A hospitality veteran and photography entrepreneur, Don Mamone was afraid that their business would be at risk if they were to be who they knew they were. When they finally decided it was time to live their authentic truth, the outpouring of acceptance was greater than they could’ve ever imagined. In this episode, learn what can happen when you start bringing your whole self to the table.
Explore gender and Don’s story more deeply:
– Beyond the Binary: A Practical Guide to Understanding Gender
– Blog Post: Everyone Has a Coming Out Story
– Grit & The Gravel Road Podcast
Don Mamone: I had lived in my home and with my family, sort of comfortable in my little existence, but it was the first time, it was April of last year that I said to the world that this is my identity. This is who I am, and this is who I’m going to live as for the remainder of my days. And it changed absolutely everything.
Courtney and Dana: Welcome to Hustle and Gather, a podcast by inspiring the everyday entrepreneur to take the leap. I’m Dana,
and I’m Courtney.
And we are two sisters who have started multiple businesses together. And yes, it is as messy as you think, because we know that starting a business isn’t easy.
Because we’ve done it four times, and on this show, we talk about the ups and downs in the hustle and the reward at the end of the journey.
But we love helping small businesses succeed. And whether that’s through our venue, consulting, speaking, or team training, we love to motivate others to take that really big leap.
Or you could just use our misadventures to normalize the crazy that is being an entrepreneur because every entrepreneur makes mistakes.
We like to call those unsuccessful attempts around here.
And we know it’s just part of the process. And today we’re learning from Don Mamone. Don is a speaker identity coach and consultant to teaching audiences and clients, how to reach their maximum potential and impact by discovering and embracing their true identity and supporting companies dedicated to safe spaces that support unapologetic authenticity. Don, welcome to Hustle and Gather.
Don: I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
C&D: Yes, we are so stoked to have you. I think we met you years ago, years ago, but I can’t remember. Was that an Experience or an Evolve? I don’t remember which one, but many years ago. One of those two.
Don: Many years ago. And the NACE national events blur together. It’s just one big giant party.
C&D: Yeah. That’s true. That is accurate. Awesome, well we would love for you to dive in and tell us a little bit about your background and how you started your entrepreneur journey.
Don: well, my mom and dad met, no, I’m kidding., I, yeah, so here’s the deal. I’m a hospitality veteran or survivor. And so I absolutely love the fact that as a live event photographer as an entrepreneur, I kind of continued where I left off. Because I left off in 2009, I started hospitality, graduating college, in 99 I got a job at a quaint seaside resort in Santa Barbara, California, and I loved everything about it.
It was beautiful. It was wonderful. I was in my twenties; it was long hours. It was modest pay, but I didn’t care because it was so fun. And I got to be a servant to our group sales department. Right, I was the director of conference services and I was at the beach every day. And when I wasn’t working, I was playing, and then I moved to San Diego and then I moved to LA and I kind of worked my way around.
And, and ladies, I think you’ve probably been at a juncture in your life when you’re like, I love everything about this right up until I didn’t.
Don: And, my last stop was at the Beverly Hilton in LA. I was the director of events at 28 years of age. I survived a year there before I was really willing to reckon that the values and sort of fabric in which I existed, didn’t match a lot of what was happening in that city and in that job and in that role. And so I moved to Dallas and I took a corporate job for that same hotel company, and ironically I was mystified at what, a nine to five looked like. I came around the corner from my cubicle at like 4: 58 and had a question for someone and it was like a ghost town. And I was like, oh, I, I guess we go home at five here. And so I went home and, I had all this spare time. Everybody that’s listening right now, that’s in the hospitality industry was like, what’s that like?
C&D: You’re right.
Don: So I would work out, I would eat dinner, I would do something and I would be like, I still have time. And so I picked up my camera, which I hadn’t done since high school. And I started photographing as kind of like a stringer for media outlets, doing magazines, events, things like that. And the joy that I felt, the happiness that I felt creating that art in those moments was off the charts. And so two short years later, I was like, I’m out it’s time for me to make a go of this. And I decided to start a photography business that was in 2007. And it’s been that way ever since. I
C&D: Well, your bus, your business is The Mamones right? So you do it with your wife. So where, where was your wife in the story? Like when did you meet her and how did she feel about saying like peace out to like this nine to five? Let’s do this.
Don: So it, the you’ve touched on so many interesting anecdotes. I’m gonna try to synopsize as best I can. So in 2007, I took the corporate job and moved to Dallas and I immediately started part-time and created my DBA and started my side hustle, basically, which was the photography business. In 2009, I was basically encouraged to go back to the hotels.
The company was kind of trailing off the project that I was on, was sort of a timed project, it was rolling out. I had met Emily right after moving to Dallas. It was on my side hustle, we met at a watering hole. Like so many people,
C&D: Like a bar
Don: Like a bar. We connected over photography cuz she was doing commercial and editorial and fashion.
She had been in the fashion market for a long time. And so we connected over that, exchanged numbers, you know, truly at the time to just talk about photography and instead we fell in love. And so in 2009, when I was kind of getting encouraged to go back to hotels, I was like, I kind of don’t want to do that.
Like the idea of working in a hotel, it just, it’s not attractive to me at all. And she’s like, well, that’s okay. So just don’t do that. As, as, as a loving in support of spouse would, we were about to get married and really, it was just a total leap of faith. I said, I don’t wanna go back to hotels. They said, well, we’re gonna have to sever employment.
I went, that sounds cool to me, I’m gonna go do this thing. And so we existed under two different brands for three more years. So we got married in 2009. I had my business, she had her business and in 2012 we rebranded as The Mamones, and have been doing it ever since. So we celebrated 10 years as that brand this year, and it has been fast, furious and pretty awesome. I mean, largely pretty awesome.
C&D: I commend you for that. Now I do. I do business with my sister. So I understand business with family, but business with spouse is like all a whole nother level, another level.
