Judy Powers, Maine, 1996
Judy Powers (D)
Born September 20, 1944
State Representative, 63 District
Elected in November 1996
Essay by Judy Powers for Out and Elected in the USA
I have been more out as a legislator than I’ve ever been. Why? I think it is because my position now has me more in the eye of the public than my previous teaching job, and I place even more weight on my duty to be a good role model. I’ll try to explore here what that means to me.
It is interesting to me that my photo for this collection was taken at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. I outed myself on the first day of the program to everyone as part of my introduction in class. This was a first for me – namely including that I am a lesbian in an introduction, as well as outing myself in a large group setting. It was a deliberate effort, and I wanted to observe it if it made a difference in my sense of self and my sense of accessing my personal power during the session. I think it did make a difference to me, outing myself in that way. Doing something I’ve never done before is still good for me and this was a particularly large barrier inside that I overcame.
I think it also made a difference because, although I didn’t have any idea how people were reacting to me with what they now knew, I subsequently didn’t have to put energy into deciding when and if to reveal that about myself. That became energy for other interactive work. This seems to have to do with control – a dynamic I knew from other areas in my life – I can spend a huge amount of energy trying to “control” others experiences, especially of me, which is very difficult if not impossible to do. And the effort always ties up my energy.
And another aspect of outing myself in this way at the Kennedy School was that much of the course became, for me, about living and working with diversity. I found over and over that the recognition of the differences among us – racial, ethnic, party affiliation, class – made discussions about and exercises in politics, more comprehensible and manageable. Politics is about the management and distribution of power among groups. Recognizing that differences exist and that we have positions, opinions and judgements based on those differences means we are looking at the biger picture. One of the details about being gay is that “gayness” is often invisible. Outng myself was about requesting to be seen more completely, to be included in the whole picture.
How out am I as an elected official? I have never made a specific announcement about being a lesbian, such as in campaign literature, in a floor debate or in a constituent news letter. My partner and I have been out in all other domains in our community for 15 years. Because it is an invisible characteristic, I will never know who knows and who doesn’t. Even if I were to make some sort of announcement, I cannot control how others listen to and receive the information. But, to the extent that I have stated my sexual orientation, what difference does it make to me or to others?
I will never know what difference it makes to the recipients of the information unless they take the time to tell me. For myself, I become more visible, more real, and more authentic to myself. I include myself as a whole person who is partnered with a woman, with a home, a family and a profession.
I have taken increasing pride in being out. Pride is an attitude that I have held lots of judgements about – that it is exclusionary, that it is unhealthy, that I don’t and can’t have much of it. What I had overlooked in this thinking was that I can and do have pride in being true to my core values of openness, honesty, willingness, inclusivity. I notice that I thrive when I am in the presence of someone who is “authentic,” that is someone who is conscious of her or his impact and power in the world, and can articulate that and is fully expressive of that self. If there is any way that I can offer that into the world, I would like to do so. I think that including the truth of my partner and the blended family in which I live, as well as honesty in being a recovering alcoholic and a person of privilege who has had educational and financial opportunities - fully owning all of that publicly as I stand in my own skin and shoes is about me being more authentic, and therefore, more fully present for whomever and whatever is before me. I increase my potential for effectiveness. I increase my power.
The question remains for me: when do I reveal the invisible things about myself? That I am a woman, that I am white, that I am short, that I have a certain health and vitality – these are all directly evident for one who can see and hear. How is it I decide when to reveal those attributes not directly discernable?
My decision for years was always in terms of my fear; of someone not liking me, and that manifesting in more or less rejecting or dangerous ways. The irony is that now that I’m in elected office, where winning and losing is more critical to having my job than any job I’ve ever had before, I seem to have become more bold in the face of that fear. This may be because my sense of responsibility to provide a model of authenticity to a larger audience is very strong. This sense of duty urges me to push up against my internalized homophobia by self-identifying as I attempt to reside more fully in my own authentic self in order to be more fully present for myself and therefore, for the work.