The Way We Lead | An Inclusive Leadership Podcast

S1E3: Understanding Intersectionality With Rehana Mohammed

July 14, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
The Way We Lead | An Inclusive Leadership Podcast
S1E3: Understanding Intersectionality With Rehana Mohammed
Chapters
The Way We Lead | An Inclusive Leadership Podcast
S1E3: Understanding Intersectionality With Rehana Mohammed
Jul 14, 2019 Season 1 Episode 3
The Way We Lead, Rehana Mohammed
Rehana shows us how being an ally can get messy when you live in a tight-knit community, and provides tangible tips for how to ask for allyship when folks in that community aren't quite getting it right.
Show Notes Transcript

What happens when a member of your family or community is NOT a good ally or worse, completely rejects us for who we are? Our long-time friend and DC Center for the LGBT Community’s Board Co-Chair, Rehana Mohammed joins us to talk about her intersectional identities. She also shows us how being an ally can get messy when you live in a tight-knit community, and provides tangible tips for how to ask for allyship when folks in that community aren't quite getting it right.

Check out S1E3 episode notes for full speaker bios, episode highlights, links to references, and for a fully accessible interview transcript.

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Rehana :
0:00
To me, allyship is not passive. It is active. It requires commitment and action constantly. It requires you to think critically about situations in your everyday life.
Gaby:
0:18
Hola Hola, it's me Gaby Acosta
Jenelle:
0:20
And me, Jenelle Acosta. We're high school sweethearts on a journey to be better allies.
Gaby:
0:26
You're listening to The Way We Lead, were we talk about inclusive leadership allyship and advocacy with folks across identities, industries and experiences.
Jenelle:
0:34
If you're new here, welcome! You can follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the handle @thewaywelead.
Gaby:
0:44
We're glad you're here! Let's jump in.
Rehana :
0:48
Hi, I'm Rehana Mohammed and I'm a nonprofit management professional in DC and Co-chair of the board of directors at the DC Center for the LGBT community.
Gaby:
0:58
Yeah, you are.
Jenelle:
0:59
Get it!
Gaby:
1:00
You're also one of our best friends in the whole world and we've known you since we were like eddy bitty, like pretty....
Rehana :
1:10
Five, four?
Gaby:
1:10
No, because I moved to the U.S. when I was eight. We were in the Bilingual ed program together.
Rehana :
1:15
Yes,
Gaby:
1:16
at Rolling Terrace elementary school
Rehana :
1:18
RT
Gaby:
1:18
RT! And Jenelle
Jenelle:
1:22
was also there, but I was not cool enough to be in the, in the immersion program. I was in special Ed my whole education.
Gaby:
1:28
Did y'all know each other?
Jenelle:
1:30
You know, I was just thinking about that
Rehana:
1:31
on the bus, little bit
Jenelle:
1:34
Which bus? Oh, because we did get picked up at the corner, didn't we?
Gaby:
1:38
Ya'll were neighbors
Rehana:
1:39
and I officiated your wedding.
Gaby:
1:40
You did. We became, I think real buds in like high school.
Rehana:
1:46
Yeah. Yeah.
Gaby:
1:47
We didn't go to middle school together.
Rehana:
1:48
We went to different middle schools
Gaby:
1:51
and then in high school we were both in the communication arts program.
Rehana :
1:55
Yup.
:
1:55
And Jenelle was part of our, our crew because she was my lady.
Rehana:
2:00
Yeah. Main lady
Gaby:
2:03
My main squeeze.
Jenelle:
2:05
You can call me that more often. That's fine.
Gaby:
2:07
Yeah. Yeah. You've, you've been my lady for a long time.
Jenelle:
2:10
This is true
Gaby:
2:12
I had this very, uh, vivid memory today of being at a Halloween party the year after Jenelle and I started dating and I had just come out and I don't know, I must have had a lot of emotions being a teenager, but I just remember embracing you and squeezing you so hard and saying something to the effect of like, you're the only one who gets me.
Rehana:
2:36
Oh my God. That's beautiful.
Gaby:
2:40
[laughter]
:
2:40
That is just a beautiful memory. I wish, I wish I could say I remember that vividly too. I have a really bad memory.
Gaby:
2:46
and I think it was pretty random for you. You were probably like, what are you talking about?
Rehana:
2:52
You know what though? I'm positive. I, I felt the same. Cause I feel the same now
Gaby:
2:56
but I think we had a lot of parallels in our life.
Rehana:
3:00
Yeah, totally. And then we also reconnected after Undergrad and um, we kind of were chilling in the aqueerium.
Gaby:
3:10
Yeah
Rehana:
3:11
Remember that magical summer in the aqueerium. That's what they dubbed their house.
Gaby:
3:13
We had dubbed our house the aqueerium because we just started collecting a lot of like beautiful queer people.
Jenelle:
3:21
Well, we moved back.
Rehana:
3:22
It was amazing
Jenelle:
3:22
We moved back from college and it was me and you, and then we had two of our other friends who were lesbian and dating and then a lot of you, you came over a lot.
