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  • Nele Janssens

Sofie Verhalle

Small pieces of color flutter across the table. Sofie had reached into the pocket of her overalls to throw a handful of confetti in the air. It was her answer to my question ‘are you an optimist?’

“This confetti doesn’t symbolize that I’m a clown who hides pain behind a funny façade. Instead, it is a reminder to keep looking for the positive. Actually, seeing the positive is in my nature: I’m full of energy, the silliest tiniest things spark joy. In a strict society however, this isn’t considered a good thing. I’m often called too loud, too chaotic, ‘too much’. For years I felt like the odd one out, until I found out I probably have ADHD. And I realized: oddity is beauty!”

"I had been masking because I didn’t fit what seemed to me like an arbitrary norm. I had been hiding something ‘queer’. To me, that word encompasses everything that doesn’t fit a norm: non-neurotypical, gay, trans, non-binary, … They present different ways of looking at what we know. They create opportunities.”

To appreciate divergence, queerness, as an opportunity rather than failure, is to be an optimist. That is why Sofie lives by the words ‘Optimism is a moral duty’. I had always thought that optimism and skepticism were mutually exclusive, but Sofie united them with the spark in her eyes and the fire in her voice. “I’ve rediscovered the optimism I had been hiding, I recognize my strengths and my talents and I’m looking to use them to make an impact.”

As a freelance Digital Communication Strategist, Sofie uses language to make that impact. “I want to focus on my work in inclusive communication to sensitize, inform and transform. Ultimately, I want to unmask norms and stereotypes as restrictive boxes. One way to do that is to reconsider the data we know. I got this insight from the book Queer Data, that describes the data we collect and examines possibilities to broaden them, bring them beyond a set norm, make them queer.”

Sofie jumps up and uses her fingers as drumsticks on the table: “Queer as a verb, isn't that awesome?!”

“We can also queer the data encoded in our brain: the stereotypes we live by. As I’ve gained expertise in the field of communication and built a reliable network of peers, I feel comfortable enough to take on this task. I can create a space where I feel safe to speak up. That safety is crucial: to show people new ways of seeing the world is a difficult task often bestowed on minorities who risk their health doing it.”

“In my workshops, I aim to transform, not by pointing the finger or imposing ideas, but by asking questions and holding up a mirror. In the conversation that follows, we can learn from each other and change the way we think. We can queer our thoughts.”

Sofie takes a sip from her Back-To-The-Future-Mug and beams “This sparks joy. And ideas.”

Sofie Verhalle is a communication strategist and inclusivity communication trainer.

Instagram : @lamazone

Text : Nele Janssens

Photo : Marijn Achten


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