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"I'm Gay, and I Mess Up"
Queer Product Leadership Panel
The first product qties event was a raving success. 🎉
Three product leaders with impressive careers talked about what being queer has meant for their careers, how coming out and living authentically has affected their work and their lives, and what community means in the workplace, among many other topics.
It was a refreshingly honest and genuine conversation full of vulnerability and some truth bombs.
Including the idea that we need not always focus on excellence. To quote Leah Tharin, “I’m gay, and I mess up.” This particular comment caused everyone a good chuckle, and a few people suggested this ought to be our new slogan.
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Listen in at the link above, or read the transcript below.
Please note: Due to an error with Zoom settings, we unfortunately only recorded a shared screen, so the speakers are shown in only a tiny window. But their messages resonate nevertheless!
Mirza: Oh, all right, just give me one second here. I'm having technical difficulties.
Alright. This is it, amazing! Welcome everyone to the first ever product qties event, the Queer Product Leadership panel.
I'm super happy to be here with all of you today and beyond thrilled that we that we get to do this together.
As a quick introduction. I'm sure you all know, but for those who don't: product qties is a community for LGBTQ+ folks in product that started just a couple of weeks ago.
The goal is to help queer, trans, BIPOC, LGBTQ -- throw in all the letters we accept them all. We love them all -- in product connect, network, and build a community
that you know helps each other, share support, knowledge and resources. This event is exactly in that spirit.
My name is Mirza I'm the founder of product qties. In my day job I'm a Director of Product Management at Dixa, and
today I'm really thrilled to introduce you to a stellar panel of people.
I'm just gonna start with a very quick intros of our speakers today. First and foremost, Saielle DaSilva who is the Global VP of Experience Design at StepStone,
author of Blossom, a product and design publication and product leader who -- and I love this tagline -- is "putting the soft back in software."
Hi, Saielle. Welcome, great to have you here. Next up Leah Tharin, who is the Head of Product at Jua.ai, a PLG advisor, the host of ProducTea with Leah, author of leahtharin.com,
and a LinkedIn thought leader whose commentary always comes with a good dash of humor. Hi Leah, welcome.
Pleasure to have you here.
And last but not least, JJ Rorie, CEO of Great Product Management, author of IMMUTABLE: 5 Truths of Great Product Managers, a Product Management Lecturer at Johns Hopkins University, and host of the Product Voices podcast.
Just doing this introduction.
I'm stunned for words. This is a powerhouse of speakers here today. I cannot believe you all agreed to do this.
So first of all, thank you and welcome.
Leah Tharin: Thank you for having us.
Saielle she/they: Yeah, thank you.
JJ Rorie: Thank you, happy to be here.
Leah Tharin: See now he has to drink.
Mirza: Yes, you're very welcome. You're very, very welcome. Thank you so much. All right. Look, I'm gonna jump right into it. You know we're here today to talk about what what it means to be
queer as a leader. What does it mean for becoming a leader. So let's just start with that.
What does being queer mean to you, or has meant to you
in the process of becoming a leader.
Saielle, let's start with you.
Saielle she/they: Hmm.
I've actually got one of my folks who used to work with me in my team on the call. Hi, Jen! And I think one of the things that being
queer has taught me about leadership is like
people matter, you know, when you are aware of the ways that society is indifferent to you. Your needs your
overall like shape, right like.
I don't know. I just like
I think it's really important to make room to be queer at work, and to like question norms of all kinds, whether that's like power, hierarchies or structures, or, like, you know, just making room for people's
otherness, and treating that as
something that's different, but valuable rather than other, and to be shunned.
Mirza: That's really interesting, Piggybacking a little bit off of that. Has that
so maybe follow up to you.
Has that otherness influenced how you chose, you know, how you -- the steps you chose to follow to become a leader.
Saielle she/they: Yeah.
I am one of those people who's like very late diagnosis ADHD and autism, and
for such a long time like I didn't understand why I was the way I was, and I think it's definitely like shaped the way that I think about diversity and inclusion and making space for people and making space for people's needs. And
I think a lot of the older leadership advice that's still popular is like
"Just buck up and do it," and like "grit through it," and, like you know, "be tough, be tough, be tough." And actually, like
I don't know. I'm like my tagline, right like I'm putting the soft back in software, because I give a shit about people and ultimately, like
software is just an artifact left by people in their decisions. And so the better your people are
the better your software will be.
Mirza: Thank you. Going back to our original question. JJ, what does being queer mean for becoming a leader?
JJ Rorie: You know, to me, I haven't always been out, and so I kind of look at my career, as
you know, the first part of my career. First half of my career, if you will. I was in the closet, and that was, you know. I think we've all been there at some point, right?
Most of us probably were that way at least at some point. And so you know it. Just it. It didn't,
it wasn't like a huge impact on me at least, that I believed right.
I thought it was just simple semantics and simple, you know, not telling people about my weekend.
Then you know those sorts of things that I thought were a small impact on me until I came out.
Until I started living who I was and never thought about. Yes, my wife and I did this, or my partner, and I did this, and and so
at that point in my career, when I, when I decided that I was either going to fit in or not, and I couldn't live that way.