Don: People ask about that a lot. So Emily and I, I was, I just ran this down for another podcast that, that I was doing. Emily had been together for 15 years, married for 13 years, in business as the same brand for 10 years, and we have a five-year-old daughter and everybody’s still alive and
Don: largely very happy with the life we’ve created.
And I think that that exists based on priorities, and based on the fact that Emily and I don’t compete, we have very, very unique skill sets and we basically keep everything that we do in our strength buckets, from a perspective of like, Emily doesn’t like communication and marketing and admin and web design and all that kind of stuff.
So I do all that, and Emily does a lot of the editing that we don’t outsource. If we’ve got a, a project that we wanna edit, she’ll edit it for us. And so we each contribute to the business in the place that makes the most sense for us, and then the rest of it is about sort of the universe shining down upon me and finding, I think, the spouse that is very well wired for us to really complement each other in personal life.
And we have very similar parenting style, so it’s not like, oh, you’re the disciplinarian. And I’m the, this, like, we just, we do a very good job of managing our life with Frankie. And, so yeah, I do, I have people say that like, oh, you guys are married, have a business, and you’re still together and nobody’s, you know, digging a hole. Nope. We’re good.
C&D: Yeah. It’s definitely, I think that, I mean, I think a partnership is hard regardless, I think because, and I, I can understand that when you, like, I, I love my sister, obviously not romantically, but I love her. So there’s a lot of like grace I extend, but then there’s a lot of grace I don’t extend because I know too much.
And I’m just like, you know, cause you’re not always stepping on eggshells the entire time, but, that’s, I, I mean, I think it’s possible. I definitely do. And it sounds like you guys are like in a very healthy spot, like personally being able to like come together and do that business, but definitely commend you for it.
Don: I appreciate that. And I think, I think you’ve really touched on something though there Dana, like really, you know, we’re hardest on the people we love, but we’re also sort of the most honest and the most vulnerable. And so I remember, when I was starting to do more advocacy, more podcasting and all this kind of stuff, I had done an, an interview with someone and Emily didn’t know this, but, but they told me how nervous they were and they said, so, you know, like, you know, you asked the questions and if you feel like I’m, I’m like, not staying on top of whatever it is, please just support me and, you know, I’m just, I’m really nervous.
And so I remember doing that interview and then Emily listened to it and I was like, hey, so what do you think? And she’s like, maybe you don’t talk so much. I’m like, I’m like, okay, well, I appreciate that transparent feedback. Thank you for loving me enough and caring about me to tell me that, you know, and then I kind of shared that the guests had told me that they were nervous. She’s like, okay, I get that, but maybe you don’t talk so much.
So I think, you know, there’s something in it for the fact that if you can communicate well and you can take that sort of, nobody’s gonna be as honest with you as your family member or your spouse so that it works
C&D: That that’s true. That’s very true. Very true for better or for worse, right? Yeah. So I know that, your photographer business has been successful and you guys have done that for many, many years, but you’ve recently kind of segued into coaching and kind of looking at, identifying your brand, et cetera. Like take us on that journey.
Don: Oh, well, that takes a very personal turn. I hope that’s okay. Do we need to get permission from your entire audience? No, we’re just gonna assume. Hey, if you don’t want that speak up now. Okay. I don’t hear anybody.,
I’ve always been a big fan of education and I’ve always been a big fan of community. And one of the things that I tell my entrepreneurial self frequently is if I could go back all those years, I would’ve hired someone to basically help me navigate what it’s like to be an entrepreneur. There’s something about being a business owner. We feel like we have to do it on our own. Like, oh, I’m a business owner.
I’m a small business. I’m a family business. I’ll figure this out. I’m capable. I don’t have enough money to dedicate to a coach, a consultant, whatever. And I realized that like, okay, so I climbed the mountain and I chose to go the way where there were no paths. There was no guide. I could have potentially, you know, offered up a small sum of money or modest sum of money.
And somebody could have been like, okay, listen, you get to definitely do this your own way, but there’s a path over here and might make it a little bit easier. So I was fair, fairly fiercely committed to like just being an open book, answering questions. I had a lot of people, a station or a make-up artist, a number of people in our lives that were like, I’m gonna be a business owner.
I’m like, great. Let me know how I can support you. And then it was the, can I pick your brain? And what should I do in this situation? Which is humbling, right. It it’s great and because I was committed to it, I always opened that door. And then as I tried to formalize it, I realized this is something that’s a zone of genius for me, like creating a, a space in which a person can tell you what’s happening, what they’re experiencing and what their fears are, and then being intuitive enough to kind of read through it.
So long story long in 2020, I started hosting a weekly zoom call for people in the hospitality industry, after the pandemic started. It genuinely started as a cry fest, lack of a, a more technical term., every Monday at 10:00 AM, I would open up a zoom room and people would come in there and just pour their hearts out.
They would cry. They would, you know, virtually yell and scream and be angry at what was happening in the world and what was happening to their businesses and what was happening to their clients. And we would basically just listen, there was no way to fix it. There were no words that would necessarily help, but it was a communal space where people got to feel like they were part of something still.
As that went on, I was like, I love everything about this. I look forward to 10:00 AM every Monday. And, the other thing that happened throughout the course of the pandemic as I took this pesky little personal development and leadership course, and, a friend called me on Friday and said, hey, what are you doing right now? Like, it’s Friday, I’m gonna have a tequila soda any minute.
C&D: Right. Right
Don: Well, I need you to go to your computer and look at this website for me. Okay, and I go, and I look at this website and I, it very sparse like a big headline and a buy now. And I was like, dude, it’s the middle of a pandemic. I’m a live event photographer. I have no business spending money on anything, except for food. I want you to do this. And it was a personal development issue. Of course, that was a 90-day program, incredibly intense. And, it was like five grand.
C&D: Hm. Wow. Wow.
Don: And he looks at me, he looks at me and he says, he leans in. I believe in you, and I believe in this, it will change your life. And I want you to do it.
