Actress and author Tina Alexis Allen joins the program to discuss her recently-released book, “Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception and Double Lives”. Tina shares her astonishing true story of recovering from abuse and finding healing, and shares lessons about the power of sharing your voice and truth as a path to forgiveness. Tina shares her thoughts about what is needed from men in order for societal healing to occur, and the transformation that occurs when people and organizations have the courage to own their story.
In this episode you’ll discover:
- Tina’s diversity story and how she “grew up at lightning speed” (2:00)
- The emotional toll of hiding your true self (7:00)
- The cost of not feeling that you can speak up in the workplace (15:00)
- The creative process that allowed Tina to find healing and forgiveness (19:00)
- The power of owning your story (28:30)
- The conversations that need to happen in order for healing to occur (31:00)
- The culture shift that is occurring for women (35:00)
- What is needed from men in order to create positive change (37:00)
- How sharing your truth can lead to transformation (39:30)
- Obstacles that can keep organizations from embracing change (44:00)
Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:
JENNIFER BROWN: Tina, welcome to The Will to Change.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Thank you, Jennifer, I’m so happy to be here with you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I am happy to have you, especially because you just binge-read your book over the weekend.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: It was a page-turner. It’s called Hiding Out: A Memoir of Drugs, Deception, and Double Lives. Boy, it was resonant on a million levels.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: There were so many themes.
JENNIFER BROWN: So many themes.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Which ones are we going to talk about? There are so many. (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: I would say rather than spend a ton of time on the fascinating twists and turns of your childhood, which was so unique, I will point people towards the book because it’s an incredible read.
Today, I want to go some different places with you, because you’re one of those amazing people who has the capacity and broad life experience that you bring on multiple levels.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: I want to get into some of our favorite topics on The Will to Change.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Good.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes. First of all, when we bring a guest on The Will to Change, we always ask you to share your diversity story. We believe everyone has a diversity story, and perhaps not one you might expect. I’m not sure how you will choose on this answer, but would you say is your diversity story?
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Well, the first thing that comes to mind is I was exposed to so many things as a child in terms of even growing up at lightning speed, my sexuality. Unfortunately, I was exposed at too young of an age to my sexuality. But that said, I was exposed to both men and women. As a young girl, I experienced a lot, but as a result of that, of course there was the dark side, but the other side was that by the time I was in my teens, I felt fluid—even though we didn’t use that word then.
I definitely felt fluid, I was active, and it defined a lot of my life. Then the darker side of it was that it was all a secret because it was the ’80s and I couldn’t be out, I couldn’t say I was with girls—frankly, I was even pretty young to even be with boys. At that point, I guess by the time I was 18 I was basically hiding, hence the title of my book, Hiding Out. I was hiding a lot of stuff—all that had happened to me that I never told anyone, and all that I was doing.
Then at 18, which does lead us a little bit into the book, my father sensed that I was in a relationship with a woman 12 or 15 years my senior, and he called it out over dinner. It kind of blew me away because he was a very devout Catholic, as was my family. Anyway, the next moment he turned and said, “You might be interested in knowing that I buried my lover in the war, and his name was Omar.”
Then I became away that my father was—I’ll say “gay,” even though he had 13 kids, he was active as a gay man. He was active with men.
I feel like my diversity came really young and really fast. It’s caused me to have multiple lifetimes in a short time, but those were some of the defining moments in terms of where I feel my diversity lies.
Simply put, the last thing I want to add is that I think as a result of so much coming at me so young and not a lot of my own judgments about it, maybe others, but not my own, and feeling free enough to explore, I think that I’m at a place in my life where my sexuality, my identity is not all wrapped up in my sexuality, do you know what I mean? I don’t feel that my identity is my sexuality, necessarily, because I’ve been playing with it for so long, if you will, that it doesn’t exactly define me, if you know what I mean.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes, I do. You seem to have lived many lifetimes in an accelerated period of time.
It’s probably typical of the youngest in families, and certainly one as big as yours, that there is no supervision because it wasn’t humanly possible by your parents.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Right.
JENNIFER BROWN: You felt really seen in a way with your father and the secret that you shared with him, and you felt adult with him. He had a globe-trotting life. I won’t give away what he did for a living, which you had to dig into and find out the truth behind it all.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Right. His life as we thought, at least his work life, was authentically as a travel agent, but he was doing things that I then uncovered—some pretty crazy, outrageous things that I discovered. He had high-level connections with the Vatican, and tried to figure out what that was. We won’t give any spoilers, but for sure that relationship with him changed my life.