I didn't want to live that way or work that way anymore. That's when things started really happening for me as a leader, as a professional, and so I think, living authentically kind of came
a little late in my career, I mean. Now it's been gosh, 12-15 years, but you know showing my age. But you know it was. It was the point in time when I was like, okay.
if they are, you gonna gonna like me or not for who I am? And I'm either going to be in the right environment or or i'm not.
and and if I am, then I'm going to flourish. And that's what happened for me like.
I came out. I started living authentically. I was a better leader because of it.
I was more empathetic. As Saielle said, we kind of kind of see people for who they are because of what we've lived through if you will.
So to me it was about getting to the point where I felt like I needed to be who I was, and then at that point I became
comfortable, like in my own profession. But then also I became a better leader because of that.
Mirza: Just thinking about that for a moment. I mean I
I you know, I had my first coming out very early, you know, in a professional context, but my second coming out as non-binary
only a few years ago, and
the two were very, very different for me
and maybe it's partly a generational thing, you know, coming out as gay wasn't that big of a deal, didn't seem like that big of a deal at the time but coming out as non-binary, changing my pronouns, talking about pronouns to begin with.
That was a huge deal. I think that's something people still try to wrap their heads around, and
they still don't quite compute.
JJ Rorie: Well, you know it. It's actually a really great point. And one of the things that you know there's like all this intersectionality of of our community.
So I'm gay, right. But there's also a lot of things about me that give me privilege. I'm white.
I'm neurotypical, if that's a thing.
And you know, I'm socio-economic kind of you know, high to you know, mid, right.
And so there are all these things that allow me to pass and skate and get through it like, be okay
for the world, right? And a lot of folks don't have that.
My trans friends and coworkers have a completely different world that they live in than a white upper class gay woman.
And so I need to realize that
while sure there are things that I have to overcome, I'm also in a place of privilege that I need to leverage on behalf of lots of other folks.
Mirza: That's a great point. I feel like there's so much to unpack with privilege. But I will park it to the side for now, and go to Leah.
Asking you the same question: what has being queer meant for you on your journey to become a leader.
Leah Tharin: How open can I speak?
Mirza: Very open, please.
Leah Tharin: Alright, so we're gonna spill the tea here a little bit.
So trigger warning potentially at some point you will notice when it's getting there. So when I was a child I didn't know a single queer person.
Or like I mean it did probably, but like none of us were out right, so like I'm 42 years old.
When I was in school.
and when I was 8. Now I have to do the math. That was 33 years ago, right so like I did not know anyone.
I did not know anyone. That kind of you know, felt like me. I didn't know I didn't know how to sort any of this now, when you're 80 years old,
it's too early, right? So like nothing really happens there but like the problem is
for some reason I never had role models and these role models that everybody else had,you know, like in the bravo or whatever the fuck these magazines were called,
or whatever I just did not understand why I could not identify with anyone.
and that was a big problem, because whenever I tried to kind of
get my head around, you know, like and talk with people, I felt like I have a contagion on me, but I cannot talk about it.
Because it's always like
when you were talking about gay people, you know, like or or anything out of the norm back then it was always like, oh, I don't have anything against
as long as they don't hit on me. It was always like, you know. It was always like this thing of
It's kind of, there was always like this group created, you know, like of otherness, it's kind of okay. If they don't bother me, you know, like this kind of thing.
And I picked up on that, I picked up on this a lot. So what I started to do is, I started to pretend really hard
to belong to them. I kind of knew earlier, but I never really
had a coming out until 4 years ago. So most of kind of a late bloomer in that sense. But what it destroyed in me
I think, overstated in that sense, because I didn't love myself. And then at some point, I started to hate myself, and the thing is, if you,
if you are in that kind of mental state,
you become a different person, no matter how big your heart is right.
You start to lash out sometimes, and then it's kind of not okay, because you know, like people just don't see why you're doing this and so forth. So I think
being gay has not really
helped me in that sense. It also didn't damage me. But the interaction with the world definitely has not helped me a lot, right. So
when I finally got out of, as JJ said right? So like you're coming to yourself, you're starting to live your authentic self.
That's where the love came. I really needed to stand in front of the mirror and be able to say, like I love myself. And this was impossible.
It was absolutely impossible.
That's when I finally understood. Because you can explain this to anyone as logically and as rationally as you want.
Only if you start to kind of feel this, then you start to understand what you deprived yourself for, like what what everyone else kind of also deprived from you, that you can give on to others.
I am very, very protective of
people that I feel like need help. Right? I'm a very tough leader, if you want to call it that.
But I have the biggest heart, and if I see someone come in I always like oh, my God! You know, like I need to kind of protect them, and so forth.
And I think the main quality that you need to have as a leader is, you need to give a shit.
You need to give a shit about people, and you need to be very interested in them in like, not in their productiveness or some other crap like.
Who are you as a person. And here's the trust that I can give you. There's some tough love with Leah for sure, because I also hold people accountable.
But those that lifted me up because I would not have made it alone gave me exactly the same, and I think I don't know whether I'm a good leader. I don't want to toot my own horn in that sense, but it definitely gave me compassion. I don't know how it is
otherwise, you know, like that's just how we grew up, and you can never get kind of both perspectives. I feel so. Yeah, not sure how that answered whether that answered your question. But this this was definitely for me the case.
