#66: Storytelling with Ann Townsend, Author of LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity, Founder of Hands Across the Pond [Podcast] - Jenn T. Grace—Book Publisher, Speaker, and Author Skip to the content

#66: Storytelling with Ann Townsend, Author of LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity, Founder of Hands Across the Pond [Podcast]

Thanks for listening to episode #66 of the podcast. Today’s episode is with Ann Townsend, author of LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity. She is also an advocate for LGBTQ youth with Hands Across the Pond. She also shares a few secret projects she is working on and how you can get involved. I hope you enjoy the episode – reach out to me with any questions or comments!

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Listen to the episode by clicking the play button below.

Would you prefer to read the transcript than listen to the episode? No problem! Read the transcript below!

AUDIO TITLE:  Episode #66 – Interview with Ann Townsend

 

Jenn T Grace:

Essentially I would love for you to tell the listeners just a little bit about yourself. So you can talk about your personal story, your professional journey, maybe the intersection of both of those which I know is actually part of your story, and just kind of- I don’t know, give a little overview to the listeners of what your path looked like that led you to the place that you are currently today.

Ann Townsend:

When I was a teenager I was far from even close to a point where I was willing to accept that I was gay. I- in fact until probably the last five or so years, I was uncomfortable saying the word ‘lesbian.’ It has a lot to do with my upbringing. I was raised in- even though I was born in California, I was raised in Arkansas in a town that was filled with a gazillion churches and there was only 10,000 in the population. So-

Jenn T Grace:

Lots of choices.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah. So when I went to Hawaii and I was away from all the people that could possibly judge me and affect my life in any way, I went ahead and followed some instincts. And I had already had my first physical encounter with a female, even though it was fully clothed and included combat boots; it was one of those- that was the ‘ah-ha’ moment. That was like, “Oh, yes. Yes, I am gay. I like girls, yes I do. And this one in particular is fine.” And then in Hawaii I went ahead and didn’t stay in the military- had my first girlfriend and stayed with her for six months, and learned a lot about relationships that I had no idea about because I had had boyfriends. But because I was never emotionally invested in them it was never something that really- I didn’t really grow from it. It was kind of like I was going through these motions like, “This is supposed to be this way. This is the way I’m supposed to be. This is the way the world works. Get over it Ann, whatever your problem is.” And I always- it was kind of hard though because I was always disconnected in one way or another from everybody, because just the way my brain works. And turns out there’s a reason for that, that I only got recently diagnosed with. But there was always a piece of me that couldn’t understand some of the conversations, couldn’t understand some of the social norms, and so I felt that I was just having to deal with yet another one of those social things that I just didn’t get, that I just was disconnected from, and I just had to deal with it because that’s what people did. And- but in Hawaii having a girlfriend and experiencing an actual lesbian love affair that was hard and fantastic and amazing, and because of the two people we were, was not at all successful. But while I was there I met some really fantastic older ladies from Portland, some- my roommate was gay, and he was also my supervisor. And they came down from Portland to take a look at the shop that we were doing. It was a national corporation, and we were doing something right and doing some things wrong, and they wanted to see how they could emulate the rightness and fix the wrongness. And they spent some time with me personally, and explained a lot of things to me, and my first introduction to the concept of baby dyke. And it was I felt like I was, you know being talked to by some aunties, or some cousins, or some big sisters, or whatever. But it really helped, and they helped me understand so many things. But they also took a look at who I was and said, “You know, this would be a lot easier if you just kind of relaxed.” And of course I am not very relaxed about many things. I mean I’m much more relaxed like over the last year actually, compared to a lot of times because I’ve done some growing. But relaxing isn’t- when it comes to sexuality, any form of sexuality much less- I mean I didn’t even masturbate until I was nineteen. So having to speak about it, and to actually deal with it and all this stuff, was kind of rough. But in a work situation I realized I never wanted to wear a dress ever again, and it was really hard because the norm, it wasn’t just a social norm, it was a ‘this is how you will dress for a professional wear.’ And of course the guys were in polyester pants and aloha shirts, and women had to wear heels and dresses all the time, and it was- the contradiction and the polarity and the gender roles really was a lot of frustration for me. Not just because of me being a lesbian, but it just didn’t sit right with me in general. Just because I was a female. Much less the fact I really hate dresses, and I don’t do dresses, and the last time I put heels on I felt like I was in drag, it was pretty scary. But that was my experience then. And then about ten years ago I had a boss that knew I was a lesbian, and knew I had a family- I had stepkids, and I brought one of the kids in because he couldn’t go to school but I didn’t want to take off from work so I brought him in, and it was a mobile home in the middle of nowhere so it wasn’t like we were around a bunch of people that would notice he was- that my stepson was there. My boss got really mad, and that was one thing that surprised me. And then I started working for myself so that I didn’t have to deal with a whole lot of that stuff. And then about almost eight years ago I started working for a county in California, and my experience was one of wonderment because my director was an out lesbian, the county had a really firm policy because the state does, but it’s even moreso when you work in government, that you know, there will not be any type of prejudice or discrimination based on sexual orientation. And to a certain extent that was absolutely true, and I got to go through an experiment for the first time in my life of ‘who am I? What do I want to be? Am I trans? Nope, I’m not transgender. Nope, I don’t want to have a penis. Nope, I’m a girl. Hate my boobs, still a girl. I’m okay with being a girl. I can work with that.’ And figured out that I didn’t want to wear guys’ clothes all the time even though I look like a teenager I suppose some of the times because I wear cargo pants, and button up shirts. But I’m comfortable with my clothing, and I’m comfortable with me being me, and being a female. And I wouldn’t have had that opportunity had it not been for my environment, and the safety.