Rehana:
3:33
Yup.
Jenelle:
3:33
Um, so adding more queer people to it.
Gaby:
3:35
And then that was the year that, um, I think you and I had just, um, co-facilitated, well, we weren't in the same community, but we'd just done a delegation down to El Salvador, which is where I'm from. And we had a lot of delegates who were also, you know, I would say on the queer spectrum.
Rehana:
3:58
Yes.
Gaby:
3:59
And after this delegation, we all bonded really closely and, and we just ended up spending a lot of time at our house, like hanging out, like shooting the shit and enjoying each other's company in a space that we just felt good in
Rehana:
4:14
very good times.
Gaby:
4:15
Yeah.
Rehana:
4:15
Very good times in the aqueerium.
Gaby:
4:16
It was awesome.
Jenelle:
4:17
Yeah. Well, I mean, around the block was, what is it? So if we walk from my house and turned around the corner, then it was your house and then in a row were three of our other friend's house, right?
Rehana :
4:29
Yeah.
Jenelle:
4:29
Like everybody lived right next door to one another.
Gaby:
4:32
Yeah
Rehana:
4:32
it was awesome
Gaby:
4:33
And we spent just, you know, we had all just graduated college and we didn't know what we were doing with our lives and we all needed some direction and help. And it was just nice having that peer mentorship and like people who like just got it. Who are like, I, I feel you man. I'm still totally lost.
Rehana:
4:52
[laughs] Totally.
Jenelle:
4:53
I think for me that point was when I fell in love with you, like in our friendship because you have always been, um, in my eyes, just very confident in who you are. And I was always a little intimidated by you because you were, you were way cooler than I was at that point.
Gaby:
5:14
Yeah. You've always been really cool
Jenelle:
5:14
you've always been cooler than me, but you were
Gaby:
5:18
for the, for the nerds, you're the coolest thing.
Jenelle:
5:20
Yes, yes. I agree
Rehana:
5:20
[laughs] Right, I feel like that's an important caveat.
Gaby:
5:24
Yeah.
Jenelle:
5:25
Yes. We were all nerds.
Gaby:
5:27
We were in a magnet program together.
Rehana:
5:29
Yeah.
Gaby:
5:29
Let's not forget
Jenelle:
5:30
I was not, but you were, yeah
Rehana:
5:32
I tried to hit all the nerd categories. I mean, I was an AV nerd. I was in a nerdy communications program. I was a star Trek nerd. I was also a marching band nerd.
Jenelle:
5:45
Wait, you were in marching band?
Rehana:
5:46
Oh yeah. It's so funny to hear you say that. You thought I was cool cause I thought you guys were super cool.
Gaby:
5:51
No!
Rehana:
5:52
Yes!
Jenelle:
5:53
So I want to go down this tangent for a second because it relates to all of us. And in the last, I'd say like two months, there's been a lot of people from my past who have come up to me and said something in the realm of like, I was really intimidated by you or you always were so confident, you were so cool. And I was like [inaudible] no. Like I, I never felt that way. I'll talk specifically for myself after college. Like I would talk with Gaby and she would say the same thing back of like, we love Rehana, Rehana's so cool. Like she's just so much cooler than us. She knows what she likes. She, she, she feels very confident being herself and standing up for what she believes in. And you had very strong goals of what you want to accomplish in your life even then, I think, did you feel that way? Did you feel confident and cool?
Rehana :
6:39
Wow. Now, now it got deep. Um, I think that I was sort of raised in a philosophy of, um, don't look to celebrities and traditional kind of hero figures to model your life after kind of look in and, and think about what you think is right and what you want to do. And I think that that helped me, um, that helped me kind of cultivate a, a mindset where I wasn't looking at other people and saying, oh, I guess I should be doing that. So I always felt like I was doing the right thing for me at that time. Did I feel like I was cool? No, definitely not. do I feel like I'm cool now? No, absolutely not.
Gaby:
7:33
You are
Rehana:
7:33
I feel like I'm, I feel like I'm me. Um, and that's, that's cool. I think
Gaby:
7:39
that is, yeah, that's the coolest part about you is that you've always just been you and like, and completely and totally out loud. And I think that's what I admired the most about you is that you are the first person who I connected with and saw in my life, especially in high school who was like me out a person of color who was cross-cultural, bi-racial and a daughter of an immigrant. Like those are all complex intersectionalities and not that were, that we're the same. Our families are from very different places in the world.
Rehana:
8:18
Right.
Gaby:
8:18
But you are somebody who I was like, oh look, like I'm not alone in this.
Rehana :
8:23
Yeah, totally. I felt that same way about you too. And I think that, you know, you are also someone who understood that. Um, and I still feel this way now. There are certain parts of you that are core and uh, you know, help you determine how to be authentic across different spaces, but sometimes you do a little bit of code switching. You kind of frame who you are differently in different contexts. And, um, it took a long time, me to be comfortable doing that and in a way that didn't feel, um, inauthentic.
Gaby:
9:01
Yeah.
