Culture + Politics
The Glass Closet: Choosing Whether To Come Out At WorkBy Jarune Uwujaren
January 01, 2013
This originally appeared on Everyday Feminism. Republished here with permission.
The question of whether or not to come out at work is a loaded one—one that many fear will have a huge impact on their job satisfaction, hiring potential, career path, and employment status.
If you’re considering coming out at work, these are probably already weighing heavily on your mind.
All that considered, the decision to come out is a highly personal one that should be made when you’re ready to make it. Don’t feel pressured by other people coming out or the feeling that you have to be an out and shining beacon of LGBTQ success.
Whether you feel safe at work is more important than what other people are doing or what other people expect you to do.
If you postpone coming out because it could jeopardize your livelihood, it’s not a sign that you’re ashamed of your sexuality or afraid of your employers.
Survival is survival, even in the circumstances we’re fighting to change. If there aren’t any out gay people in the company, it’s hard to tell how employers and coworkers will react.
On the other hand, coming out to people at work doesn’t have to be scary or dangerous. It can even be anti-climactic.
That’s why weighing the pros and cons of coming out with the nuances of your work environment can be helpful.
Pro #1: Coming Out Could Make You More Relaxed and Accessible
Let’s face it—sexuality and gender are not the entirety of our being, but they are a significant part of it. The amount of energy it takes to obscure partner pronouns or maintain an uncomfortable gender presentation to hide who you are could be better spent on working and building professional relationships.
So coming out could take the weight off your shoulders. You can talk about your weekend a bit more, leave pictures of your partner on your desk, present in a way that’s more comfortable for you, and just generally relax.
This can make your coworkers more trusting of you, since you seem more open and personable when you aren’t taking pains to hide anything. This especially applies to workplaces where coworkers banter or talk about their opinions a lot.
Pro #2 – Coming Out Could Weed Out the Bigots In Your Workplace
Sometimes, coming out can shut people up. People who freely used homophobic and transphobic slurs in your presence may be less likely to do so.
And if they aren’t, you now have more leverage to call them out on it because it’s personal.
You could also make people who think of LGBTQ people only in terms of their sexuality remember that they knew you as a capable coworker first. Whatever a person’s beliefs about being LGBTQ are, they may not be so likely to care if you can get the job done.
Pro #3 – Coming Out Could Bring Out Supporters
Coming out can also lead to more vocal support at the workplace. You could end up finding out who your friends in HR are or encouraging other LGBTQ coworkers to come out.
Knowing who is LGBTQ-friendly at the workplace can allay any doubts you had about being in a non-discriminatory environment. At times, it’s hard to really know if others will be hostile or accepting until after you come out.
Con #1 – You Might Get Unwelcome Attention
This is one aspect of coming out that could apply to any part of life. There are always going to be nosy people who think that being LGBTQ is an invitation to ask questions about sexual habits or genitalia. These people might even work with you.
There’s also the possibility that you only want a couple of friends at work to know about your sexuality.
But not everyone is sensitive to the personal nature of coming out. A well-meaning or vindictive coworker could out you to everyone else. So if you aren’t ready for everyone at work to know, it may be best to tell no one.
Con #2 – Coming Out Could Be Dangerous
Even with anti-discrimination laws, people do still get fired or denied employment because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. If you’re out to a current or potential employer, you may unwittingly be taking a risk.
However, people still take the risk because they believe that an employer who would turn them away for being LGBTQ isn’t worth working for anyway.
Even if you don’t lose your job, there’s always the possibility that random bigots at work might harass you or make you feel unsafe. And when you try to report what they’re doing and saying, there’s no guarantee HR will have your back.
So take stock of your work environment—how conservative is it? When your coworkers talk politics, do they ever mention things like same-sex marriage? If you’re an educator, do you have to deal with how parents feel about LGBTQ people? And if you feel that your work environment might not be safe after coming out, do you have the option to leave?
These are important things to consider if you worry your environment might become hostile. The uncertainty of coming out is why many people wait till they’re mid-to-late in their careers when they have more options and are more established.
How Can You Come Out?
That depends on you. You can test the waters by bringing up same-sex marriage or gay pride day to see how people respond. Or ask explicitly about the company’s policy on diversity and inclusiveness.
Or you can just drop it casually. If you’re a lesbian, for instance, you might just mention that you have a girlfriend or wife and bam, you’re out.
If you want to be more subtle, you might consider noting some experience on your resume or public profile that directly references the fact that you’re LGBTQ, like involvement in an LGBTQ organization or article you wrote in which you mention your sexuality. Though there may never be an exchange of words that out you, the employer will probably put two and two together on their own.
And before doing any of this, find out if you could get fired for coming out. Different states and different employers vary in their discrimination policies. You might be protected by wrongful termination and anti-discrimination laws or you might not. If you’re coming out to an iffy employer, definitely know what your rights and protections are before proceeding.
All that being said, coming out can be a successful and freeing process that can up your job satisfaction and make LGBTQ people more visible in society.
Even so, you need to weigh the pros and the cons, know how hostile or welcoming your profession is to LGBTQ people, and know whether you’re prepared to deal with the hostility that can come with coming out.
Ultimately, it’s your choice to make and no one should judge you for it.
Jarune Uwujaren is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. A Nigerian-American recent graduate who’s stumbling toward a career in writing, Jarune can currently be found drifting around the DC metro area with a phone or a laptop nearby. When not writing for fun or profit, Jarune enjoys food, fresh air, good books, drawing, poetry, and sci-fi.
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