Mirza: I mean. Thank you first of all for being so vulnerable and open. I think this is the beauty of
the community at large. And you know, in general, these kinds of conversations is, this is a very vulnerable topic. Still, you know we're also in a moment in time when
the amount of persecution all around is growing, and I think we're all seeing it and feeling it so.
I think it's incredibly important that we are being open and vulnerable in public this way. So, first of all, thank you for that. There's no wrong answer to any of the questions I'm asking here tonight, but something you said
actually reminded me of a talk Saielle gave not too long ago. I think I believe it was Mind the Product. Correct me if i'm wrong. I want to talk about that. I think you know what I'm.
Saielle she/they: yeah, I gave a talk called the F words of successful product teams.
If you haven't seen it, it's now free on mindtheproduct.com. Little plug there.
It's called the F Words of successful product teams, and ultimately, like giving a fuck was one of them. And if you don't give a talk about people, you're not going to get great results. Because
software is people ultimately, software is the decisions that we make and the things that we value and the ways that we implement that.
And so you know, if you don't care about people, it's really hard to lead effectively. And yeah, people can coerce and they can manage things. But like real leadership, the kind that like indoors and inspires
and that kind of heart comes from compassion, like Leah was saying.
Mirza: Let's stay on that word a little bit, compassion.
I used to be an activist. I'm from Bosnia originally, and you know now we've had a few pride parades, but back in the day, we
Oh, it was me and four lesbians, and we were running around trying not to get murdered, to be totally honest,
but a lot of the practice, a lot of the things that we were doing. A lot of what we were doing was always rooted in compassion, and I've tried to bring some of these activist principles to how I am as a leader and what I do as a leader. So
maybe just the general question to you, because you know you've mentioned, both you and Leah have mentioned it.
How much do
compassion, vulnerability, etc., play in your approach
to leadership. And does being LGBTQ, have anything to do with that, you know. Are Are you
to ask, maybe to ask this maybe a bit provocatively? Are you more compassionate because your career
Saielle she/they: I'll let Leah go first.
Mirza: Yeah, whoever.
Leah Tharin: I don't know whether I am. And frankly, you know, I also don't want to
me being queer, in the first place, but one of the reasons why i'm doing it is this out of compassion? Because exactly because it did not have the role models. I did not have
the standing to just say like, you know. Now I have to reach right now. I'm standing like i'm not. I'm not in danger if I say something. I i'm not gonna, you know, like my my livelihood is not endangered. I have enough uplift everywhere else, and this is what I mean, and that
I'm a very private person. I'm a very introvert person.
and I don't like talking about all of this like, because I don't want to give myself too much away to be honest, but I have to. because if we don't do it, then who does right?
And because some voices are just not heard, because they're not
or they don't have enough reach. They don't look the way that they should right. So, like all of this garbage is coming together.
and I just have a very simple philosophy in this regard. When it comes to compassion we're not leaving anyone behind.
Absolutely no one.
I don't care how weird that people titled you or like how, how, how, how
far out from the norm that people told you you are. We're not leaving anyone behind.
I do not give a shit if you have a heart, and you want to work for it. And also, you know, like you can make something with the love that you've been given.
and I will always help you up, and that's the thing where I feel like
this is something that I have to give back to the community as well, because
everyone before us had to deal with so much more shit than I had.
you know, like in the seventies and the eighties it's just sometimes just the labels change. But there's always like one minority that everybody is being hated on, and I think we have to kind of also give back. But I don't want to. I i'm not special in this regard.
The the only difference to me is that I got lucky, and that I got reach, but it did not get reached because I was gay. It got reach for different topics right, so like. I also don't do enough.
I don't do as much as I could, because I know every time that I do
I face a little bit of a backlash. You know the linkedin followers just go down, or just this happens, or that happens. It's like these little microaggressions that sound like they don't matter.
But you know how it is, you know.
I mean, yeah, I don't know what to say. So I think. Yes, compassion. We're not leaving anyone behind. Everyone else can.
They'll ask themselves if they see it different.
Mirza: I love how the you know, spoken as a product person that imposter syndrome just comes out
in everything we do in thing. Doesn't it
Any other takers on compassion?
Saielle she/they: I think society makes living as a queer person, unnecessarily difficult. and when you
face that every single day, even as a person of
financial or racial privilege, like there are other ways that things can be difficult or exhausting, because they add up over time right like
I can't speak for JJ. But like in my own case, like
the couple of years ago, actually, when Jen and I started working together. I presented as a different gender with a very different like
life, and the assumptions that went with that were very different. And so.
you know, I've definitely noticed an impact on my career in terms of inbound like requests for interviews, and in terms of opportunities, and in terms of like.
who wants to talk to me in the first place, or who is seeking me out for advice. and
it's like Leo is saying. It's great to be able to talk about being queer and being in product and being a leader.
but also like so much of
the craft that we do inevitably can get like left aside because of the ways that we have to always be like
showing up for ourselves and for people like us. First, because there isn't really that broad acceptance there.
and so it can be really heavy to like face that every day. You know.
I don't know that like being queer makes you more compassionate. I think it certainly
creates opportunities for reflection in a way that you might not get if you live other lifestyles.
But I've met, you know, queer people who are not particularly compassionate or kind.
and I've met straight people who are fucking wonderful right. And so it's. It's just a different set of circumstances. I don't think it has any particular waiting. It's really about what choices an individual makes with the circumstances that they're given.