That night at dinner—first of all, being outed by him would have been plenty to handle. I was really scared of him, and I didn’t like him a lot at that age. I had not really been close to my dad. Frankly, I didn’t even know if he liked me, he wasn’t around much, he was a task master, a rager—there were a lot of things about him that weren’t that likable, frankly.
So when he came out to me, it changed everything in the matter of a dinner. Everything changed. I became his favorite, I became his confidante; he became a different man to me because I didn’t know that side of him. And not just his sexuality or homosexuality, but even his gentleness, his joy, his expression of self. He was hiding, too. He was hiding, big time, a lot of things—hence the Double Lives subtitle.
JENNIFER BROWN: And the briefcases under the desk. (Laughter.)
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: The briefcases of money, for sure. Big clues that something’s not right. And there wasn’t the money for having 13 kids and being a travel agent, let’s face it.
I grew up in Chevy Chase, and there’s a lot of money in Chevy Chase anyway, but yes, raising 13 kids, traveling the world, swimming pool. We used to say, “Mom, where does all the money come from?”
JENNIFER BROWN: Where, indeed.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Who knew what the answer was? But I started to find out.
JENNIFER BROWN: Let’s talk about your mom for a moment.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Sure.
JENNIFER BROWN: It broke my heart how much you really loved her and wanted to protect her your whole life. I really related to it. And her marriage, and watching that dysfunction and difficult pairing that brought the 13 of you into the world. Obviously, it was not a supportive union. She was in so much deference to him because he had this big, big life and hiding this giant secret from her and everybody else. You have so much compassion for her. She could not find happiness, she drowned her difficulties through eating, she didn’t have a voice for all those years. I felt much felt you, as the gay daughter, there was a dynamic of finding your strength and wanting to protect her.
I heard that in the book. It led me to think about a question I want to ask you. As gay women in particular, you and I had a really interesting conversation about how we move around in the world, the degree of freedom that we have, free from the expectations of a deeply unhappy heterosexual scenario, relationship, or marriage. Clearly, your mom’s needs were never fulfilled, and didn’t even seem to be important to your dad as he was living this whole other life.
You had so much compassion for her. It reminds me also of some of the stories you’ve shared about being an actress in Hollywood, which would come later in your life.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m curious about the way that you moved through this differently because of your sexual oriented, and the ways that you’re able to protect yourself and set boundaries.
You even shared that you kept an eye out for other actresses. In this time of Me Too and Time’s Up and some pretty toxic behavior, that I feel you witnessed through your entire childhood.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes. Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: At its core, it’s really misogynistic, but asking, “Was that inappropriate? Did I just see that? Did he look at me that way? What does it mean? I’m the young actress and I’m auditioning and I’m trying to please everybody so that I can succeed.”
I don’t know what the word is. Perhaps it’s clarity around boundaries, the fact that the sexual flirtation and attraction piece is off the table for gay women. I suspect that there are many gay women in business who have relatively less noise to deal with because that whole thing is off the table.
I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit about that and your relationship to your mom and how it came out—your momma bear came out in terms of wanting to protect her, and maybe even the next generation of women.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes. I definitely felt, as a young girl, and it might be just a little bit of my genes. I have a sister 18 months older who is so much more like my mother, very—I’m going to say, “sweet”—not that I’m not sweet.
Speaking of us as young girls, I was the tomboy, I wanted to go play football with my brothers, I was more outspoken. Obviously, I was the youngest, so there was something in my personality to start with that might have been more outspoken.
What I know for sure is that I grew up and saw that I was in a home where the boys had preferential treatment. That starts with my dad, of course, because my dad was the biggest and took up all the space in the house on many levels.
Then my mother was, at times, a bit of a doormat. I don’t think that language is too strong, it describes it pretty well. He didn’t always treat her well, and my mother didn’t know how to say no, and didn’t have that self worth.
Listen, of the time, she very much was a ’50s housewife I guess is an easy way to say it. So all of the cultural and societal limitations were all in play. She was just doing what a lot of mothers of that time were doing—deferring.
I didn’t like that. I didn’t like how mean he was, but I also didn’t like the idea of being a second-class citizen in life. I got that early.
