Who we are is … well … who we are. And only we have the right to claim who we are. And we even have a right to change that. As a cis-gender male, I have no right to tell anyone else who they are. Learning how to walk in that awareness has helped me tremendously in honoring others in their experiences.

Who you think they are, may not be who they are

For those of us who seek to learn from, work with, or support others, a lack of this awareness can create problems and present challenges—challenges that initially seem insurmountable. Making assumptions about anyone, regardless of who they are, in my experience, is an act of disrespect. It is dis-honoring of their identities and experiences in the world. This includes aspects of peoples’ experiences that include cultures, nationalities, gender identities, and sexual orientations, among other things.

It’s too easy to not learn how to honor others

Now, I grew up in a very small community along the U.S.-Mexico border, so my exposure to those who identified in ways other than me was limited, if non-existent. I had only rare and sporadic opportunities to meet or interact with those who were not “straight”,(heterosexual), white, Latino, Mexican, or Mexican-American. It was not until I went off to college, and ventured into other communities and spaces, that I came to realize that there were people in this world who identified in a myriad of ways. I also came to understand that there were also people in this world who seek to dishonor those individuals by wanting to force their own beliefs, constructs, and identities on those around them.

To grow, unlearning is the key

One of the gifts of learning, growing, traveling, and exploring, has been to develop an understanding that I, and everyone, walk with a specific lens, which is a way of interpreting the world. I inevitably, and at times often unconsciously, make assumptions about others, regardless of who they really are. And learning that I had no right to force my identities and assumptions of others took some time. It was a process of unlearning a behavior that was, in a sense, a way of wanting to control the world around me. Working and playing in spaces that examine these issues have led me to understand how to reframe my own experience, while simultaneously respecting, honoring, and often even celebrating, the experiences of those unlike me.

It takes more than a big heart; it takes allowing space for others

As I’ve journeyed further into the world of wellness, integrated health, and human sexuality, I find that often even those who work with a passion and a desire to support others run into this wall unintentionally. Misgendering individuals, labeling others with their own understandings of sexual orientation, or assuming another’s ethnic or racial origins, still happen all too frequently. Relationships falter, opportunities for connection dissipate, and damage occurs for both in those experiences. It can be too easy to not allow others to share what is theirs, or to attach ourselves to the need to be acknowledged, appreciated and celebrated. This can lead to a damaging cycle that makes situations that much more challenging.
For this reason, I always encourage others to take advantage of opportunities for learning about how to reframe their way of interpreting and and interacting in the world. Skills that can be helpful include learning how to ask about the experience of others. Or to ask others who they are. Or where they come from. Or who they love. And learning these skills is not easy. But for me, it is essential to be able to live and grow in support of others in this world.

Learning these skills can open you up to growth and opportunity

So if it is your desire is to reframe your approach to honor those around you, I encourage you to explore these opportunities for learning. Learning how to use these skills in your interactions can lead to a more expanded space for personal as well as professional growth and opportunity.