Mirza: did you?
JJ Rorie: I'll just add, really, quickly, I agree with all of that, and you know my situation is.
and similar to that, that, you know. I don't. I don't talk about it a lot. In fact, I was thinking about it, and I think the the linkedin post that I made about this, you know, telling people about this. It probably was the first time I ever
in that setting.
said, oh, by the way, i'm clear, you know I mean I I don't hide it. It's in my book I I talk about my why, you know I don't hide it, but I don't come out like that. I don't talk about it a lot. So it was interesting. But but what? What? What? That authenticity has given me, and and i'll just i'll i'll couch it, and away
to to the point of just being
visible and and having other people have exposure right like I said. You know she didn't have anyone growing up, and most of us didn't. And so there've been 2 people that who have worked for me over my career, of being a leader who who have come to me on their own and come out now. They didn't come out to the organization, but they basically used me as a therapist, and you know, thank to me for being
allowing them to feel comfortable. I've had students do that as well, and so, just being open enough, whatever that means for you, comfortable enough to be yourself, allows other people to do that, and I think that's where compassion can come in. You don't even have to outwardly like, Be this.
you know, wonderful, compassionate person, just living and being empathetic and and letting everyone else be themselves. I think that's where we can really make a difference.
I think that makes a lot of sense, you know. And of course
there's many ways in which one can be compassionate. And yeah, I think I think the challenges.
as it is always with visibility, you know. On the one hand.
visibility is important because it creates a space for conversations. It creates a space for conversations like the one we're having right now, on the other hand.
world individuals with lives and needs and survival needs and careers, you know.
I remember I I I, when I started realizing that that my gender wasn't as straightforward as I thought it was perhaps
happened around the same time. I didn't have the language for it yet at the time, but it started happening around the same time as my career was kicking off.
and you know I had spent, you know, a couple of years presenting every which way lots of different versions of myself. But
as the career started becoming more serious, I I I myself toning it down. you know I caught myself butching up quota for, and the irony of that is that i'm now more comfortable than I've ever been with my gender and my presentation.
and I present almost exclusively masculine, which is really funny how that works when it comes to gender, but it's it's a never ending pond, I would say.
is gender. But all right. Thank you for that great points. I I agree with all of them
I do want to stay still., I don't want to, you know, overburden the topic, but I think grappling with
identity is a really relevant relevant notion relevant concept here, because I think probably a lot of people that are tuning into this, and a lot of people that will be watching this afterward will be interested. You know. How did you
are there? Is there any practical advice you can offer, and what? How, what? What has helped you grapple with like that? Your identity.
you know, other than not coming out. Obviously that's something that a lot of people are already doing right. But, like once you did come out.
Did. Was there anything you know practical. You had to do or feel like you could advise others. They could do
JJ Rorie: so. I'll jump in here just quickly, and and it does
a little bit go back to what I was saying in terms of.
and and also in terms of it. Just it kind of feels heavy at times. Right? So so again, people who don't
straight people, cisgender people, you know, people who don't have the the weight of society on them constantly. Don't always understand the other side of it. But you have to first get
to a comfort. Level with yourself
has has nothing to do with our profession, our work, what we want to do it's like you have to be able to look in the mirror and say, I'm: okay, Being clear, i'm. Okay, Being: Trans: I'm: okay, being whatever, and really believe it right. And so I don't think
at least, speaking for myself, I don't think I could have ever become the leader and and become the professional that I am, if I didn't get to that point, because there were definitely times growing up
and through my early adulthood, that I wanted to be anything but gay because I thought it was wrong. I thought it was
immoral. I thought everyone would hate me. And so again you you have the self hatred, and you have to get to a point of getting over that right. And if you've never had that, I think that's wonderful. And frankly, I i'm hoping that, like the this, this new generation
don't have all of the they obviously have issue. You know kind of societal issues, but i'm hoping that it's better than it was 25 years ago, right when I was feeling this. So you gotta get to that first.
and and then it's about okay. Now, how can you bring bring that to the table? But to me it's like you gotta do the work first outside of work.
Otherwise you're never gonna bring the real you to the table, and the you you're bringing to the table at work is damaged
and hard to be, you know, really that beacon of light for others.
Mirza: Anyone else.
Leah Tharin: hey? I was looking at me. I know it's there was the hand there was like the hand off. Okay.
I don't know
kind of lost my thread now. I had like 3 in my head, and now I lost all of them.
Can you? Can you give me an anchor again
Mirza: Yes sure, the question was, after you did come out. And there you go. What was the practical,
practical advice you can share?. I know you love actionable tips.
Leah Tharin: So yeah, I know exactly. So there, there's a fun tip that I picked up in recruiting calls ironically, which I will share in a second. And the other one was that
if the I don't know how it was for the people in this call that had their coming out. But I felt up until the moment, because I didn't share it with anyone.
Anyone. No one, absolutely no one, not my parents, not my friends, no one.
And for those super closeted people.