Rehana:
9:03
Um, but that was, that was something that I think you and I really connected about too because, uh, you know, we were kind of a different version of ourselves with our families at some points. And sometimes it would be, I found it difficult to kind of talk to friends who weren't in those sort of different situations like we were, um, and have them understand that. Right. So, you know, a lot of my, a lot of my, um, American friends who didn't have immigrant families were very open with their parents about the fact that they drank alcohol or did drugs or something like that. And they didn't understand that, no, not only can you not imply that I am doing those things, which in high school I was not really that much. But, um, but also I don't want you implying that you do because my parents won't let me see you anymore.
Gaby:
10:01
Yeah. Yeah.
Rehana:
10:03
Um, and I think that that, you know, carried through, I've seen that carry through in my life of just like some, some people that haven't had to do that dance constantly throughout their whole lives. Uh, don't really understand how you can still be you and do that.
Gaby:
10:20
Yeah. I think being mixed in any way, like mixed race, cross cultural, coming from two different identities that smashed together that intersectionality and then having multiple layers who at right, like sexuality added to it and then nationality added to it sense of like your, your spirituality even, right? Like these are all elements that, I don't know if this was true for you, but for me it made me so much more cognizant at a young age about what these elements of identity mean and their consequences, you know, like how the world sees different people for who they are based on the box that they placed them in.
Rehana :
11:07
Yeah, totally. I mean, um, I feel like I saw that a lot. I witnessed it a lot watching my dad, um, you know, be, uh, go through experiences that I felt like my friend's parents weren't going through and little comments that people would make to me of, um, you know, I remember as late as high school, a close friend asking me if my dad spoken clicks.
Gaby:
11:36
What?
Rehana:
11:36
Yeah.
Gaby:
11:37
Did they know where your dad was from?
Rehana:
11:38
Oh, they'd met him a bunch of times, knew he was from Ethiopia. Um, like
Jenelle:
11:44
was this a friend that knew you or just somebody random
Rehana:
11:46
close friend. Close friend.
Jenelle:
11:47
Interesting.
Rehana:
11:49
Um, and uh, but I don't think that I really felt that about myself until college. Um, where I went to a predominantly white Catholic university. Um, and suddenly people are, were looking at me and uh, I remember for the first time feeling like, oh, I'm black. You know, where previously I had felt like I'm African and I'm mixed race and I'm Ethiopian. Um, but I hadn't felt like black American until college when people were looking at me and putting me in in a box. And No, I mean, I think that that was kind of the first time where I was, where I kind of had to grapple with the fact that you don't get to determine your identity and your descriptors completely in a bubble that's also shaped by society in the way that society sees you. And that impacts you every single day. Whether you select certain identifiers or people place them on, you can have a real impact on your life. Um, so I think that college was a big time when I was reflecting on my identity and how I would describe that to people. Um, and it certainly evolved a lot from when I was in high school.
Gaby:
13:13
Yeah. I think I remember having a really deep conversation with you when, you know, at the end of every single delegation that we would lead those what tended to be the most intense conversations that we'd have. And it was during one of these last sessions that I remember you and I stayed up one night talking really late into the night about what race privilege, power meant and how it played a role in our lives specifically. And I think it was at that point that both of us started to identify much more outwardly with the LGBTQ community.
Rehana:
13:52
Yeah.
Gaby:
13:53
Like at what point did you feel like you, you officially like quote unquote, like identified yourself as part of the community?
Rehana :
14:01
So I, um, I like to say that I was never actually in the closet to myself. You know, they say like the coming out cycle is kind of first you come out to yourself, then you come out to friends and family and then you come out to the world.
Gaby:
14:15
Yeah.
Rehana:
14:17
Um, I kinda did that maybe in a weird order. I feel like I, um, had my first experience liking a girl and kissing a girl all in one night and then, um, was confronted with, from an external factor, what do you identify as all in the same night? And just immediately said, I'm bisexual. And never felt that way. Never thought about that before. It just felt like a very natural, organic process for me. But I didn't really, I was quote unquote, out all of high school. Um, you know, uh, not to my family but at school certainly. But I didn't go to GSA meetings. I didn't, um, you know, I never went to like a pride event or anything like that. To your point, I didn't really feel, I felt sort of like, oh, this is just a thing about me, but it doesn't mean that I need to go be in a big c community. Right. Um, I think it wasn't until I went to college and you know, everyone's trying to find their people, um, and being confronted with, you know, not being able to do certain things because I was LGBTQ or facing certain situations because I was queer that I really found myself wanting that community and belonging to that community. Um, I think also just the sometimes lack of representation in our community of intersectionality really fueled me to want to be part of it more. Right, so when I got on campus, our LGBTQ student organization was run by White, uh, cis gay men and that was the reputation of the group. It was a place for white CIS people, predominantly men to find community. But for the rest of us there wasn't really a spot for that. Um, and that really motivated me to join it, to do events for it and eventually to take it over, um, and lead it in order to show new people coming in, you can, you can be in this community too. There's a space for us too.
