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upworthy

understanding

Identity

My wife surprised her coworkers when she came out as trans. Then they surprised her.

She was ready for one reaction but was greeted with a beautiful response.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

Zoe comes out to her coworkers.


Society, pay attention. This is important.

My wife, Zoe, is transgender. She came out to us — the kids and me — last summer and then slowly spread her beautiful feminine wings with extended family, friends, and neighbors.

A little coming out here, a little coming out there — you know how it is.


It's been a slow, often challenging process of telling people something so personal and scary, but pretty much everyone has been amazing.

However, she dreaded coming out at the office.

She works at a large technology company, managing a team of software developers in a predominantly male office environment. She's known many of her co-workers and employees for 15 or so years. They have called her "he" and "him" and "Mr." for a very long time. How would they handle the change?

While we have laws in place in Ontario, Canada, to protect the rights of transgender employees, it does not shield them from awkwardness, quiet judgment, or loss of workplace friendships. Your workplace may not become outright hostile, but it can sometimes become a difficult place to go to every day because people only tolerate you rather than fully accept you.

But this transition needed to happen, and so Zoe carefully crafted a coming out email and sent it to everyone she works with.

The support was immediately apparent; she received about 75 incredibly kind responses from coworkers, both local and international.

She then took one week off, followed by a week where she worked solely from home. It was only last Monday when she finally went back to the office.

First day back at work! I asked if I could take a "first day of school" type picture with her lunchbox. She said no. Spoilsport.

Despite knowing how nice her colleagues are and having read so many positive responses to her email, she was understandably still nervous.

Hell, I was nervous. I made her promise to text me 80 billion times with updates and was more than prepared to go down there with my advocacy pants on if I needed to (I might be a tad overprotective).

And that's when her office pals decided to show the rest of us how to do it right.

She got in and found that a couple of them had decorated her cubicle to surprise her:

LGBTQ, coming out, work

Her cubicle decorated with butterflies.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

Butterflies! Streamers! Rainbows! OMG!

And made sure her new name was prominently displayed in a few locations:

empathy, employment, understanding

Zoe written on the board.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

They got her a beautiful lily with a "Welcome, Zoe!" card:

coworkers, mental health, community

Welcome lily and card

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

And this tearjerker quote was waiting for her on her desk:

Oscar Wilde, job, employment

A quote from Oscar Wilde.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

To top it all off, a 10 a.m. "meeting" she was scheduled to attend was actually a coming out party to welcome her back to work as her true self — complete with coffee and cupcakes and handshakes and hugs.

acceptance, friendship, relationships

Coming out party with cupcakes.

All photos by Amanda Jette, used with permission.

(I stole one, and it was delicious.)

NO, I'M NOT CRYING. YOU'RE CRYING.

I did go to my wife's office that day. But instead of having my advocacy pants on, I had my hugging arms ready and some mascara in my purse in case I cried it off while thanking everyone.

I wish we lived in a world where it was no big deal to come out.

Sadly, that is not the case for many LGBTQ people. We live in a world of bathroom bills and "religious freedom" laws that directly target the members of our community. We live in a world where my family gets threats for daring to speak out for trans rights. We live in a world where we can't travel to certain locations for fear of discrimination — or worse.

So when I see good stuff happening — especially when it takes place right on our doorstep — I'm going to share it far and wide. Let's normalize this stuff. Let's make celebrating diversity our everyday thing rather than hating or fearing it.

Chill out, haters. Take a load off with us.

It's a lot of energy to judge people, you know. It's way more fun to celebrate and support them for who they are.

Besides, we have cupcakes.


This article originally appeared on 04.08.16.

Joy

Check out a human library, where you borrow people instead of books.

A surely unforgettable experience reaching all corners of the world.

Image via Pixabay.

Libraries no longer store only books.

There are libraries popping up around the world where you can see the books breathe.

You can watch the books blink, cry, laugh, and think. You can ask them any sort of question and get a real answer.

It's what the books hope you'll do.

At the Human Library, the books are people!

It's set up just like a normal library: You check out a "book" on a certain topic and have an allotted amount of time with it. Only at the Human Library, the book is, well, a human.

