ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Ash Beckham - Equality advocate
Ash Beckham approaches hard conversations from a place of compassion and empathy.

Why you should listen

Ash Beckham is no stranger to hard conversations. In her work, she shares how coming out as a lesbian helped her appreciate our common humanity and better understand the hardships that we all face. This equality advocate mixes personal experience and wisdom to help everyone bravely face their demons.

More profile about the speaker
Ash Beckham | Speaker | TED.com
TEDxBoulder

Ash Beckham: We're all hiding something. Let's find the courage to open up

Filmed:
2,741,491 views

In this touching talk, Ash Beckham offers a fresh approach to empathy and openness. It starts with understanding that everyone, at some point in their life, has experienced hardship. The only way out, says Beckham, is to open the door and step out of your closet.
- Equality advocate
Ash Beckham approaches hard conversations from a place of compassion and empathy. Full bio

Double-click the English transcript below to play the video.

00:12
I'm going to talk to you tonight
0
580
1768
00:14
about coming out of the closet,
1
2348
1696
00:16
and not in the traditional sense,
2
4044
1212
00:17
not just the gay closet.
3
5256
2312
00:19
I think we all have closets.
4
7568
2054
00:21
Your closet may be telling someone
5
9622
1892
00:23
you love her for the first time,
6
11514
2222
00:25
or telling someone that you're pregnant,
7
13736
2146
00:27
or telling someone you have cancer,
8
15882
2532
00:30
or any of the other hard conversations
9
18414
2031
00:32
we have throughout our lives.
10
20445
2266
00:34
All a closet is is a hard conversation,
11
22711
3670
00:38
and although our topics may vary tremendously,
12
26381
3054
00:41
the experience of being in
13
29435
1672
00:43
and coming out of the closet is universal.
14
31107
3331
00:46
It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.
15
34438
5592
00:52
Several years ago,
16
40030
1369
00:53
I was working at the South Side Walnut Cafe,
17
41399
3771
00:57
a local diner in town,
18
45170
2071
00:59
and during my time there I would go through phases
19
47241
2715
01:01
of militant lesbian intensity:
20
49956
3565
01:05
not shaving my armpits,
21
53521
1775
01:07
quoting Ani DiFranco lyrics as gospel.
22
55296
3549
01:10
And depending on the bagginess of my cargo shorts
23
58845
2255
01:13
and how recently I had shaved my head,
24
61100
2700
01:15
the question would often be sprung on me,
25
63800
1527
01:17
usually by a little kid:
26
65327
2083
01:19
"Um, are you a boy or are you a girl?"
27
67410
5167
01:24
And there would be an awkward silence at the table.
28
72577
2672
01:27
I'd clench my jaw a little tighter,
29
75249
2423
01:29
hold my coffee pot with a little more vengeance.
30
77672
3119
01:32
The dad would awkwardly shuffle his newspaper
31
80791
2837
01:35
and the mom would shoot a chilling stare at her kid.
32
83628
2318
01:37
But I would say nothing,
33
85946
1704
01:39
and I would seethe inside.
34
87650
2236
01:41
And it got to the point where every time I walked up
35
89886
1648
01:43
to a table that had a kid anywhere between
three and 10 years old, I was ready to fight.
36
91534
4028
01:47
(Laughter)
37
95562
1446
01:49
And that is a terrible feeling.
38
97008
2248
01:51
So I promised myself, the next
time, I would say something.
39
99256
3848
01:55
I would have that hard conversation.
40
103104
2368
01:57
So within a matter of weeks, it happens again.
41
105472
2551
02:00
"Are you a boy or are you a girl?"
42
108023
2772
02:02
Familiar silence, but this time I'm ready,
43
110795
3153
02:05
and I am about to go all Women's Studies 101
44
113948
3951
02:09
on this table. (Laughter)
45
117899
2338
02:12
I've got my Betty Friedan quotes.
46
120237
2500
02:14
I've got my Gloria Steinem quotes.
47
122737
1798
02:16
I've even got this little bit from
"Vagina Monologues" I'm going to do.
48
124535
3298
02:19
So I take a deep breath and I look down
49
127833
3595
02:23
and staring back at me is a
four-year-old girl in a pink dress,
50
131428
4379
02:27
not a challenge to a feminist duel,
51
135807
2045
02:29
just a kid with a question:
52
137852
2560
02:32
"Are you a boy or are you a girl?"
53
140412
2371
02:34
So I take another deep breath,
54
142783
1645
02:36
squat down to next to her, and say,
55
144428
1367
02:37
"Hey, I know it's kind of confusing.
56
145795
2122
02:39
My hair is short like a boy's,
57
147917
1762
02:41
and I wear boy's clothes, but I'm a girl,
58
149679
2032
02:43
and you know how sometimes
you like to wear a pink dress,
59
151711
1967
02:45
and sometimes you like to
wear your comfy jammies?
60
153678
2656
02:48