Jenn T Grace:

I was actually just about to ask you- it was a perfect spot to ask you, you were talking about your environment. So for the listener, for the benefits of the listeners, you and I know each other well at this point. So I know your professional background. So can you talk a little bit- because you’re talking about your environment as it relates to your work with the county. Can you talk a little bit about your professional background in the IT space? And then from there kind of bridge the gap for the listeners a little bit in terms of how you got to the place of writing your book, which I would like to talk about a little bit as well.

Ann Townsend:

Nobody in my family on my mother’s side had ever gone to college, and I was supposed to- and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but I tried- the only avenue for me in the late eighties to do programming, because I was really drawn to it emotionally and mentally, was through the Air Force. And then when the Air Force didn’t work out because I washed out of basic training, which I say without too much embarrassment which shows some bit of growth this year. I thought I was going to be a receptionist or administrative worker somewhere because college still wasn’t there. And then I went to college because dog-gone-it, I could, and I was smart enough, I was good enough, and I like me. And I explored and discovered and didn’t do anything with programming because there weren’t even any classes for it, but I knew I could do something in science. And it wasn’t until the nineties after I had finished my first degree as a Respiratory Therapist, and gotten registered Respiratory Therapist which is a national accreditation, and then I was gaming back in the day in the mid-nineties. It was all text based and we had 14.4 modems and that was really fast for me, and learning how to type and read at the same time. And I started doing some coding there, and but only because my friend says, “You know, you really ought to do this.” He would come to me, he would ask me questions and he was like, “Okay so this is what I’m trying to do, and these are the different things that are playing into it, what do you think?” And I would kind of go through the logic with him and talk to him about it. He’s like, “You know, you really need to do this Ann. No, I mean you need to go and do this for a living. Your brain works like a computer.” I was like, “I don’t know about that, but okay I’ll try.” So I got some classes, and I got A’s in all of my programming classes, and then I tried engineering and apparently motherboards and I don’t get along. I’m not good with electronics at all, and I’m not highly mechanically inclined. I usually break things, or fry them, or I don’t mashups very well at all. So- but then I had to figure out, because I was doing this MUD stuff, it was multi-user domain or multi-user dungeon. And I started building my own, and it was mostly historical based. I would have them go through these rooms and they would learn about the Tudors, and the relationships between the different houses in England. And people were like, “This is really educational Ann, maybe this is not what you should be doing. Maybe writing, you should maybe do that, not so much coding game rooms and areas.” But then I had to pay for my MUD because I had it free on a server at an ISP that didn’t even know it was there. And so I started doing web development and when Cousin Ned- which I use as an insulting term for any old person that thinks they can do whatever it is that the rest of us are doing code-wise. Just everybody started saying, “Well you know my nephew, my nephew Ned, he can do this. Yeah he could take care of this for us, we don’t need you to do this anymore, thank you so much, have a nice day.” And so I was like okay but he can’t do web applications, so I started doing web applications in ’98 before it was cool, and except it was all in Perl on a Linux machine, and I did that including going to the point of having my Midas accounting packages being their CEO, and trying to write an accounting package that was really niche because of the fact that it was a web app, and it was basically self-dynamic design that would build its own menus, and users could decide what they wanted to link to, and it would build its own kind of concepts into itself, and it was semi-intelligent. And then that fell apart, and I started doing tech work, and then I had my first MS attack, and I couldn’t see so I couldn’t do like screws and stuff on putting computers together. And I had to do big screens on my work stations because I couldn’t see the screen. And so then I decided I had to go a different direction and as I healed, I started looking at what I was capable of, got my Master’s Degree, and decided maybe some consulting or something like that, but then I got enough somewhere in there, because I decided my life needed to change, and I needed to be able to do what everybody else could do, and be successful in life the same way. I decided I needed to go and take all of this experience, and get a real job. And I had offers from various large Silicon Valley corporations that will remain nameless, as well as international marketing firms that wanted me to take care of their various financial applications. And a large GIS company that wanted me to build for them because of my background and experience in classwork. And then I found the county, and the county offered me better money, better benefits, and a retirement plan. And they couldn’t fire me very easily either, so I said, “Yes! That sounds like security! That will be a first!”

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah.

