Being Out At Work

A study titled, “The Power of ‘Out’,” published by the Center for Work-Life Policy 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.