Jenelle:
16:43
So I feel like in a, in a different way, sort of separating it from um, the intersectionality of your race, your religion, and then your gender identity or not your gender identity but your sexuality. I remember even in high school, uh, you did a talk and like a presentation and stuff on, um, being Muslim and going through Ramadan if I'm not mistaken.
Rehana:
17:09
Yeah.
Jenelle:
17:10
Were you, you had to explain like fasting to everybody and what that always was. Like in my eyes, you, you've always been somebody who again going back to I know who I am and sort of seeing opportunities to educate people, right? Like I think, I think I've always seen you as somebody who identifies there's a gap, there's a knowledge gap, there is a, just sort of a, an experience gap and wanting to step in and, and be that type of person. How do you think that that's been there for you, your, your whole life? Or was there a point where that really was instilled in you?
Rehana :
17:46
Well, I think I um, was confronted my otherness very early in life.
Gaby:
17:52
Yeah.
Rehana:
17:53
Um, I mean I have memories of being three or four, like the only memories I have from that time of my life were, um, of feeling really different and no one being able to pronounce my name. Um, I would sometimes go by Hannah instead.
Gaby:
18:10
What?
Rehana:
18:10
Um, Yep. Uh, for, I remember until I was about six or seven, um, telling my parents that as soon as I was 18, I was going to change my name, um, to Iman, my middle name because it was easier to pronounce. And I would sometimes tell people to call me Iman, um, instead of Rehana because they would just butcher it. Um, and then I sort of, uh, I would say like midway through elementary school, um, kind of was like, yeah, I'm different. I don't see anyone else like me here. Uh, but you know what, that can be helpful. And, um, I feel like later in life, you know, Harvey Milk, uh, really put it well when he kind of told his group that if you're not out, you need to come out because, um, which was very controversial to say. And for the record, I don't believe that everyone who is LGBTQ needs to come out of the closet. It's very personal decision. But the part that really resonated with me was the reasoning behind it of the way that we're going to make gains is if people realize, oh, I have a gay neighbor, I have a gay, um, you know person at the grocery store that works at the grocery store that I go to. I have like all these people in my network that I didn't know about. Um, that
Gaby:
19:44
So normalizing it
Rehana:
19:44
Right. So I feel like that kind of put into words what I've felt a lot of my life, which is yeah, I'm different than the people around me and how do I make sure that they get to know me and they get to know about my differentness in a way that makes them, moving forward in their lives, be more open to people like me in the future. Um, so like my college roommate who's one of my closest friends, um, you know, hadn't had a Muslim friend before. Uh, several people on my freshman floor hadn't ever had a Muslim friend. So I did fast-a-thon my freshman year, which was a thing that we did at my school where we would invite non Muslims to fast with us for a day. Um, and that was a really cool experience cause they were coming to me all day and saying, I'm so thirsty. How do you do this all what then?
Jenelle:
20:42
Yeah.
Rehana:
20:43
Um, you know, just what are opportunities to kind of bring people in, bring people into the conversation. Um, rather than just saying, oh, you don't already know about this while then I'm not going to talk to you.
Gaby:
20:56
Yeah. I, I'm wondering actually how you feel about when people say it's not my job to educate you, right. Because I personally, and this is a personal decision, I think everybody might feel differently about it. I, I think because I feel like I represent so many things that I want people to understand me more. I want people to be educated and informed in the way to engage with me and my community, at least my preference is for that. And I feel very comfortable doing that. But I also, um, recognize that it's not any person of colors or individual who identifies in any space. It's not their job to do it. Right. And I think that's a complicated thing to explain to someone who maybe isn't from any minority group because like, I think a lot of people are like, well, I just want to understand. I'm trying to understand so that I can be an ally. Right. Like, how do you feel about educating folks outside of the space?
Rehana :
22:06
Yeah, it's a great question. Uh, and I think that, um, it depends on what they're asking to be educated about. Um, but also just up front, we have Google now you can go ahead and get a baseline knowledge. Right? And I feel like, um, there's a certain amount of learning that you can't, you can't read over the Internet. Right? You can't, uh, form a genuine connection with someone, um, by reading an article that they wrote. That's not a two way experience. So I feel like there's a need for both. Um, but I totally agree with you. It's not someone's responsibility. And if you come to me with a question that, you know, you could have googled in five seconds.
Jenelle:
22:52
Hmm.