Don: And I was like, you know, I used to like, you, you used to be my friend, but now I have to lay this money out. Because when somebody that cares about you looks you in the eye and says that kind of thing, like you just don’t not do it. Well it basically was the prompt for me to have the courage to come out,
Don:, in April of last year, I came out as non-binary, and we can talk about what that means. I had come out to my wife four years earlier. And I had lived in my home and with my family, sort of comfortable in my little existence, but it was the first time, it was April of last year that I said to the world that this is my identity. This is who I am, and this is who I’m going to live as for the remainder of my days. And it changed absolutely everything. And when I say everything, I mean, absolutely everything.
C&D: Yeah. I have like goosebumps about it. Like I, how, like before we get into what, how it changed your life, how did you, how did you compartmentalize that for four years? Like the people you loved the most knew who you really were, but even maybe this friend who gave you this course didn’t really know who you were and all the other people. How did you live in that place for four years?
Don: Well, I’ll correct your language, not because you don’t know, because you don’t know. 40 years. I lived for four decades as this person, deep down in my heart and soul., I knew it since I was a kid. I knew something was different. I didn’t have the language or the like cultural relevance to understand it or to say what it was.
And so a confused mind always says no, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard that. It’s typically used like in the sales and marketing world. My confused mind said no, and what that meant was when I was like 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and I was like, I don’t understand why I’m feeling these things. I don’t understand what these things mean, but I’m confused by it.
There’s no representation in community. So. And so I spent years and years and years learning how to deny it. And then when I couldn’t deny it, cuz like you keep feeling it, I just hid it. And that’s how I essentially did it all the way up until I made it public.
Don: the catalyst to tell my wife was very special. My sister’s still little mad at me because you guys know the love of a sibling. My sister is still one of the most important people in my life. We were incredibly close. I didn’t even tell her for 44 years of my life. So, the reason I had to tell my wife was because number one, we never had kept secrets. I had been with this girl for seven years and this was just something that I had denied so far that it didn’t feel like it was a lie.
Don: The day that it started to feel like a lie was the day my daughter was born.
Don: When you look into the eyes of a little child that you know, you will tell, you get to be who you want, love, who you want, have the job that you want, I will never love you any less for that, but then look in the mirror and you’re like, you’re not allowed to do that. It immediately comes screeching into your life as what a hypocritical liar. And I couldn’t keep a lie hidden for my wife. So that was the reason I told her. And the reason I didn’t tell anybody else was this magical little thing, I call an identity prison that we create to protect ourselves.
If you would’ve tried to weigh all the fear, guilt, shame, and doubt that I had experienced over 40 years of not knowing what it was not knowing how people would react, not knowing what people would say, not knowing what the consequences would be. It would be a metric ton. And so I told my wife because I basically had no choice, but to tell her at that point in my life. And I didn’t want to be the role model that was someone that lived inauthentically to my daughter.
But I couldn’t go any further than that. Like that was the tolerance it’s as far as I can go right now. And it’s actually my one true regret, ladies. Like when I look at my wife and what I put on her from a perspective of like, hey, I have to tell you this, and I can’t tell anyone else. It kind of brought her into that little prison with me.
Don: And I talked to her about it later. I said, you know, it’s really hard for me to acknowledge that this was really hard for you. And she’s like, Well’s what spouses do. and I should say it just, let’s just get this outta the way right now. I am by far and away, one of the luckiest people in the world. I don’t remember the language. I don’t remember exactly how it played out, but the day that I told my wife, she essentially looked at me and said, you’re my person and I don’t care about any of that stuff. We’re in this together. I’m not going anywhere.
You’re not going anywhere. We’ll figure this all out. She is the embodiment of unconditional love, that loves without capacity. And so I’m super fortunate. And so I just wanna recognize Emily for that. But the pandemic helped. I, I hate to think of anything good coming from the pandemic, but like when I came out in, I came out in April, like we were kind of waning, like that was April of 2021.
It was kind of starting to slow a little bit, but during that time, when I was really exploring what meant for me, what my experience of being non-binary was we were locked in our house. So I talked to my wife about it. I, I I’ve been a really, I think, beautiful representation for my daughter. She doesn’t know any different yet.
She’s five and a half years old. She tells daddy, I love your earring. She tells daddy, I love your makeup. She tells daddy that’s a pretty dress. And it doesn’t, I didn’t mean phase her. That will stop one day. I’m sure someone will say something someday and she will have to reckon with the fact that I’m not the typical, I guess father. But that’s on a good thing too, cuz I’m not your typical father.
C&D: There’s pros and cons. I’m sure
Don: Yeah. I mean it it’s,
C&D: Probably more pro than con honestly.
Don: I, well, you know, it depends on how you look at it., I’ve one of the other reasons that I struggled and I, I, there was a lot of crying that happened in our house. Tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of heartache, tears of regret and, or wishes and could have, which don’t really produce much, but they were there.
And so we acknowledged them. But my job as a parent and as a spouse has oftentimes been looked at from a perspective of like, I get to make this easier on my wife and child, like what can I do to contribute to their lives and to acknowledge that my gender identity will at some points in their life, be a burden, was hard, very hard for me to acknowledge.
And at the same time I look at it and I say, my daughter, my fierce, strong, loving, independent daughter is gonna look in the eyes of someone and be like, that’s my daddy. And if you don’t like it, you can take a walk. Like she will fiercely defend the person that I am because she knows that I would do the same.
And that’s the good, right? So there is good and bad in everything. We just really focus on authenticity is always like, sort of the ultimate good.
C&D: Yeah, I love, yeah. I love that. And I mean, I think that I, I mean, being a parent is, is just, it’s a roller coaster ride of things in general. Like, I feel like you, every parent struggles with that shame and that guilt, and I think it’s so much harder when you feel like you’re going against a norm.
