“I could not look at myself in the mirror”: Jen Hatmaker’s road to embracing the LGBTQ community

Jen Hatmaker is one of those guide-women who helps us figure out what we owe others, what we need from others, what’s important and what’s just funny. She’s also willing to talk about times she has felt lost. She faced one of those moments a few years back, when she could no longer abide her Christian community’s rejection of LGBTQ people. So, she bucked church doctrine and opened her arms to them, risking her livelihood and peaceful family life to get right with herself. Here’s what she told Glennon Doyle and our Together Live audience about finding her way to a “true space”. It’s a Pride Month story worth re-telling.

I knew what I was walking into, for sure. I’m not new here. I’d seen many of my compatriots removed for the same sort of affirmation. All of us have some sort of tribal connection. We all have a group where we are identified, and we tuck ourselves safely inside that thing. We put structures around that thing that make us feel safe. They give us edges that feel tidy. And they’re bound together by a set of rules. In my world, the rules include a pretty heavy component of behaving: Behave like I want you to behave. Believe like I believe and do what I say. I’d seen enough to know that the cost of going against the system, the cost of going against the structure, is belonging. That’s the punishment and I knew it would be.

I have a career, and I’ve built my whole world inside that structure. And the cost was going to be high. It was not just going to be belonging—it was going to be financially punitive. But I could not look at myself in the mirror. And that cost is higher. That cost is higher.

When I knew that I had this internal conviction that I was simply too afraid to say out loud—fear kept me silent—I felt like a fraud. I felt very fractured. Ultimately that pain was worse than anything anyone else could do to me. Nothing cost that much.

But I wasn’t prepared for the volume of the reaction. I wish I could say I weathered it with grace and dignity. The truth was, it was devastating. It was awful. At one point, I made my mom travel with me. My books were pulled off shelves. They were pulled out of print. I heard: We will not publish them anymore. People returned my books to me burned. There were so many pieces written about me that were painful and harmful.

I will tell you though, that I would do it again, and again, and again. I would make the same choice again. Even if it cost me every last penny. And I feel like I’m sitting in true space for the first time in a long time.

A DAUGHTER HONORS HER DAD WITH HER OWN BRAVE VOICE

“I have his picture on the back of my phone. There’s a little polaroid that I’ve stuck into the case. So, I’ve always got you with me.” Madison McFerrin was talking about her father, the jazz legend Bobby McFerrin, on NPR (listen to the entire interview here). Turns out the McFerrin musical legacy reaches back to Madison’s grandfather. “My father was the first African American to sign a contract with the Metropolitan Opera, 1955,” Bobby told NPR. Madison carried her family’s fame with her to the Berklee College of Music, where, she says, “people were kind of freaking out” when they realized who she was.

Not easy, she says, but her formal training “helped me gain perspective, because all of the sudden I was starting to listen to my dad’s music as a musician and not just his daughter. Sometimes you can take for granted when there’s a genius walking around your house making all these random noises that, as a kid, you don’t understand are really difficult to make.”

Now she’s making her own name, having released two projects, Finding Foundations Vol. I and II. Her music tells bold, raw stories, in sharp contrast her father’s ultra-mellow 1988 hit, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. One of her songs, Can You See, deals with police brutality. “Having the national anthem in there and changing some the words really seemed to hit home about what the topic actually is,” Madison told NPR. “It gets summed up at the end when I say, ‘but so proudly you hail, while we are all out there screaming.’”

Clearly, Bobby McFerrin raised an outspoken daughter, and he loves her risk-taking: “Maddie has built her career on words,” he said, “and I built it on non-words. She’s more of a lyricist. She’s full of words and what she has to say is very, very provocative and interesting. I wish I had that gift.”

LISTEN TO THIS WARRIOR, AS HER FIGHT RAGES ON


LaDonna Powell never turned away from revolution. And the entire time she spent working at JFK airport for Allied Security, she fought for what was right, no matter the cost. She told her story to This American Life, beginning with her start at Allied, when she was posted in various guard towers around the acres of tarmac. From day one on the job LaDonna reported the rampant discrimination and bad behavior she saw at every turn. Women at Allied were denied lunch and bathroom breaks, forced to pee in coffee cups and bleed on themselves during 12-hour shifts. They were called names and exposed to porn, sexually harassed, and raped. But LaDonna remained principled and confident. “I would just give the morals my mom dropped in my brain, hoping it would stick to them,” she told NPR. She assured herself, hey, everyone has a boss, and if she worked hard enough and climbed the ladder she’d find responsible leadership.

That attitude got her promoted to supervisor; she was the youngest woman to advance so quickly. When she was appointed to train the new recruits, she told them to focus on their work, but also emphasized that they mattered. They were worth it. And if they were wronged, they should report it, report it, report it. Which is what she continued to do every time she saw women being mistreated.

The discrimination didn’t stop. LaDonna did every single thing in her power to make it right. She was never afraid to speak truth and logic to power, but no one at Allied listened.

Instead, they fired her.