Ann Townsend:

So that’s how I ended up there. About three years ago I was pulled off of the main reason I was hired, and for about six months I spent my time at work kind of spinning and trying to learn and trying to figure out what my next great thing was, and not sure if I was going to have a job at the county if my usefulness had been worn out or not. And my division manager said, “Ann I want you to learn how to develop mobile applications.” And I said, “You want to what? Huh?” And so he directed me, he gave me training, funding, he sent me off, he had me do all kinds of things, and kind of drive a particular direction for the county, and we’re still behind a lot of counties that have a lot more money and that have a different kind of- that aren’t as conservative in their- the communities are not as conservative as this one is. And so we’re driven to be more conscientious- or rather not everybody is conscientious for the most part. But more conservative, even in what we do as far as the kinds of ways that we interact with them. They just haven’t had a- there hasn’t been a drive really from our agencies because there hasn’t been from our tax payers. But that’s changing, and but it threw me off, and I was kind of in a hole, and I was not sure what direction or purpose my life had, and I wasn’t sure how to go about finding it or really myself because I’d been driven on adrenaline for so long that I wasn’t even sure how to go about making a life that I could look back on and be proud of, and feel like I contributed somehow to overall society, as well as done some things that might have marked my life as being significant in some way. And I felt like I should have- I should, I should have, I would have if only. And then I was not- I was in a real bad depression I guess, and curled up in a ball, and I was listening to stories, audible stories, and not doing anything significant at all, and I would play like little games on my phone or whatever, or I was reading blog posts, and last year on the fifteenth- was it the fourteenth? Fourteenth or fifteenth of August I came across an article about Vicky Beeching, and most people go, “Huh? Who?” She is a gospel contemporary rock artist who is British but came to America and spent many of her formidable years here creating a career that was really rough on her. Including promoting anti-Prop 8 kinds of stuff for the megachurches. And she came out as being a lesbian, and threw caution to the wind to make her life better, and to stand up and say something, not only for herself but for people that are afraid to say stuff, even if it’s going to destroy- or their perception is it will destroy their careers, it will destroy their lives, and they have a hard time talking about it. Especially in the very conservative areas of the United States in particular in the south, and I could totally identify with that, having grown up there. But also having had a different kind of experience and having different parents, and but I was- I realized that there was something there, and it wasn’t- I didn’t know how, or what, or why, or what it was I was supposed to do, but I got online because she had a link to her Twitter account from Autostraddle which is the blog I was reading, and I went and I looked her up, and I checked out- I made sure that she wasn’t like just doing this for some kind of promo or whatever, and this is real, and this is true. And it spoke to me on so many levels because I’d been asking God, “Hey you know, I’ve got these talents. Did you want me to use them for this, this, or this?” And I’d always get this sick feeling in my stomach like that is not what you’re supposed to do. And so I’d be like, “Okay cool. Not going to do that, fine.” And on this one there was no sick feeling. It was absolutely I was supposed to do something, I just had to find out what, and I got ahold of Ms. Beeching and we had a couple of conversations, I got her Unicorn of the Week form Huffington Post on Twitter, and there was a big old like international thing that was a to-do about that. And so my name and hers went out and this guy from Australia was talking about it on this YouTube video, and it was like wow! I did that.

Jenn T Grace:

That’s awesome.

Ann Townsend:

So she followed me on Twitter, and we had a couple more conversations, and it was- we don’t have any like connection now or anything; she knows who I am, I know who she is, we actually met in person, it was really awesome. And she’s a really amazing woman, but we have different paths for sure. So I was in Eugene and I was supposed to be checking out their Psychology Department at the University of Oregon. And I went up there for a week so I could feel it out, figure out if that’s what I was going to do next, because I knew I had to do something and I had already had that planned. And I went up through Grants Pass and my aunt said, “You know what would be really funny? If you wrote a book. That’d be so funny. And I was like, huh. “Yeah that’d be funny, uh huh.” And I got there, and six hours later I was writing a book.

Jenn T Grace:

So you take action fast. So talk to us about the book itself. Because I am actually looking at it from across the way, it’s on my bookshelf. It’s nice to have a physical copy to look at. But I guess for those who are listening to this who want to hear your story, because no one even knows what the book title is at this point, so it’s kind of a little bit of a mystery as to what the book will be about. But what was your process for writing it? Because I know you wrote it rather quickly, and I know that you have a plan for writing many more. So why don’t you just talk to us about that for a few minutes?

