Role models are something I think about a lot, especially when I’m thinking or talking about leadership. I’ve been in various positions of leadership throughout my life (including on various sports teams, within student governments, as a mentor, etc.), and as I’ve grown older and more reflexive I’ve started to feel more responsible as a leader to the people that I am supposed to be leading. This is why I have always striven (strove? this word is so awkward in past tense) to be a good role model to those people I am fortunate enough to be leading, especially if they are younger than me.
I have seen too many people who are looked up to betray the trust that has been given to them, either by simply being lazy/apathetic, or by behaving irresponsibly. These attitudes show both a lack of understanding about the trust and responsibility they have been given and a lack of compassion about caring for that trust and influencing others in a positive manner.
This is why I try to do a lot of self-inquiry about how I am caring for the space that I inhabit (most frequently this space being the Q Center or someplace that I would like to have the Q Center’s values) and about how I am caring for the people around me. I think of this less as self-policing, although there is some internal censorship involved when something that is definitely not ok tries to escape out my mouth anyway, and more as caring for others, and through that caring for myself. Because, for me at least, there is a lot of self-care involved in how I think about/try to change how I affect others. How can I love myself if I am unconsciously or through ignorance (or, with the same effect but worse to my thinking, consciously) contributing to someone else’s oppression and marginalization? Too few people, in my opinion, have this internal responsibility.
Which brings me back to role models. I had a lack of role models growing up who were like me (read: queer). Even before I was consciously queer I sort of had the feeling that no one who I knew who was grown up was very much like me. This isn’t to say that I had no role models (shout out to my very awesome mom!), but that I didn’t see myself in many of my relationships with adults. I think this is why I latched onto one of the first adults that I found who I related to and saw a little bit of myself in, as a role model. She started teaching at my high school during my junior year, and I got to know her a bit although she was never one of my teachers. Looking back, she is not someone who I want to model myself after partly due to the fact that I know something she did that very few other people know, and which I consider to be a very serious breach of professional ethics (though she’s a great teacher and very nice, just to be clear, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior). But I latched onto the idea of her as a role model for a long time because she was pretty much all I had.
Not so anymore! I’ve been fortunate enough to meet/learn of lots and lots of amazing peeps who not only are “like” me (a category that I have now extended beyond the basic qualification of being queer to include people who are strong allies to me) but who also do some awesome work! The idea for this post, by the way, was inspired by this article from Colorlines called People I Love: South Asian Women Who Make Change, which features Pramila Jayapal, local Seattle activist and founder/director of OneAmerica, where I currently am an intern.
So in the spirit of celebrating rad role models, here are some of mine! Some of them I’ve met, some I haven’t, but they’re all real people* and they’re all super awesome.
Jen Self. Because she’s the raddest of them all.
Rachel Maddow. Because I not-so-secretly want to be her. Also, to be her friend.
Estefanía Yanci, Julie Severson, Gloria Anzaldúa, bell hooks, Haunani-Kay Trask, Leslie Feinberg, Ellis, Audre Lorde, Hannah Volkman, Hala Dillsi, Tyson Johnson, Sabrina Fields, Archita Taylor, Teo Popescu, Cassie Hoeprich, Barbie-Danielle DeCarlo.
Of course there are many more, but seeing as it’s nearly finals week they’re going to have to go unnamed (but not unloved) for now.
In love and solidarity,
*although I realize having an asterisk next to ‘they’re all real people’ seems kind of silly, what I mean to say here by ‘real people’ is that they’re not superstar athletes or famous rock stars or huge celebrities of some kind (I exempt Rachel Maddow from this statement, since I wouldn’t call her a huge celebrity) who are famous for being famous. They’re real people who do real things and who you can (or could, if they’ve died) really talk to or see evidence of their work. Thinking back, I’d modify my original statement about lacking role models when I was younger to say that I was lacking role models who were ‘real people’ – everyday people with real, tangible relationships.