Photo by Sarah Whiting
Photo by Sarah Whiting

Lately I’ve been hearing this word a lot more: “Self-identifying.” As I, along with my fellow nonprofit colleagues, work on issues of accessibility and taking down barriers, we talk about the diversification of our audiences and “reflecting the community we serve.” But how do we do this without feeling like we’re ticking off a series of checkboxes, especially when it comes to our own identities?

Not everybody with a disability self-identifies as “a person with disabilities.”

Not everybody with a mental health issue identifies as somebody “with a history of mental illness.”

Not everybody that fits into diversity boxes puts themselves in one or the other.

Not everybody labels themselves in the same way others categorize, just like there are books at the library that could go on more than one shelf.

Me, for example.

I am a woman of color.

My father was born in Sri Lanka. My mother was born in Poland. They met in this country and this is where my sister and I were born. No, my name does not sound “exotic” and no, I don’t look “traditionally Indian,” because Sri Lankans aren’t Indian — that’s a different country. I am a first-generation American citizen of mixed ancestry. I might not look like a traditional “woman of color,” but how would you describe what that looks like, really?



When I sit in a boardroom and hear people across the table from me talk about how we are not diverse organizationally, or when I sit through staff trainings that describe an organization I work at as an “All White Company,” it makes me feel invisible.

This is why I am coming out as a woman of color.

I am bisexual.

“But aren’t you married?” you might ask. Yes, and? This is something my husband knew when we met and it hasn’t affected our relationship.

Why would I want to self-identify as bisexual, especially in an environment of hate crimes, bigotry, and tropism? Didn't I have it “easier” because I happened to fall in love with and marry a man?

What if I hadn’t met my husband? And was it really “easier?” I mean — Have you *watched* “Chasing Amy”?

There are those in my family who still do not support gay marriage. Who continue to purport the myth that sexuality is a choice. Tell me, is sexuality something you chose?

This is why I came out publicly as bisexual.

I am of Jewish ancestry.

Why did my mother’s family come to this country from post-war Poland? Why did my grandfather have to flee Poland on September 1, 1939? Why do I find it less funny when someone makes jokes about Nazis and likens public officials to Nazis? There’s a reason I don’t have more cousins on my mother’s side to rival the serious grip of cousins I have on my father’s side.

It’s not the part of my ancestry that I identify most strongly with. But it’s certainly something that pains me every time somebody compares something to the Holocaust. And when people ask me if I’m Jewish because of my nose. And when people describe somebody “Jewing somebody down to [a lower price]” — my jaw drops because what decade is this?

This is why I’m coming out as having Jewish ancestry.

I’m agnostic.

I was raised in a religious household and spent most of my formative years in parochial school. After decades of thought and study, after having read the Bible (several times through), the Quran, and a number of “major” and “minor” religious texts, after studying the history of religion extensively, I have come to only one place: We don’t know far more than we do.

That is why I’m coming out as agnostic.

I am a survivor of abuse.

The fact that I am a survivor of abuse is something that absolutely and unequivocally affects the work I do, every single day. With new immigrant families, with domestic violence victims, with women who have endured abuse at the hands of their partners and caretakers, with artists suffering from anxiety and depression.

You never know who you are working with or what their struggle is. When somebody flies off the handle, or exerts their privilege and power, they’re not always thinking about what type of reaction or post-trauma level stress their actions might trigger in another human.

Because YES, all women;

Because yes, these things happen — even though not everybody that has endured abuse talks about it, or wears it as a label. Nor do we need to. Nor is it our obligation to educate you about it.

This is why I’m coming out as a survivor of abuse.

Why am I coming out now?

There are micro-aggressions and deterrents that have kept me from “coming out” in a variety of ways. Others speak about coming out as “easy now” or “cool,” instead of encouraging others to come out in their own way, with an understanding that everybody’s struggle is sincere and all their own.

I once heard a speaker at an event point out that “women tend to make choices that benefit themselves only when others benefit as well.”

We also talked at that event about how our voice is one of the most powerful tools we bring to the work we do. We talked about how what we do and how we act shapes our children as they, quite often, mirror our choices and our identities.

It does not help anybody for me to remain invisible at board meetings without calling the bullshit I see at these tables. It’s hard to preach about being an ally if I don’t support my own voice and be authentic about my own multi-faceted identity.

My pledge at that event was this: “I will use my voice, and I will do so without apology.”

When I got dressed the day I came out, I felt in my heart like it was a big day for me. I picked my clothes and put them on and thought jokingly to myself “this is the outfit I will be wearing the day I come out.” I wore a skirt. I usually do.