Queer ac­tivism for in­tro­verts

Charles Stephens is the Di­rec­tor of Counter Nar­ra­tive and co-editor of ‘Black Gay Ge­nius: An­swer­ing Joseph Beam’s Call.’

GA Voice - - Outspoken - By Charles Stephens

For some rea­son peo­ple are sur­prised when I come out as an in­tro­vert. I sup­pose my work doesn’t lend it­self to be­ing an in­tro­vert, and yet here I am.

Charisma does not come nat­u­rally for me. It’s some­thing I have to work up to. And even then it doesn’t al­ways quite land. I’ve found that a cer­tain type of charisma is the pre­req­ui­site for lead­er­ship in many ac­tivist cir­cles. Even in the most rad­i­cal and non-hi­er­ar­chi­cal spa­ces, the al­phas still al­ways seem to rule.

We pre­fer our ac­tivists to be warm and to con­nect with ease. We take com­fort in those that can work a room. The peo­ple that can en­ter a space, com­mand it with the force of their per­son­al­ity, ex­ude con­fi­dence, and with lit­tle prompt­ing, walk up to any­one, give them a hug, and seam­lessly en­gage them in con­ver­sa­tion. I don’t think I’ve ever been this per­son. I’m def­i­nitely not a hug­ger. Well at least not at first. It’s not that I don’t want to touch oth­ers, but rather my ten­dency es­pe­cially at first, is to be for­mal. It takes me a while to warm up. I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate af­fec­tion once I be­come com­fort­able with some­one. But it does not come nat­u­rally or easily in un­fa­mil­iar spa­ces.

I also don’t thrive on small talk. The be­fore­the-meet­ing part can be ex­cru­ci­at­ing. Es­pe­cially when ev­ery­one al­ready seems to know ev­ery­one else in the room. Thank God for smart­phones. Peo­ple that haven’t re­ceived a text from me in decades sud­denly be­come the most im­por­tant peo­ple in the world. They sud­denly get bom­barded with my text mes­sages as I try to nav­i­gate my so­cial dis­com­fort by at­tempt­ing to dis­tract my­self. Don’t get me wrong, I like meet­ing new peo­ple, but it’s much eas­ier when there is a point of shared com­mon in­ter­est al­ready es­tab­lished.

Lead­er­ship work­shops can also be chal­leng­ing. I find that a lot of team-build­ing and skills-build­ing ac­tiv­i­ties are geared to­ward ex­tro­verts. There is an as­sump­tion in lead­er­ship coach­ing that ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship and big per­son­al­i­ties go hand in hand. I of course re­ject this. Where is the lead­er­ship train­ing that caters more to those of us that are in­tro­verts?

I’ve learned that when I try to sup­press my dis­com­fort with crowds and large groups, I come off as ex­tremely ar­ro­gant, or even in­tim­i­dat­ing. My quirk­i­ness also be­comes more ap­par­ent. Though it’s con­sid­ered “cool” for a cer­tain type of white guy to be quirky, for Black men, it’s a dif­fer­ent story.

As of re­cent, I’ve be­come more self-aware around be­ing an in­tro­vert. I’ve also be­come more politi­cized around it—well I mean, I am an ac­tivist and the per­sonal is po­lit­i­cal, so why not? I’m es­pe­cially re­sis­tant to any no­tion that lead­er­ship means you have to al­ways have a big per­son­al­ity or that you have to al­ways be “on” all of the time. We don’t all have to work the crowd, shak­ing hands and kiss­ing ba­bies.

Let me also be clear, be­ing an in­tro­vert does not mean you don’t like peo­ple or that you don’t like be­ing around peo­ple. I think the dif­fer­ence is more that be­ing an in­tro­vert just means that we pre­fer to recharge in soli­tude. We may ap­pre­ci­ate and even love be­ing around oth­ers, but we also need time away, time to our­selves.

Though it has taken me a long time, I’ve come to un­der­stand that so­cial move­ments re­quire all types of styles and tal­ents, skills and gifts. Most crit­i­cally I’ve come to un­der­stand, that, there is even a place for those of us that are more in­tro­verted.

“We pre­fer our ac­tivists to be warm and to con­nect with ease. We take com­fort in those that can work a room. The peo­ple that can en­ter a space, com­mand it with the force of their per­son­al­ity, ex­ude con­fi­dence, and with lit­tle prompt­ing, walk up to any­one, give them a hug, and seam­lessly en­gage them in con­ver­sa­tion.”

June 26, 2015

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