It feels like it is insurmountable mountain of shit that you just cannot get over.
and it feels like you're lying about yourself to the world. even though it's exactly the other way around.
and the moment you have your first coming out it feels like.
oh, we should. Why, didn't I do this earlier. I'm so stupid. and then I so like for me. This was this was for me the thing you know, like it was like, Why did I? Why did I? Why did I keep this so much bottled in myself?
why did I not speak about this? Why did I wait for so long. So this entire mountain of shit, just like vanished right? And the and the only way that I can actually say this to others is like.
try it. Come out to yourself in front of the Mary, if you want to.
and the kind of thing that helped me as well to get over this this recruitment tip that I received in a call, and that is, if you have to negotiate for something difficult like asking for a high salary, which is something that I struggle with. Right so like, hey? I want to be paid a little bit more right, so like I always feel bad when I ask for money.
but i'm absolutely going forward to town for my best friend.
and the tip was always negotiate for your friend right so like negotiate, as if you would negotiate for your best friend.
So you kind of start that the sentence in silence in your head, and then you kind of finish it with.
and I think
she deserves this much money, and I think this also helped me to to come out at some point.
because I feel like
I knew how much I was hurting, and I could not bring myself out, so I had to step outside of myself as stupid as it sounds, you know. Like to advocate for my best friend, which was kind of like.
well, you know, like Leah number 2 here
she's, you know she is like this, and there's nothing wrong with her. And if you don't accept that, i'm gonna i'm gonna kick your ass
and that's the kind of that's the kind of thing that I needed, and it really helps me a little bit. I don't know whether there's an actual advice in here. But yeah, it's kind of what I did. I was a bit stupid.
Saielle she/they: Not at all. I think that that's really important, like the whole self Compassion, and, like advocate for yourself, is, if you would for a friend. I think that that's so important, and it built on what Jj. Was saying about like showing up for yourself and learning how to like.
Saielle she/they: Think of that as like critical to who you are and like you have to do that work with yourself, to love yourself and love the person that you see in the mirror, so that you can show up. And you know eventually the the quiet part of that sentence fades away because you actually believe that you're worth it right.
I think, for me very practical advice on identity
being trans is hard. I wouldn't change anything about it, and coming out a few years ago is one of the best decisions I've ever made, but sometimes it sucks because the world is not
very inclusive or friendly. So
find a friend group find people that you can talk to, and people that you can trust and like you don't have to make work everything.
and if you are not well received at work like
the last 6 months aside. You can always find another job, and you can go places that will.
A firm, you and, you know, give you a place to throw down some roots and grow strong.
and a little bit of a tongue in cheek. Piece of advice is play dungeons and dragons. And the reason, I say, that is.
it gave me lots of perspective and the ability to build a close, knit friend group
that did support
me, and like we were spending lots and lots of time during the lock downs together.
sharing stories, and you know, being different people, and
that was really beautiful and safe, and it made for lots of like personal exploration room and time and ways that, like
we don't, have many other ways to like play, act, or try on a gender that are socially acceptable.
other that Dungeons and Dragons. So if you suspect somebody is queer, invite them to play Dungeons and Dragons, and watch them kind of like.
Get all screwed up a little bit as they like. Come to terms with oh, shit!
That was actually like I wasn't just acting. I don't want this performance to end.
Mirza: product qties D&D. Got it. Putting it down on the list of activities.
Mirza: JJ, did you want to add something?
JJ Rorie: You know the only kind of the thing that helps me? And again, you gotta get to that point where you're okay with it. You feel safe in your own skin and safe in an environment. But we tend to
make come at coming out this big to do, because it is in in so many cases. But 1. One practical thing that I've done that has has worked wonders is to just
very casually come out right literally. Just say.
you know, yeah, my wife and I play golf this weekend, and that's coming out right. That is, that is coming out. And so as as much as you can. Just kind of think of yourself the same way everyone else does the same one. They say, yeah, you know my my wife and I went to the kids soccer game or my husband, and I want whatever
JJ Rorie: that's it like that's all you need to do, and then and then you're out, and that, and then it's just kind of normal. So again you gotta get to a safety point and and feel that way. But at a certain point. You just kinda, you know, just casually mention your life, your family, your spouse, whatever your gender, you know whatever. And then
JJ Rorie: you know, it can kind of go from there. But again get to the point sometimes, you know. Again I I I don't think i'm the most feminine person in the world. But I can pass, you know, for straight. And so some people don't think about it that much, and then I can just like ease it in so practical advice. Just
JJ Rorie: you know as much as safely you can do just casually come out to your coworkers, and and that can sometimes help the situation.
Mirza: I think I'd add to that, and just say, first I I I agree with that advice. I think you know
we're put in a situation to have to come out again at every new job, and whether it's a big coming out, or or you know, kind of mentioned on the side
for me at least, you know I I know that every time I'm in the new job I feel like it's on my to do list like i'm gonna slip it in. You know it enough times so that enough people are aware
not that anyone who's ever looked at my LinkedIn profile has any doubts, but you know at this point, but it it it does sometimes feel like a chore, almost, you know. Like it's a to do that I have to do, and it's kind of like I I ticked it off, and then it's done.
But this you know this: I think all of our contexts. We were all in places where this is, let's say, more straightforward than it might be in other
environments in other countries, and I know some of our guests. Some of our audience today are in places where you can't come out, and and I grew up in such a place. And so my advice, you know in in those environments is.
Find your allies, I mean. I think this advice applies across the board wherever you are, but what certainly helps me and meant was important to me was, you know, find established friendships to work, Find your allies come out to those.
and you know. Then, if you, if you feel like it, rip the bandaid, and just come out to everyone else and then see what happens.