Like, you’re kind of swimming upstream to what it should be. And there’s because there’s enough going with the stream, like there’s enough shame and doubt and guilt and you know, all those things. So, I mean, that’s, it’s so powerful, but I, I can only imagine, and I’m sure you hear this all the time about it, but just what, like what an amazing gift you gave her, to allow her to see you live in a way that is truly who you are, because I’m, I’m sure you’re going to be a better father.
You’re going to be a better role model. You’re going to be a better person, a healthier person, you know, all the, all the benefits of that. And then she’s also gonna be able to see that she can do whatever she wants to do, you know, and I, and on very small level, that’s how we feel about owning a business to my daughter. Like I’m taking these big leaps in these big steps and saying, you can do this too. Like, you don’t have to work at a nine to five, or you don’t have to be a stay-at-home parent if you don’t wanna be or whatever, you know,
but I also, I, I love when, before we move on from that topic, I love how you said that there’s something about me, like grappling with the fact that there is gonna be something about me that creates a burden to the people that I love, but yet I still have to live my truth. I still have to be myself regardless, and I think that that’s universal, right? but how many people? And it doesn’t have to be this big overt thing. But how many people don’t show parts of themselves or don’t live in their true, authentic self, because they’re afraid of other people’s perception or what it’s gonna do to somebody else, or how is this gonna be perceived by somebody else?
Or am I gonna hurt somebody else with this? You know? And I think that that is. because we all, we all, we’re all gonna do that. Right? There’s always gonna be something about you. That’s gonna be a burden to somebody else, like at some point in your life, and you’ve just given Frankie the ability to say, hey, there’s gonna be something about me and that’s gonna be okay.
Like there’s life on the other side, there’s joy. There’s, there’s thriving on the other side of that. And so you don’t need to hold it back just for that purpose. And I think so many people in their life and in, even in their businesses and whatnot, they hold it back because they’re afraid of the ramifications of other people.
Don: Yeah. I, you know, you’ve touched on something so profound there because as I started my journey as I started to counsel people and coach people. And you know, the way I identify in the business sphere now under this brand is I’m a speaker, I’m a coach, and I’m a consultant, right? The speaker is obviously I wanna get on stages.
And the reason I wanna get on stages is a couple of things. It’s all about education and inspiration. And it’s about telling my story, but it’s also about having other people see themselves in my story. And so frequently what that looks like is, from a gender identity perspective, there’s certainly the opportunity where somebody in the audience that’s either transgender or non-binary, or I like denying something about their gender expansiveness that will look at me.
And in that moment say, they’re just like me, and it gives them a glimmer of hope that everything’s gonna be okay. Right, there’s definitely that. But there’s also all the hidden people in the audience, Courtney, that you’ve touched on that like before I go through this door, insert this door, dating insert this door is business, insert this store is trying to get that job, that career, that start, that, that client facing the, whatever it is, before I walk through that door, I have to check this. I have to leave this bag here. I have to wait. Oh, don’t forget. Don’t forget to hide that in my very brief career.
I’m, I’m willing to be totally transparent. My brief career as a coach in this space, I have had people reach out to me about wanting to do something different for a career, but daddy won’t let me. My dad said I have to be a lawyer or a doctor, and I’ve been suicidal in med school until I finally had the courage to drop out until my father I’m going to be a band leader or a, a musician. It has been people that have tried to augment their language, because if I have a Southern accent, people are gonna think I’m ignorant. or hide their cultural accent, because I don’t want people to know I’m African American.
Don: And so basically when you say things like, you know, I’ll bet your BA better. You can just leave a blank. I’m a better father. I’m a better person. I’m a better spouse. I’m a better sibling. I’m a better business operator. I’m a better client. Everything is better, and the way that I explain it to people, ladies, is if you, if you have this thing and it’s inside a box and it’s incredibly fragile, not only is the thing inside that box fragile, but it’s like a box made of glass, very thin glass. And your whole job in life is to protect it and to make sure that it doesn’t break. If it breaks all hell breaks loose.
How much actual energy do you have to create the impact on the world, around you when you’re spending all this energy and, and effort protecting this thing inside this glass box. It’s, it’s remarkable that when you take that glass box and in a fit of frustration, authenticity, throw it to the ground, break it open, and then just deal with what the outcome is, how much freedom do you have to now create the impact that you wanna create in the world?
It is literally all the difference. And so basically what I do is I work with people to say, what’s in that box, what’s in that box and where does it come from? And it’s not always one box. Sometimes it’s like 50 little boxes. Okay. What’s in those
C&D: it’s like, what are those Russian dolls?
Don: It is like they’re nesting,
C&D: it’s a nesting doll.
Don: Like let’s get all those out. And I do have some little patented things that I’ve worked on in my journey. And what I tell people is they get to do it at their own pace in their own time and in their own way. Like, I can’t just be like, here’s a bat. Destroy ’em all, life will be better. It doesn’t work that way.
I wish it did, but it doesn’t. So I work with them to say like, okay, great. Which one can you destroy today? None. Okay, great. Let’s try again tomorrow. And then as they go through that process, that unfettered nature of just living your most authentic life, like one of my things is like, love yourself unconditionally and live your life unapologetically.
Don: That’s the key.
C&D: Love that. How has your business changed? The way that you operate, the way that you market it? Like, how has that changed in this past, I guess year, 15 months?
Don: So the photography side of the business, I wouldn’t say that we’ve changed much about the actual business itself or the way that we market it., Emily and I have always had, so we went from the social market to the corporate and nonprofit market, probably five or six years ago. So we’ve done about half and half, like half of our business up until probably I guess it was 2017 or so was, was a fair amount of social.
But as we became more and more successful in corporate, we moved that direction and our marketing has always been about, and if you guys own a business, listen up right now. Our marketing has always been about making your competition irrelevant by really, and truly identifying what it is that’s unique about your brand.
