Monday, June 27, 2011

Being Out At Work

A study titled, "The Power of 'Out'," published by the Center for Work-Life Policy (and summarized here) indicates in no uncertain terms that those who are out at work flourish, while those who remain in the closet languish or leave.

It's not 100% one-or-the-other, but the study shows that LGBT people who hide their sexual orientation from co-workers -- an estimated 52% of them -- feel stalled in their careers. A whopping 75% feel isolated at work, and even moreso if they are men.

I'm not criticizing other gay people for making a decision to withhold their sexual orientation from co-workers and their employer, in general. I know from my own experience while employed somewhere else where I was supervised by several retired Army colonels that I felt that I would be chastised, discriminated against, and otherwise held back because of what I assumed to be the perceptions of retired military about gay people.

My problem was that I was making a lot of assumptions. I never gave my bosses a chance. I just hid that part of my life. I focused on my job, and tried to develop relationships with co-workers, but I remember how badly I felt about hiding the truth. It hurt. It wasn't right. I had these ongoing feelings of being hypocritical and feeling like I was a liar.

Granted, no one asked me directly if I were gay, and I did everything I could to hide my sexual orientation. I never talked about my partner or our home life. My partner and I would go on some marvelous trips to various places around the world, but I never would show photos of those trips to co-workers because I didn't want them to see me smiling with my arm around a man's shoulder (in many, many photos.)

Many colleagues assumed that I was straight because I rode a motorcycle to work, wore the boots and gear of a biker, and behaved in a masculine manner. While those characteristics are fundamentally, "me," (being a masculine guy and a biker), there were other "guy things" that I hid really well. Like I always had a good excuse to avoid playing on the company softball league. I avoided acknowledging remarks some men made about women. I found ways to avoid talking about "the game" (whatever game-of-the-previous-night it was) by timing myself well. For example, they always talked about Sunday's football games for a few minutes before the start of every Monday staff meeting. I would intentionally arrive three minutes late, huffing and puffing out-of-breath, sighing, "I'm sorry I'm late; I had to get off the phone with (some fictitious but important person)."

I realized years after I left that job that most of my colleagues had figured me out, but were being respectful and didn't say anything. Those to whom I have fully come out now -- after I left -- are even better friends than they were co-workers.

I am out where I work now. But as I have said before, I do not run around and wave the rainbow flag, or brag about "my partner and I did ... this-n-that" or talk about gay-related things. I keep focused on my job, am pleasant to colleagues and co-workers, but don't socialize with them (except perhaps for an occasional lunch.) They know that I am in a relationship with another man, and when appropriate, it comes up that I talk about him.

I feel more relaxed and much more productive at work, because I don't have to find ways to hide who I am and what composes my character. I have always believed a great deal in personal integrity, so by being out at work, I can maintain a higher level of personal integrity, which does two things for me: 1) it earns me more respect from co-workers and management; and 2) I don't have to waste a lot of time creating stories or finding ways to avoid certain situations. I can apply the time I spent activity closeting my behavior on doing the job I was hired to do. Thus, I am perceived to be more highly productive than almost anyone else. It even resulted in a bonus last week.

Life is short: be who you are, and be honest with yourself.

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