Now, having had sexual abuse happen to me at a young age, that was another complication. Aside from that, I got it very young. I remember thinking the thought at a young age, “I do not want to be my mother.” In other words, I don’t want to be in a relationship with that dynamic. I’m not going to be that one. If that’s what it looks like, “I ain’t bein’ her.” You know what I mean? I’m not going there. Not that I necessarily wanted to be my dad, and I definitely wasn’t feeling like I wanted to be a man. That role thing, I’m not buying into that. I’m not going to do that. That does not look like a good time. I think I got that very young, and I think I leaned into that and took a journey.
I was a bit of a basketball prodigy, and that saved my life on many levels. I had something to do with all the angst and pain and other things that might have been going on, but I also got attention for it, and I had athletics as another skill set where you’re a leader. I was the captain, and all of a sudden you have power and confidence and you’re playing sports. That was a big factor.
That leads us into what you also asked about—being an actor and the bit of the “momma bear” syndrome.
My personality probably molded from that kid who stood up to her dad when she was a young girl and said, “Leave her the hell alone.” I might have been nine or ten getting between this rageful man and passive mother.
Today, being on set, seeing young actresses who may not have that voice fully formed yet, maybe not the ability to say no, or think that they might get a job if they just flirt a little bit or allow the flirting to take place, or other things that happen in the workplace on a movie set, a TV set, or in corporate offices.
I do agree that when you’re not thinking about that—and that might just be because you’re married, you’re not available, and you’ve shut it down. But I think gay women, as you said, do have—I want to say a bit of an upper hand, if you will, with the ability to focus at work assuming that they are not caught in that heterosexual game that can often go on in the workplace. The flirting, the insinuations, the comments. Not that we don’t get comments if we’re gay, we have a clarity that we’re not going to play, and that settles it down pretty fast. That’s not part of the game.
I think that drive, that clarity, that lack of distractions that happens for a lot of heterosexual women at work, fortunately, isn’t as intense for gay women.
JENNIFER BROWN: I tend to agree. The energy is very different. You shared that you’ve taken people aside and given them some advice, right?
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes, I have. I was on a TV show for a while, and there was one day where I was actually getting—he was a little bit younger than I was, but he obviously had a thing for me. He was just relentless. Eventually, I had to really shut it down. I feel like I have a voice that I can do that. It’s not always easy. It’s never comfortable. It’s not comfortable even if you feel strong in your voice.
Yes, I have taken actresses—in that job in particular—aside more recently and talked with them and just said, “Look, I know it seems like you have to do that. It’s obvious you don’t want to be doing that, it’s very clear. Just don’t do it. It’s not going to help. It’s not going to get you an Oscar or an Emmy any faster by doing that. In fact, it will probably take away your ability to really fulfill your potential because you’re distracted and not being true to yourself.”
I think that’s true for everyone. If you’re playing games or hiding who you really are in any way, shape, or form, you’re not getting closer to fulfilling your potential at work or in life, but particularly we’re talking about work.
JENNIFER BROWN: In coming out, you had this really fast childhood in terms of being catapulted into the gay world.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It was happening already before your dad had that conversation with you.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: And then you were catapulted into the clubs, lots of alcohol and other diversions in those days.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m sure that writing this book, and even maybe before that, you actually did a one-woman/one-man show, where you played your dad.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: That probably brought you to a level of understanding about his experience and compassion. Literally being in his skin posthumously must have been a really powerful experience. I’m sure you’ve felt that there have been stages of your coming out—eras of it.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Absolutely.
JENNIFER BROWN: Playing him, what did it enable for you to find more depth to your sexuality, to have compassion and perhaps forgiveness and healing from your relationship with him? Also, I’d love to hear about the writing of the book. I’m sure that felt risky to you on many additional levels, because that is a level of transparency that can’t be taken back. Once you put it out there, your story’s out there.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes, exactly. Talking about the solo show for a moment, the show was called Secrets of a Holy Father, and I played my dad off-Broadway. I guess the nugget of the experience that I would share is that what it did was, of course, allow me to understand him better, because I played him. That was the entire show. I didn’t even play myself, it was him, exploring his full life. Actually, I played around with him in the afterlife and some of his coming to terms with the fact that he hadn’t really been able to live out loud and what that would be like creatively on the other side. I explored that and his coming to terms with it on the other side—meaning in death.