Rehana:
22:53
I might be a little annoyed. Right. Um, but it also depends on the context, like where we are having that conversation. Who you are. Right. So when we were in El Salvador doing those, um, trips, I had some really great conversations with, um, some of the women that were cooking for us, um, about what a Muslim was and what we believed. Right. Their, their questions were, but, um, you still believe in Jesus Christ, right? You still, do you believe in God? Um, things like that. I'm good with those questions. Right. Cause they don't, they couldn't Google it. Um, and I was probably, if not the only, one of the only Muslims they were ever gonna meet in their life. Um, but that also speaks to like my comfort on the topic. Right? Yeah. Um, but I've seen, you know, and experienced a lot of, I don't want to say bigotry. Well I'll say bigotry masking itself as well meaning questions, you know, um, and as a bisexual, this is something I get a lot from other folks in the LGBTQ community, right? Is they'll say, um, oh, you're bisexual. So that means, does that mean you always need to be dating a man and a woman at the same time? Or does that mean that you wouldn't date a trans person or that you hate trans people? And those, I kind of feel like those are not open ended questions that start a dialogue. Those are, um, you kind of coming at me with the negative things that you've heard and trying to say disprove this position. Right? So
Jenelle:
24:42
I think it's also, it's a way of, um, categorizing you as, as a thing or an experiment, right? Like those types of questions to me, cause I, I've gotten very similar ones, um, being a lesbian and I always feel like they're, they make me feel like an object rather than a human being that's complex.
Rehana :
25:04
Right? And like you're speaking for that whole group of people, right? So,
Gaby:
25:08
yeah, that's dangerous.
Rehana:
25:09
I can't speak to other people's attraction. I can speak to my own. So why don't you ask me an open ended question about why I, uh, chose to identify in that way or why I describe myself with that label and what that means to me. Um, rather than repeating some kind of bigoted things that you've heard in the past. So, but to kind of loop back and answer your question, I don't think it's anyone's job to be, uh, you know, the teacher, right? Um, because then you also get into this like quote unquote model minority issue where you feel like, uh, and I've certainly felt this in the past. You know, I have to be the, uh, smartest person in the room to show people that black people are smart or to show people that Muslims are smart or I have to be really nice to prove that Muslims aren't angry terrorists. Right?
Gaby:
26:15
Yeah.
Rehana:
26:16
Um, and, uh, that can be really damaging and hard to deal with. I think
Gaby:
26:25
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Jenelle:
27:02
What I reflect back from what you said is it's not anybody's job to educate anybody, right? Like some of this we can do with Google, depends on the person and things like that, but in terms of getting people to, to get on our side, right? To create more allies, do we put people into these sort of boxes and say like you have to fit into this box in order to be making progress or to be able to say or do certain things or do we sort of throw people rope and pull them along with us?
Rehana :
27:34
I love this question and I love talking about this. I think that I like to meet people where they're at and when I get frustrated is when people tell me they're at a different place than they are. If that makes sense.
Gaby:
27:48
Can you give an example?
Rehana:
27:50
Yeah. So if someone says, I'm a really great ally, I'm a big ally. That's how I define that, that's like how they define themselves, but they are not doing some of the actions that you know, you feel are critical for an ally. So for example, if they say I'm a big ally to the LGBTQ community, but they are not, um, you know, calling their representatives and advocating for the Equality Act, calling their senators and advocating for the equality act. Um, if they are not, uh, calling people by the correct pronouns that they would like to be called, if they are not doing some of these macro level and micro level things, if they're not examining their privilege, if they're not, helping to build a more accepting communities. Um, then they're not like they're not a, um, advanced ally. Right?
Jenelle:
28:53
Right, right. Yeah. No. And that, that's an interesting way to put it, right. Cause I sort of disconnected it between somebody saying, Hey, I'm an ally. Happy Pride when they're not actually acting that way versus maybe people who aren't saying that but are doing certain things. Right. And if you are self identifying as an ally, well that has a lot of weight to it and it means you need to be doing certain things in order to live in that world. And in order to have that label.
Rehana :
29:21
Absolutely. And to me allyship is not passive. It is active. It requires commitment and action constantly. Um, it requires you to think critically about situations in your everyday life, uh, actively. It requires you to actively examine your privilege, uh, in different contexts. And, um, and you can, anyone can wish me a happy pride. I will take that from anybody. But, uh, if you tell me that you are an ally, that carries more weight to it. And I feel like also it depends on, well, I, I won't say, actually, I take it back. I don't mean I will accept happy pride from anyone because, uh, Trump's tweets about pride, uh, really set me off. So I will not take happy pride from anyone. Um,
Gaby:
30:18
if you're deliberately undermining my back to be who I am,
Rehana :
30:22
Right. I will take a happy pride from anyone who's not actively harming or oppressing me and, uh, contributing to or supporting folks who are actively harming her oppressing me. But I do feel like, you know, along with kind of how do we cultivate an environment where people can learn authentically and be vulnerable, um, no matter what stage they're at, that's a question that I want to keep thinking about and I want to keep trying to do is how do I meet people where they're at so that they can be vulnerable with me about what they don't know about what they don't understand. And I feel like that builds stronger, more committed allies later because, um, because they will reflect on that moment and say, Rehana whoever that person was generous with me and gave me the space to mess up, gave me the space to say something stupid by accident and apologize and accepted my apology, didn't just write me off. So that's what I try to do and try to be committed to. But sometimes it's hard, you know, when someone, when someone says something that you feel is ignorant or bigoted and you want to react with, just get out of my face, I don't want to talk to you anymore. It's hard to maintain that, um, that space for them to do that in. And um, sometimes you can't, when it becomes unsafe for you, sometimes you can't.
