Kryss Shane of ThisIsKryss.com: They Told Me It Was Impossible And I Did It Anyway
Let Music Guide You- It can be easy to dismiss our own feelings, especially if the feelings aren’t positive. Rather than letting yourself feel alone with these pent-up emotions, create a playlist of songs that fit your mood. This allows you to feel your feelings by yourself, yet you’re surrounded by others who are expressing the very same feelings within their songs. This always allows me to find a balance between validating my feelings while also giving me perspective that I am not the only person who has ever felt these emotions, which is especially helpful during times of frustration or sadness! I’ve found that, once I process my emotions, it is easier to let them go, which prevents me from wallowing or turning a singular situation into a long-term reason to berate or question myself.
As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kryss Shane.
Kryss Shane MS, MSW, LSW, LMSW (she/her) is the author of the Amazon #1 New Release Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace. Kryss has over 25 years of experience guiding the world’s top leaders in business, education and community via individual, small group and full-staff trainings. She is also the author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, the first book of its kind to guide educators, administrators, and school staff to become able and empowered to make their schools more LGBT+ inclusive.
Kryss has been featured as America’s go-to Leading LGBT+ Expert in The New York Times, ABC News, Yahoo!, and CNN. Her writing has also appeared in the Journal of Nonprofit Education and Leadership, Huffington Post, International Council of Professors of Educational Leadership, The New Social Worker Magazine, and many more.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
Growing up in small town Ohio, I was someone who was always the support person and the go-to person for my friends, but I never considered making a career of it until much later. I was always a believer in equality, and this led me to begin to become mindful of ways in which minority groups weren’t represented in my middle school and high school textbooks and in the media, I was enjoying. This led me to speak up a lot in class, asking questions that many teachers had no answers to because their education also lacked inclusion. I never saw myself as any sort of ally or activist or educator, I thought those were people who were much older and fancier than I was because those titles seemed reserved for these storied activists like Malcolm X or Marsha P. Johnson, larger than life individuals, not someone from small town Ohio!
Anyway, as I became increasingly more aware of the discrimination against LGBT+ people and people within the intersectionality (since any person of any background or identity can also be LGBT+ identified), I began to realize this problem in my community and in families. This led me to earn my bachelor’s degree at The Ohio State University in Human Development and Family Sciences.
Simultaneously, I was volunteering a ton with LGBT+ organizations. Over time, my volunteer work grew, and many began asking why I didn’t do this as my profession. It hadn’t dawned on me before then that I could. This realization sent me into my first master’s degree program, where I graduated from Barry University in Social Work, where I focused my studies on LGBT+ issues. As years passed though, I was always bothered by how often textbooks in schools still lack representation of marginalized groups. This led me to go back to school, where I earned my 2nd master’s degree, from Western Governors University in Education, specializing in Curriculum and Instruction. I am currently working toward my doctorate in Educational Leadership from University of the Cumberlands, where I get to bring my LGBT+ work through the lens of leaders in our world, thus making me better at educating others and teaching them how to improve their allyship and activism. I am also working in undergraduate and graduate social work departments Columbia University and Brandman University, and writing articles, book chapters, and books that focus on the minority populations that have been too long left out. That includes Creating an LGBT+ Inclusive Workplace: The Practical Resource Guide for Business Leaders, which provides best practices and professional guidance for creating LGBT+ inclusive workplaces, including creating safer working environments, updating company policies, enhancing continuing education and training, and better supporting LGBT+ people in the workplace training and other tangible ways to support LGBT+ people in the workplace
I still don’t see myself as ever being able to be at the likes of some of those incredible leaders but now I get the privilege of being surrounded by people like Andrea Shorter, Dimitri Moise, and Jazz Jennings, which only further inspires me every day.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Always! In addition to my 2nd book just coming out, I am always working as a curriculum consultant, writing or reviewing work and textbooks for inclusion. Plus, I am teaching at a number of universities. Lastly, I am in the last months of earning a PhD in Leadership! I plan to continue to use all of my education and experience to guide others toward a more inclusive society!
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
My work comes from a unique mix of formal education ranging from mental health to education to adult learners to remote engagement of audiences. In addition, it spans my life experiences of living all over the nation, truly engaging in a variety of American cultures. Lastly, I absorb from those I learn from and find ways to add that work into my own. For example, when I learn from Daniel J. Watts and Andrea Shorter about being Black in America, my own work improves because I become improved through their education of me. I am both lucky and intentional about surrounding myself with people who educate in areas I do not, which keeps my work evolving and always makes me a better provider for my own audiences!