Right. And so, when we were in the social market, I learned early on that my bridal portraiture was, was okay. It was good, brides liked it. Emily’s bridal portraiture was the next level. Right, and it was because she was a fashion model for X number of years. She learned in the fashion market. So my portraits were beautiful portraits of brides. Her portraits were like fashion and editorial looking photos that deserved to be on the cover of magazine.
Don: And so when we talked to brides, we talked about the very unique element of having someone that was in the fashion and, and sort of design market be one of their photographers.
Same thing with corporate. I was a director of corporate events for 10 years. If you tell me a corporate and nonprofit planner comes to a photography team is like, oh wait, you know what I’m going through? You know what my needs are, you know what my pain points are from your previous life, and you take pretty pictures?
Yeah. I’ll take that. So we’ve continued on that. What we’ve added in is I no longer worry about, but what if they find out.
Don: I have been unapologetically transparent about being non-binary. I have been unapologetically transparent about the fact that when I come to an event, I will most likely not be attired in like a black jacket and black golf slacks.
I also will not show up in a pink prom dress because it’s not appropriate for the environment. So this idea that like all bets are off and its mass anarchy just because I have a different gender identity doesn’t match. Right, and so I’m a better business operator because I’m more creative, I’m freer.
I will say that everything that, as I said, like the lid that I would put on my authenticity even kind of in my language, right not using expletives. I really do try not to do that. I have a five-and-a-half-year-old, but my language from a perspective of being like funny and quirky and snarky, like I think the email that I send out now that, you know, an invoices either due or pass due is it’s time to drop some pennies in our piggy bank.
That sweet, sweet sound like of, of pennies in our piggy bank. It’s time for that. Like in the past, I would’ve done that. I would’ve said, you know, your invoice is overdue, So, uh,
C&D: Please remit payment as possible.
Don: And, and again, you know, the coaching that I do is about authenticity in your branding, identifying what is unique selling principles.
Like what, how can you position yourself to render that competition irrelevant? Like you don’t want a photographer. You don’t. You think you do, but what you want are the Mamone’s, here’s their number, call them. Cause there’s only one of us. So if you want the Mamones you gotta book us. And then in your marketing, like that’s what I’ve learned is my voice carries through. So it’s like, my company’s voice is my voice. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re snarky, be snarky, if you’re really rigid and like very corporatey, then don’t have this like super fun communication pattern, cause then when you show up at the job, like a robot, people are gonna be like, where’s our photographer because this isn’t them.
You’re too stuffy for us. Right and acknowledge that that’s the best way to find and keep your ideal client is to be exactly who you are from the very get go all the way through.
C&D: Hmm. So I have a question I, I know that corporate world is hard and I know that you’re you talked about like, kind of your past, do you think that you would have stayed, you would’ve been happier maybe at your previous jobs, if you were able to be authentically who you were like at the Beverly Hilton? Like how, how do you think that has impacted your path in life?
Don: Well, I love the question., I don’t think I’ve gotten that specific question before, so well done. I’m not stalling. I have a great answer for you., so the third leg of what I do, so I do speaking, I do coaching and then I say that I do consulting and more importantly, it’s diversity consulting.
So the diversity consulting that I do is for the institution. The speaking is more for the individual, although I guess speaking is sort of institutional, but like, like when it comes to the machine that is corporate America, or even like small to mid-size business, I’m trying to encourage people to understand that authenticity is a good thing. And one of the reasons why is I acknowledge now in 2022, a year and a few months after coming out publicly and five years after sort of starting the actual journey of unpacking all of the repression. I never could have been my authentic self and had the career I wanted in 1999.
Don: That makes me sound so old, but when I took my very first job at that small seaside resort, I loved the people I work with. Loved them. They were very kind people. They were really great. But if I had walked into an interview in corporate America in 1999, They would’ve said it was very nice to meet you, we’ll be in touch, and they never would’ve been in touch.
Don: The grooming standards at most companies, even to this day, are incredibly gender focused and very binary. But in addition to that, authenticity is oftentimes not rewarded. It’s not punished per se, but it’s not rewarded, and what I’m trying to help the institution understand is authenticity while still representing your brand is the best thing you could ever imagine. Okay, if your business is like super conservative, super conventional and super square, then maybe you need to set up a culture that everybody is like the black suited, conventionally hair cutted, women doing what women are supposed to do. I’m using the podcast, air quotes, audience members. Right?
Like maybe you need everybody to fit inside that tight restrictive mold, but if you’re not that company, somebody told me recently that they were really excited about their new opportunity, but they’re disappointed because in the handbook it said, hair will not be dye a non-natural color. Non-natural well, let’s dissect that language. That means that if I want to have a different color hair from brunette, I guess brown, blonde, I’m unnatural. that tell that person? It tells them that they’re basically kind of being punished for having a, not natural there’s those air quotes again, want or need.
And the irony is a lot of people in today’s society identify with that want, that need ..That form of personal expression and would be drawn to, not repelled from it. The other thing is that’s the institution and the, and the employer, the team member, what about the client? Right? Like the client might be repelled, but the customer and the person that works for that company, they’re all gonna be happier.
Right? Like if I begrudgingly take a job, despite the fact that I can’t dye my hair, what kind of employee am I gonna be versus the, hey, you’re universally accepted here. We love all kinds of people. And if you wanna have purple hair, we’re okay with that. It really is a marked difference.
So to go back to your original question, I don’t know that I would’ve been happier. The misalignment that I found at the end of my career, I think was, was based more on, like I said, sort of the nature of what was happening in Hollywood and, and what was important to Hollywood at that time, at least. And I’m sure I was kind of naturally I was, had been doing it for 10 years and I mean, I was routinely working 70, 80 hours a week.
No time off. It was, it was a bit of a grind., but my biggest acknowledgement is like, you, you weren’t allowed to have scruff on your face. Women were expected to wear panty hose. I mean, and I recognize this was 20 years ago, but a lot of those same restrictive kind of grooming standards and, and cultural restrictions still exist inside companies. And it’s, it’s time to acknowledge that what’s professional is changing and evolving and growing.