Ann Townsend:

Well the main focus of everything that I’m doing is the LGBTQ youth population, and I really wanted to find a way particularly for those that are- they don’t have to be from the Evangelical community which does not mean speaking in tongues by the way, it just means a very conservative bible directed concept of Christianity. And that’s how I was raised; I was actually raised in the Anglican Church which is related to the Episcopal Church, even though they’ve separated, and is also- the Church of England is actually part of the Anglican community of the world. So all of these little pieces, they are desperate but at the same time they all have connections and ties back to a particular way of thinking. And which is the irony, they’re like, “Well we’re bible-based, and we’re going to do- you know this is what Christ said.” And I said, “Yeah he also said don’t judge. So I’m not sure where you guys kind of left that off, and why you just think it’s your place to do that.” So I wanted to make sure that if we’re Evangelical, and we believe that the Lord has unconditional love for us, then these concepts that people are putting together- and it’s not all Christians, it’s not all Evangelicals, it’s not all Anglicans. It is very conservative, but also people that have fear. And people that want control. And they want it to be XYZ because it makes sense, and it’s understandable, and they can deal with it. But kids growing up in these environments, whether it’s Evangelical or some other kind of conservative religious background regardless, if it’s they’re Muslim, or they’re in some of the Orthodox Jew communities; there’s a lot of them where it’s just not okay to be gay. And I decided that it was really important that people knew that that’s not what God’s program was, and I thought it was really important also, and most importantly, that from a religious spiritual point of view, not that I’m trying to convert anybody because God speaks to people in so many ways. I’m not going to judge anybody just because they don’t have the same specific religious belief I do. They’re- you know, whatever works for them is good. That kids are okay. They may not even know, and maybe they experiment when they’re growing up, and maybe they’re not even gay. But they need to have that freedom to find that out for themselves, and not feel like they’re hindered by a particular dogma. And they need to feel that whoever they are, even if it’s really different, even if it- you know that difference may or may not be being gay, but if they’re different that that’s okay too because everyone is unique in their own way, and we’re like snowflakes, you know? So but at the same time as we’re growing up, we all have particular experiences that don’t look identical on the surface, but they’re similar enough. I mean there’s a very big difference for instance between you and I Jenn, because we- you were like you know what, nineteen, twenty and you’re like, “Wow, okay there it is.” As opposed to-

Jenn T Grace:

Yes. Lightbulb moment.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah. I mean my first love was I was five, six years old, asked her to marry me, it was adorable and it- you know, I didn’t know what it meant at the time, and it wasn’t until I got older that I kind of crawled inside myself, and I had crushes and stuff but I didn’t want to admit what it meant. But it was very young; three, four years old I can tell you for sure, there are memories that these things happened, and this is what my experience was, and this is what some of my feelings were. In the first book, ‘LGBTQ: Outing My Christianity,’ is really about growth in my sexuality as well as my religious footing. But it was- it’s really important to the fact that God doesn’t hate us. And we need to be okay with whoever we are, and at the same time saying you know, these are the very common experiences. So it really is for a particular audience. It’s for either parents or children in that- you know in a conservative religious background, and just to give them some food for thought, some things to think about, and at the same time give a really personal real experience that maybe someone can identify both you know- because I try to be really honest. As far as I got to the point there was a couple places where I couldn’t even talk about it, and there were things I left out for sure in the first book because I wasn’t there yet, I couldn’t dig into that piece of me, and it wasn’t something that was flowing naturally, and I also didn’t feel like it was the place for the first book. You know, sort of like this has one purpose, and it’s not about getting into you know, my first kiss which was not with a girl. Well actually, yes it was, that was a long time before then. My first had adolescent kiss, as compared to my very first actual kiss. So yeah, did I answer your question?

Jenn T Grace:

I think so, and this is so typical of just our conversations. Is that I ask a question and somehow we are orbiting the Earth a couple times over, and then we come back and usually the question has been answered, so thank you.

Ann Townsend:

I’m sorry.

Jenn T Grace:

No, I think this is good. So I know that we’re already probably I would say halfway into our conversation today, and I feel like you’ve already kind of answered and talked about a lot of- a lot of things that I would normally kind of go through in terms of the order of my questions. I do want to ask you though, because I know that- especially knowing that your purpose in life, or one of your purposes in life is to support and benefit the LGBTQ community. What keeps you motivated, or keeps you inspired when you have those rough days which we all have? Where does that source of inspiration or motivation come from for you personally?

Ann Townsend:

Well as is my want to do, I’m motivated by several things. One of them is [Inaudible 00:24:58]. I want to be a genius, and I don’t know that I am, even though people have told me I am, and so I’m working on that trying to like make that become a reality. But the biggest thing though, because that’s not enough, that internal- that thing for me thing is not enough, and right now I’m writing my first for the public, going to be sold, app. And it’s one headache after another, and I have a very short amount of time to get it done. And the only thing that keeps me going, and the worst parts of that, is it’s because I’m not personally so much- I mean I’ll have some benefit from it, but the money is going to the nonprofits. The money is going towards something that can benefit the most people, and to increase outreach, and to improve programs, and to support our children. Not somebody else’s kids, these are our rainbow kids. These are our children, you know? And particularly the ones that aren’t as accepted or understood by their parents, even if there may be love involved, they’re our children and we need to take care of them because we’re the ones that understand them. We’re the ones that got through our teens, through our twenties, our thirties, and now we’re into mature adultness- or we try to be mature even though we’re a teenager on the inside. But you know we need to show them how it’s done, and even though we didn’t necessarily do it very gracefully, we’re still alive, we’re still here, and there’s still lots of reasons to still be here, and not to punish ourselves either with suicide which is a permanent punishment obviously. Or even self-harm, because it’s really about you know, ‘I hurt so much on the inside that I want to hurt on the outside so that it makes more sense. Or I hurt so much on the inside that I have to cut myself so that I don’t feel so numb. Because everything hurts. Or I am bad, I’m not good, I’m a bad person, it’s wrong to have these feelings so I’m going to hurt myself and I’m going to punish myself.’ And none of that is okay. It’s not okay that they think that, it’s not okay that they feel that, and we need to help them figure out that that isn’t necessary. That they are okay, and that they’re not bad.

Jenn T Grace:

So that’s obviously- I feel like that ties in really, really well with what the purpose of what your first book is, and the subsequent books to come, and the fact that you have a charitable or a philanthropic arm to what you’re doing. Because you really, really do want to be giving back to the community. So in I guess- it could be personal, it could be kind of business focused, it could be kind of just around what we’re talking about now. But has anyone along the way given you some sort of advice that’s really helped either ground you in what you’re doing, or maybe help you pivot and go in a different direction for what you’re doing? Or I guess any direction you want to take that in. But is there just some kind of piece of advice? Like for me personally it was somebody years ago told me to always ask for forgiveness and not permission, and that is 100% the way I operate. So that was for me to hear that from somebody, was kind of like a ‘Wow, that is such beautiful advice. I’m going to use this in everything that I do.’ Do you have something like that, that’s really kind of helping drive the direction of what you’re doing? Because you still do have your professional job that you do day in and day out, but you have so many other things that you’re working on, on the side. So in terms of like balancing both, do you have anything in there that you operate on?

Ann Townsend:

Well Vicky made a real good point about the kids because it’s what’s behind us and what needs to come forward, and it’s our future, and it’s their future. And then I had a great conversation with Alan and Leslie Chambers who were part of the Exodus program and they’re not really well liked, but I felt that they needed some grace. It was put upon me that they needed some grace and some love, and they put in the idea that I needed more than just me, but that they weren’t the right people for it. And then Dr. Darcy Sterling who I also met online, said stop wondering what it’s like to be better than you, and just start being better than you. And don’t reinvent the wheel, and try to make use of resources more wisely so that you can have the energy you need for the things that you’re supposed to be doing. And then my friend Jenn T. Grace introduced me to these fantastic women from Teazled. And I was listening to that particular podcast and they were talking about dying on a hill. And do you really want to die on this hill? And the answer was yes, and of course they needed that balance, you know you can’t die on every hill even though they want- please help me with these names.

Jenn T Grace:

Oh, Dina.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes, the Dina’s.

Ann Townsend:

They’re both Dina’s apparently, right?

Jenn T Grace:

Yes, and spelled the same way.

Ann Townsend:

That’s I think what messes with me. So Dina was saying to Dina, “You can’t die on every hill.” And then Dina was saying to Dina, “But yes I can, you know this is what I have to do, and of course you need that balance and people to help you not die on every single hill.” And Jenn has helped me a lot with that for sure in keeping me focused and not dying on every hill. But when it comes to this particular thing, this is the hill- with the exception of programming, and self-development, and learning, and complete continually be educated; this process, this progress, this thing that I’m doing that is very wide stretched and not really capped up really well, because I’m opening my arms to whatever talent in whatever form it comes into, and whatever grace and whatever blessings that want to come my way. And this is my hill, I’ve never had a hill to die on that was outside of myself, and this is it.

Jenn T Grace:

You have to strategically pick the hills in which you are willing to die on.

Ann Townsend:

There’s the mini hills, right? There’s little lumps in the road, and then there’s the hills, and then there’s the mountains. And I guess the overall picture is the mountain, and I’m dying on this mountain. And some of those hills I continue to need help with. But yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

I feel like that’s good, and for context for any of the listeners, if you go to the website and look up episode number 36 of the podcast, that’s the one in which I think the dying on the hill was a really kind of critical piece to that interview that we were talking about, because they’re also business owners, and you have to just make strategic decisions and pick your battles, and they also have a very strong calling to support the LGBT community, so it all kind of ties together nicely. In terms of I guess switching gears a little bit. As an out LGBT consumer, what would you say to someone who’s listening to this who- because as you know, you probably know better than anyone, how like the purpose of this podcast is really to educate people on the LGBT community. So whether it’s people within the community, or whether it is people who are looking to somehow be involved within our community who are from the outside. What would you say to somebody who’s listening to this who maybe this is the first podcast they’ve heard of this show, and they’re thinking, “Wow, all of this stuff that Ann is talking about. How would I go about actually reaching her as a consumer? As a market if you will?” What would your first just kind of off the cuff piece of advice be to give to somebody that you think would actually enable them to be successful in reaching you as a potential consumer?

