This is a guest post from Nina Smith whose blog is Queercents.
I was out at work long before I had the courage to come out to my parents. As a twentysomething marketing coordinator, I would often shoot the breeze in my boss’ office, and during one such gab-fest she asked if I was gay.
I remember standing up, walking to her office door and shutting it before answering the question.
“Well, since you asked… Yep, I’m gay.”
I can’t recall what prompted the question and I’m sure her inquiry broke more than one human resources rule, but we were friends and she was genuinely curious — in a Jewish-mother sort of way– about why I didn’t date or have a boyfriend.
I’ve been out at work ever since.
There’s a lot to be said about showing our true colors. Corporate America rewards authenticity. Selisse Berry, Executive Director of Out & Equal Workplace Advocates said, “We know that when employees bring their whole lives to work, they are happier, more productive, and have decreased rate of turnover.”
This makes sense because it’s hard to come across as a “normal” when people don’t know a thing about your personal life. Or worse yet, you get pegged as the person defined by work and nothing else.
David Stocum, a Life Coach who specializes in working with members of the gay community writes, “Among the benefits of coming out is a potentially more pleasant environment with less stress and more mental energy to devote to your work. You also are less likely to have resentment and workplace conflict. All these factors combine to yield overall improved job performance, which you could expect would lead to more steady career growth, better advancement opportunities and a more successful career, not to mention the improvements in mental and physical health.”
I work in technology and I take a new job every couple of years. I’ve been out at every company. The process gets easier with practice. Now I typically out myself when someone asks if I have children. For whatever reason, after thirty, people stopped asking if I was married. Recently my response has been, “No, but my partner and I are trying to get pregnant.” The reaction is everything from silence to the gentle and sincere follow-up questions.
Proposed federal legislation aims to end discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, but we know that laws with the best intentions are limited in by realities of the workplace. Discrimination from employers and repercussions from homophobic co-workers are complex and slippery to squash with laws; social acceptance among colleagues will remain a personal journey for those of us in the LGBT community.
Still, for many people, no salary is big enough to compensate for being closeted at work. There are plenty of gay-friendly companies. And the idea that you have to stay closeted because of the town you live in is also suspect. Where you live should meet your highest priorities; surely being true to yourself is one of those, and there are many options for moving to an inexpensive city that is gay-friendly.
Keep in mind, though, that coming out at work is not an all-or-nothing decision. Gay.com columnist Russell Kaltschmidt says: “Some people choose to come out initially only to selected colleagues or just to their manager. Others seek to be out to everybody. You could just start responding more honestly to questions from colleagues about your personal life, or you could take a more proactive approach by informing all of your immediate coworkers.”
Coming out is not a one-time event, but a conscious choice we make every day. Richard Rothstein at QueerSighted writes about this recurring moment of truth: “No matter how confident you may be in your queerness, you nonetheless look for signs of trouble or discomfort. There’s a momentary pause as your co-workers digest the news; or you can see on their faces that they already knew, or you can see them struggling to pretend that they did already know and that it doesn’t matter. Occasionally someone “?comforts’ you with the “?news’ that you’re still the “?same person.’ Yuck.”
And what happens when they see the real you? Kirk Snyder, author of The G Quotient writes, “The more people who get to know us as good neighbors, talented co-workers and company leaders, the less homophobia there will be in the world. Bigotry of any kind is rooted in fear of the unknown, so by coming out and being ourselves, we are changing the world.”