What it did for me, though, at the core, is it released, I think, all the shame, which is what allowed me to be so, as you know now, so specific, so graphic, so detail oriented about everything in my book. I don’t pull punches, I don’t hold back on anything—including my own behavior—purposefully.
I didn’t have shame in writing it, and I don’t have shame in talking about a lot of things which people might call dirty or nasty, and yet brilliant, beautiful secrets of my childhood and my young adult life.
Playing him, I think, was a kind of shedding. I stepped into him feeling all his shame, because he did have some, and yet he was so contradictory and being the holiest man I ever met, being knighted by the pope, running a Catholic travel agency, going to mass every day, saying the Rosary every night after dinner for us, he was going to be a priest. His world was Catholicism, and yet he was a gay man. He was in the clubs doing poppers and other crazy, wild stuff.
Putting that together, my question in playing him is: How did this guy consolidate those things? How do you consolidate mass in the morning and Dupont Circle clubs at night? I realized that he was a man of his time, and a lot of gay men at that point in history, obviously, couldn’t be out, were told basically to have a family. Being that he was an authentic, committed Catholic—committed in the sense that he believed, he had faith, not that he was committed to all the rules, clearly, but he was committed.
In playing him, I really shed my own shame. I did all kinds of things in that show. That show was also a bit graphic in the sense that I didn’t pull punches there either, and I went to places in his sexuality, exploring it, as well as I did him talking to the cardinal at the Vatican. I played both sides of it.
In writing the book, by the time I got there, I describe it that I could hold my life in my hand like putty, and I could stretch it any which way. Am I going to talk about this? Am I going to talk about that? How can I let the reader have a ride? That’s why I tell the book in the first person. I don’t have a narrator. She’s in her late teens, early 20s—”she” being me. It’s in first person. You take the ride, and you decide what to think.
That was very purposeful. I think readers are smart. I wanted people to have their own experience of, “What do I think of that? What am I still hiding? Where do I do that?” I wanted the book to be more of a mirror for people, even though it’s this wild, salacious “you can’t believe it,” page-turner kind of book. It’s an opportunity, I think, for a lot of people—not just LGBT, but a lot of people who struggle with family secrets, their own secrets, their own shame.
By the time I got to the book, I felt very capable, in large part from playing my dad and all the other stuff I’ve done in my career and my own inner work, that I could do anything I wanted in the sense of this detail or that detail. It didn’t matter, it was just more of a creative choice in how I wanted the reader to come into my work.
JENNIFER BROWN: Your life in your hand like putty. The feeling of power over the facts, instead of being a victim of the facts.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Exactly. I don’t feel “of” my life in the sense. I have, believe me, so for anyone who’s listening it’s not just like, “Poof, it’s done.” When you read the book, you’ll see there was a lot to get over.
Even my first relationship with a woman. I was 11, 12, and 13, and she was a woman. It wasn’t a girl and a girl. Even that piece of my coming-out story is complicated. There was a lot to process. It’s not easy, and we are where we are. I know that we don’t have to end up where we start, and that’s the point of the book in the end that everyone, hopefully, walks away with the hope of, yes, however it looks today doesn’t have to look that way tomorrow or in ten years.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Given we’re living in this cultural conversation right now—April of 2018—of the Me Too movement, the Time’s Up movement, and women finding their voice and the courage to talk about what happened to them and cast the same to the side for a moment.
The message, too, there’s such a strong and provocative narrative about men in your book also keeping secrets, also passing down abuse generation to generation, and not questioning it. Not even seeing themselves really in it or doing it, this disembodiment, the lack of responsibility, or even participation in it, or the collateral damage to many women in their orbit because of what’s held, not acknowledged, not brought to the surface, not healed.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: I’m mindful that this time is one of righteous anger for so many who have not been heard. You and I talked about what’s next after anger. Also, who has not been allowed to feel the anger or talk about it? The shame is equally deep, perhaps deeper for men who have been victimized.
A lot of women are trying to do our work right now, and we have an opening where we can. I’m deeply grateful for that. Your book also made me feel like there’s this other incredibly stigmatized reality for behavior that was learned, you might have been on the receiving end of and now you’re passing along. We’ve got to dive into that. I don’t know if there’s room for it in Me Too. Where are the men’s conversations about this reality? Are we going to be stuck here for a while until we have those conversations?
