Admitting my truth and sharing it almost killed me. And then my biggest ally saved my life.
When I worked at JPMorgan Chase more than a decade ago, I had a co-worker who was a total powerhouse. She was bright and ambitious. She was a survivor—her family fled persecution at the hands of a dictator in Africa and came to America as refugees. She was smart and confident, a former college athlete, and she embraced her Indian heritage. I hadn’t met anyone like her, and I admired her.
One day, I stopped in the restroom as I was running between meetings, and I quickly realized I wasn’t alone. I could hear sobbing from behind one of the stalls, and, although my first instinct was to give her some privacy, something made me stay and knock on the door. When it opened, I hardly recognized the person sitting in the stall.
The woman I admired and thought was so perfect, so put together, looked like a shell of herself. Then I heard her say something that would change my life forever. She said, “I have a terrible secret.”
I put my hand on her arm and told her she was safe with me, she could tell me. And then the floodgates opened. She was terrified. She told me that this secret she was carrying would ostracize her from her family, friends, and her faith, and derail the career and life she worked so hard to build. Her American dream was fading.
Then she stood up and walked to the sink. She finally looked up at her reflection in the mirror and said, “I’m gay.”
And I was completely stunned because the person pronouncing those words in the mirror was me.
Admitting that out loud was incredibly hard, but hiding it was destroying me. I found myself withdrawing from my family because I didn’t want to lie about who I was spending time with and where. At the office, I was feeling less creative and productive. And people noticed. I was receiving feedback from leaders and colleagues that I wasn’t creating a climate of trust with employees. It was beginning to impact my performance.
I needed help, so I confided in my twin brother, my best friend. It was one of the toughest phone calls I ever made. I was shaking as I told him that I needed to tell him a secret. I couldn’t bring myself to even say it. “I am a le…le…le…” I stammered. He said, “Come out with it already. What’s going on? You haven’t been yourself, Where have you been?” So, I blurted out, “I am a lesbian.”
Then there was a deafening silence. Finally, he said, “I have something to tell you, too. I am a lesbian trapped in a man’s body.” And after my initial shock, we burst into hysterical laughter. Then he said, “Amita, you’re still an amazing sister and friend. You’ll always be my wonder twin.”
Talk about an amazing ally. He saved my life.
Since then, I’ve had to face my truth many times over, hundreds if not thousands of times. But now it’s not pain or terror I feel when I share it. Secrets only have power over us if we hide them in the dark.
After all this time, I know the power of owning your truth and telling your story. Not just for you. You never know how your amazing story may impact and empower someone in profound ways.