There are times in life that we're called out to choose a side, to definitively declare that we are One Thing or The Other, without any room for nuance or discussion. But the world we live in isn't so black and white.
Ash Beckham was accompanying her niece to a special autograph session with Anna and Elsa from "Frozen"...
...when one of the staffers mistakenly referred to Ash as a man — right as they reached the front of line.
In that moment, Ash was faced with a decision.
Should she speak up as an advocate and say, “Hey, man, I'm actually a woman?" at the risk of ruining her niece's special day?
Should she just stay silent, be an aunt, and let her niece meet her animated idols without causing a scene?
Why does it have to be one and not the other?
Why are those the only two options? In her everyday life, she's both an ally and an aunt, among many other things. Why should she be forced to choose only one side of herself?
In this talk from TEDxBoulder, Ash discusses dualism — the idea that people are complicated and often hold contradicting identities.
Dualism is the state of having two parts in simultaneous existence, of seeing more complexity than "with us" or "against us." It's a refreshing perspective for our increasingly polarized world. Humans are multifaceted beings, full of contradictions and complications. But society is constantly telling us that we have to pick a side.
As Ash herself says about five minutes into her talk:
"Are you unequivocally and without question anti-war, pro-choice, anti-death penalty, pro-gun regulation, proponent of open borders, and pro-union? Or are you absolutely and uncompromisingly pro-war, pro-life, pro-death penalty, a believer that the Second Amendment is absolute, anti-immigrant, and pro-business?
Of course, owning our own duality also means letting others do the same.
If we accept that we all contain multitudes, then we should be able to approach one another with empathy, understanding, and respect. Someone who holds one belief in opposition to your own is not necessarily evil and doesn't necessarily disagree with you on every single thing. In fact, you might find some surprising common ground.
Just as Ash was able to simultaneously embrace the roles of aunt and advocate, the staffer who mis-gendered her should be allowed his own set of internal complications. Which is more likely: that he was coming from a place of malicious intent or that he was simply mistaken, out of ignorance or accident.
In the end, Ash decided not to speak up because she didn't want to make a scene during her niece's happy moment.
But deciding not to speak up doesn't make her any less of an activist or ally — it just makes her human.
As for the staffer, it didn't take long for him to realize his error, and he even apologized without interrupting the autograph session.
And of course, Ash's niece got to meet Anna and Elsa and make one of the happiest memories of her young life, all thanks to her aunt.
Watch Ash's full TED Talk on duality below: