Widening the Lens
You Do You Boo
and other Fearless Feats and Failures at being Authentic
By Eduardo Placer
The tour trunk is packed with paper birthday hats, festive bunting and swords. My tour partner and I have just finished a 30 minute potpourri of Shakespeare scenes celebrating the Bard’s 450th birthday. We’re ready to leave this Tacoma, Washington high school when a young student approaches me and says,“I heard you sing in the show. Nice. Sing us a song.” Immediately I freeze. ... The truth is, I only know the words to show tunes.” Without skipping a beat she offers, “You do you boo boo.” Click To Tweet
“I heard you sing in the show. Nice. Sing us a song.”
Immediately I freeze. Even though I’m deep in my 30s, the question stimulates my middle school anxiety. My mind starts racing with any song that could be relevant in this moment . . . One Direction . . . Taylor Swift . . . Depeche Mode. The truth is the only song I know all the lyrics to is “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria” from The Sound of Music. I’m at a loss and offer, “That is very sweet. The truth is, I only know the words to show tunes.”
Without skipping a beat she offers, “You do you boo boo.”
And there it is. A gentle and loving reminder from this ninth-grader, to just do me.
It has been over 7 years since I was graced with this lesson, and as a small business owner, international speaker, and public speaking coach I often come back to this moment. Especially because there is so much buzz around the word AUTHENTICITY. BE AUTHENTIC is tossed around like a trite hallmark greeting. As if authenticity is something easy, accessible and can be purchased at your local Target for $2.99.
My authenticity, a divine combo platter of Paul Lind and Charo, while appearing easy and joyful, is actually sourced from deep pain. A pain that originates from the wounds of both external and internalized homophobia. And as the Instagram feeds and Clubhouse chat rooms filled with chatter and advice to be more authentic, something doesn’t sit right with me. What does this word really mean, and why is there still such a personal and professional struggle with being authentic?
As a lover of language, I often begin with the etymology or the origin of words. Thanks to etymonline.com, I learn that we can piece together an ancient definition from the following: autos (meaning “self”); hentes (meaning “doer” or “being”) which itself derives from the Proto Indo European root sene (which means “to accomplish or achieve”). So self + being + achieve = authenticity. Looks like that young woman in Tacoma was right – YOU DO YOU BOO BOO.
But as I look back at my life as a queer, young Cuban-American boy with an acute and explosive case of Showtunitis, where was there achievement and/or celebration in the natural expression of myself?
I’m standing in front of my classmates in a second grade classroom clutching a stuffed animal seal and confess that I name him after a boy that I have an innocent crush on. I learn don’t be yourself . . .LIE.
In sixth grade, a fellow boy classmate, who is also the victim of taunts and jeers, gives me a Valentine’s Day box of chocolates. Although nothing overt is shared, I infer the meaning of his gift. Behind his back, I make fun of him, to take the pressure off of me. I learn don’t be yourself . . . HIDE.
I’m 12 years old and on a weekend afternoon grab the H volume of the World Book Encyclopedia and lock myself in the bathroom looking up the dreaded word HOMOSEXUALITY. For years, when my parents or grandparents ask if I like a girl, I feel forced to play along. As I flip the pages my heartbeat races. I finally land on the word and at the end of the entry, it says, “in some cases, and with great work, a homosexual can change.” I exhale and learn don’t be yourself . . . CHANGE.
So here is another recipe: LIE + HIDE + CHANGE = CONFORMITY. This is what is actually centered and rewarded . . . how well we perform the collective authenticity of the dominant power. When does it really pay to be an “outlier”, “different”, “unique” or “authentic” in middle school and high school?
At 18, the pain of conformity was too strong and I had the courage to come out of the closet as a gay man. It’s been over 25 years and still, the fascism of conformity is at war within me. As a small business owner, I have to navigate the disclosure of the truth of who I am, because in some places in the United States and in the greater world it is still unsafe for me to BE AUTHENTIC. Before I walk on global stages to share my story AUTHENTICALLY, the fear that there are homophobes in the audience can be both paralyzing and debilitating.
And yet over 25 years since the day I had the courage to powerfully stand in physical and vocal alignment with the truth of who I am, I also know that there have been immense rewards. None of it is easy, but there are rewards.
I know that there is probably something about you that you were taught to lie + hide + change. Something that through great pain you may have started to share in personal and professional settings. If you feel safe to walk through the fear and step into the fearlessness of being more authentic, may you remember the words of the middle school student in Tacoma and my affirmation to you . . . You Do You Boo Boo.
Eduardo Placer (he/him) is a storyteller, speaker and founder of Fearless Communicators. He founded a diverse, inclusive public speaking coaching practice that works with emerging and accomplished thought leaders on what they say and how they say it. Clients include presidential candidates, UN diplomats, industry leaders and start-up founders. Organization clients include Google, HBO, Crisis Group, Adage Tech, University of Pennsylvania, Yale and The Juilliard School. Prior to his entrepreneurial journey, Eduardo was a professional actor and suffers from an acute condition called Showtunitis where he spontaneously breaks out into song and dance. Learn more at eduardoplacer.com.