Video and transcript from Jessica Soukup’s talk at Control the Room 2022
Control the Room 2022 was an absolute success! We hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our partner MURAL. Our wonderful connection between the live event and the virtual world, hosted by Mark Tippin, Director of Strategic Next Practices, Mark facilitated “Mind Shift” sessions, where he guided our attendees through a dialog about how everyone was impacted by the talks. He engaged both in-person and virtual attendees through our various activities in our conference mural. It was inspiring to have so many people joining in different ways and everyone getting the chance to communicate.
We also partnered with SAFE this year to support and honor a lost colleague, Jenni Robertson. The dedication of this summit comes after losing a coworker, mother, and friend to family violence and Voltage Control has pledged to work with SAFE to stop family violence for everyone. We wanted to take a moment and look back on all of the moments of insight, knowledge, and growth we all took part in over the course of the summit.
This year’s summit theme was SHIFTS, and as we move into 2022 we have seen shifts in the way we work, the way we connect, and the way we honor one another.
This year we hosted 18 facilitators in a hybrid space. We were live in-person, on Zoom, and even created our own Control the Room VR space, and we must say the event, even with a few technical issues, turned out to be a hub of idea sharing and growing with each other.
Each speaker delivered a 20-minute lightning session, and each session was filled with a sense of community, play, and story-telling.
Stories Are Powerful
Stories are powerful. Oftentimes, I’m asked to present a lot of information in a very short period of time. My normal presentations run between three and four hours. But when I’m presenting to a corporation or presenting to executives, et cetera, I’m forced to present lots of information in a very short period of time. In that period of time, I need to build empathy, and I’m seeking high levels of retention. And stories give me that.Jessica Soukup
A beautiful storyteller, Jessica invited us to build empathy. In her story, My First Big Win, we were inspired by a story of patience, acceptance, bravery, and perseverance. Jessica stepped into her true self through stages, and within that process, she discovered ‘this is what it looks like, this is who I am.’ We were all reminded of the importance of sharing our own personal pronouns as a regular part of introducing ourselves. And how that can make anyone feel accepted, important, and cared for by alleviating one form of microaggression.
Watch Jessica Soukup speak on how Stories are Powerful:
As I stand here today, I want to ask some things of all of you. First of all, as you came in the door here today, how many of you wrote your pronouns on your name tags? Steven earlier talked about micro affection. When you misgender someone, even accidentally, that’s a microaggression. It causes harm. It may not feel like all that significant of an experience. But if you are misgendered constantly day in and day out, drive throughs, shopping experiences, just in public, you feel not supported. You question your own identity. By writing your pronouns on your name tag, this is you saying, “I understand you can’t assume who I am. Just like I can’t assume who you are. And I’ve shared my pronouns.”Jessica Soukup
Thank you. First of all, I want to thank the previous two speakers for some pre-talk preparation and relaxation. Released the anxiety a lot. So, Jessica Soukup. I use she/her pronouns.
Stories are powerful. Oftentimes, I’m asked to present a lot of information in a very short period of time. My normal presentations run between three and four hours. But when I’m presenting to a corporation or presenting to executives, et cetera, I’m forced to present lots of information in a very short period of time. In that period of time, I need to build empathy, and I’m seeking high levels of retention. And stories give me that.
When doing allyship education, there are three standard goals. Define the community, share the experiences of the community, and discuss allyship. In my presentation … in my short presentation, I have to accomplish all of those goals, and do that with the high levels of retention I was seeking.
The story I’m going to share today is the story of my transition at work. My coming out at the office. And let me set the stage for that. At that moment in my life, I was not out anywhere. The only people who knew I was transgender was my wife and some very close family members. And I’d received a very mixed response. I’ve received a lot of questions. I received a lot of pushback. But you can imagine the potential consequences of coming out at the office. I can lose my job … my income because I’m trans. It may be difficult for me to find a new job. On top of that, I was supporting three people. And so I had the concern of their lives on top of my own personal concerns. I approached it this way.
Obviously, the concerns about coming out at the office are you are presented with … when you come up to someone, they have an initial response. And I decided to try to take the pressure off of my direct supervisor by coming out to him in a letter. But I was very concerned about coming out at the office, because people are sometimes fired. And they’re seldom fired for being trans. They’re fired for other reasons. Lack of performance, things like that. So, I waited till my annual review. At my annual review, I expected to do quite well. And I wrote him a letter.
And in this letter, I told him what I wanted. I told him that I wanted people to call me Jessica. I told him that I wanted to conform to the women’s dress code. I told him that I wanted people to use she/her pronouns. And I told him that I expected to use the women’s restroom. And then after that, I gave him some resources, and some time in order to do whatever training he needed to do.
I walk into his office, and I sit down at the desk, and we’re talking. And we go through the review. And as predicted, I did quite well. We get to the end of the review, and I have this sealed letter. He knew I had begun doing some work at the office. Some diversity training. Some diversity work. He didn’t understand why, but he knew it was happening. And so he felt obligated to say, “We’re not a very diverse group, but we try real hard.” And as I slid him the envelope, I thought, “Let me help you with that diversity problem.”