Gaby:
31:57
Can we dig in on that specifically in terms of when someone does the flip side of being an ally and very much is deliberately pushing you away for who you are. I know you have some very tangible examples of this in your life and so do I. Um, you know, like we were talking about family dynamics earlier and the challenges of being rejected by family because of who we love.
Rehana :
32:26
Yeah, totally. Definitely have vivid examples of that. I feel like going along with meeting people where they are, you have to listen to people and when they tell you what their limits are or who they are, believe them. Right. Hear them. So when, you know, members of my family told me, this is not something I can accept. I don't want to see you anymore. I don't want to talk to you anymore. Um, I heard them and I said, okay, you just told me that I'm going to keep living my life and be who I am. Um, but I'm gonna I, I hear you setting that boundary, right. And I hear you telling me who you are and what you can and can't deal with. And that's hard. That's definitely hard. It's been hard for me and is especially still a very common thing in our community, not just in the LGBTQ community, but in these LGBTQ communities of color is not an uncommon experience at all, unfortunately.
Gaby:
33:33
Yeah. Something that's, that really resonated with me, um, is your experience of, um, having a family member, you know, basically set that boundary and say, I'm not gonna recognize that piece of you, that part of you. Um, and, and then the human messiness of the community around us and their reaction to that. Because as a family unit, we grow up in a community. All of us grew up in a similar community and neighborhood. And so our neighborhood, I would say I would argue is pretty tight knit. Like we said, our neighbors, your neighbors in particular were all best friends living on the same block. And so that was a very close knit space.
Rehana:
34:23
Yeah. Absoluely.
Gaby:
34:24
So when your family engaged with you and in a way that rejected part of your identity, how did the community react? How did people respond and were they allies to you?
Rehana :
34:38
So, I think that that's a, it was a really hard situation for them to be in. You know, this is, this is me trying to be a, as empathetic as possible because both of us are members of that community, right? So taking sides is always a hard thing to do. And I think that also being an ally is not something that you either are doing right or doing wrong. There's sort of different layers to it, right? You could be a great ally to a community on a macro level and that might look very different when you are trying to be an ally to an individual person. And what I like to do and what I like to tell people is you can just ask, right? I love to be asked, hey, how can I support you right now in this situation? What can I do to feel, to make you feel more welcome in this context? What can I do to show you that I support you? And you know, one of the things that hurt when, uh, everything sort of went down with my family is, um, some members of my community didn't ask that question and therefore didn't know what would be helpful to me and what would make me feel safe and valued. So I didn't, I did not feel welcomed anymore in the community that I had grown up in and had defined a lot of my self identity and a lot of my, um, childhood years. So when you, I feel like sometimes when you assume how you can be a good ally to someone on an individual level, when they're going through something difficult, uh, the odds are not in your favor of whether you're going to exactly hit the mark of what they want. Right. That's, that's just a really hard thing to, to know intuitively, especially if you're not, uh, especially if you've never dealt with the same situation before and, um, are not familiar with the certain mix of emotions that they might be going through. And so, um, one of the things, uh, after that all happened was we were a very, as you said, tight knit community and neighborhood and had a lot of neighborhood events and we were both still being invited and that did not make me feel like I was actually invited because I was not going to attend an event that he was at. Um, that didn't feel safe for me
Jenelle:
37:06
Right, and in some way they should have thought of that or realize that
Rehana:
37:10
Maybe, I mean, again, I kind of, for my own mental health, I like to take a step back from "should" and kind of take away the responsibility of someone else, um, intuitively knowing that cause they had never been in that situation before. And even if they had, we're all individual people and so I can definitely see a context where that might not have bothered someone so much. But for me, it made me feel like we were on equal footing. Like it was a situation where, Oh, you had this fight and you both said things you didn't mean and so you're both still invited to things and you're both still in the community. Um, where that was not, that was not the feeling that I had. But what I ended up doing was I ended up having some really difficult conversations with, with, you know, close friends and members of the community and telling them, okay, maybe you didn't ask how I wanted to be supported, but now I'm telling you this is what would make me feel comfortable and supported and uh, had a lot of success with that. And they were very open to that. But something that was really critical to me through this time was if I didn't have that community that I had grown up with, being able to seek support and get support from my chosen family, my support system, and having that support system was really, really critical. And I think that's why I definitely don't believe that everyone always needs to come out because you, it takes a while to build that support system and without it, that's a really difficult process. You know, I was at the time when this all happened, I was in a very, you know, supportive, committed relationship with my now wife and had I not had that support system, um, it would have been a very different story.
Gaby:
39:11
Yeah.
Jenelle:
39:13
So I think, um, that, that, that story of feeling like you, the people in the community that you wanted to be an ally to you and they weren't, and being able to say like, I'm going to come at this from a place of a, I like how you said like, not that they should have, right. Like understanding that maybe they haven't been in that situation before, I think is so important. Right. It, and just from my perspective, right? Like that's part of the way that I want to live my life is, is to be able to look at people and say, like, you, you don't have enough knowledge. You don't have enough information. And so I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt in this situation, which, and, and thinking that people in believing that people can learn and they can change and they can grow. Um, it makes me think of the, the sort of the Kevin Hart situation where, uh, he was going to host the Emmys or the Grammy's or
Rehana:
40:06
Oscars.
