25 June 2019
When I was first asked to write a blog on being gay in the workplace my initial reaction was ‘oh God no! absolutely not!’.… and this is probably the ingrained gut reaction for LGBTQ+ people the world over when asked the same question and particularly when it comes to work. I have had jobs in the past where I simply didn’t feel I could be open about my sexuality so to be asked to write something about the one thing I once actively hid so much, to be honest, it scared me. I know it shouldn’t have and I really wish it didn’t, but years of hiding is hard to shake, the old doubts and fears resurfaced with alarming clarity. What effect will this have on my professional future? Will people look or think of me differently? Once I do something like this, there is no taking it back, it’s out there forever.
However, once the initial gut reaction subsided, I realised these doubts and fears are the very reasons why I should write something. Maybe someone will read this and relate, maybe it will help someone struggling to come out at work, maybe it will help someone who has just had someone come out at work. My only hope is that it opens a conversation.
I joined Pinergy a couple of weeks after the company was founded back in 2012. From day one I never hid who I was and thankfully have never felt the need to hide. While I wasn’t arriving to work sparkling in glitter waving a rainbow flag, I have never had an issue talking about my partner or social life in work.
I don’t believe being out at work has hindered me professionally, my role progression has developed over the years; from sales support manager, operations manager to my current role as head of operations. For me, in Pinergy this has been based on my abilities, I have been just as successful as some and more successful than others. As a member of the senior management team my voice is heard equally among my peers.
In this context I have struggled to write about my time with Pinergy. Not for any reason other than my journey with Pinergy has been remarkably ….. well, unremarkable! I do realise that in my current position I am quite lucky, being gay is not a ‘thing’ in Pinergy. Homophobia of any kind would not be accepted here, by anyone, staff or management. It’s just not in the psyche of the people who work here.
Dan celebrating after completing the 2018 PINERGY cycle challenge
Starting a new job is stressful for everyone regardless, and heterosexuality is the assumption, so people who are gay have this extra baggage of whether or not you can or should be open about your sexuality. I, like a lot of gay people went to work carrying around the conscious fear of ‘letting it slip’ and the fear of what that would mean. Granted this was in the late 90’s and things were very different then but even now there are scenarios where this still happens. This baggage gets even heavier if you consider someone who has been closeted at work for a number of years, not only do they have to deal with coming out, but add to that the fact they have been lying to everyone since they started. It’s now gotten even more terrifying.
With that said, most people will think that ‘coming out’ is something that happens once and that’s it. In reality coming out in the workplace is a constant cycle. Having a chat with colleagues about your weekend or social life invariable leads to the ‘my partner/husband/wife and I …’ and having to choose your pronoun carefully in these conversations. This is something that reoccurs each time there are new people in work. It is also a scenario that happens when engaging with new clients and 3rd parties.
Nowadays, the truth is once it’s out there most people actually don’t really care, but when people do find out there is always a reaction; a reaction that you don’t get when someone is straight. Thankfully now the reactions are mostly positive but there is still a reaction.
To those reading this who are in a situation where they are unsure or afraid to come out at work, let it happen in a way that is natural to you. Don’t be put off by how you ‘think’ others may react, a lot of the time the people you work closest with will probably have guessed. They too are probably afraid to say something, asking someone ‘are you gay?’ is akin to asking a woman ‘are you pregnant?’, it’s one of those situations where saying nothing is the safest path. This is because it is still considered an insult to ask someone if they are gay.
In 2018, Dan climbed to the top of Island Peak in Nepal
You don’t need to make a big declaration to the whole company, take advantage of the casual chats at the water cooler or the Monday morning chat about the weekend and with those you feel most comfortable with mention your boyfriend, girlfriend or latest crush. This gives you time to adjust and gradually ‘unlearn’ the habit of hiding. As the tension you have been subconsciously carrying around lifts, you’ll start to feel more confident and this new confidence will show in your work. Remember, you got the job on your own merit, coming out does not change that.
If you think about it, the amount of time we spend over our lifetime working is second only to sleeping. Hiding who you are on this scale is simply not healthy or sustainable. I have been out in work since 2001, and while there have been both positive and negative experiences throughout, I only really started being successful after I came out in work. This is really important; how can you apply your whole self to your job if you can’t ‘be’ your whole self when in work.
Do I still have times where I question or ‘Check’ myself as Panti put it in her now famous speech, of course I do, I’d be lying if I said no, we are still living in a structurally unequal society. We have come a long way in the last 20 years and enjoy liberties that only one generation ago would have been thought impossible but we do need to keep the conversation going. This is the only way to normalise any minority and I believe we all no matter our sexual preference, have a part to play.