Zeno for Everyone: The Weight of Words and the Coming Out Experience
By Bryant Miesle
At Zeno, ensuring all employees have a sense of belonging is essential to our diversity, equity and inclusion. In this new content series “Zeno for Everyone,” we’ll share personal stories from Zenoids and learn about how different backgrounds and histories shape perspectives and enrich our experiences. #ZenoForEveryone
As communicators, we understand the power of a single word and the impact it can have on the people who read or hear it. In our professional lives, we advise how others should communicate, mapping out what should be said, how messages should be delivered and when they should be shared. We’ve experienced firsthand that words have the power to move markets and destroy reputations. We know words matter.
I, like millions of others within the LGBTQ+ community, knew the weight of words at an early age. From my personal experience, two words defined my entire existence: I’m gay.
Growing up in the closet and living in a small town, I absorbed how individuals around me discussed topics related to the gay community. Each sentence influenced the way I viewed the world and, more profoundly, how I viewed myself. The religion I grew up with told me I was going to hell (“love the sinner, hate the sin”). The news I watched showed elected officials adamantly fighting over whether or not I should have the right to get married or have children (“it’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve”). The people I looked up to and respected tossed around words with derogatory tones like, “f-slur”, “AIDS”, or “queer” when talking (or speculating) about who was gay.
I cannot overstate the emotional and physical damage this inflicts on children and teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality. From an outside perspective, I had a fantastic high school experience: class president, athlete, great grades and amazing friends/family. Internally, I was in a constant state of depression and anxiety—at one point, I sank to my lowest low, even writing a goodbye letter to my family.
Fortunately, at this dark moment, I stumbled upon an organization called It Gets Better, where thousands of leaders, athletes, celebrities and everyday people were sharing words of hope and optimism for a bright future. It painted a picture of a life I could unlock by simply holding on a little longer—that my true, gay self was valued. This gave me the tools I needed to undo the years of internal homophobia I felt for myself and the community I had no choice being a part of (because it is not a choice). When I was comfortable accepting myself, it was time to start living this externally.
For me, deciding to come out was a life-defining moment. I had spent years repressing and hiding this aspect of myself. When I finally got to a point in my journey where I was ready to share with others, it was an indescribable feeling. In saying the words, “I’m gay,” for the first time to my best friend, it was as if she took some of the weight I had been carrying—letting me know that this is no longer something I had to go through alone. Because of her response, “I love you and I’m so proud of you,” I had the strength to come out to my parents and family.
Coming out to my parents was, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was like jumping out of a plane without the certainty of a functional parachute. However, the worst-case scenarios I always played out in my head never came to fruition. I was and still am beyond blessed to have a family who proved their unconditional love and support. Because I finally let them in, our relationship is stronger than ever and has opened the door to many important, educational opportunities.
The thing about coming out, though, is that it is not a one-time thing—it is a continual process that happens throughout life whenever I meet new people or start a new job. What will my colleagues think? What if clients make homophobic statements? Do I voice concerns about new business opportunities if they are anti-LGBTQ+? In my five years as a PR professional, I’ve been lucky to work for several agencies that have never made me even consider these questions. While I recognize my privileges as a white, cisgender gay man have played a key role in my workplace experiences, I am proud of the dedicated efforts my Zeno colleagues continue to take to ensure the words they use nurture an inclusive and always welcome environment. Even the seemingly insignificant phrases, written or spoken, make all the difference.
So, as we continue to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month and beyond, it is important to remember the weight of how and what we are communicating. Be conscious of the words or phrases we use on a daily basis, show empathy for those who might be different and take time to learn about what we might not understand. We truly never know the impact we have on the people who are listening.
And to those who are peeking out of the closet, I (and so many others) see you and understand what you’re going through. Just keep holding on—it will get better.
Bryant Miesle is a Senior Account Executive, Chicago at Zeno Group.
LinkedIn: Bryant Miesle