Coming Out At Work

A Demonstration of Pride

Some people have referred to coming out on the job as taking a great leap of faith. I think it’s an exceptional demonstration of both courage and common sense.

For many of us, coming out at work is that point in time when we say to ourselves, “I’m going to stop living my life worrying about what others may think. I have paid my dues, and I deserve to be the real me!” Or perhaps we say, “I need to see where this takes me. I need to live out what I know to be true about myself, and I refuse to hide my truth any longer.”

No matter what our situation may be, it’s true that coming out at work can happen in any number of different and unique ways. Some take a few baby steps and test the waters before reaching that point where hiding who they are is no longer an option for them. Others simply drop the bomb and let it all hang out in one flashpoint of personal revelation.

I humbly would submit that coming out at work can be a major life achievement. It’s a legitimate act of pride demonstrating honesty and integrity about one’s core orientation and/or identity. A courageous step like that deserves admiration and respect.

Let’s consider it logically: For most of us, going to work every day is a big part of our lives.

Why should anyone be forced to live a lie and/or deny the truth of who he or she is for a large portion of each day? Why should a person be required to hide something that’s intrinsic to his or her very being?

After all, sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t some minor personality quirk. It informs everything about us, including how we operate in the world. No one should have to sacrifice self-esteem or personal identity to be successful at a job or to gain access to workplace opportunities. Coming out allows us to live truthfully, to share our best selves with our coworkers, and to stop wasting a boatload of psychic energy on obfuscation and/or deception.

It’s important to recognize that while coming out at work potentially may ruffle the feathers of a few disapproving souls, you aren’t here to make everyone comfortable at your own expense. None of us are in this world solely to live up to someone else’s expectations.

Coming out is about no longer pretending you aren’t GLBT just to placate someone else’s tender sensibilities.

After all, what about your personal comfort level? What about your feelings, needs, and sensibilities—don’t they matter just as much as anyone else’s? Where do someone else’s rights to be comfortable end, and where do yours begin? Why should you continue to deny or hide your true self because of what someone else might think or say about you?

Besides, at some point, we all have to think about our own peace of mind. Coming out with integrity can permit GLBT people to do just that.

Of course, the other side of the coming-out coin involves certain risks of which we should be aware before making such an important decision. Consider this: Once you have come out, you cannot go back in the closet. People will know about you, and they are not going to forget. The door will have been opened, and you can’t shut it again.

Coming-out hazards also may involve experiencing discrimination, bigotry, and intolerance from others. While increasing numbers of workplaces are adopting transgender nondiscrimination policies, it is possible that harassment, gossip, hurtful jokes, unseemly comments, and exclusion still may occur.

Unfortunately, coming out on the job even may precipitate confrontations, physical attacks, or property damage. Though regrettable, such things have been known to happen. It is best to be aware and be prepared for possible hostile reactions. Try to avoid potential situations in which physical altercations might occur. That’s not being cowardly—it’s being intelligent and safe.

If you feel that physical attacks may be a possibility in your workplace, be prudent, discretionary, strategic, and smart. You may be the bravest person in the world, but that won’t help you much if you’re lying in a hospital or the morgue.

Despite these potentially difficult and occasionally dangerous scenarios, it’s encouraging to note that more and more people are coming out on the job every day—and they’re doing so for some extremely valid purposes.

People seem to have two primary reasons for taking the important step of coming out at work.

The first reason is personal: You will be a better, happier, more productive, and healthier individual and employee if and/or when you are able to live your life openly and without fear of discovery. Anxiety about potential blackmail at work will cease to be an issue. You no longer will need to hide or pretend. You will have an inner peace and new opportunities to live a richer, more satisfying life on the job. You will be free to do your work and make your best contributions in a way that demonstrates wholeness and truth.

A remarkable liberation of the spirit takes place whenever someone comes out, and begins to live life as a complete human being. Coming out will enable you honestly to be the person that you want and need to be in your workplace. You will be liberated to be who you truly are, not who others may think you are or should be.

A second reason for coming out on the job is that you will enrich not only your own life, but also the life of your organization and those around you. Openness about your personal status can lead to strengthened relationships and greater trust among friends and coworkers. People will have a firsthand opportunity to witness your integrity in action.

By coming out, you will gift others with an opportunity to learn, to become more aware, to have their boundaries stretched, and to have the experience of working with someone who may be ‘‘different,’’ but who is equally valid in terms of his or her human worth and professional abilities. Whenever we come out on the job, we actually are negotiating our own visibility and viability as an employee and a human being.

So, here we are. Out. Out at last! We are out in remarkable numbers, with more of us coming out all the time. Never before in history has society’s awareness of the GLBT community been greater than it is right now, but far too often the public’s perceptions of us are flawed and misinformed.

Considering just how many of us there are, and we are many millions strong: Why is it that only a relative handful of us enthusiastically are involved in trying to make things better for all of us? Why is it that only a small percentage of us actively work to correct the horrible, negative, and inaccurate perceptions of our people—which tend to hang on like leeches, and refuse to fade into well-deserved obscurity? How can we, individually and collectively, begin to educate and demonstrate that we are not the bathroom predators, invaders, and sex monsters some fervently portray us to be?

Increasingly, laws are being passed that give GLBT persons certain protections and accommodations. Antidiscrimination statutes are being adopted locally and statewide around the nation. However, laws alone will not alter how we are seen and thought of by the public. A positive public opinion is the key to successful, widespread acceptance by the larger society.

So, what can we do to begin changing the erroneous perceptions of the general public once and for all?

One thing is to stand up for ourselves with dignity at work or wherever we may be.

Margaret Wheatley writes, “What happens when we claim our right to be fully human? Everyone benefits. Even those who feel superior, who demean and discount us, benefit when we claim our full humanity. When we refuse to accept degrading conditions and behaviors, those in power no longer have a target for their oppressive acts.”

Coming out at work uniquely can demonstrate the intrinsic value of human difference in making organizations more successful. People who remain in the closet cannot be fully honest about who they are, nor can they share openly about the important aspects of their personal life. Such sharing is significant, for these human interactions can create connections, and bring a team together, helping them to function effectively during stressful, demanding moments.

In the end, the decision to come out at work is a highly personal one. Most people who have made that choice do not regret it, and wish they had done it sooner. Almost all of them feel an enhanced sense of satisfaction. Let’s hope each of us one day will experience that kind of pride in ourselves and in our remarkable GLBT community.

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