Well, I'm more of a comfy jammies kind of girl."
61
156334
3692
02:52
And this kid looks me dead in the eye,
62
160026
2088
02:54
without missing a beat, and says,
63
162114
1631
02:55
"My favorite pajamas are purple with fish.
64
163745
1952
02:57
Can I get a pancake, please?"
65
165697
1891
02:59
(Laughter)
66
167588
2721
03:02
And that was it. Just, "Oh, okay. You're a girl.
67
170309
3466
03:05
How about that pancake?"
68
173775
2243
03:08
It was the easiest hard conversation
69
176018
2482
03:10
I have ever had.
70
178500
2392
03:12
And why? Because Pancake Girl and I,
71
180892
2662
03:15
we were both real with each other.
72
183554
3361
03:18
So like many of us,
73
186915
1776
03:20
I've lived in a few closets in my life, and yeah,
74
188691
2337
03:23
most often, my walls happened to be rainbow.
75
191028
2614
03:25
But inside, in the dark,
76
193642
2024
03:27
you can't tell what color the walls are.
77
195666
2168
03:29
You just know what it feels like to live in a closet.
78
197834
3410
03:33
So really, my closet is no different than yours
79
201244
3751
03:36
or yours or yours.
80
204995
2825
03:39
Sure, I'll give you 100 reasons
81
207820
1744
03:41
why coming out of my closet was
harder than coming out of yours,
82
209564
2331
03:43
but here's the thing: Hard is not relative.
83
211895
2202
03:46
Hard is hard.
84
214097
1993
03:48
Who can tell me that explaining to
someone you've just declared bankruptcy
85
216090
4143
03:52
is harder than telling someone
you just cheated on them?
86
220233
2239
03:54
Who can tell me that his coming out story
87
222472
2587
03:57
is harder than telling your five-year-old
you're getting a divorce?
88
225059
2869
03:59
There is no harder, there is just hard.
89
227936
3339
04:03
We need to stop ranking our hard
against everyone else's hard
90
231275
3538
04:06
to make us feel better or worse about our closets
91
234813
2399
04:09
and just commiserate on the
fact that we all have hard.
92
237212
4063
04:13
At some point in our lives, we all live in closets,
93
241275
3336
04:16
and they may feel safe,
94
244611
1930
04:18
or at least safer than what lies
on the other side of that door.
95
246541
2947
04:21
But I am here to tell you,
96
249488
1765
04:23
no matter what your walls are made of,
97
251253
2125
04:25
a closet is no place for a person to live.
98
253378
4568
04:29
Thanks. (Applause)
99
257946
2160
04:32
So imagine yourself 20 years ago.
100
260106
4228
04:36
Me, I had a ponytail, a strapless dress,
101
264334
4808
04:41
and high-heeled shoes.
102
269142
1958
04:43
I was not the militant lesbian
103
271100
1895
04:44
ready to fight any four-year-old
that walked into the cafe.
104
272995
3939
04:48
I was frozen by fear, curled up in the corner
105
276934
3689
04:52
of my pitch-black closet
106
280623
2264
04:54
clutching my gay grenade,
107
282887
2255
04:57
and moving one muscle is the scariest thing
108
285142
3632
05:00
I have ever done.
109
288774
2313
05:03
My family, my friends, complete strangers --
110
291087
2216
05:05
I had spent my entire life
111
293303
1442
05:06
trying to not disappoint these people,
112
294745
1624
05:08
and now I was turning the world upside down
113
296369
3616
05:11
on purpose.
114
299985
1624
05:13
I was burning the pages of the script
115
301609
2118
05:15
we had all followed for so long,
116
303727
2227
05:17
but if you do not throw that grenade, it will kill you.
117
305954
3643
05:21
One of my most memorable grenade tosses
118
309597
1878
05:23
was at my sister's wedding.
119
311475
2161
05:25
(Laughter)
120
313636
1910
05:27
It was the first time that many in attendance
121
315546
2695
05:30
knew I was gay, so in doing
my maid of honor duties,
122
318241
3171
05:33
in my black dress and heels,
123
321412
2116
05:35
I walked around to tables
124
323528
1805
05:37
and finally landed on a table of my parents' friends,
125
325333
2169
05:39
folks that had known me for years.
126
327502
3168
05:42
And after a little small talk,
one of the women shouted out,
127
330670
3111
05:45
"I love Nathan Lane!"
128
333781
2502
05:48
And the battle of gay relatability had begun.
129
336283
3088
05:51
"Ash, have you ever been to the Castro?"
130
339371
1847
05:53
"Well, yeah, actually, we have
friends in San Francisco."
131
341218
2632
05:55
"Well, we've never been there
but we've heard it's fabulous."
132
343850
2535
05:58
"Ash, do you know my hairdresser Antonio?
133
346385
1861
06:00
He's really good and he has
never talked about a girlfriend."
134
348246
3149
06:03
"Ash, what's your favorite TV show?
135
351395
1638
06:05
Our favorite TV show? Favorite: Will & Grace.
136
353033
2135
06:07
And you know who we love? Jack.
137
355168
1603
06:08
Jack is our favorite."
138
356771
1825
06:10