At that point, I picked up my papers and left his office. And I went on vacation for nine days. I wanted to give him plenty of time to adapt, prepare what he was going to say to me. All of that. He took the envelope, waited a little while before he opened it. And then he opened it. And it’s my understanding he had a little meltdown and called some people. But it was very important to him to get ahold of me before I got out of town to tell me that everything was going to be okay. And that was the first big win for me.
I told my supervisor. But I work with a lot of different people. And I’d spent the previous six years presenting masculine, using a different name. And all of a sudden, I was going to be showing up in a completely different way. I was concerned with how everybody else was going to respond, how I was going to be treated. All of that. What my working environment was going to be like. I had given my supervisor three months. We waited those three months. And about the last two weeks, I came out to the rest of the very close people I work with by sending an email with the same general information.
Two weeks later, I got dressed in a great orchid dress, and heels, and full on makeup, et cetera. Showed up at the office. And I’m a computer programmer. Basically, sat down and started to code. Didn’t have to interact with a lot of people, but the basic interactions were fine. So, that was okay. Two days later, though, we had the divisional kickoff. 550 people from student affairs sat in a room, listening to presentations. And as a divisional employee, they introduced everyone.
That day, 550 people learned I was trans. They were blindsided. They didn’t have any of the background information. When they presented my photo on the screen and said my name, they got nothing else. Well, a number of people from the queer community came up and encouraged me, et cetera. And then about three hours later, the vice president for student affairs wandered into my office. Now, let’s be clear. I’m a computer programmer. Vice president for student affairs. She’s like 15 levels above me on the org chart. Her wandering into my office was not something that happened. Wandering in my office and she said, “Okay, who’s giving you a hard time?”
Wasn’t exactly her language, but regardless. By doing that, she showed her support of me, and encouraged me to continue on in this space. Encouraged me to live out and loud. And I was thankful. I was able to tell her that I’d nothing but positive comments. I do wonder … it would’ve been interesting to be a fly on the wall in a lot of those offices around the division.
Two weeks later, I mentioned earlier today that I’d begun doing some diversity work. I’d been presenting with my mentor, Brandon Beck. Brandon … really all that I was doing was running the PowerPoint. But Brandon, he was the one who initially taught me that stories are powerful. I got a call that morning from professional development. Brandon was sick. The presentation was supporting transgender people in higher education. I’m thinking, “I need this presentation. I just came out.” They asked me, “Do you want to continue or not?” I’m like, “Well, I’ve seen it a few times. I’ve got slides. I’m just going for it.”
That day, I showed up ready to speak for three hours, even though really I’d only spoken for five minutes previously in my life. I was nervous. I was on the verge of melting down. The training room holds about 40 people. Normally, we would have about 20 people in that class. That day, so many people from student affairs had signed up and showed up to support me that the room was full and overflowing into the hall.
In this story, there’s a tremendous amount of privilege. I already had my education. I’m white. I’m accepted in my job. I was accepted by the people I work with. There’s a specific non-discrimination clause at the university that specifies gender identity and sexual orientation. But in that day when everyone showed up to support me, that’s when I truly felt supported, and alive, and myself.
In that story there that I just told, I defined the community. I’m transgender. This is what it looks like. This is who I am. I shared some experiences of the community. My concerns about coming out. The likelihood of getting fired. And I discussed some allyship for the community. Pronouns, using a chosen name, showing up to support, and being vocal in your allyship.
As I stand here today, I want to ask some things of all of you. First of all, as you came in the door here today, how many of you wrote your pronouns on your name tags? Steven earlier talked about micro affection. When you misgender someone, even accidentally, that’s a microaggression. It causes harm. It may not feel like all that significant of an experience. But if you are misgendered constantly day in and day out, drive throughs, shopping experiences, just in public, you feel not supported. You question your own identity. By writing your pronouns on your name tag, this is you saying, “I understand you can’t assume who I am. Just like I can’t assume who you are. And I’ve shared my pronouns.”
I’d like y’all to take just a moment and write your pronouns underneath your name. As the next stage to that … as I mentioned, you can’t assume people know your pronouns, just like you can’t assume someone else’s pronouns. When you introduce yourself, introduce yourself with your pronouns. By doing so, you open the door to listening to their pronouns. Listening to them share their identity. I’d like you to take another minute, and I’d like you to introduce yourself to the person on either side of you and share your pronouns. “Hi, my name is Jessica Soukup. I use she/her pronouns.”
And so now, I’d like to ask one more thing before I go. I’d like to ask you to approach … for the next conference you go to, I’d like you to approach the people handing out the name tags if they don’t include pronouns, and ask them to include those pronouns. By doing so, you demonstrate your allyship. Your active allyship. You validate everyone in the room. You don’t assume other people’s identities, and you open the door to people sharing who they are. And what is what allyship really is all about is belonging. How do you make people feel like they belong in a space? Thank you so much.