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Maybe if Me Too evolves into the next conversation for women, which I believe is happening. There is a process of grief as we all know, we’ve read about it. Obviously, owning your story, especially if you’ve been victimized, is a process. Anger is one of the stages. You’ve got to own it, you have to admit it, but then you naturally go into a state of anger where I’ve not been able to have any expression about this, so of course anger is going to be right there.
Evolving past that, things like compassion, things like forgiveness lie ahead. When we get there, organically, there will be space to include the conversation of: Who was this guy, and what’s happening to the guys? Maybe there will be more space for the guys who have been, themselves, victimized. I think there is way more of that than we have any idea. We experienced it, obviously, in the news for the last 15 years around the clergy abuse scandal. That’s the first time I think guys were really able to start talking about it.
I will say that in my own family, my abuse that happened clearly does not happen in a vacuum. I know that factually. And I know that from my own healing, I can look back, and I’ve even said it to family members, that had you been more honest about what happened to you—and I’m not saying when you can’t be, but as an adult, when we’re all admitting that this has happened, if you can actually own it as a man, it goes a long way on both sides. You help the people that you may have passed that along to, but of course you’re helping yourself.
I asked a family member recently to participate in some press I was doing—in other words, lean into this conversation with me. Let’s not hide it because I’m not hiding it, I’m not ashamed, and I’m not the one who did it, yes, but still I’m on the other side, I have forgiven. How can we help other people?
Well, how we can help other people is if you, meaning him, comes on and says, “This happened to me.” But if the guys aren’t willing to do that, it’s hard for us to realize that this stuff does not happen in a vacuum, it’s a sick culture that can exist and keep going because people aren’t really admitting their own pain. That might just be men’s own vulnerability, which there’s culturally not been a lot of space for, so they don’t go there. They don’t share, “This happened to me.” And even if it’s not sexual abuse, other kinds of victimization that they’ve experienced—bullying or whatever. If they’re not willing to admit all of them, it’s hard for us all to be transparent together. That’s the challenge.
I don’t have the answer, but I know that starting with these conversations one at a time, opening the possibility that once you get to forgiveness, maybe we’ll all be prepared to pay our healing forward by reaching back and pulling along. Like one of my family members who said to me, “I haven’t even told my wife.” I’m thinking, “Are you kidding me?” How could that be? It’s not like it’s a secret with me. You know what I mean? That’s not hurting me, that’s hurting him. I’m where I am, I’m fine. I wish it didn’t happen, but I’m okay. Where are you? Where are you living? What price have you paid? Obviously not just doing that act, but then being ashamed for the rest of your life that you can’t even tell the person you love most. That’s messed up.
JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: And that’s rippling down to maybe not more sexual abuse in that person’s family, but what it is rippling is secrets and shame and hiding and all these other things that we can’t see. They may not be happening, but they exist, and they’re being passed on.
I don’t really get to know you because you’re not telling me all of who you are.
I don’t know how exactly, but I know conversations about this are going to help. We need to put the demand that once we have our voice, we also want to demand that other people show up fully, too. We need to demand that of our partners—men, women, whatever.
JENNIFER BROWN: Tina, in that vein, you mentioned a concept that I hadn’t thought about. If there were less of an imbalance of power between men and women, perhaps men would need to reckon with the things that you’re talking about. You said women have more courage when it comes to dealing with their victimization.
I hadn’t thought about it from a power perspective, but the world makes it almost easier to hide and maintain the secrets—the male-dominated world anyway.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Absolutely. Just bringing it back to the micro for me. In my family, I mentioned there was such an imbalance of power. The boys got away with everything or anything. Not that they had it easy, I’m not suggesting easy. They had their own price to pay, but the point is that in that small culture, there was such an imbalance of power. I have to say, it’s interesting for me to look into cultures—whether a work culture or family culture—and see women have got to work so much harder, right?
Now, what’s happening, is we historically have owned our emotional selves fairly well. We are now owning our voices and our power. There is not going to be any stopping us. We’re going to be balanced with both.