Ann Townsend:

I think the most important thing is don’t try to drum it into my head, and always be real. When there’s too much plastic-ness, it is really obvious and I don’t think that that matters whether you know, I’m a lesbian or not in those particular cases. But if you- and make sure that I know that I’m your customer, and that I don’t owe you anything. That it is my money that you’re trying to get, and I am not fortunate to have found you, because it is my money that you’re trying to get. And so don’t treat me like I’m so lucky because you’re in my world. And there have been a couple of places that have been like that. In IT there’s some egos and stuff like that even on a corporate level, and thankfully most cases they’re kind of getting over it, and some cases they’re just really great people that don’t even care who you are. They just- they like you as people, and yeah they want your money too, but you know what? Why don’t we have a conversation? Why don’t we become friends? Why do- you know you’re more likely to come back and have a conversation with me, and maybe even eat at my restaurant while we’re having a conversation. If we have a relationship, and if we are building something that is more than service, that is not shallow, that is not completely and absolutely monetarily based or motivated. Because you actually like me as a person, and you know my uniqueness, and then I am able to grow and trust you more, and more likely to go back to whatever your establishment is because I feel comfortable, because I feel like I’m valued. And like I mean something. And that really is the big scheme right there.

Jenn T Grace:

So would it be safe to say that it is a long term relationship building game, and they should be focused on the deeper long term impact of their relationship versus that just one-on-one, transaction done and out of there? That there’s probably a lot more to gain by really fully developing a relationship that can be multiple transactions over the course of a customer’s lifetime.

Ann Townsend:

Absolutely. If you learn nothing else about business, is if you treat it like business instead of like this is something that is valuable to you and the people that you are interacting with are valuable to you, then it is just going to be that one thing, and there- you know maybe you come back because it’s a useful product or whatever, but it’s kind of one of those laissez-faire things, and it’s not- it’s not engaging, it’s not something that you really think about or you don’t necessarily make it part of your plans for the future as you’re trying to plan whatever it is. But if I think about, ‘Okay I’m going to be down in L.A. And I don’t have any friends down there, but at the same time I don’t want to just be hanging out by myself and being all lonely and stuff. Who can I get ahold of? You know what? Project Pie.” Besides that, you buy a pizza, it goes to a nonprofit. I’ll get ahold of Project Pie, and they get ahold of me and they’re like, “Ann, we’re going to see you in about fifteen minutes, right? We’ve got a pie for you.” I’m like, “Yeah.” And then you know, I mean it’s really- I’m not promo’ing these people because I have any type of monetary gain from it. But you know, Quarter Bakery, Applebee’s, they’ve actually spent time with me, they’ve had conversations with me. They’re like, “Hey if you don’t have anything to do, we know that you’re all by yourself in Pasadena, why don’t you come by?”

Jenn T Grace:

Yeah. That’s a good example of engaging social media though. Because you can have these very large corporations who sometimes seem very nameless- or faceless I should say. And yet they can engage with somebody one-on-one whether it’s behind the scenes in an email, whether it’s publicly on Twitter, wherever it happens to be. And it creates a greater sense of loyalty. And not to mention it’s somebody that any business can do. You don’t have to be a huge business to be able to really work one-on-one relationships.

Ann Townsend:

Well it does help having groups like BTC Revolutions who is actually managing accounts like that, they’re community managers for social media. And they- that is- and it’s social media for social good. And so you take these big corporations and you give them a spirit that’s beyond their name. And BTC Revolutions does that with all of their clients. So it is something that takes talent, it is not something you can just go out there and do, it takes- you know you have to have the right personality, but you also have to know what you’re doing. You can’t just jump on there and say, “Oh let’s create a community.” No that doesn’t work. It’s got to be built over time, it has to be nurtured.

Jenn T Grace:

It as to be strategy, there has to be strategy behind it too.

Ann Townsend:

Absolutely.

Jenn T Grace:

And there’s got to be a commitment. I think the commitment is probably the biggest piece of it. If you really want to leverage any of your marketing efforts, you have to be committed to them, and understand that you’re not necessarily going to get an ROI tomorrow. It might take a little bit longer, and especially with the LGBT community, the cycle of time that it takes to see ROI can be longer. Especially if you’re a small business owner, that maybe it’s just yourself and a couple of small employees serving a very small geographic location versus like a corporation where they can see kind of almost an immediate ROI. But I feel like the vast majority of folks listening to this are small business owners or in some kind of professional services like an attorney, accountant, et cetera.

