Updated: Feb 10, 2020
Hannah Gadsby became one of my personal heroes in just over an hour last night. Her Netflix comedy special, Nanette is a gutsy triumph of breaking down barriers by sharing personal experiences.
As a therapist, I’ve seen countless examples of how folks use humor to deal with pain, fear, and shame. Gadsby alternates as she puts it between, “building tension”, making us laugh, and moving us deeply with her painful experiences. Her comedy is a triumph, but her motives and example are beyond beautiful.
Half way through the special, it’s not funny anymore, and that’s all the more reason to watch.
Gadsby identifies as a lesbian. Her appearance is such that she is often mistaken as a man. She identifies as a survivor of multiple assaults that were undeniably hate crimes perpetrated against her.
She won my heart with this statement:
“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself.”
Hells, yes. It’s ok to be broken. It’s ok to be a work in progress, and by Gadsby’s example, it’s ok to be mad as hell. Her courage is evident in her choice to channel her energy into changing the world and opening doors for countless others.
I’m mindful of the water cooler conversations her performance will spark. So, I want to share a few facts – especially for cis gendered heterosexual folks like myself:
It’s only been three years since our country established marriage equality and it took the Supreme Court to do it.
Folks who identify as LGBTQ+ face higherrates of poverty, stigma, and marginalization, which put them at greater risk for sexual assault. Research further shows that my brothers/sisters/family experience higher rates of self-harm, mental illness, substance use disorder, and suicide.
According to a study published by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Foundation last month, nearly half of folks who identify as LGBTQ+ remain closeted in the workplace. That figure hasn’t changed in over a decade.
I have found myself increasingly intolerant of ignorance. In a day and age when all you have to do is Google something, there’s no excuse for maintaining biases, prejudices, and isms that harm other humans. In an era in which Netflix and Comedy Central are at the forefront of educating Americans by using comedy to entice us (The Daily Show, Stephen Colbert, up and coming LGBTQ+ comedians) we clearly have far to go.
If I have influence as a clinician, employer, director, author, blogger, then let me be as clear as I possibly can in how I seek to use it:
I am a broken individual with a shit ton of social privilege (please, for crying out loud, read Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh). I want to use both of those to lift up anyone who is suffering and oppressed. I want to be an example of how to love and respect. I want to help create social justice.
I am most drawn to serving people I see as being like me – but being like me has nothing to do with being straight. It has nothing to do with being male or middle class or white or heterosexual. It has everything to do with being mentally ill, surviving trauma, overcoming incredible pain, being scared out of your f@cking mind, bullied, ashamed, and utterly broken. If that’s you, then in my eyes, you’re like me.
And if you’re queer, if you’re trans, if your non-binary, then that’s cool and I want you to live in a world where those differences are celebrated for making us beautifully diverse.
I’m truly sorry for the way things are. I can’t apologize on behalf of WASP men who I absolutely believe are responsible for most of what’s wrong with our country, but I can help make things better and I want folks to both enjoy and learn from Hannah Gadsby because the power of her example is incredible and inspiring.