I've done that a couple of times as well, but it wasn't always great as a general practice. I do recommend it, though.
Let's let let let's move on a little bit to talking about community as such. I mean, you know we we, we are here as
so, the first manifestation of this new community.
and to be quite honest, like outside of personally outside of activism. This is the first time I joined up, or, I guess, launched in this regard this time, this time a professional community that had anything to do with my identity.
Personally, I've always kind of steered clear of those I
and I'll be very honest. Why, the few that were around that existed, I felt, were either, too, somehow.
Well, they felt like pink washing often to me, or they felt, you know, somehow influenced by corporate sponsorship, or just what they were doing just didn't really align with my values in a way. But I always, you know, believe that community is important. I maintain that outside of work
How do you build community at work and does it.
you know, is building queer community at work, something that we should be doing. You want to be doing. What are your thoughts on that?
Leah Tharin: Okay.
JJ Rorie: So just quick thought I mean, you know to me it's I it. I can only speak for me. Personally, I haven't worked. I've worked in a couple of very large organizations, but
I've also worked in kind of medium size, where I may be literally the only queer person or out person, at least. And so
yeah, so I mean, I think
it. It. It's individually, you know it, each individual to his own. But I I've never really needed a queer community at work. I've needed an environment that allowed me to just
be JJ. And be clear. And oh, but you know be JJ. And be a product leader. And oh, by the way, JJ. Has a wife, you know it, and that's what I've needed more than
you know at my actual company. Now these I I would love to have had this to kind of get on quarterly, and see all my other clear friends, and like kind of commiserate and talk and answer, and all that kind of stuff that would have been fine. But I don't know that within a company
I would have found a lot of value, but I also know that I've got clients that have a lot of, you know, employee resource groups that are that are LGBTQ, and they seem to be very valuable. So, personally, I don't know that I would have needed a company community, but I
did take advantage of stuff out of out of the company out of work.
Mirza: Anyone else.
Leah Tharin: I don't know whether I have an answer for this. I'm really i'm trying to mall in my head whether it's a good thing or not, because, on one hand, I think we should not be others in terms of like creating a group. Okay, that's the gay group over there. That's the
I don't know
I I really don't know. But on the other hand, I think we should also give I don't know, like if I think okay, If I was the only woman in the in the workspace, then yeah, you know, like, then
then I kind of then the situation is different again, like I have no one to really exchange women's problems about what's going on right so like. Then I kind of understand it again. So
this is always the problem I don't think for.
for for for gay people, or I don't know, like something that is just with your sexuality, but it so for for us it's easy to kind of separate, you know, like we can. We can just hide it if we want to right like it's. It's impossible to kind of
see in any way. But
oftentimes, if people are also like super young. they they also face a specific. How do you. How do you call this? Is this ages? And I'm never so sure about the English terms, or whatever. But, like you know, like when you are not being respected because you just look very young. This was also an issue that I had a lot of times.
It's kind of like. Yeah, maybe it sounds silly now that a young community would not have helped me, but like maybe one outside, you know, like where I can just exchange, because it's more about.
hey? Can I check with you whether what just happened is okay? Because if you do it in the workplace, you never know where it goes around, because that was also my experience.
Not everybody who is friendly to you has your best interest in mind, and I don't mean this in a bad way. It's just that My trust has been not always on our right. So like
sometimes it just makes the rounds. You say to someone that you're okay. And the next day. Everybody knows it, and you kind of wonder like, Why did you do that? And it's like
so I I don't know. I have trust I have trust issues. Maybe so. You should not ask you about communities. But yeah, if it would help someone else, for instance, if that is the question, then I would absolutely support it, and also.
I don't know. Try to lead it at the company. But, as JJ said. it's like, unless it's a really big company.
I mean, yeah, some people will not join because they don't want to be. They don't want to bring this to work, for instance, as well.
And I think that's fine.
Mirza: Yeah, go ahead Saielle.
Saielle she/they: I think
community is probably mostly impossible at work, because community requires
a seeing of each other that is very difficult to achieve
without, like very large size and scale, like JJ. Was talking about, and even there, you know.
your tools might show people your title, your department. You're this. You're that. So there's a lot of assumptions there. I think we can have
support groups. I think that we can create more supportive environments. But that's actually like the root of what these groups are trying to get at is creating environments where
it doesn't matter, and you know, for for people like JJ, who can mask and can pass if you will, or you know, don't.
throw up any alerts on the radar like. I don't have that option, right? So, having an environment that makes it safer for me is really important, because
and I think that's a valuable thing that comes out of like having queer advocacy at work. But I wouldn't
conflate or confuse that with community. I think advocacy.
inclusion, and a culture of respect, fundamentally like that is different from community. And I think community happens where we can meet as equals and see each other face to face
and exchange ideas freely, and that's really difficult to do when the same person writes all your paychecks. And you know you have a vested interest in
trying to play some sort of neutral role because of the ways that, like
politics or power, are structured in commute, in companies. Right? So I think it's really hard to actually have community at work.
