times and that’s enough for me.
I speak because I can, and because it is important. Not every transgender person has had the opportunities that have been afforded to me. Those opportunities have given me a resilience that allows me to speak candidly about my life. It still does not make it easy, but if not me, who? We all have a responsibility to advance the narrative from within our own experience.
I have learned a lot as a female, and I believe it can be helpful for men and women to learn from my story, both to validate their own experience, and to help them explore areas for potential growth.
If you live in the greater Denver area, I encourage you to come to TEDxMileHigh Imagine at the Bellco Theater on Saturday, November 16. This year’s speakers are an amazing group of inspiring men and women. I am enjoying getting to know most of them, and I feel honored to be speaking alongside such capable and dedicated people.