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
I mean, yeah… I’m a woman in her 30s in the world! [laughs] I think women and gender minorities being told something they want is impossible is a multifaceted problem. Our fixation with the media, and our inability to be away from it thanks to the smartphones in our pockets, inundates us with images of what we are “supposed to” look or act like. In addition to recognizing when we do not look like the celebrities popping up throughout social media platforms, we also see what others say about those celebrities. This is a lose/lose situation. If you do not look like a celebrity, society indicates that something is wrong with you. If you do look like a celebrity, it can feel like a personal attack to read the awful comments people make about that celebrity’s appearance. It makes it tough to accomplish anything!
We also have to recognize that our country doesn’t do a great job at putting all types of people on screens as actors, musicians, sports stars, or media personalities. This can lead a person to believing that something about them or their goals is wrong because they do not see anyone in the media who looks or strives for success like them. This is why it is so important to support the films and television shows with diverse casts and why it is hurtful to our society as a whole every time the media writes a character as a stereotype of a person of a specific minority group.
In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? :-)
I’m here talking with you, aren’t I? [she grins]
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Oh wow… ya know, there’s a group of moms of trans youth who come to mind. I’d been doing my work for a long time but from a bit of a distance; there was a sort of wall between myself and the audience. I think this comes from a clear understanding of client boundaries. About 15 years or so ago, I connected with one of the moms who was also doing this work (Jeanette Jennings, of TLC’s “I Am Jazz”). We connected on such a deep friendship level (as I did with her daughter Jazz) that it opened my mind to considering why I’d been keeping myself so separated. In the years since, I’ve been lucky enough to get to be invited to join a small but mighty group of women whose hearts are not only big enough to accept and affirm their own children but to accept and affirm me both as a person and as someone doing the work I am doing. Their role as my friends along with them allowing me a front row seat to how mothering can be done so beautifully has really been both a gift and a confirmation that the work I do and the person I am (and am becoming) is exactly as it is meant to be.
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
I spent 18 years struggling with endometriosis. As is unfortunately very common with this disease, it took more than nine years to be properly diagnosed. I spent a lot of time very very ill. Although I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone, spending that much time sick gave me two lovely gifts; first, it gave me a lot of hours of hanging out with myself and learning how to enjoy my own company, second, it taught me that my body’s appearance matters far less to me than its ability to function properly.
For a long time, when I would wake up, before I would open my eyes, I would assess my body to see what hurt and how badly I hurt so that I could decide what medications to take and what plans or chores or socializing I needed to cancel because my body would not allow me to participate.
After years of failed medical interventions and numerous surgeries, I was lucky enough to enter remission. However, the time inside in pain left my muscles weak, plus I had gained weight and my hair had become noticeably thinner. But for the first time in so long, I didn’t hurt all over. That really became a turning point for me with self-acceptance. I stopped seeing my body as a commodity or an appearance that dictated my value, and I started seeing it as a vessel for my spirit and as a machine with an incredible number of working pieces and parts.
These days, just as I have for more than twenty years, before I open my eyes, I assess my body to see what hurt and how badly I hurt. Most days, I discover no pain. Some days, I feel the age in my bones, or a paper cut from yesterday, or my stomach is angry due to something I clearly should not have eaten. But even when there are days with pain, I think about knowing what the pain was caused by and I think about knowing how temporary that pain is. It is a gift to have that knowledge, especially after many years battling an undiagnosed illness, followed by receiving a diagnosis of a disease without a known cause or a known cure.
Now, before I go to sleep, I also like to take a moment to assess my body, this time from a space of gratitude. I thank my toes for the balance they give me to walk. I thank my lungs for taking in the air I need to breathe on my own. I thank my skin for healing when I am injured. I think about all the people living on transplant waiting lists and all the people in places where there are no transplants and I think about all the ways my body works for me. It doesn’t make me unaware of my bad hair days or my inability to wear liquid eyeliner without looking like I lost a fight with a magic marker, but it gives me perspective enough that I can put my hair in a bun, skip the makeup, and still face the day feeling glad to be a part of the world around me.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
- Embrace Your Weirdness- As kids, many of us live in fear of a classmate thinking we’re weird, so we hide the things we think might get us noticed for being different. My love of tie dye and my deep undying love of the Golden Girls television show were things I once tried to hide, and which others often told me that it was time to outgrow. I tried, but not wearing tie dye as often as possible made me way less happy than wearing more tie dye more often! In addition, though I’ve seen all 180 episodes of the Golden Girls enough to be able to recite every line in every episode, I never get sick of watching! Once I realized that, I started doing what made me happiest and those who love me learned to love those aspects about me. These days, the gifts friends send are often tie dye AND they get a kick out of visiting me because my guest room is Golden Girls themed (including the autographed photos they sent me when I wrote them fan letters as a kid)! Now I surround myself with what makes me happy and I have people in my life who get me and who celebrate my weirdness!
