Ask Lillith: A Graceful Exit
Lillith Grey has been lighting up the stage for over five years as a burlesque and fetish performer, musician, and emcee, and can frequently be found performing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She holds a master’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, and is currently completing her Ph.D. in psychology. She has worked as a psychotherapist, educator, and social justice advocate, and currently teaches at a local university while working on her research. She travels extensively, teaching classes and workshops on a variety of subjects including relationships, communication, trauma, body image, sexuality and gender, and diversity issues. Lillith is also active in the Leather community, serving on the NLA-International Writing Awards committee and as a co-chair for the Women’s International LeatherFest. Visit her at www.LillithGrey.com for more information.
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I’ve been in a burlesque troupe for several years and as much as it pains me to say it, I want out. It’s just not as fun as it used to be and group decisions have become increasingly more difficult. I really want to explore performing more as a solo artist, but I have no idea how to bring it up and I know there will be hurt feelings because my troupe mates are also my friends. Any advice on how I can gracefully exit my troupe and maintain the relationships I have with my friends?
Apprehensive in Arizona
What a difficult situation! I know how hard it is to have to make an important decision when you know it might be hurtful to others. It is so important to be deliberate about where we put our energy and effort, and I’m glad you’re paying attention to what you need and where your path is taking you. I am also really glad that you’re attending to the effects of these necessary changes and that you’re willing to be considerate about others. I think that speaks to your good heart, and I would imagine that, deep down, your friends will ultimately realize you’re coming from a genuine place.
The conversation will be difficult, and yes, there will likely be hurt feelings, which can show up in all kinds of ways. They might get angry, they might lash out, they may feel defensive or argumentative, or they may decide to point out all kinds of things that are wrong with you. Try to keep in mind that all of these reactions are manifestations of the deepest emotion, which is hurt. As hard as it is, remember that what happens in the immediate aftermath is not about you, it’s about their experience. Allow the waves to crest, and when the oceans calm, things will be okay.
Here are some tips that might make this a little smoother for you:
Make it about you, not them
The bottom line is that you are leaving because the style of the troupe no longer fits your needs. Even though you might be triggered by various issues in the group, at its core the issue you’re dealing with is that you no longer feel like you fit with the group in a professional way. When you let them know you’re leaving, make sure you’re talking about your experiences and your goals and avoid focusing on what they’re doing wrong. It is perfectly legitimate for you to make a change in your path, and if you can communicate that to them in a way that’s not accusatory or judgmental, they’ll be more likely to support you.
Choose what to say and what to leave unsaid
Of course, you should not be dishonest about your experiences or the reasons you are leaving, but you should try to be gentle and tactful. It is not necessary for you to tell them all their flaws and the reasons why it’s hard to work with them. It’s not your responsibility to fix the things that are wrong. If you feel like your troupe is receptive to feedback and could handle some constructive advice, you might be able to be more straightforward with your reasons for leaving. Communication is a two-way street, though, and if you’re working with people whom you know to be defensive and resistant, trying to have a blunt conversation may create more problems. Give them the respect of your honesty, but be deliberate in choosing how much to reveal and how to present it to them.
Be clear with them
It is a terrible feeling to find out something that affects you through Facebook or Twitter posts, or through a third person who isn’t involved. When you make the decision, let them know directly so they’re not surprised. Avoid being vague or wishy-washy – if you’re leaving, don’t tell them you’re just taking a break, or sort of disappear. Let them know what’s going on with you. These are your friends and they care about you, so be up front with them.
Don’t assume they know anything you haven’t directly told them. Everyone sees the world through a different lens, so what you think is obvious may not be understood by them. What one person sees as unimportant may feel really big to another person. If you aren’t sure you’re being understood, ask.
Prepare for the conversation
Don’t text them this news. Email is also a bad idea, both because of the absence of non-verbal information, but also because this kind of thing needs a back-and-forth dialogue. Plan a good time to have the conversation, and have it with as many of them as you can as close to the same time as possible. If you’re doing it by phone, call them all on the same day. If you’re doing it at a meeting, make sure you do it when there’s time to have the conversation and it won’t feel rushed. Make sure you’re in a comfortable place, on neutral ground, with some measure of privacy.
If it’s helpful, write down what you want to say so that you can say things deliberately. It’s okay to read a letter out loud – sometimes that’s the easiest way, and can give you something tangible to lean on in a tough moment. Or, you can make bullet points and just check in with your list as you talk to make sure you’ve covered what you need to cover. Even if writing isn’t helpful, having a clear sense of what you want to say and how you want to say it will help things go more smoothly.
Be patient with their reactions
They may be hurt, they may be angry, and they may be defensive. These are normal reactions and they don’t mean your friends don’t love you. Expect some backlash at first, and be ready to address it. When they feel hurt, acknowledge it and try to be understanding. Just because someone feels hurt doesn’t necessarily mean you did something wrong, but they are still experiencing hurt, and you can be still be supportive of their feelings.
Also, recognize that strong reactions are not reflective of how things will ultimately work out. If harsh words are exchanged, make sure to revisit them when things are smoother. Try not to take personally things that are said in the heat of the moment. Ruptures in relationships happen all the time, and repairing them is often what makes your relationships deeper and more meaningful. Don’t lose sight of the long term when you’re in the midst of a difficult time in your relationships.
Continue to support them
Keep posting their flyers, promoting their shows, liking their posts, going to their performances, and so forth. Hearing someone no longer wants to work with you is hard, and they might feel like you’re leaving them behind. Continuing to be enthusiastically supportive of them will demonstrate that you are still there for them and you still care.
And of course, don’t talk shit about them. When people ask why you left the group, do not go into gory detail about everything that went wrong. Figure out a way to answer that question honestly but, again, make it about you. “I am focusing on a solo career now” is not dishonest, but it’s also not revealing too much private stuff. They will hear about it if you’re saying negative things, and what they need most from you in a difficult time is your support and good wishes.
I know this is a rough process and I wish you the best of luck. Having difficult conversations can be very intense, but very rewarding on the other side. I definitely support your efforts to move forward on your burlesque path, and I also wholeheartedly support your efforts to maintain good relationships and avoid drama. Stay focused on the positive and take care of yourself!