Ann Townsend:

Well another way to do that, when you’re a small business owner, is to capitalize on the relationships, the networking that you have, and it isn’t easy to necessarily to increase your following. I mean it’s taken me a year to get 2,000 followers. My first like 1,000 and 100 were pretty easy, but everything after that was more about time spent, and interacting with different people. And it’s just really broad though too because it is a reflection of who I am as a person, the number- the kinds of people, it’s not any one kind of person. I have gay people that are non-religious, I have gay people that are religious, I have religious people that are not gay, I have you know business people in business suits, I’ve got CEO’s and I have programmers, and I have database administrators, and SASS people, and community managers, and the people that make up my group- oh musicians, and gamers, and feminists, and office workers, and it’s just- it’s every kind of piece of me is enveloped and incorporated into my followers. But because it’s me, so those businesses though, if they were to get together and they start talking together, then their people, their followers see them talking, and then there’s a relationship that starts there and then their followers start talking to them, and then they can start engaging their followers, and their followers are engaging with them, and their followers are seeing that they’re engaging with them, and it goes out from there. And it is in some cases, it’s a slow process, and some cases it’s like a virus thing. But it’s how you end up- it’s when you talk to other people, and you communicate, and you interact, and you engage, then it spreads and true- there is a rule of 1% as far as I can tell. Of the X number of people that you have, only 1% of them are actually paying attention. Of those 1% that are paying attention, only another 1% of that 1% will actually do something. But when you’re up at 45,000, 100,000 followers, 1% of 1% is still a lot of people.

Jenn T Grace:

Yes.

Ann Townsend:

So keep it going, keep talking, and you actually have to put effort and energy into it, which is why I’m like, “Hey Jenn I need to hire a social media person for my other accounts because obviously I still have to do my account @wouldbealex. But I got these other accounts, and I think they need to grow and they need to bring attention to themselves, but I can’t do it all because it actually takes time and effort and energy to engage in that stuff.”

Jenn T Grace:

Yes, which is why hiring professionals is a wise thing to do if you’re invested and committed to it. And not everyone is comfortable in investing and committing into things, but if you see an ROI, I think you and I have certainly seen an ROI from social media, you and I met on social media and we’ve been working together since November. So there- like business happens, and business can be conducted in a 140-character tweet for example.

Ann Townsend:

I know- I mean with the exception of my friends and family which are- you know on Facebook I have only actual friends and family, like I don’t have any- I don’t have like I met them someplace this one time. If I haven’t actually developed a relationship with them they don’t get into my Facebook list because that’s where I can be me, being me, being me which is not always pleasant, and I don’t want to expose people to my uglier side. But that’s only 155 people, and I sold- internationally I’ve sold books in the UK, I’ve sold books in Australia, and of course the United States. I’ve actually sold more overseas than I have in the United States, and all of that is because of Twitter. The people that bought it, that interact with me, that ask me questions, that talk to me about my life, my stories, my experiences, and buy my books are people that met me on Twitter.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s amazing.

Ann Townsend:

Ain’t ever going to knock the Twitter.

Jenn T Grace:

No, not at all. So I guess this would be a good time to ask you, and Twitter is an obvious one so if that was going to be your answer, let’s figure out a different one. But what is a single book, or a program, or some kind of tool that’s just helped you in your either career; either your day job or in your business, which is you know, still booming and there’s still so much to do. Has there been like some kind of program or book or something, that’s just helped either provide you guidance, or help you execute something differently, or think differently, or anything like that?

Ann Townsend:

Mr. Collins, Good to Great, Built to Last, Who Moved My Cheese. And these are, you know, based on my business and my MBA. And Data Munging with Perl was the first book that made me love really- there was something about that book, and the way that it was written, and the publishing company is really cool, and it has this old dude on the front of it that was holding an abacus, and it was- I can’t even remember the author or the publishing house, but I love the publishing house. They have a great concept. But also I guess lastly would be Eric Evans’ Doman Driven Design. It’s the one that has- I’m actually able to kind of put some of those concepts not just to work (badum bum). To put it into effect at work, having to deal with design and development of applications. I also think that there’s a way to apply it to social and other kinds of interaction, which of course is one of those things that my brain does without me wanting it to, because of the way I think. But taking programming concepts and applying them to social rules. There’s got to be a rule for this, I’ve got to be able to script this somehow so I know what to do next. But anyway, yeah so those are- Eric Evans is really brilliant, and it’s stuff that’s been around since the early nineties is coming back around as still being good and worthwhile, and worth implementing, and I think that’s awesome too.

Jenn T Grace:

Definitely. I think you rattled off a good handful of books that are kind of staples in just growing business, so that’s awesome. So before we part ways for the day, I would like to ask you if there’s just one thing right now, or I guess it could be a couple of things tied together into one, that you’re working on that’s really exciting that you just want to share with the listeners?

Ann Townsend:

Yeah, I can’t even talk about the name of the app yet, but I’m going to be releasing next month- in a couple of weeks actually, to first iOS and Android an app, a mobile app that will actually potentially change and effect the US economy. And it will also be a- if ever you needed to figure out some X marks the spot thing for getting rich, this is- and that is the biggest hint I can give without actually giving  it away is ‘X marks the spot.’

Jenn T Grace:

My lips are sealed. That’s a really clear hint.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah. And if you look at my background, maybe you can figure out what it is, but there’s some things that I have in my background that only a few people know about, which I can’t actually use that as my thing some people don’t know about me because that would give it away too.