- Don’t Fixate on Clothing Labels- The weight loss industry makes billions of dollars each year, often through telling us what size we should be and what we must buy in order to get ourselves to that size. In reality, not only do many of these weight loss sales provide incorrect information, they can create brand new insecurities based on the assumption that, if we are not the size they say we should be, something is wrong with us. This leads to a really unhealthy focus on the number on our clothing tags, which is just illogical because each store actually gets to decide how to label their clothing. This is why most of us are one size in one store and a totally different size at another store. Plus, clothing commercials and print ads show people in clothing that has been tailored to that person’s individual body, making us compare ourselves while wearing our off-the-rack clothes to the appearances of models wearing personally tailored attire. As a result, many of us feel awful about our bodies when we try on clothes because the garments can make us feel too short, too tall, too thin, too heavy, too curvy, not curvy enough, etc. My friends are all different ages, shapes, sizes, and skin tones. Every one of us struggles to find the right pair of jeans, which means it must be that jeans themselves aren’t easy to shop for. Once I realized that, I stopped blaming parts of my own body when I try on a pair of poorly fitting jeans! We have to do better at reminding ourselves that the problem is not our bodies, it’s either poorly designed clothing or it is clothing meant for someone else’s natural shape. Blaming the clothes instead of blaming our bodies can help us to better love what we’re workin’ with!
- Let Music Guide You- It can be easy to dismiss our own feelings, especially if the feelings aren’t positive. Rather than letting yourself feel alone with these pent-up emotions, create a playlist of songs that fit your mood. This allows you to feel your feelings by yourself, yet you’re surrounded by others who are expressing the very same feelings within their songs. This always allows me to find a balance between validating my feelings while also giving me perspective that I am not the only person who has ever felt these emotions, which is especially helpful during times of frustration or sadness! I’ve found that, once I process my emotions, it is easier to let them go, which prevents me from wallowing or turning a singular situation into a long-term reason to berate or question myself.
- Trade Talents- While no one is amazing at everything, everyone is good at something! Rather than spending your energy fighting an uphill battle trying to be great at every task or trying to master every talent, join forces with your friends and help each other out. I used to try to emulate my friends’ talents because it made me feel like lesser when they were better at something than I was. In the end, I was left frustrated and they were left wondering why I didn’t just ask them for help. Sometimes the reverse happened too, leaving me feeling left out of an opportunity to have made something easier on them because it was something I did well. It meant nobody won. Now, I outsource without hesitation. I feel grateful when I get to tackle something I enjoy, which also makes their lives easier, and I see asking for their help as a way to accomplish a task without struggling solo or feeling lesser in the ways I’m not as skilled in that specific ability!
- When You Don’t Know What to Do, Volunteer- Sometimes the best way to love yourself is by giving of yourself. Think about the talents and skills you possess and the hobbies you enjoy and then find a way to share those with others. This lets you spend time doing something you love, it allows you to find joy in reconnecting with the part of you that excels at that skill, and it lets you know that you are making the world better via your abilities. So many of my favorite memories have happened while preparing an annual free Thanksgiving dinner a small group of us put on each year for a community. (2021 will be my 25rd year!) When I think back to any of those past 22 Thanksgivings, I have no memories of what size clothing I wore or how much money was in my bank account at the time, but the sense of purpose that comes from caring for others and helping them to feel heard, seen, and important is immense. It truly makes me feel connected with myself and it highlights how kindness allows us all to build connections with the world we all share.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
Oooh, there are so many song lyrics and quotes I cherish! The one that has really been speaking to me again lately has been this: “You can never leave footprints that last if you are always walking on tiptoe.” -Leymah Gbowee.
I think it really speaks to the realities of activism and resilience. So often, marginalized people and activists are told to protest peacefully or to request support or to ask for someone to consider hearing us. While that is certainly a polite approach, the reality is that most people in positions of privilege don’t always recognize the true need for change or the need for abolishing a way of doing things because they aren’t the ones being harmed. This quote reminds me that, though it may be uncomfortable or scary or a personal risk to speak up as loudly as necessary (and to amplify the voices of those who certainly deserve to be heard), change cannot come if we only tiptoe around the status quo and those who uphold it. Now is not the time for tiptoeing, it is the time to demand justice, to demand safety, and to demand laws and systems that stop undermining the humanity of marginalized communities.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I hope that those of us who are writing these “movement books” continue to grow in support of one another. Rising tides raise all boats. For example, the aforementioned Fred Joseph posted his excitement about my book to his social media channels. He is also released his first book, “The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person.” It doesn’t at all need my praise to join the chorus but good heavens is it good! We all have different ways but we all have the same goal of improving the world through education and acceptance of one another. When we come together to celebrate and boost each other, everyone is safer, everyone is better, and everyone wins!
Can our readers follow you on social media?
My website: ThisIsKryss.com
Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!