June 9, 2023

Arrow’s D&I Speaker Series: A Pride Conversation with Jeffrey Marsh and Barb Clark  

Category: D&I Series

Author: Michael Gutgsell

When Barb Clark was ten years old, she asked her mom why she loved girls instead of boys. As a staunch Catholic, her mother warned her what she was thinking was a sin. So she buried it, she recounts in a conversation with activist and best-selling author Jeffrey Marsh over Zoom during a Pride month conversation about acceptance and being yourself. “Wife” and “mother” were identities that were conditioned into her from a young age and to which she aspired. Growing up, Clark didn’t even consider that as a woman she could be a doctor. She was told she wouldn’t succeed in college. But she went anyway, earning a Masters in Mathematics. She then enrolled in a PhD program in Computer and Media Studies – the only woman in her program. Clark found that her way of thinking differed from her student colleagues, a sense she has felt through much of her life. She married and had children. But after her marriage ended, Clark made the decision to come out and live openly. She reconnected with Melba, a friend from high school, also recently divorced, and the two fell in love. They were in a relationship for a decade until Melba’s death. 

Marsh can relate to Clark’s experience. Marsh strived to be “the perfect Lutheran” but found that identity did not fit, nor did the traditional gender binary constructs of “male” and “female.” Marsh connected Clark’s experience to the larger conversation about gender identity. There’s a movement today to question the boxes of gender that limit people’s ideas of how they can live their lives. It may be tempting to say “Things sure are different nowadays!” but Marsh points to Clark’s own experience 70 years ago: She felt she was different from the boxes teachers and her mother tried to fit her into, showing that gendered expectations chafed then, too. And Clark is far from being alone: A significant demographic of Marsh’s followers on social media are people 65 and older, which implies that their message resonates with people cross-generationally. “So many people were taught to live such a narrow, specific life,” says Marsh. “Everyone’s life can be so much bigger than they were told.” 

People often think they must understand a person’s identity before they can respect it, but Marsh suggests that understanding not be a prerequisite for respecting a human being. It’s important to remember that at the heart of any conversation about identity there are people with lived experience, like Marsh and Clark. When people don’t understand a person, they can react with fear and ignorance, the result of which we can see today in the news and legislation that targets the rights of trans people. When hurtful or hateful things are said to Marsh, they are asked if it frightens them. “What I care about,” Marsh responds, “Is spreading love, being kind to people, showing people you can live without fear. To me, that’s worth any risk.”  

To learn more about Jeffrey Marsh, visit https://www.jeffreymarsh.com 

Saint Charles, Missouri-based Arrow Senior Living manages a portfolio of communities that offer varying levels of care, including independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Each and every senior living community supports residents by focusing on dignity, respect, and quality of life. The programs and amenities offered are selected to provide only the highest standard of quality and comfort.

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