How to Ask Someone to Share Knowledge and Lived Experience

By : Lowrah · September 2, 2015

Leading up to, during, and after Babes in Bikeland 9, several people have reached out for my help.  They asked for my perspective and lived experience around topics like, gender 101, making a safer spaces policy, not being an offensive bro, and understanding tone policing.


Photo by Lindsey Wallace,

I am so honored that people see me as an accessible resource! I love to be helpful, and I want to work tirelessly toward safer and inclusive spaces. The most flattering thing about being asked for help is not that I feel proud of the expertise people perceive I hold. The most flattering thing is that people trust me and find me approachable enough to want to be vulnerable. And the fact that people are reaching out means they want to learn and grow, which makes the world a better place to live in.

How to ask for knowledge and perspective from someone who experiences oppression

By now, we should all know that just because you want to know more about the black experience, doesn't mean you can approach a black person and demand they share their thoughts and experiences with you.  If you want to know about what it is like to be a WTF, they don't owe you "WTF 101." But if you are genuine in your desire to learn, how do you ask someone for help with something outside of your understanding?  Here are some steps to respectfully asking someone to be vulnerable with you, and share their time and energy with you.

  1. Always remember to ask for consent! Nobody owes you anything, you aren't entitled to anything. e.g. "Would you like to have coffee on Friday to discuss ____?" Be able to take no for an answer. "No?  No problem! Thanks for being clear and honest with me.  If you ever change your mind know that I am interested."
  2. Do some research. Either on your own, or you can ask for some homework before we talk. You don't have to be an expert, but it helps if we have shared understandings of basic concepts, and if you have specific questions we can be extra productive. e.g. Google it first.
  3. Set goals and expectations. What do you expect to get out of this conversation? e.g. "I'd like to share something I got called out on that I don't understand. Could you help me get to the bottom of that?"
  4. Accept my knowledge and experience. My experience is just mine. I can't speak for anyone else. Telling me not to feel a certain way or that what I've experienced is not real is not cool. e.g. Don't say, "You need to stop being angry." Please say, "Thank you for your perspective!"
  5. Drop the 'ttude. Defensiveness is an understandable reaction when talking about difficult subjects, but that doesn't mean it is welcome. No one is perfect and we all have to start somewhere, so try to stop defending yourself and avoid blame and really think about what's being said. e.g. If you feel like saying "Not all..." just stop.
  6. Compensate me for my work. Talking about the trauma and pain of my identity is emotional work. Discussing the nuances of how to do better is work. WTFs, POC, and other folks are expected to do this work for the benefit of the people who benefit from systems that oppress us, just beause they ask. It is fair to compensate people for their time and work that has value.
  7. Thank me and appreciate my time and energy. Because I am thankful you asked, and I appreciate your time and energy.

My friend Nicole recently told me that having concrete examples is a good way to give people the tools to support you. Instead of "Be respectful," I'm saying, "Don't make 'jokes' about gay or trans people, because it is disrespectful." I'm practicing this communication in this list.

I am over the moon that an event like Babes and all of the language that has been swirling around in preparation for, and during Babes has catalyzed these conversations! Humans have an amazing capacity for learning and for empathy. I love that the more we learn, the more we feel the pain and triumph of others. Never stop learning. Never stop feeling.

We are all in this together.

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