Jenelle:
40:06
Oscars. Right. And a lot of people came out and were sort of saying things that he had said a long time ago, um, was a reason that he should not be hosting the Oscars. Right. He said some, uh, maybe homophobic things that some point in his acts, but since then he had apologized. He had changed his approach. Right. He, he had stopped saying those things. He changed his views, or at least hopefully he had. Um, but that still, they were saying like, even though you had done it once, it means that that's who you are. And so I, I appreciate the, the mindset from somebody inside the community. Right. And somebody who wants allies as well to look at other people and say, you're not perfect. Maybe you haven't experienced this. And so I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt. And if you don't take me, once I do that, then that's a different story. But at least I'm going to take that first step.
Rehana :
41:01
Yeah. And sometimes I listen to the Savage Lovecast. Um, and
Jenelle:
41:07
What's that?
Rehana:
41:08
Dan Savage's podcast.
Jenelle:
41:09
Oh, okay.
Rehana:
41:10
Dan Savage, uh, spoke about this in the context of the 2016 election about Hillary Clinton and members of the LGBTQ community questioning whether she really supported the community because of policies that she had supported in the past. And the point that he made that really resonated with me was, um, if we don't when, when we convince people right when we have won them over and they are supportive of us, if we don't say, okay, great, you're here now. You apologized for the past, now you're with us. Um, how do we build allies if we don't then say thank you and uh, and not wipe the slate clean, not forget about the past, but allow them to atone for that and um, and welcome them and allow them to then, um, stand with us. Uh, how are we gonna we, we can't succeed without allies. We can't advance our rights without allies.
Gaby:
42:18
Yeah. This is something that I am very passionate about, um, in terms of policing, right? Communities about who can and cannot be an ally. And once you're making an effort to be an ally, I often experience or witness folks shaming individuals who don't use the exact proper language that is maybe quote unquote politically correct today. Um, but somebody is trying they're, they're learning, they're actively trying to participate and becoming someone who can advocate for our group. I'm very passionate about ensuring that that person is given more tools to be able to continue their journey towards being a good ally and being a good advocate rather than shaming that person and saying, how dare you use that word? I am incredibly insulted. You are now shamed and you're rejected from being a part of this.
Rehana :
43:27
Yeah. So I think that for me, um, shaming is not a, a tool that I use a lot in my toolbox, but I think it's, it belongs in the toolbox and it is valuable in certain contexts. I think that, um, I think it, you know, I, I hate for my answer to keep being context is everything, but I really do believe that. And where someone, especially depending on what they're asking us for, right, if you're asking me to vote for you and your policies are not consistent with what you are claiming to support, you know, if you say you're supporting women but you are not supporting a pro choice legislation, right. I'm, I'm all for shaming those politicians. I am all for, um, you saying you're not going to get my vote if you claim that you are supporting LGBTQ people, but you are not supporting the Equality Act. Um, or you are saying, okay, great, I'm good with gay people, but I'm still, I'm still not for Trans people's rights. Right. Um, you know, maybe Trump has, uh, has a point. I, I'm all for shaming them. Um, so I think that shaming people has a definite role in our continued fight for equality and for, um, advancement of our rights. I think though that, uh, it's hard in a personal context. It's hard in, in smaller groups. When that comes up. Um, but I think also that part of being an ally and part of, um, uh, claiming to be an ally is recognizing that you, um, you might get some things wrong and that there are consequences with that. So I think that if someone, you know, uses incorrect terminology and then offends someone and they respond in that way, um, and that person claiming to be an ally says, oh, well, forget it. I'm out. This was not, you, you didn't let me, you didn't, uh, um, thank me just for being here. That's still you not fully recognizing your privilege, right. Um, and not being the actual ally that you are claiming to be. So sometimes you're gonna get things wrong. We all get things wrong and you have to be comfortable being called out by that.