This American Life asked LaDonna if she ever felt powerful during her time at Allied. When she made supervisor? No. When she was training new recruits? No. When she filed a lawsuit against the company that finally forced the CEO to respond? No. She said in the interview, “I still feel at his mercy. I feel like I am caged because of them.”

And yet: She has returned to JFK working a better and higher paying job as a security detail for VIPs. She escorts dignitaries through the terminals armed with an M4 and a pistol. Her words are pained, but her voice throughout this NPR interview? Clear, unafraid, outraged, energized. She owns every bit of her story, including her most vulnerable moments, and we’re all better for it. Listen for yourself here: https://www.thisamericanlife.org/647/ladonna

How to give a commencement speech that goes viral? Tell your absolute truth (and wear foxy kicks)

The Barnard graduating class was on their feet cheering, but Abby Wambach still had no idea she’d just given the kick-assiest commencement address of 2018. That news came later, via YouTube (more than 100K views and counting), and Twitter, and Good Morning America. Her speech urged women to stop playing Little Red Riding Hood—all obedience and acceptance—and join a new kind of female wolf pack, remaking the world. If you haven’t already, watch it here, and you’ll know what it feels like to be in a locker room with an Olympic-caliber coach. (While you’re there, check out her bedazzled sneakers—a little footwear rebellion under her ceremonial graduation robe-thing.) Where did the inspiration for the speech come from, we wondered? The soccer legend, Together Live speaker and wife of TL co-founder Glennon Doyle told us it was a process. Before she could say it to others she had to live it herself.

Together Live: The speech was eff-ing incredible. Congratulations.

Abby Wambach: Thank you.

TL: Tell me about the process and how it came together.

AW: Glennon calls me Captain America because I’m always trying to figure out how everyone can coexist in a positive way, in a better way than we can exist as individuals. And over the course of my career I learned certain principles, or rules, that I just live by. Then about a year and half ago I came across this beautiful story about these wolves that were reintegrated into Yellowstone national park, and I was able to attach to it some of the things that I knew about sport. I drew from all of that, and because my wife is an author and a thought leader, she’s able to help me make my ideas beautiful. She’s a champion and an expert at making something very complicated seem simple with language. I think that’s our special sauce as a couple. She makes me sound much better, and much more beautiful and much simpler than I actually am.

TL: Did you spend a lot of time talking this through, the two of you?

AW: Yes. It was about a sixty-hour production from start to finish, to cultivate and create what ended up becoming this Barnard speech. We sat down every day for two hours and I would basically just talk. It’s ironic because that’s kind of what we do on a daily basis but we don’t necessarily have a focal point where we’re trying to accomplish something on deadline for a big crowd. So, as the speech started to evolve and to morph, I started to feel like, Oh my gosh, this is actually really good. This is the best thing I’ve ever done. And I started feeling really proud of it and turned up the volume on how much thought and time I was putting in. Of course, Glennon has her own deadlines, so to find the time in our day to get this thing to be as beautiful as it was—that was a miracle in a lot of ways, but such a joy. In fact, it actually was the most fun I’ve had since retiring from playing soccer.

TL: Wow! That seems like the universe speaking to you somehow, right?

AW: Of course. I realized that I just haven’t been around a team for a while. This gave me a focus, it gave me that team feeling, it gave me that feeling that the Together tour pulled out of me. Even this morning I said to Glennon, this makes me feel like I’m on a team again, and I like this feeling. Because I don’t feel so alone, and I think that’s what we’re all here for. That’s why the wolf pack imagery is so important.

TL: Yes, we are all, on some level, pack people. So, when did you marry the wolf pack image with the Little Red Riding Hood idea? Every woman heard that story as a child, and we carry it with us.

AW: One of the stories that Glennon uses a lot is the story that’s been told over and over for the longest time in humanity: the story of Adam and Eve. Eve gets curious and hungry, and she reaches and grabs an apple, and the world falls apart. Right? So, from the time that we’re born, this is the one centralized story that we’re told, and that story gets morphed into Little Red Riding Hood, gets morphed into every fairytale that little girls and boys are told the world over.

TL: Right—and the message to women is don’t reach, don’t stray.

AW: Yes, that’s why it’s so important to make something so complicated sound simple and understandable and relatable to every person’s life. It uncovers what’s unconscious inside of us. So, it’s like: Oh yeah, I didn’t know that I was doing that.

TL: Ok, some of us are very literal minded and struggle with the fact that the wolf is kind of sneaky. He’s clever and he bares his teeth. Do we need a little sneaky, do we need a bit of scary? Is that important for women as we invest in becoming more wolf, less Little Red? Is it important for us to come up with our wolf strategies?

AW: Yes. But if you’re looking at it literally, we don’t want to become the Big Bad Wolf. We want to be the wolves that are conscious of what’s out there and aware of what’s going on. We don’t want to live in this nature of just being female or male—what has been characteristically and historically feminine, and characteristically and historically masculine. What’s been feminine has been shamed out of women, and what’s been masculine has been revered and celebrated. I think we have to redefine what masculine is and what feminine is and what our new culture needs for our society to evolve. We need to recreate what kind of people we all want to be. And it’s not only masculine and it’s not only feminine—it’s being able to use both.