The Power of Visibility Image

The Power of Visibility

By Shannon Sawyer

This blog is part of Gainsight’s celebration of Pride month and all the LGBT+ members of our community.

Growing up in a small town about 30 miles West of Chicago, almost everyone looked like me: white and straight. While I dabbled in rebellious acts, mostly I conformed to the social norms of the time: grunge-loving, flannel-wearing, misunderstood kid. It was the 90s; what can I say? 

Looking back, it’s clear my upbringing was drastically devoid of culture, diversity, and individuality. In a world where each person seems to be a carbon copy of the last, it’s hard to imagine yourself as anything other than those surrounding you. For example, for my entire youth, through high school, I didn’t know a single openly gay person. 

As a teenager and young adult, I always remember finding women attractive or thinking they were beautiful. Women catching my eye was never a “red flag” because, in my young, naive mind, I thought all women felt the same way as me! It turns out I was wrong; who knew? 

Finding my people

At 19, I worked with an older woman who identified as a lesbian. Yes, a REAL lesbian in the wild! My brain exploded! Our friendship became my classroom, a safe space where I could finally ask all of the burning questions I had. It was there that I first started to entertain the thoughts that maybe I, too, was less “straight” than previously thought. The friendship faded over time, and I did not meet another openly gay person until nearly ten years later. During that time, I continued dating men and even married one, which lasted six years. Not having an outlet to explore more of this new version of myself, I swept that budding identity under the rug. 

After another decade of conforming to societal norms, I met a woman that flipped my world upside down. She was from Chicago and was very active in the gay community. Through her, I met many people in the community who lived every day, out and proud! There were no shadows, no half-truths. This world that had been secretly tucked away from me for 30 years was now the world that I found myself in. I felt more ALIVE than I had ever felt before. I had always spent so much time mirroring my friends and my peers, trying to fit myself into the box I thought I should be in, not the one I was meant to fit into. That realization didn’t hit me until I finally saw this new world; beautiful, bright, and thriving.

Being visible for others

So today, at 44, writing this blog, sharing my story with the world, is for visibility. I celebrate my story with my wife of 9 years and our 3-year-old daughter. I share my story with those who have never heard a story like mine or have never known anyone like me. The greatest honor I’ve been given is to be trusted by others with their truths, their secrets that they’ve been afraid to share until my transparency and openness let them know that they were safe to be themselves in the most authentic way. These moments were pure magic for me! 

Whether I’m at work, walking around my neighborhood, or participating in the larger gay community around me, I make sure that I am visible for anyone else who might need an example of the kind of full, beautiful life they want to live. I’m grateful that Gainsight allows the space for me, and all my other LGBTQIA+ colleagues to be visible and proud. 

So today, as always, I will shine a light as bright as the sun on my truth, to offer a safe space for anyone who may be living any part of their life in the shadows. I open my arms to you and say, “Come out from the darkness, my friend, and let your beautiful light shine.” 

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