C&D: I totally agree with that, I totally agree with that. Yeah, wow. So I have another question too. talk. And I think of all these things. so you live in Texas, right? Granted you’re not in Florida, but you’re a hop, skip, and a jump from Florida. How is living in Texas, like where I feel like they’re not necessarily, I’m sure like the circle you surround yourself in and maybe being in Dallas and like a city is a little bit more accepting, but how are you changing your community to understand what it means to be non-binary?
Don: Great question again. At the moment it has nothing to do with social or political beliefs. It’s miserable living in Texas, cuz it’s 102 degrees right here right now., so if you’re not inside or in a body of water, it’s pretty miserable outside, but you know, I get this question a lot.
Like I’m, I’m very socially liberal, as you can imagine. I believe in equal rights for every. Ironically, before I was willing to come out for myself in 2020, after the George Floyd murder, I’m just gonna say it, the abject and senseless murder of George Floyd, I basically kind of hit a wall of tolerance and acceptance, and I was like, I refuse to tolerate this anymore.
I’m gonna do what I can do in the middle of a global pandemic, and that was to have conversations. And so I did this, this fun little thing I called the Facebook live listening series, and I basically invited people to have conversations that people didn’t typically want to have.
Don: started with, a friend of mine that’s also in the events industry who’s African American, and we called it the tough conversation everyone needs to have, and we talked about racism, and we talked about bigotry, and we talked about white privilege and veiled, this and that. And we really, I mean, it was an hour and 15 minutes long and it got thousands of views.
And I don’t care about that from the perspective of engagement in audience growth, it was education, that hopefully those thousands of people walked away from it. And I’m willing to admit right here publicly on your podcast, what I’ve learned in the last 20 years of my life you can just about squeeze into the Grand Canyon from a perspective of like, when I was young, I didn’t believe in white privilege.
Don: like, I mean, I had a hard life. I didn’t grow up rich and it wasn’t until I really sat down and educated on myself years and years ago about what white privilege was from a perspective of, I just, I will never have my skin color used against me. I will never have to be a consideration.
Don: My gender now. Is a different story. And so I fiercely started to become an advocate for other people. And as I did that, people were like, why do you even still live in Texas? Because as I made my liberal beliefs a little more visible people are like, we should just move. And this is what I say. I have every right to live here too., not everybody that lives in the state of Texas is conservative or conventional in their thought process. The only thing that will make it unbearable is unfortunately something like what just passed in, in Florida. The, as they term it, the don’t say gay bill is an absolute sort of effort to eliminate LGBTQ+ people from the educational institution.
And this is how it breaks down for me so that we don’t make it a political issue. The idea that I would send my daughter, who is the catalyst for my coming out and my authenticity and telling her, I will love you no matter what you can love, who you wanna love, be, who you wanna be, all those things, but don’t talk about daddy when you get to school, cuz you’re not allowed to,
Don: I will not let that pass. I will not let that bear. And I think the hard thing is, and the empathy that I get to have is there are people in the state of Florida right now that probably feel that very same way, whether they be gay or BI or trans or non-binary, and they don’t have the resources to move. And so they’re stuck in this vicious cycle. And so I’m afraid,
Don: I’m afraid of how much harder it might get to live in Texas. It might be to live in Texas, but at that same time, I get to acknowledge that the price of authenticity is oftentimes privilege. when we’re our most authentic selves, we sometimes, have to hand over an element of privilege, right?
So for me, when I’m expressing myself at my most authentic, I can no longer
Right, that is a privilege. The one that’s really hard is if I’m expressing myself authentically, I as an adult person at 45 years of age, have trouble finding where the best place is to use the restroom. That is a privilege that I no longer have. And so acknowledging all that, I also get to say that life’s a lot right now, and everybody’s suffering. I support a woman’s right to choose. And I think that that’s a really hard thing to acknowledge right now is that there’s a lot of people suffering right now.
And there’s nothing I can do about it. So we’re all in this together, to a certain degree. And if we have open hearts and open minds and we invite conversation, that’s my whole goal. Right? So when you ask me, what’s it like to live in the state of Texas? I have an unbelievable support system. Like you said, I surround myself with people that I know are gonna see me and love me exactly for who I am.
And for everybody else, they have the opportunity to learn from me if they choose to, and if they wanna stay willfully ignorant, then they can think their earth is flat. I’m okay with that too.
C&D: oh, Lord. Don’t get me started. I don’t know. I don’t have words at all for it, cuz I think, I, I think the only thing I can mimic is that the world is a lot right now. And, and I, I have never been more aware of my privilege in my life than I have in the past three, four years. Like the, all those things, right?
Like even, even to me, if I wanna be my most authentic self, truly, I there’d be very little privilege I would have to give up to be that person. And I’m with you, like my heart breaks for people who are stuck in those cycles, who don’t have the financial privilege to just pick up and move and go somewhere else and find a state that is going to, you know, let them live their life in the most authentic way that they can.
But yeah, it feels a, I like, I feel, I have to be honest, like I felt a very dooms day-ish like I’ve had a hard time finding like the positive and what not nothing’s positive, but finding any hope, I guess is a better
Don: So you have, you have touched on a really, really great topic. So first thing I wanna say to you is thank you for seeing me. Thank you for loving me, and thank you for inviting me on your podcast., because it’s a lot, it’s, it’s a, it’s a big topic right now, and I think that it’s great for your audience to learn.
And we can, we can talk just a little bit about specifically, maybe what it means to be non-binary in a minute, but I want to acknowledge you for that. And I also want to acknowledge that with privilege comes power and not in the way that we wield it over others, but I will tell you right now that as an advocate, I felt like I had more reach and more credibility and more people listen to me than they do as an activist or an advocate for myself. So it’s ironic, but when I went from one to the other, I may have more story, more anecdote. I can be more passionate about it, but the number of people that will literally tune me out and be like, and I, I hate to even acknowledge this kind of language, but like, okay snowflake groomer, like all the horrible things people say about people that don’t identify as cisgender, they’ll just tune me out.