Jenelle:
46:02
Yeah. So what I was thinking on is, vulnerability is such a huge part of being an ally, right? Because in my eyes, there's two sides of it. One is, vulnerability is the willingness to try and maybe say the wrong words, maybe do the wrong thing. Right. Um, but knowing that, feeling that fear and working through it, right, and, and that, that takes a lot of vulnerability to do, Do that. The second half of that is exactly what you said at the end, right? Knowing that sometimes you're going to mess up and you're gonna get called out for it. Right? So the second part of vulnerability in being an ally is being able to say, I'm sorry and recognizing, and being able to say, I fucked up and I'm sorry. And being willing to say, teach me what I'm supposed to do. Right. And for us, talking about, sort of bringing this full circle in a sense of saying it's not everybody's responsibility to educate, right. I totally understand being in a point, whether it's forever in your life or, or in periods of your life where you're just like, I don't want to educate you. Like, I'm sorry, I'm done. Why doesn't everybody just understand this? Why do I have to be the one to do this? Right? And I think for somebody coming from an outside wanting to be an ally to somebody, understanding that we're going to get to a point where we're like, I just had the same conversation for five days in a row for whatever reason or this has just been a part of my life to have to educate people so much, I don't want to educate you and you're going to get called out and maybe not taught in that moment. Right. And I think knowing that, don't take that personally, right. Try at least try not to take that personally and be able to say, let me self-reflect. Right. This is, this is another reason why I think therapy is so important. Right? Why everybody should have therapy in order to not only better themselves but also to help better other people is one as somebody who needs an ally, I don't, I want that person to understand that I'm a human being in some days I'm not going to be myself, best self or some days I just don't want to, right? And they need to be able to work through that. Um, but also for your own self in somebody, me personally wanting to be an ally to other people that are not in my identity is I need to be able to have moments where I get called out and I can then reflect on that and be able to say, okay, I understand where this is coming from. This isn't about me, being able to move forward in that. That's such a huge part of what that is.
Rehana :
48:41
Yeah. And if you come into a space and you say, if I do something wrong, I'm not willing to suffer any consequences or I don't feel like I should have to suffer any consequences, then you're carrying your privilege into that space and you're not, you know, really recognizing that sometimes when, sometimes you're going to get called out and you have to be okay with, um, you know, uh, facing those consequences. Like you might say something that offends someone and then the consequences, you know what you have, we understand you're learning, but you've made this space unsafe for someone else or feel unsafe for someone else. And so you're not gonna be in this space for a little while, right? You're not ready to be in this space. Sometimes that's a consequence. And, um, you know, I think that if we want to be good allies, we have to be willing to, uh, to deal with those consequences.
Gaby:
49:34
This has been an amazing chat. I did want to end on a question that Jenelle recommended that I love, which is what do you got going on in your life that you want to share with our listeners?
Rehana :
49:45
Great question. Um, so as I mentioned at the top, I'm co-chair of the board of directors of the DC Center for the LGBT community and, uh, it's an fantastic organization. You know, I think sometimes when people think about, um, supporting LGBTQ rights or the LGBTQ community, these big name organizations come to mind like HRC and HRC is fantastic. I'm a monthly donor to HRC as well. But what I would really stress is, you know, allyship and supporting different communities, uh, comes at, in different contexts and in the local context, there's a lot of great local LGBT that are doing fantastic work in the DC metro area. Um, so if you all, if listeners out there, um, please check us out at thedccenter.org. On social media @thedccenter, and, uh, if you have the financial means to donate, please do. Uh, they do incredible work in the community. They have lockers for LGBTQ homeless youth. They run support groups and discussion groups, uh, for different parts of the community. Um, they have, uh, a lot of programming for LGBTQ older adults and for LGBTQ asylum seekers from other countries. So as you think about who you, uh, donate to to support the community, I would encourage you to think about the DC center and if you want to follow me on social media, which would be awesome. I am on Twitter at @rehanamohammed and I'm on Instagram @rehanaimohammed. So please look me up and let's connect.
Gaby:
51:31
Thank you so much for being with me here with us and, and sharing a little bit of, uh, your story.
Rehana:
51:36
Thank you for having me. This was fantastic. And I love how you guys are saying what is missing and just creating it, right? This is definitely something that, um, I've been wanting to listen to and think about and hear other people think about for a long time and I just so appreciate that you guys said, well, we're gonna make it. We're just gonna create it. We're gonna fill that, fill that gap. So I think that's awesome.
Jenelle:
52:00
That's all Gaby.
Rehana:
52:01
Takes a lot of, takes a lot of bravery.
Gaby:
52:03
I'm excited.
Jenelle:
52:04
Yeah.
Gaby:
52:04
Brave, Not Perfect
Jenelle:
52:05
Brave, not perfect indeed.
Gaby:
52:07
Thank you so much for joining us today. Join in on the conversation. We'd love to hear from all of you. Visit our website thewaywelead.com and share a voice memo on our contact us page. We want to hear your examples of an experience where someone was not a good ally to you. How did that play out? Were you able to give that person to feedback? If not, how, if at all, would you want to resolve it. While you're on our website, subscribe to our newsletter for some additional behind the scenes materials. It comes out every other week alternating with our episodes. [Music starts] Want to get exclusive bonus materials like bloopers and vulnerable conversations where we talk about this podcasting journey. Then sign up to become a monthly patron by clicking on our Patreon button on the top right of the website. This episode was produced by me, Gaby Acosta, and co-hosted by my kick ass wife Jenelle Acosta. Music was written and produced by the talented Emily Henry. A special shout out goes out to all of our seed fund campaign donors. We really could not have done this without you. Here's the Jenelle singing this week's list of donors.
Jenelle:
53:15
[singing] Carly Dell, Cathrine Nelson, Christy Stanford, Cole Ingram, Corey Hoyt, Courtney Lausch.
Gaby:
53:26
Hashtag
Jenelle:
53:27
30 for 30, baby. Yeah! [Dog Barks] Every time.
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