But that doesn't mean that you can't have like parasocial groups, and I think
probably like my very literal, like neuro divergent brain is like community is one thing, and there's other things that look like community, but are not
in a very literal like like
denotative sense, right? And so that's okay. It doesn't make those things not valuable. Let's just not confuse one with the other, because I think.
under capitalism, like your employer, has a certain productivity goal in mind at a certain like
value set in mind, and, like most of the pinkwashing and other stuff that happens in companies, is specifically to attract queer talent that's really talented. But like
isn't necessarily just because of the goodness of anyone's heart right? It's. Oh, shit all the best engineers in the world are autistic trans girls who make electronic music on Saturday and Sunday. Like we want them shit. We need to like, hire them and like, find, you know, and that's like a stereotype, and it's not a 100% true. But like
there's a Venn diagram there.
Leah Tharin: Can I say something to this? So. I had a very interesting experience when I kind of came out, because I felt the need that I need to tell my boss
you so like I don't know.
but I was just scared.
What's going to happen? I was unironically scared. That I don't know. For some reason I convinced myself, yeah, this is gonna be a problem. I'm gonna lose everything whatever, because if you, if you internalize it so much with yourself, you're kind of like there's always like this kind of doubt. Oh, something will happen.
You know, like I'm not gonna get promoted, or this is gonna happen. I'm gonna lose my friends. Some people stop talking to me because they just struggle with this or other women are starting to feel like i'm gonna suddenly hit on them just because I said that i'm into women right? So like that kind of stuff.
And all of this is in some ways true.
But I had an interesting experience with this, because first I remember that, I was always in like very senior positions in the last couple of years, and I told first the CEO and I was like, hey, look! I'm gonna talk about this. Do you think there's a problem with? As I checked in with him, and he said.
No, I have absolutely no problem with this. This is kind of it's fine, you know. Why should it be a problem? And I kinda was happy with that answer, but I realized in hindsight
how shit it was
because when I went to my CPO.
He said. Leah, I'm going to tell you one thing if there, and they will not be. But if they will ever be a problem, and it's some way i'm gonna walk this person out of the building with me right now.
And that's what I needed. I didn't need someone that accepts me, or that it says that it is kind of okay I needed someone to say:
There's gonna be absolutely no tolerance whatsoever. I'm gonna walk them out right now.
If there anything is happening, and he proved to me he proved to me during the years that he would be 100%,
no question, no tolerance, that he would have been doing this.
And he did it too. So
take it for what you will. But respect and tolerance is nice, but sometimes it needs a little bit more.
Saielle she/they: I hate the word ally.
I don't give a shit about where your allegiances lie.
Leah Tharin: He's not an ally. He was my champion.
Saielle she/they: Fucking Switzerland.
You know, neutral in in the case of like World War 2, but that neutrality was like running banks for war criminals right like that doesn't get to count as neutral, and in the same way, like I think a lot of these programs that, like
position, allyship as the goal, or like the the norm or the expectation like that bar is so fucking low.
I don't want your allyship. I want your advocacy. I want you to show up and give a damn. I want you to protect my rights when somebody misgenders me, or says something rude, or calls me a freak.
I want you to make it intolerable for somebody's politics to dehumanize me at work. I want to feel like I can show up and work with people as somebody who
has value and insight for my mind, regardless of my identity and gender. And I think
you know the the very people who like shun identity politics are often the most wrapped up in it. It's just a conservative identity, right? It's a regressive and
anti-tolerant identity, and like. We need people to challenge that. And if you're not willing to do that work, then I don't give a shit about your ally ship, and you can go fuck yourself.
Mirza: Strong and powerful and truthful words, no doubt.
I agree. I think it's about it's very much about being proactive and and and doing the job, because.
You know, we, as whatever we are, insert identity. We come to work. We come, show up every day, we move through society, and a lot of that is
a struggle. A lot of that is a fight, and I think I think that's that's the reason I you know. Ask about community. And I'm focused on community so much because this is what it's about. It's about sharing in the fight, and it's about standing up for each other and sticking up for each other. And you know that
you know I often kind of think that within my queer community, there's a lot of people who are straight. you know. There's a lot of people who are, whatever, but we are one community because we stick up for each other, we stand up for each other. Our experiences are very different. No doubt.Some of us are more oppressed than others, and experience. You know
all kinds of things at at various levels, but at the end of the day, when push comes to shove. We're there for each other.
At least personally.
I've built a lot of that outside of work, and I never really thought to recreate it at the workplace.
But careers are long. You meet a lot of people along the way.
And I realized that, whether it was conscious or not, we had been building community that extends beyond work.
Because they are my queer community who I used to work with
and today we're friends. But sometimes we're also business partners, you know. We're also
planning projects, and you know, cooking up ideas and whatever. So I think in that sense it's really really important.
There were a couple of really good comments in the chat that I want to read out
about community again. Gabbi said. I often feel like the question of community is the difference between inclusion and belonging. I can be included with a welcoming, open, generous workplace, but I might not feel I belong. If no one is like me, or has similar experiences to me.
Do you feel the same way?
JJ Rorie: I I definitely do, I mean I, and it's not even that. It was necessarily negative, like a a hugely negative like it was it at earlier points in my life,
but most of my career I've been the only gay person on at least my kind of immediate team.
And so but I mean everyone was incredibly
welcoming. But you know I was like the token lesbo, you know, we would joke, and we would have fun, and we it was fine, you know, and whatever but it was still
there, like I was still like the other right, the odd person out.
