“Who are my role models?” popped into my head about a week ago, for some reason only my subconscious understands, and it’s been an interesting question to ponder for the past several days. To the best of my memory I’ve never had explicit role models. No one that if asked I could readily respond with.
The more I thought about it, however, the more I realized that I have two implicit role models and I’d wager a pretty penny that until they read this they won’t have realized it either. Those people are John Martin and Jonobie Ford.
John Martin and I met while working at IBM on a remote assignment in Irvine, CA over 15 years ago. He’s about 20 years older than I am and yet we are more alike than different. We’re both gay, enjoy country western dancing, are frugal but not cheap, like reading and blogging, and more. We’re so alike in some ways that we affectionately refer to each other as BigMe and MiniMe.
In the gay community we often talk about living our authentic life, being who we are and not who others want us to be. John has always exemplified that. It was John that taught me that it really is OK to be out at work and that bringing your whole self to work is how you do your best work. Good employers recognize this. For me IBM sure did, as did Isilon/EMC, as does Spaceflight Industries. John inspired me to be very visibly out at work, to leverage my privilege to make it a safe place for others to be out as well.
I’ve learned other lessons from John too, like it’s OK to make big changes in your career, that it’s absolutely OK to have not just friendly but loving relationships with your ex-spouse, that living well below your means now opens up many doors in the future, that there’s no shame in trying something bold and changing paths when it wasn’t the right decision. But the one word that I keep coming back to with John, and what makes him a role model to me, is his authenticity.
I’ve known Jonobie Ford for almost 18 years now. We met at Tivoli, our first jobs after college. She was one of the very first people I came out to at work. One Friday afternoon, before the weekly beer bash, I asked her to take a stroll around the pond with me. I was a nervous wreck, terrified of being rejected. Jonobie accepted me with open arms and an hour later was ready to punch a guy on my behalf after he said some homophobic comment at the beer bash.
It isn’t her fierce friendship that makes her a role model to me, although she is my best friend, it’s her creativity and refusal to fit into anyone’s box.
I can’t even keep track of all the different kinds of creative endeavors Jonobie has done in her life so far. Drawing, pottery, dancing, brewing, aerial silks, knitting, and bartending just to name a few off the top of my head. At her encouragement I took my first pottery class 15 years ago and have been hooked ever since. We’ve brewed ginger beer and even taken a bellydance class together (yup, I’ve done bellydancing). Her stories of sketching encouraged me to take a chance on being a model myself. I might never have tried partner acrobatics and glassblowing were it not for catching a part of her adventurous spirit a decade ago. Being creative is just who Jonobie is, it isn’t something that gets tacked onto her life. She’s shown me that it’s more than OK to try some new creative endeavor, it’s part and parcel of living.
Jonobie doesn’t fit into any one, or anyone’s, box. She’s a woman in tech with bright pink hair. She’s insanely creative (see above) and runs races (we ran a marathon together!). She loves to travel internationally and quiet board game afternoons. She’s a feminist and very vocal LGBTQ+ ally. She’s done rock climbing, drawn models, done bow-and-arrow and gun target practice. She’s gone to Burning Man and a yoga retreat in Mexico. I’ve never known her to let anyone or anything dictate what she could and couldn’t do based on some stupid societal norm — and that’s inspiring.
So who cares if I want to present as a masculine gay man and also take bellydancing classes? Nothing’s going to stop me from helping the receptionist empty and reload the dishwasher at work even though some may see it as “beneath me”. Why should anyone care that I don’t drink alcohol or coffee because I can’t stand the taste? I workout 6 days a week, have 14.75″ biceps, and yet ugly cry while watching Moulin Rouge every. single. time. I don’t have to fit into anyone’s box either.
I suspect that neither John or Jonobie realize that I view them as role models, so clearly it’s possible to be a role model and not know it. That leads to the extremely scary possibility that I may be a role model for someone. If so, heaven help us all.