People who volunteer to become "books" make their experiences open and available, usually on issues that people tend to have a difficult time discussing. "Readers" are encouraged to ask questions freely, and they'll get honest answers in return. It's brilliant.

What kind of books can you borrow there?

1. Borrow a person with autism.

With 1 in 68 kids diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) today, there's no better way to learn about it than by interacting with someone who has it.

2. Borrow someone who has modified their appearance.

Ever make assumptions about people with lots of piercings and tattoos? Here's an opportunity to stop judging a book by its cover and get to know the inside.

3. Borrow a refugee and hear their story.

You've heard about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news. Why not put the media on hold and talk to an actual refugee?

4. Borrow someone who is transgender.

Perhaps you've always had questions about being transgender but didn't know how to ask them. Go ahead. Get your questions ready.

5. Borrow a homeless person.

What stories do they have of a life you may never know?

6. Borrow someone with deaf-blindness.

Just because they communicate differently doesn't mean their stories are less.

7. Borrow someone who is obese.

Society loves to put people in categories. Break through those boundaries to get a fuller picture.

You can borrow a police officer. A veteran with PTSD. A single mom. A Muslim. Someone in a polyamorous relationship. A former gang member. A sex worker. A welfare recipient. A teacher. The list goes on.

The libraries are bringing people who would otherwise never interact together in a way that many communities long for.

That's what Ronni Abergel has sought to do since the library's launch in 2000. During a four-day test run at the Roskilde Festival in Copenhagen, organizers and festival attendees were stunned at the event's impact.

"The policeman sitting there speaking with the graffiti writer. The politician in discussions with the youth activist and the football fan in a deep chat with the feminist. It was a win-win situation and has been ever since," Ronni said on the Human Library's site.

A no-judgment zone is one key to its impact.

"It's meant to be a safe space to ask difficult questions and not to be judged," he told Upworthy. "To try and gain an important insight into the life of someone you think you know something about, but..."

You don't.

In our quick-to-judge, increasingly polarized world, it's no wonder these events are growing in size. We need them.

When asked what has changed since these events started, Ronni responded, “The world has changed, for the worse.”

He points to there being less tolerance, less understanding, and less social cohesion than when he first had the idea back in 2000. And unfortunately, he's right.

When we have states discriminating against transgender people using the bathroom, presidential candidates campaigning to ban an entire religion from entering the United States, and countries still facing stigma around Ebola, it can be hard to want to high-five humanity.

There's so much to learn about one another. A group of readers here borrowed a nudist.

It's time to face our fears and confront our stereotypes. To embrace the diversity of this world will allow us to feel more secure in it.

"When you meet our books, no matter who you are and where you are from or which book you will be reading, in the end, inside every person, the result will say: we are different from each other, we see things differently and we live life differently. But there are more things that we have in common than are keeping us apart." Truth.

If there's one immediately impactful way to bring communities together, a Human Library might just be it.

Learn more about it in the YouTube video below:

This article originally appeared on 02.18.16

More

4 minutes of silence can boost your empathy for others. Watch as refugees try it out.

We could all benefit from breaking down some of the walls in our lives.

Images via Amnesty Poland

This article originally appeared on 05.26.16


You'd be hard-pressed to find a place on Earth with more wall-based symbolism than Berlin, Germany.

But there, in the heart of Germany's capital city, strangers sat across from one another, staring into each other's eyes. To the uninitiated, it may look as though you've witnessed some sort of icy standoff. The truth, however, couldn't be more different.

This was about tearing down walls between people.


Image from Amnesty Poland.

Amnesty International recently released a video in which they show strangers breaking down barriers with the help of eye contact.

The refugee crisis is a contentious issue worldwide. Reasonable people can disagree about the right path forward in finding homes for people displaced by conflict or economic crisis. What's sometimes missing from this conversation, it seems, is empathy.

But what if we could inject some empathy into that debate? And what if it was as easy as making eye contact?

Refugees sat across from Europeans. In many cases, the two parties didn't even share a language; all they had was eye contact. The organization's theory? That it should be enough.

Image from Amnesty Poland.

The video's a powerful look at what it means to share in our common humanity. The eye contact bit? That comes from psychologist Arthur Aron.