So you have the power advocates that are straight, white, cisgender male and women, those are the people that can affect change by engaging in useful conversation with the people that would literally like, just turn me off, right and, and, and not listen to me. That’s number one, number two, I photographed a biographer that wrote George W’s biography and he did one for Abe Lincoln and a number of others. And it’s one of the soundbites that I will never forget. He said in all of my teachings and all of my learnings and all the books I’ve ever written, one of the things that’s remained consistent for me is history has a way of reminding us that now is not the most desperate of times.
And so I it’s so funny, but I need a person to like hold onto, and so as he told that story, I thought about, you know, all the difficult times, all the divisiveness, all the war, all the heartache, all the pain that I’ve seen, you know, 9/11 and, and all these things. I think of Anne Frank, I think of the fact that a young girl lived through the Nazi encampments in, in Germany. And for years sat in an attic to survive. And I thought it’s not to take away from what we’re going through now. It’s not to take away from what we’re experiencing now, but it’s a reminder that there’s a certain relativity of things. And if they could journey on, I can journey on.
So I take a moment, like I joke around and say like, okay, I’m gonna just scream and shout and punch a pillow. I’ll even give myself 15 minutes. And then I dust myself off. I pick myself up and I keep fighting and that’s I think what we all get to do.
C&D: It’s great advice. I think that is so true. I think if you look back on history, I’m sure, and I, I think I said this to somebody recently, that probably every generation has felt like they were going through at some point, the worst moment in history. Like the, I can’t believe like the kind of shocking of like what, you know, I think every generation’s had that experience and it may not be the same thing.
You know, it may not be the same thread of topic, but I think everyone’s had that experience. And I think that the hard part about being alive today is how in your face it is. It’s very prevalent. You can’t really shut it off, you know, like there’s so much information and media and it’s, you’re constantly bombarded by what’s going on. Whereas you may not have known, you know, a hundred years
Don: Feels like we’re in retrograde sometimes. Like, I mean, I mean, literally people, people are lamenting, and there’s a number of them that are sad. They’re like 50 years of rights for women have been just eviscerated in one ruling. And that feels like retrograde. And we get to acknowledge that for a lot of people, that’s their truth right now.
And that that’s very sad for them. And then they get their 15 minutes or however long they need, and then they get to dust it off and they get to fight for what they believe is right. And what they wanna see happen. And there’s, there’s always an opportunity to affect change. And I feel like one of the best ways to affect change is to get involved, to be passionate, to teach.
And I just had this conversation with someone else, like I might be in opposition to a lot of people and their beliefs. It is not my job to change their mind per se. It is not my job to convince them that they’re wrong. And I’m right. It is my job to speak my truth at the top of my lungs in the most productive way possible.
And if they don’t want to hear it, then they can slip away quietly. If people do want to hear it and they want to educate themselves, then they’ll stay. And that’s, I can’t control others until I that’s. That’s the most proactive thing I think I can do right now. And I think everybody else can do a little bit of that if they want to.
C&D: Yeah. I, I agree. I mean, I think it’s, to me it’s always a, I’ve never been like the same thing. I don’t wanna change your mind. I don’t wanna change what you believe necessarily. I just need you to understand that you’re allowed to believe what I’m, what you’re allowed to believe, and I’m allowed to believe what I’m allowed to believe, but your belief can’t supersede mine.
Don: Yeah, it can have an effect on me and the only, the only time, so I’ve, I’ve long been a, like, we can agree to disagree person, because like I said, I’m not in the position to change each person’s mind individually. The only time that that stops, and I wanna encourage people that are listening to lean in and listen a little bit closer, is when you invalidate another person’s actual existence, like one of the things I struggle with the most are people like, like you do what you wanna do.
I’ll do what I wanna do, and their belief system is my identity isn’t valid, and that I don’t deserve the same rights and respects as them. That’s where I get to say, actually, I’m sorry. That’s not okay because that’s your belief system now infringing upon basically my ability to exist, be seen, be loved, be respected.
And so, if you’re listening right now, and you find yourself in that place on either side of that, open your heart and open your mind and engage in thoughtful discourse and, and see if that shed some light and creates some enlightenment opportunity for you on either side.
C&D: yeah. It’s great advice. Well, we’d love to hear, you had mentioned you wanna kinda get into what it means to be non-binary just, to educate our audience on, who maybe isn’t familiar with it and kind of what that looks like, yeah.
Don: So, it’s really interesting. It’s been an unbelievable journey. So as I said, when I was younger, like, I didn’t know what it meant. Even when I had the conversation with my wife five years ago, I didn’t know how to say it. It was this discombobulated mess of tears and words that said something to the effect of like, I just don’t feel like a man all the time, or I don’t feel masculine all the time and I’ve hidden it for so long I don’t even know what that means. And I was very fortunate that, she said, you’re my person. I love you. And we’ll figure it out together. Basically being non-binary is pretty simple. It means that you don’t believe that binary is a thing it’s either this or that., if I explain things to people, my gender is both male and female.
and it’s not equal parts and it’s not all the time. And I get to acknowledge that everybody’s experience isn’t the same. And I love breaking it down for people in, in maybe more traditional or conventional terms. You might meet a woman who’s all like high heels and makeup and lashes and princess everything, and then you might meet a woman who has short hair, wears leather jackets, rides a motorcycle, and she doesn’t consider herself any less woman. The other woman doesn’t consider herself any less woman.
So there have been shades of gray and gender, our whole life. It’s when we like cross that binary barrier of like, well, if you have this anatomy, then you’re supposed to stay on this side that we’ve run into a problem because I can tell you from my experience that it’s a thing. And the reason it’s a thing, and I love doing this when I give a keynote that talks about this, I ask everybody in the audience, if they’re comfortable to raise their hand, if you’ve ever thought about being the other gender or what it’s like to be the other gender or exploring the other gender, put your hand up and almost nobody in the room ever raises their hand.