And so yeah, I mean, you can have
a somewhat positive environment, and still not, you know, completely belong or feel like you completely belong.
And you do. You know, in my case you just work with it as much as you can. And again, it was 95% positive. It was just that there was that since missing,
because when you're the only one of whatever it it definitely can can feel that way.
Leah Tharin: Can I expand on this? Sorry
Leah has an interesting point, and she's in her attack position all right. So...
I kind of hope that we arrive in a in a world where someone that is genuinely below average in terms of work performance
is just that, despite whether they are gay or not, because one of the things that really pisses me off right now
we're kind of trying to put ourselves into the best, like, you know, like oh, we have these high performers, you know, like, and then you have the celebrities here, and then you have this, and then, you know, like we're kind of getting there, you know, we create role models of each other.
And while that is great.
there's absolutely nothing wrong with being average as well at work at the same time.
There's absolutely nothing wrong to be below average
to maybe not have the best days all the time. You don't have to be absolutely exceptional.
You don't have to always hit your targets, and all this kind of garbage.
and I think this is a little bit of the problem right like it's because if somebody starts to piss you off...
So like when i'm driving in a cart, and I i'm gonna totally call myself right now out right? So I'm gonna read myself now.
So if I'm in the car, and somebody cuts me, or you don't know I don't know. Does something that I don't like.
The first thing that i'm looking for is something that differentiates this person from me, you know,
like either the license plate, the color of the car, the brand of the car, or what kind of hair color.
Oh, my God! This bitch over there, or whatever it's just it's always like it's just it's just like you know. You immediately create this kind of group.
I never othered someone like, if you're angry, you know, like, or when you're impulsive by the color of their hair, for instance, like oh, my God! Look at this blonde person. This is kind of like it's kind of like silly.
That's the kind of world that I want to live in, where it's just it's just silly to say something like this. Look at this gay person over there. Yeah, and so for the there's a tree next to it, you know.
and that's the kind of we're we're a long way from this. Still away where
it just doesn't matter. It just does not fucking matter, just fucking get over it, right.
And and and...
I don't know what my point is, I felt it was pretty good in my head, so take it for what you will.
Mirza: I think I see what your point is.
Leah Tharin: You have to rescue me now.
Mirza: It's an old conversation. I would say that we like that. We are constantly having about, you know
the world we're trying to build and the world we're in right now.
And you know, thinking of it as a product person. How do I get from this world to that world? What do I need to do? What do we need to do to get to that world where it's genuinely doesn't matter? But it does matter today. It does matter right now.
It matters that, you know,
still, too many people today don't have role models that are like themselves, you know. I think you know, I think representation is sometimes--
we overfocus on representation, but it does still really really matter.
Leah Tharin: Of course. I hope it didn't come out wrong. That's not what I meant it's like, of course, and that's, and that's fine, and it's also very very important. I just meant that
I do shit. That is just not okay.
That's what I meant. And then it doesn't matter that I was just an asshole.
I'm not perfect. I'm not perfect by any means. Right so like. Why do we have to standard to ourselves
that that we have to be? This is what I meant. Like we're with flaws. but it's not the ones that others attribute to us. It's just like I'm an equal as well as anyone else. I'm sorry.
Sometimes I just don't like myself for what I do. And then I just
I mess up. And
that's also kind of a role model, you know, like because you asked about being vulnerable, you know, like okay, I fuck this up because I was bad at it. I was really bad at it right, and I think that's also quite important.
I'm gay, and I mess up. I don't know it's like it's not a good slogan.
Saielle she/they: No, it's I take your point like
I think there's a lot
to be said for a world that's so inclusive. It just does not matter whether you're exceptional or not, and that's certainly not where we're at
And I hope that we get to be some day. But you know, having grown up as a person of color, the child of immigrants, and like now, like very, very visibly queer.
I'm fucking tired, and anything that you can do to accelerate a more inclusive world--
please do, because it's exhausting sometimes. But I have a lot of fun, and I wouldn't change it for the world
Mirza: Same here.
We're out of time. So before we go
any final thoughts or words, and I see people in the chat are suggesting that "I'm Gay, and I Mess Up" is product qties merch.
Saielle she/they: Gay and average.
Leah Tharin: Below average. I'm totally below average.
JJ Rorie: Oh, my God. Oh, oh.
Mirza, I just want to say thank you for for pulling this together. This was amazing.
I've enjoyed it, and I will be on all of the other ones to hear other people share their experiences, and it's just been awesome.
And anyone who wants to connect and needs a sounding board at any point, one on one or otherwise. Let's let's make that happen.
Leah Tharin: I take everyone that is below average.
So we're on the same level.
Saielle she/they: This has been great. Thank you so much.
Leah Tharin: Thank you for having us
Mirza: Thank you all for joining, and again, thank you so much for your vulnerability and openness and honesty.
a lot of this is still not easy to talk about for a lot of people. And again, if it helps even one person listening to this, then we've achieved our goal here today, and I'm sure it will.
Thank you so much, and thank you to our audience for your comments and attending. And yeah, stay tuned
product qties is just getting started.
Leah Tharin: Thank you, Mirza. Thank you. Bye Saielle, bye JJ.
JJ Rorie: have a good day.
Mirza: Bye everyone.
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