Jenn T Grace:

Being cryptic.

Ann Townsend:

I also have Domain Driven Design a Geek Lesbian’s Guide. I have MBC and Mobile Development, a Geek Lesbian’s Guide. And I have LGBTQ: Outing My Childhood. And all of this is in the next two months. The app is the first thing, and the books are being worked on currently. And hopefully my narrator, Lauren Fortgang will forgive me for being six months late and still narrate my book because she sounds like- she sounds like a very smart, sexy me, which I don’t always sound like. Thank you Lauren Fortgang.

Jenn T Grace:

That is awesome. So we’ve talked about a couple ways for people to get in touch with you kind of throughout this. But here is your time to shamelessly self-promote and plug ways in which people can get in touch with you.

Ann Townsend:
www.HandsAcrossThePond.com. It should be also linked back towww.LGBTQOutingMyChristianity.com. The focus is going to the www.HandsAcrossThePond.com though because of the direction of the books, and even the anthology that I’ve got. I probably have about ten to fifteen people working on their stories so that I can put them together in an anthology and have that read out for my narrators as well. People from Australia and the UK, and Hong Kong, and Virginia, and Texas, and California. Beautiful people all over the world that are wanting to share their stories with kids also, so that everybody knows that their stories are alike. @WouldBeAlex on Twitter. But- and those are two of the biggest things. I mean there’s other Twitter handles and stuff too but I don’t do much with them because I don’t have time.

Jenn T Grace:

It’s good- yeah just focus on the one, the WouldBeAlex, that’s the one that we converse on and I see that you’re very, very talkative on there. And I would say- so I’m going to do a plug for you. I would say if you are listening to this, and you have- and I don’t want to call it a coming out story because you and I talk about this all the time because I always say ‘coming out story’ and that’s not exactly what it is. So before I finish the plug, will you correct me as you usually do and tell me what we should be calling this? Because I want to help curate additional stories if possible for you. Because we do have a lot of listeners on this show.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah, it’s more about if you’re looking back on your life, and you’re looking at your three, your four, your five year old person, and you remember what those feelings were that you had, and how you interacted with other boys, with other girls, and how you interacted with individuals. That was really kind of- it was affected by the fact that you were seeing things a little differently, and you knew that you were different, and you know if you’re gay and you’re looking at straight people, they’re like, “Yeah this is life, no biggie.” And you’re kind of held back a little bit because you’re thinking about, “Well wait a minute, that’s not how it is for me.” And then as you got older and you went through your adolescence and the kind of emotional kind of things that you went through. And then in that moment that you- that you actually accepted ‘I am gay,’ even if you never talked about it, even if you never acted on it, even if you never anything, you’re still gay because you have been that way since birth. So how did it change the way you interacted with the world? And it wasn’t- it’s kind of like an ‘ah-ha’ moment, but at the same time it’s not. It’s more like a release and an acceptance, and it is what it is, and now I can go forth. How did that affect how you interacted with your world? For me it was I was able to let something go, and I didn’t have to worry about whether it was or was not, it just is. And it made life easier, and I wasn’t so uptight.

Jenn T Grace:

That beautifully sums it up. So if someone’s listening to this, and you feel you have one of those stories to tell, or that you want to share, I would strongly encourage you to get in touch with Ann via Twitter. And if you want to get in touch with me and have me forward along to Ann, by all means I’m happy to do that as well because I would love to help curate additional stories for this, because I think this is such an important topic to talk about, and it really ties back into what you’re doing for the greater good and for the benefit of the LGBT youth of our community. Because ultimately they’re the ones that need to hear these stories the most, to really fully accept who they are, and be able to kind of thrive as they grow and mature versus doing something more harmful like you were talking about kind of in the middle of today’s episode.

Ann Townsend:

Yeah.

Jenn T Grace:

Ending on a heavy note here, but this is really important stuff, and like we were talking about, you- one of your goals in life is not necessarily to die on the mountain, but you are willing to die on the mountain on behalf of the work that you’re doing, and I think that that is a very noble thing, and something that people need to hear. And they need to know how they can participate in this very important project if they so choose. So I would strongly encourage people to get in touch with you. And I really appreciate you taking time out of your day today to talk with the audience. I hope that this is going to be a very enlightening interview for many.

Ann Townsend:

Thank you so much for inviting me to do it. I was so excited and nervous at the same time, but I was like, “Oh wow!”

Jenn T Grace:

And you’ve gotten through it, hooray you did it!

Ann Townsend:

Yay!

About Jenn T. Grace

Jenn T. Grace (she/her/hers) is an award-winning author and founder and CEO of Publish Your Purpose (PYP), the acclaimed hybrid publisher of non-fiction books. Jenn has published 100+ books written by thought leaders, visionaries, and entrepreneurs who are striving to make a difference. Jenn T. Grace’s work elevates and amplifies the voices of others—especially marginalized groups who are regularly excluded from traditional publishing.

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