aieloc conference reflection

Over the weekend, I attended the AIELOC & WOCinELT Virtual Conference. Last year’s conference changed the way I saw myself and gave me the confidence to share the thoughts I had around my name. And of course, this year’s sessions gave me a lot to think about so here’s me typing out loud basically.

Towards the end of the conference, Rama Ndiaye shared that the theme of this year’s conference is all about recognizing the superpowers we have when we show up as our authentic self and I 100% agree.

Here are some questions & prompts shared during the conference that I am still thinking about.

  • Who are you?

  • How do you show up?

  • Does who I am and how I show up allow others to show up as who they are?

  • What masks do you wear and when are you able to take them off, if ever?

  • How does our identities affect our sense of belonging in the communities we are in?

  • When we say “safe space”, what does that actually mean in the spaces you’re in?

  • How can I balance educating others and creating boundaries so that I can protect myself too?

I’m no stranger to thinking about my identity. As a TCK, I was forced to think about my identity at different points in life. But all of the identity markers I’ve thought about have all been internal. How do I identify, rather than how do I show up. How do I present myself to the world, to the communities that I’m in, both virtual and online?

So here’s how I’ve been showing up for the last decade: not fully as myself. As a bisexual-aromantic-cisgender woman, I am able to disguise my queerness when I need to. I have a collection of pride themed outfits & trinkets, but it’s so easy for me to leave them at home. Colleagues have told me they “can’t tell” that I’m queer. I guess that’s a mask I wear, although not intentional. The heaviest mask I wear, almost all the time that I’m outside of the house, is the joyful mask. Even on days when my brain is vibrating with anxiety, or it’s incredibly difficult to get out of bed, or I can’t do anything because Executive Dysfunction… when I see someone that I know, my face turns into a smile and I’m like, the most outgoing person ever. No struggles, no inner conflict, no frustrations. And I wear this mask, because people are uncomfortable with outward presentations of mental health issues. I don’t want pity. I don’t want people’s perception of me to change after they see who I truly am. I don’t want to be isolated. And then I thought about how difficult it is, as a queer BIWOC, to show up as my authentic self day in and day out. It’s exhausting. To think about what opportunities could be taken away from me because I am who I am. To recognise the shock and pity in people’s faces when they realise who I am.

This year’s conference made me realise this is NOT how I want to show up. The way I present myself now, I’m often centering the comfort of others. But isn’t this a form of self-harm? By hiding myself, by erasing parts of myself, what is the harm that I’m causing to my mental health? How much of myself do I lose every time I put on a mask? And I think about this every time I’m in a safe space, like AIELOC. I’m able to show up as who I am. Affinity groups & the PLN we’ve built on Twitter that stemmed from this community has been phenomenal in showing up for me and supporting me for who I am. And I feel alive in these spaces, where my joys and challenges can coexist and there’s no judgment either way. And I hope that when I show up as who I am, others are able to, as well.

Another session was all about boundaries and how to put those up professionally and personally. I am very guilty of constantly saying yes to things - because I want people to see me as “agreeable” and “helpful” and “dependable”. Because I’m afraid that when I say no, that’ll be seen as incapability. That I don’t have the capacity. Even when my heart and my body tell me I am TIRED and BURNT OUT and NEED TO REST. I take on more than what is expected because overachieving was the only way I thought I could be helpful. Professionally, I also think about what the students might be missing out on when I say no. I know that there might be others who will pick up what I drop, but the very anxious part of me is constantly asking myself “what if nobody does it?”

But I have to remind myself that if I’m burnt out, then my communities get NONE of me. And that’s a good reason to say no. Joel Llaban, during the conference, said “saying no to others is saying yes to yourself”, and that really struck a chord with me.

I am the most important person in my life. Without me, I would not be here. And to continue being here, I need to stop hurting myself. I need to say yes to myself.

I need to be authentically Kanako.