Aron's 1997 study, "The Experimental Generation of Interpersonal Closeness," put forth the idea that a bond between two strangers can be created quickly through physical proximity and an exchange of specific personal information. In additional studies, Aron found that closeness and bonding can sometimes develop even more strongly through sustained eye contact.

In the nearly 20 years since publishing, Aron's work — which has often been presented in a sort of "here's how to fall in love in less than an hour" type of way — has seen a bit of an online resurgence and for good reason: It seems to work. Pretty neat, right?

Image from Amnesty Poland.

Refugees and borders aside, there are some related studies that have concluded roughly the same thing: Simply existing and interacting with other people can help you empathize with them.

For example, a 1997 study by Gregory Herek of the University of California at Davis suggests that straight people who personally know gay people are more likely to be accepting of gay and lesbian men and women. Further, the more gay people they know, the more likely they are to be cool about everything.

Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images.

Basically, these studies confirm the old adage: It's hard to hate what you know.

If you personally know someone from a misunderstood group of people — whether that's based on refugee status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other often generalized factors — it's a whole lot harder to make sweeping statements about that group.

We've all got walls of our own that we wrestle with every day. What's important is that we're always working to tear them down.

So while you and I may not have been in that room in Berlin, there are almost certainly situations in which we, as a society, can benefit from making use of these same tactics in our own lives.

You can watch Amnesty International's video, "Look Beyond Borders," below.


Clarification 11/02/2017: This post was updated to clarify that Aron's 1997 publication did not explicitly discuss his research into eye contact.

On Jan. 18, 2017, Tyler Perry was honored as Favorite Humanitarian at the People's Choice Awards in Los Angeles.

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards.

Perry's nonprofit, the Perry Foundation, has funneled millions of dollars toward groups like Charity Water and Feeding America as well as taken aim at ending homelessness and supporting civil rights issues.


On stage accepting the honor, Perry began his speech on a somewhat peculiar topic: the safety regulations of the building he was standing in.

It's standard the facility abides by important rules, Perry noted, like having a sprinkler system in place and fire extinguishers at hand, should they be needed. But he also mentioned what would happen if, suddenly, the lights were to go out.

"If the lights go out in this building right now, there are these little lights — you see them on the wall, they have back-up batteries in them," Perry explained. "And what will happen is, it will light your way out of the darkness."

Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards.

Those battery-powered lights, he argued, can teach us an important life lesson.

Perry's speech focused on becoming a positive force for good in other people's lives when they need it most.

“What I have found, and what’s been so important to me right now, is that — as I look at the state of the world and the state of our country and everything that is going on, it is so important that we know that no matter how dark it gets, we all have to be light for each other."

Perry sat next to Ellen DeGeneres, who won Favorite Humanitarian at the 2016 People's Choice Awards. Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for People's Choice Awards.

Perry continued (emphasis added):

"You turn on your phone, you turn on your television, you’re met with darkness, negativity, death, destruction, terrorism, murder, hate, racism. You know, you don’t even need to search for it, because it’s searching for you. It can find you. It’s right there beside you; it’s in your pocket. You have to be careful — when you have things that close to your pocket that they don’t seep into your heart.

You see, if you keep taking it in, it can consume you; it can make you become cynical and jaded and remove you from all of the struggles of our brothers and sisters and look at them and think, "Well, it’s just another person going through.' But what is so important that we all understand is no matter what everybody's going through, anybody’s going through, we’re all going through it together."

Perry's speech, given just two days before President-elect Donald Trump takes office, was especially relevant.

For plenty of people tuning in, there are many questions and even more anxieties about what the future holds. A divisive, controversial election fueled by bigotry and scapegoating lead to a bitter presidential transition, and several marginalized groups are feeling more scared than ever before thinking about what comes after Jan. 20, 2017.

Perry's speech illustrated the power of thinking selflessly, especially in times like these.

There are many ways to turn that fear of the dark into something positive: volunteer, protest, become an ally, stay engaged, donate to causes you believe in, and — as Perry encouraged — be a guiding light when it's needed most.

"If the power’s going out in your life or in somebody’s life around [you], and they don’t know if they can find their way out, be that light for them," Perry concluded. "Let your light shine before them."

Watch Perry's full speech at the People's Choice Awards below: