Bringing my Whole Self to Work
Updated: 14 hours ago
Since the first time I came out as a gay man, I have had to come out again more times than I can count. In a world that remains mostly heteronormative, queers have to constantly come out in order to be themselves despite tremendous progress in LGBT+ inclusion and workplace diversity.
Coming out at work happened each time I changed job. Even within the same company. When I go to a new hairdresser. When I buy some flowers for my husband and am told it will make a wonderful gift for my wife.
At my current employer, I came out to my colleagues. To my employees. To most of the firm’s top leaders. Usually to each one individually. And in the end I came out to all 7,500 employees after my portrait was aired on the screens of all the buildings we operate in worldwide. That’s a little extreme, I admit, but still illustrative.
It is not self evident that I am gay. Women and ethnic minorities can’t hide who and what they are. As a gay person, I am able to, should I choose to.
And so the decision to come out at work or elsewhere is a personal one. It can also be driven by necessity, considering workplace safety and something more personal like self-acceptance.
It is a constant cost / benefit / risk analysis, where trust and self confidence are paramount.
It is also a ritual. For a long time, I used to ask myself: how will the person in front of me react? Will they insist on speaking about my wife, despite being corrected two, three times. Will they immediately change the topic? I used to play out many scenarios even before opening my mouth.
Looking at Stonewall LGBT+ statistics, 62% of young people entering the workplace from university go back into the closet. 20% of LGBTQ+ people have experienced poor behaviour in the workplace based on their sexuality or gender identity. What's more, these staggering statistics are for the UK - A country that is a poster child for queer inclusion.
As I am entering my 40s, I feel very comfortable talking about my husband, our fantastic honeymoon and our future kid - well I am officially a gay dad! I am comfortable with myself, and with my life. And that makes most people around me equally comfortable, and at times curious. Especially those people who would not naturally be close to the topic.
I reached the conclusion years ago that there are more upsides than downsides to being out, to being myself, at work and beyond. And I learnt the hard way that hiding who I am makes me vulnerable.
What if coming out at work does not go well, you may ask? Then I don’t see the point of pretending that I fit in, and I leave the company. I was told by my former boss that I should move away from my LGBTQ+ activities if I wanted to move up in the firm. Message received! A few months after that, I was gone.
Lyra McKee made a remarkable comment at the end of her TedTalk on Homosexuality and Religion:
“If any of you is uncomfortable with the thought of someone like me, please come up to me after this event and talk to me. I won’t bite your head off. I won’t call you a homophobe. We’ll have a conversation, and I’ll show you I am human, just like you”
And that’s the thing, isn’t it?
We are all human. We are also all different. Gays. Straights. Black. White. Old. Young. Gender non-binary... That is what makes the richness of the world we live in. So I will no longer pretend. Not at work. Or anywhere else.