The guys, I’m a little afraid for. I do agree, as the power changes and we watch it shifting, women are taking more of the power. As that happens, we will have our balance. Now the guys have got to step in, and they haven’t been asked to. There’s no demand on them because they’ve had all that power. It’s like, “Well, I’m entitled. I don’t need to do that work. I do this, I do that, I don’t need to go there.” There’s no accountability if I act out sexually—and I’m speaking historically. What’s there to look at? I can just keep doing what I’m doing, acting out when I want, and there’s no price to pay. You know? We’ve had such a bigger demand that we’ve had to be so much, especially if we’re going to enter the workplace, right?
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. As I orbit the business world, I notice that we do need men to be influencing each other. There’s a very different dynamic in that conversation. There’s a quality to it that is unique and powerful with very few words, actually. Just the communication that occurs between the same genders has its own characteristics.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Absolutely right.
JENNIFER BROWN: When I say maybe women, people of color, or anyone who’s on the outside or in the minority, we have borne a lot of the emotional burden of pushing for change, for our voices, for our truths. There are relatively fewer of us, particularly in the halls of power. If you add that, it makes it even more difficult and exhausting.
I like to think of this that we’ve been pushing, pushing, pushing. Could this conversation actually be pulled by a group that, as of yet, is still mostly sitting on the sidelines, like you said, not stepping in with truth, with vulnerability, with the appetite to learn, the want to be true partners. I love the visual of you being able to come on a TV show with a family member and talk about this openly. That would really be newsworthy.
We are hearing from so many women, and there’s a whole group of people missing from the discussion.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: Remember the Oscars? This past year was really awesome and so improved. But the year before, it was all women talking about the newfound voice that had occurred from the Women’s March and post-election. I found myself asking, “Where are the men on this? Are they a part of this discussion?”
I am seeing a lot of awakened energy to say, “I want to play a more active role. I may need help with how I do that, I may need help with what I say. I may need to be coached and mentored by women along my own gender understanding, and understanding my own power and the cult of masculinity.”
We joke, but it’s like men and white people, the funny thing is the assumption of not having a culture, not having a gender. News flash: You have an ethnicity. You might be white, okay. That comes with a history, culture, and norms. You just don’t notice it because the water is so warm around you, maybe because you weren’t challenged, you weren’t faced with it.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: It was entitlement. There’s been an entitlement since pretty much 1776, right? (Laughter.)
JENNIFER BROWN: Right.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: So that’s changing. I agree with you, it would be really amazing for that conversation. It’s transformational. That’s what we need. We need a transformation. It’s the thing that turns me on the most about being alive. My life, in general, everything I’ve ever done, I feel has been—I’ve been interested in, first, how I transform myself from the mess I was, period. And then things like we were just saying. A few years ago when my older sister first became aware I was working on a book, she asked me if I was going to include the abuse by my brothers. I said, “Yes.” I said, “I don’t think it will be a lot of the book,” which having read it, you know it’s not. It’s not the point of the book, but it’s there as context and it’s important that it’s there because without the context, my behavior doesn’t mean anything. Of course I had to include it.
The point is that she was worried. I said, “It’s the only way to transform it.” Why would we have to assume there’s something wrong with me including that? Why can’t we assume that, actually, it could be right? It could be the “rightest” thing that ever happened. If one of them decided to come on a show with me, as an example—and I brought that up back then. I said to her, “Well, what if we could lean into it? What if we could sit down together and actually talk about what people would say is this shameful thing, so that we could hear him, hear their perspective, so that we could understand something?”
It’s all so yucky in a way that people just on the surface want to bury it. But like anything else, we wanted to bury racism. It’s like, “Can we just talk about it?” If you could just talk about it and get it out, it’s still yucky, but at least it’s getting less yucky because now there is light on it and it’s actually beginning to change.
That’s my point. Everything is possible to change, but you have got to put light on it, and the guys need their light. They need their time, and they need light on their shit and their emotional wellbeing. I think it’s going to be either forced in a way—their hand will be forced because the power is changing.
I remember years ago, a yoga teacher of mine used to say years ago—she believed all in this sort of “age of Aquarius,” and the human evolution and becoming more heart driven than head driven. The point of it is she said, “If you don’t keep up, you’re going to fall off.” In other words, you’re going to fall out, you’re not going to be part of it.
It’s just my humble opinion, but we may get to a place where women, as we’re gaining this power, the guys are either going to come on, or they’re going to fall off. Does that make sense?