And then one woman, stumped
139
358596
2592
06:13
but wanting so desperately to show her support,
140
361188
2488
06:15
to let me know she was on my side,
141
363676
2374
06:18
she finally blurted out,
142
366050
1880
06:19
"Well, sometimes my husband wears pink shirts."
143
367930
3346
06:23
(Laughter)
144
371276
2563
06:25
And I had a choice in that moment,
145
373839
2079
06:27
as all grenade throwers do.
146
375918
1928
06:29
I could go back to my girlfriend
and my gay-loving table
147
377846
3440
06:33
and mock their responses,
148
381286
1899
06:35
chastise their unworldliness and their inability
149
383185
2374
06:37
to jump through the politically correct
gay hoops I had brought with me,
150
385559
2909
06:40
or I could empathize with them
151
388477
2868
06:43
and realize that that was maybe one of
the hardest things they had ever done,
152
391345
3717
06:47
that starting and having that conversation
153
395062
3396
06:50
was them coming out of their closets.
154
398458
2369
06:52
Sure, it would have been easy
to point out where they felt short.
155
400843
3268
06:56
It's a lot harder to meet them where they are
156
404111
2255
06:58
and acknowledge the fact that they were trying.
157
406366
2292
07:00
And what else can you ask someone to do but try?
158
408658
4845
07:05
If you're going to be real with someone,
159
413503
2073
07:07
you gotta be ready for real in return.
160
415576
3570
07:11
So hard conversations are still not my strong suit.
161
419146
3399
07:14
Ask anybody I have ever dated.
162
422545
2021
07:16
But I'm getting better, and I follow what I like to call
163
424566
3228
07:19
the three Pancake Girl principles.
164
427794
1637
07:21
Now, please view this through gay-colored lenses,
165
429431
3772
07:25
but know what it takes to come out of any closet
166
433203
3176
07:28
is essentially the same.
167
436379
1959
07:30
Number one: Be authentic.
168
438338
2680
07:33
Take the armor off. Be yourself.
169
441018
1714
07:34
That kid in the cafe had no armor,
170
442732
1736
07:36
but I was ready for battle.
171
444468
2296
07:38
If you want someone to be real with you,
172
446764
2589
07:41
they need to know that you bleed too.
173
449353
2984
07:44
Number two: Be direct. Just
say it. Rip the Band-Aid off.
174
452337
3010
07:47
If you know you are gay, just say it.
175
455347
2736
07:50
If you tell your parents you might be gay,
176
458083
1868
07:51
they will hold out hope that this will change.
177
459951
1642
07:53
Do not give them that sense of false hope.
178
461593
2909
07:56
(Laughter)
179
464502
1953
07:58
And number three, and most important --
180
466455
4607
08:03
(Laughter)
181
471062
2324
08:05
Be unapologetic.
182
473386
3731
08:09
You are speaking your truth.
183
477117
2065
08:11
Never apologize for that.
184
479182
3897
08:15
And some folks may have gotten hurt along the way,
185
483079
2422
08:17
so sure, apologize for what you've done,
186
485501
2938
08:20
but never apologize for who you are.
187
488439
3504
08:23
And yeah, some folks may be disappointed,
188
491943
2744
08:26
but that is on them, not on you.
189
494687
2760
08:29
Those are their expectations
of who you are, not yours.
190
497447
2472
08:31
That is their story, not yours.
191
499919
4221
08:36
The only story that matters
192
504140
1786
08:37
is the one that you want to write.
193
505926
2716
08:40
So the next time you find yourself
194
508642
1843
08:42
in a pitch-black closet clutching your grenade,
195
510485
2220
08:44
know we have all been there before.
196
512705
3322
08:48
And you may feel so very alone, but you are not.
197
516027
3178
08:51
And we know it's hard but we need you out here,
198
519205
3718
08:54
no matter what your walls are made of,
199
522923
2681
08:57
because I guarantee you there are others
200
525604
2014
08:59
peering through the keyholes of their closets
201
527618
1927
09:01
looking for the next brave soul to
bust a door open, so be that person
202
529545
4132
09:05
and show the world that we
are bigger than our closets
203
533677
3030
09:08
and that a closet is no place for a person
204
536707
3392
09:12
to truly live.
205
540099
1740
09:13
Thank you, Boulder. Enjoy your night. (Applause)
206
541839
3272

▲Back to top

ABOUT THE SPEAKER
Ash Beckham - Equality advocate
Ash Beckham approaches hard conversations from a place of compassion and empathy.

Why you should listen

Ash Beckham is no stranger to hard conversations. In her work, she shares how coming out as a lesbian helped her appreciate our common humanity and better understand the hardships that we all face. This equality advocate mixes personal experience and wisdom to help everyone bravely face their demons.

More profile about the speaker
Ash Beckham | Speaker | TED.com