And the reason that is, is because if you’re cisgender, for the most part, you’re totally happy and comfortable, right? Like I’m a woman. I don’t wanna be a man. I don’t like explore like things that, that really are particularly masculine. I was tormented by gender every day of my life for 45 years because I wouldn’t acknowledge it and I wouldn’t do anything about it.
And so that’s how I know it’s real is because it was literally real right. As a boy, why, why am I not allowed to blank? Why can’t I do this? Why can’t I do that from a perspective of not only gender expression, but everything else. And so I’m gonna give your audience a crash course in the four elements of gender really quick to help them out.
Okay. So you have your gender identity, which is who you are in your head and your heart. Okay. I’m non-binary, I believe that you both identify as female or women,
C&D: We do.
Don: So that’s who you are in your head and your heart, and it match your gender assigned to birth, which means you’re cisgender. Okay, cool. Checkbox.
You have your gender expression, which is how you express the gender that you feel that, you know, you are. So for some men that’s like crazy quote, toxic masculine for other people it’s maybe a little more feminine, but the argument is you can express yourself in any way you choose to express your gender.
Okay. Next one’s sexual orientation. That’s who you’re attracted to. Straight, bi, gay, pan, all those sexualities, all those orientations. And then lastly, you have your anatomical or biological sex, right? That means your chromosomal makeup, your anatomy. It means your brainwaves, the way that your brain actually chemically and physically works.
Those four things come together to create your gender.
Don: That’s a really complicated way of basically saying in my world that when all of those things come together in the beautiful soup, that is your gender. It’s incredibly unique. because just like I pointed out, like you have people that identify as cisgender that are incredibly masculine and not, and you have people that identify as really feminine but straight.
And you have people that literally they’re their brain and in their heart, in their head, they’re, they’re in the wrong body and they need to go to the other side of that binary. And so the cool thing about it is, is if you think about it that way, that means that we’re all unique and special.
We’re like stars in the sky. So we get to shine bright, and it’s my argument that when you start looking at gender, there are 8.6 billion of us. And each one of us has our own special little mix of gender and they’re all valid and we get to respect them all and people should be, feel free to express themselves and experience their gender exactly how they want to.
C&D: Well, thank you for that. It’s, super helpful. It is super helpful, but I do love it when you’re explaining it. It’s made it to me, it was like, well, there’s no way that what I’m clicking in my putting in my box or saying is true about me is gonna be true about Courtney or somebody else. So I’d love that visual of everyone being a star, like everyone just has their own unique soup.
Don: I’ll, I’ll have, I’ll send you a link that you guys can include in the show notes.
Don: I have a download that, that people can download is totally free., and, and what it’ll, it’ll introduce them to is the process of sort of mapping this out for themselves, because here’s the thing, those four base elements of gender, they’re all connected, but they’re not in any way correlated or causal.
Right. So here’s the most, here’s the most common misconception. That’s kind of been a societal sort of joke or point of humor for many years, right? If a man is effeminate, he’s gay. So if you look at that, like gender expression, if they’re on the more feminine side, then clearly their sexual orientation is gay or at least BI, right.
You must at least be BI., those two things aren’t connected. I’m sitting in front of you with earrings on, in a V-neck shirt. And expressing myself in a certain, I have long hair I’m as straight as the day is long. Like that’s just all there is to it. I’m married, I’m monogamous and I’m straight and I’m married to Emily and that’s how I roll.
So they’re connected, but they’re not in any way causal or correlated to one affecting the other. And I think it’s a beautiful thing. So when you download, when your audience downloads this this worksheet, you see it plotted on a little diagram and you’re like, well, I’m, I’m kind of here on this particular element of my gender and I’m kind of here. And the cool thing about it is no two of them will look the same.
C&D: Right. I love that. Well, this has been a wonderful, it has been wonderful conversation. I knew it would be. I know
Don: Thank you.
C&D: But we just would love for you to end on where can people find you, they wanna work with you if they wanna connect with you., I know that we have, we have a lot of listeners that are CEOs of businesses. Like if you want, they want some diverse training and whatnot. How can they connect.
Don: Yeah. I mean, really what it boils down to is I’m serving clients one to one or one to many right now. And so the easiest way to get ahold of me is probably to go to my website, which is, you know, ready for it, donmamone.com. You can put that in your show notes.
I’m on all the Instagram’s, the Twitter’s I’m even on the TikTok now, on the TikTok, which makes me feel really, really cool, even though I’m not, but you know, ultimately what I tell people is I’m still building out the infrastructure of what I want this brand to be and how I want it to look, but that has not slowed me down in serving people at all.
So if you’re listening to this right now as an individual, and you’re like, I want you to speak to my audience, or I would love for you to speak to my team, or I would love you to speak with me because these are things I’m struggling with from a place of not being able to be unapologetically unique and authentic and loving myself unconditionally reach out and give me an opportunity to figure out the best way to serve you, your audience, your team, whoever it may be.
Dana: Thanks everyone for gathering this today, to talk about the hustle. For our episode with Don, we are drinking a tequila soda, specifically at Don Julio Blanco. We hope we get the chance to make it this week and cheers to being authentically you. To learn more and connect with Don, you can visit them on Instagram at Don Mamone or visit their website, donmamone.com.
Courtney: And to learn more about our hustles, visit us on the Gram at canddevents at thebradfordnc, at anthem.house and at hustleandgather, and if you’re interested in learning more about our speaking training, our venue consulting, head to our website hustleandgather.com.
Dana: And if you love us and you love this show, we’d be more than honored if you left a rating and a review.
Courtney: This podcast is a production of Earfluence. I’m Courtney
Dana: and I’m Dana.
Courtney: And we’ll talk with you next time on hustle and gather.