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Coming out at work -- is it necessary?

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Lois Lenz, Lesbian Secretary by Monica Nolan

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.

When I was hired in my current position in a not-for-profit organization, a lot of my managers assumed I was a lesbian. This makes total sense, as my resume is super gay. I have many years' experience of working with queer youth and the phrase LGBT appears about 5 times. I am lucky to work in a pretty open-minded place and, while the culture is still heteronormative, I doubt I would receive any homophobic abuse or lose my job because of who I am seen to date. 

When I started at work 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.

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.

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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