At the age of 25, I came out to my family at the Cheesecake Factory...in Las Vegas. Somewhere between the Crispy Crab wontons and the Chicken Bellagio, I told my parents, my sister, my and brother-in-law, “So, I’m gay and I think you should know that." I sipped my Cucumber Mojito, heart pounding in my ears, wishing the floor would open up and I could fall into my grave. The news came as NO shock to my family because I maintain that I was the most oblivious queer person on the planet.
In predictable Midwest fashion, we moved off the topic quickly, perhaps because they could see how uncomfortable I was, or perhaps because this moment, like everything pivotal in one’s life, had made me so self-consumed by my own STUFF that I failed to remember that other people were caught up in theirs. So when the conversation moved on to my Dad’s golf game, my Mom turned to me and said, “We thought that might be the case, sweetie.” Later on, when I asked my Dad if we were ok, he said, "I just wish you could have been okay with this sooner." How's THAT for fortunate when I had known several friends whose families had disowned them, sought "therapy" for them, or kept them at a distance.
In defense of my own obliviousness, I grew up in Michigan in the 90s. There weren’t many examples of the queer spectrum around to say, “Oh hey - that’s ME!” Granted, there were probably a few Ring of Keys situations, but my late bloomer tendencies pushed my timeline back. So I spent 25 years doing my thing, wondering why everyone seemed to be pulled by forces I wasn’t feeling but putting up enough JTT and Jonathan Brandis (RIP) posters up to prove that I was "normal".
After the Great Cheesecake Reveal, I started questioning everything, "If I didn't know this part of myself.....what ELSE don't I know? What stories have I told myself about what’s possible?” This lead me on a quest to make creative change in my life and to live more authentically.
The one thing I knew early on was that I liked to write, I loved stories and I loved learning what influenced people to make decisions. So I studied communication, proceeded through unpaid internships, cashier jobs, retail... and then was miraculously hired at Google. I learned about the internet (not a condition of the hire?!?), I learned about business and digital advertising, surrounded by incredible people…and 3 years in, I talked my way into a transfer to join the PR team in California with YouTube. This job was a mile a minute, I had some of the fiercest colleagues I've ever known and as I approached the emotional turmoil slash inevitable conclusion that I was gay, it burned me right out. And yet, I told myself, “Kate, you landed THE gig at an awesome tech company. Your grandmother cleaned Howard Johnson hotels and waitressed her whole life so you could be here. Your passion projects can wait, you stay here where there’s stability, benefits, and resources.”
I had come to a screeching halt at the corner of SHOULD and MUST. I thought that I SHOULD stay with a sure thing job-wise, but I knew I MUST find a way to align my purpose with my work...if I knew what the hell my purpose was.
Viktor Frankl says that service outside of self creates meaning. In other words, we cannot create change until we've had the experiences that give our lives meaning. Coming out cracked open a world of growing my consciousness about privilege, identity, race….coming out helped me open my eyes. So, I left my job at YouTube and took my first contract assignment in Nairobi, Kenya, where I started to see an outline of the life I wanted. I found my purpose in using my talents to help organizations amplify their stories in a way that draws people to their mission. So that THEY can create change. And I wanted to do that with intention, on my terms, by running my own consulting practice.
Today, my business focuses on communication strategy in education, social justice, and technology access. I’m incredibly proud of the projects I’ve worked on and the stories that are now out in the world as a result. I’m still getting used to the labyrinth of tax issues as a freelancer, but it’s worth every moment.
My takeaway with all this is NOT: hey, quit your day job and be fulfilled! But I do believe every one of us has signals in life, tiny pieces of plastic that you collect along the way and when you put them into the Lite Brite, you suddenly stand back in awe at the clarity of the glowing force in your hands.