JENNIFER BROWN: Of course. That makes perfect sense. In the business world, there are multiple ways to fall off as well. I’m a certain generation kind of leader, and I have now a majority workforce that is, for example, millennials, which is actually the majority in some companies. If it’s not for your company now, it will be in the next couple of years. And being informed by this massive generation who is not afraid to bring their voice in a way that we can’t even relate to.
Your childhood probably wouldn’t happen ever the same way now. Thank goodness, in some ways, but I know there were some other really cool things about those days, too, that will never happen again.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Of course. Of course.
JENNIFER BROWN: There’s a reckoning for leaders in organizations that to fall out of step means that you can’t generate—hopefully through influence, not through power—but through the ability to generate respect through transparency, through being a whole human being, through being a champion for those who don’t have a voice. If organizations only thrive on people, at the end of the day, and being able to keep people and keep them mentally, but keep them in their heart as well, keep them emotionally, keep them engaged, and giving the extra discretionary effort that they can give or can’t give, depending on how they feel about where they work.
There are a lot of leaders right now who are falling behind. When I walk in the room to talk about an inclusive culture, they’re skeptical. They’re skeptical, they think it’s going to go away. They think, “Oh, it’s just compliance, or this is an HR initiative.” There are a million excuses. Or things like, “Oh, everyone has equal opportunity here at this company. I believe in gender equality, I have daughters and my wife has a big career.” It’s interesting how much ducking and shucking and jiving and “shiny-objecting” we get to avoid the reality that change is happening. Change or die. And, by the way, this isn’t a loss to you or anyone. We’ve all been laboring under many secrets at work.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Absolutely. Gay people know, we leave who we are at the door on Monday morning. We leave our stories, we don’t put a picture of our significant other up on the desk. We are so good at it, it’s scary. I want to remind our listeners, 50 percent of LGBT people in the workplace today are still closeted.
Half of your LGBT workers, it’s startling. I believe that because I know so many, and I know those are just the tip of the iceberg. I also know that those corporate environments demands that assimilation, demands the conformity. Unfortunately, what we’re conforming to is a limited persona. And that persona is often male, white, heterosexual, or an older leader. All of those things are changing. That’s not a bad thing. It’s welcoming. Let’s welcome the tapestry into the workplace. I would have loved to be in a workplace like that, and I don’t think that I ever really was, and that’s probably why I became my own boss.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes. Those numbers are startling, and yet I completely understand. I was in fashion when I was in the workforce as a non-actor. Before I became an actor, in my 20s I was an executive in the fashion industry. That’s a very creative, and generally gay friendly place to work in terms of an industry.
In my company, the designer was an out, gay, African American. There were definitely other gay people in the company who were out, and I was not. Coming from my house, coming from the kind of hiding I was doing, out of grad school, Catholic school, MBA, into New York City, even a very liberal place to live. I can remember never coming out there. Even though there may have been people that I hung out with or whatever, but I didn’t even come out officially to anyone, even people I was hanging out with.
It took me a long time. I get it. I really do. When it’s ingrained in you, whether that comes from the home, from growing up a certain way, or the culture of the corporation that you’re in, it’s still hiding and it’s still so damaging. In the same way that we talked about earlier in the conversation, the freedom that a lot of gay women do have to focus at work, we also have to be careful. When we’re hiding our sexuality or hiding a big piece of who we are, we also are expending a lot of energy on something that could be going to better use. So that hiding has a price in the office. It does affect our work, too. In the same way straight women, as we said, sometimes have to expend a lot of energy deflecting maybe sexual advances, comments, or whatever. We have to also be mindful of our ownership of all of our selves in the workplace.
JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. Tina, your book is such a great read for all kinds of people. Perhaps, as you intended, it will be cathartic for those who are still hiding the shameful parts.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: It will launch the readers along a path towards truth. Particularly, you embody the courage with that truth, which is now where you’re taking the conversation, particularly with others who were involved in the secrecy, to say, “Let’s jump together. Let’s link arms, own this problem that took all of us to create, and it will take of us to fix.”
I applaud your work. You’re such a light. I can’t wait to read many of your books, I know there are more.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: This only took us to age 22 or so I think.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes.
JENNIFER BROWN: There’s a lot more. We can’t wait.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Yes, thank you so much. Thank you.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you, Tina. Thanks for coming on The Will to Change.
TINA ALEXIS ALLEN: Great conversation. Thanks, Jennifer.
JENNIFER BROWN: Thank you.
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