I hate public speaking. As about 75% of the population, I too suffered from the ‘deadly’ Glassophobia whenever I was on a stage. The greater the audience, the more amplified the panic. The ridiculous thing about fear is, the more you are exposed to it, you can come out of it deeply scarred or you may discover a part of you that you’ve never seen before.
In college, since I had never volunteered myself on a stage often, I never had any go-to topics to speak about. But I always had a couple of forever-hated topics.
1.Your future husband.
2.‘Love marriage’ versus ‘Arranged marriage’ (quite common in group discussions with friends and peers)
As part of my college’s rushed finishing touches to its students’ professional capabilities, I was picked to participate in an impromptu public speaking session – something they hoped, and suggested strongly, would prepare us for the real world. And guess what this lucky girl got as her topic? “Your future husband”.
I mistook the whole minute I was given to prepare for my speech as a warm-up for my preparation time. After a minute, when the facilitator rang the bell and prompted me to speak, I obviously felt blank and stupid. So I decided to do the most rational thing and talk my heart out. I didn’t think much of it because, after all, it was just my group of classmates who I had studied with for the past 4 years – only this time, staring at me like they were seeing me for the first time.
I started with a smile to make it look like the topic could not have been more suitable, masking my disdain for it. But as I spoke, only my face wore the mask of smiles, my words did not. As my brain ran out of words to put together in front of a crowd, my heart felt the need to help!
From the childhood dreams of a girl getting married to a guy with a lot of toy cars to the adolescent teenage dream of handsomeness, I spoke about “my husband” in a more generalized manner. I took the “Your” in the topic as a more generalized “Your” – a “your” for all the 70+ young women in the room and those outside who would end up with a husband. I spoke of how the prescribed dreams of society – of what a future husband should possess – is so different from actual dreams. Starting from the teenage ‘hot girl’ topics of how tall “my guy” is going to be, to how attentive he is going to be, to what color his eyes are going to be, (which I also passively participated in), I led into how, as we grow older, we start asking different questions – of how understanding my guy has to be, how supporting he has to be and so on.
While maintaining eye contact with the people in front of me, I could perceive how they would relate to the changing of the phases: from crushing on a boy waving at you and telling his friends ‘That’s my girl!’ every time you pass by with giggles and a hair flip, to the longing for a guy who you can confide all your darkest secrets and would still choose to hold your hand. The laughs and shy smiles amongst the crowd made me confident that the occasional jokes were working and what I was talking about was relatable. So, my heart just went for it, full-on!
Veering off-course a bit, I also added points about love, family, value and mutual respect that you would hope to expect from your future husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. I kept speaking without a change of emotion when I suddenly realized a sort of shock wave moving across the audience; they’d caught on to my modifying the topic to “my future husband or wife” in that one sentence.
I did not realize that I was not just generalizing. But I should have known. At least when I was looking to see her reaction, sitting on the very first bench, as I changed the “future husband” to “future husband or wife”. As the words fell out of my mouth, my eyes paced, just like my heart was, straight to her to capture her immediate reaction.
I was just trying to be inclusive, is what I thought (or acted like) and that was what I assumed all the other 70 or so girls thought as well. Little did I know that days, weeks, months, and almost a couple of years later, that it was a more personalized speech than that – my first, official ‘coming out’ speech. After all these years, I can very confidently say that it actually was. It was all a part of my coming out process, my inner, actual self taking over the stage. At the end of the speech, I remember my fingers getting cold when our trainer asked if anyone would like to give feedback or offer any suggestions – I feared that someone would just ask “Are you gay?” And the scarier part was that I was resolved to lie, even when I terribly wanted to speak my truth.
I was praying more so that she would not ask me anything – her expression suggested that she still wanted the topic to be more specific – “future husband”. And her saying it out loud to my face, in front of the whole class, was the last thing I wanted.
Towards the end of college, I did gain the courage to talk to her about my feelings and I was right about what she thought. She was kind though and did me the service of not freaking out. But it got awkward and the last 6 months of college were hellish. I didn’t have it in me to attend my graduation ceremony that I’d always dreamed about going to and had to sit with so many emotions in the two to three years after, until it dawned on me why I hated talking about “my future husband”. It was not because I was not fit for the stage. It was because the topic never fit me. It always was and always should have been ‘My future wife’.
I hope in a few more years that the girl unceremoniously picked to make a speech, nervously standing in the same classroom, gets the topic, “My future partner’”. I hope that’s where we end up: a more inclusive stage where we’re able to speak and think about more inclusive ideas of love, even if merely in the pursuit of professional capability.