Coming out at work; is it necessary?

Who we are seen to be at work affects our relationship with our colleagues, managers and our job security. In my case, as a queer femme in a relationship with a transsexual man, I am often misread as straight, which forces me back into the closet. My perceived sexuality puts me in an uncomfortable position in relation to my co-workers and managers.

Things feel completely different in the corporate world, where the work culture I’ve seen is straight, male-dominated and pretty macho.

When I started there I found myself in the unusual position of un-outing myself, or at least of being seen to do so. Because my partner goes by ‘he’ I surprised a lot of my colleagues by referring to my boyfriend. I feel conflicted about this; undoubtedly most of my colleagues picture a cis guy in their heads when I refer to my boyfriend and think of me as straight, which is just a lie. But going out of my way to explain that my boyfriend isn’t ‘normal’ feels offensive (towards him) and just plain awkward.

Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan
Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

It is definitely easier in some ways to let my colleagues make assumptions than out my partner as trans and me as, well, whatever that makes me. I imagine myself saying “my boyfriend, who’s trans, by which I mean a transsexual man (potential awkward explanation here)” and leave them to make whatever assumptions about us they’re going to make. It’s much easier for me not to include this addendum, which feels uncomfortably apologetic to me anyway. I feel like I’d be insisting on my abnormality, while apologizing for the complicatedness of my boyfriend’s gender. And, of course, it’s way easier to ride the wave of heteronormativity than consciously outing myself.

Of course, I am complicit in this misreading of my sexuality. And I gain heterosexual privilege from that. But all this makes me uncomfortable. After bumping into a colleague when I was with my partner and introducing him, I wondered whether her view of me had changed. Whether she felt I had lied to her in some way. Because this does feel like lying. Even with colleagues who are my age, I don’t want to out myself because it feels too awkward. And, of course, I fear their rejection.

Out at Work cat meme
Out at Work cat meme

Not to mention the fact that I feel I’ve let down the older lesbian at work. She immediately (correctly) pegged me as one of her own, and seemed disappointed when I started to talk about my boyfriend.

Maybe this is what all bisexual people feel like. They, too, are seen to be aligning themselves with a particular sexual group when they are in a relationship. If bisexual women refer to their boyfriend, they will be misread as straight. If they refer to their girlfriend, they will be seen as a lesbian. Both of these assumptions contain some element of truth, but both miss the whole picture.

Our understanding of sexuality is still so black and white. What happens to those of us who confuse these boundaries?

I’d be interested to find out how you juggle your queer identities at work. Do you feel comfortable or do you feel you have to hide parts of yourself? Can you share any strategies for coming out as LGBT and is it even necessary?

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Dumbing Down: career women who self-deprecate

Part 1 of two pieces on careers and women.  Why women are expected to be more quiet, speak less, and be more self-deprecating than men.

I’m a pretty shy girl. Well, maybe shy isn’t the right word. I can often be quite friendly and steer conversations in a social setting. I sometimes even introduce myself in a self-confident and open manner and continue to an interesting topic of conversation such as ‘what do you think of the bunting?’ and ‘isn’t the selection of desserts great?’ like I did at my friend’s wedding party this weekend. But as soon as I admire a person, as soon as I think they are talented, interesting or, let’s face it, hot, I clam up. I start to put myself down and insist that I am a less worthy human being than them who doesn’t deserve to kiss the ground at their creative/innovative/sexy feet.

I find myself jealous of people who are able to speak about their career with confidence. Men, in particular, seem to have the gift of the gab. An ability to find the right words and have an unashamedly self-confident attitude that will make their listener believe that their companion is a man worth listening to; a man who knows his stuff.

“I’m pretty much a nobody really. You should probably talk to someone else. “

When I meet people, I am often frustrated at my own inability to, as it were, big myself up. When asked what I do I generally freak out and put myself down as if to insist, contrary to my own belief, that I am a really boring and unsuccessful person with no talents whatsoever. Although I am a pretty fucking clever, talented and well-travelled person with plenty of strong opinions the way I describe myself gives off the subliminal message ‘I’m pretty much a nobody really, not worth talking to. You should probably talk to someone else. ’ I’m pretty much a self-confidence train wreck, really, akin to Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns before she gets transformed into back-from-the-dead Catwoman.

The conversation usually gets off to a good start. I say ‘I am a writer’ to which people respond in a genuinely interested way. Faced with this positive reaction I invariably to continue to make sure my conversation partner knows just how unsuccessful a writer I am by stressing that I ‘only’ write on my blog and the internet, and that I don’t get paid for it. That my zine is only an amateur home-printed publication.

(I’m more of a career Selina Kyle than a kick ass villainess like Catwoman)

It all depends how you spin it. While the above information is true, it doesn’t mean that I am less talented or successful than the self-confident guy who ‘has a studio’, ‘exhibits worldwide’ and ‘is currently exploring a way to replicate soundscapes in a digital application’. I can either say I am an unpaid blogger with larger writing aspirations, I give workshops on sex and sexuality and I teach English to German kids or I can say I am a self-employed writer with a moderate online following who is currently experimenting with her creativity while living in Berlin.  I can say how I conceived, edited and promoted an 80-page bilingual publication and recently organised and performed in a cabaret attended by over 600 people.

See, I even had to insert the word ‘moderate’ there. I AM SO TERRIBLE AT SELF-PROMOTION!

While I think I have always been insecure and afraid of bigging myself up, I do think this tendency to downplay is more common in women. A lot of the British career women I know, no matter how brilliant, habitually talk in a way that puts themselves down. We undermine our achievements in order to appear more socially acceptable. We make ourselves seem more stupid, smaller, less significant in order to cater to the subconscious idea that a woman is meant to have a lower place in society than a man.

A man is encouraged from birth to inhabit his personality and develop his abilities. He is nurtured in a way that women often aren’t, who are taught to hide their brilliance and pretend that they are somehow lesser than they are.

I see this attitude in my parents’ celebration of my intelligence along with their desire to push me into a ‘normal’ job. Any job will do, no matter how unsuitable, so long as I fit into the mainstream idea of acceptable-things-to-do-with-your-life. They would rather I were a miserable secretary, employed in a job that uses none of my creativity, than a happy, unknown artist (if I were famous like JK Rowling, as my Dad points out, that would be another matter).

It is now my project to stop apologising for myself when asked what I do for a living. I am going to proudly claim my artist / writer label and not say, ‘but don’t worry, I’m really brainless and broke and what you do is way more important anyway’. I’m going to be proud. Go get ‘em girl.

Don’t forget to check out part 2: fat, body image and self-esteem in the workplace. Now up!