Jesse: Coming Out to Colleagues
"I LOVE BEING GAY AND IF I DON'T HAVE COLLEAGUES WHO ARE ON BOARD WITH HOW OR WHO I LOVE, THEN I'M IN THE WRONG JOB"
In honor of Pride month, we asked our friend Jesse to SHARE her experience OF being out in her workplace. We hope that her perspective INSPIRES THOSE THAT AREN'T OUT YET AND REMINDs US all to be encouraging and supportive ALLIES FOR THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY.
Growing up, I never wanted being gay to define me. I had too many experiences as a kid that told me that it was too different from the status quo (being from Long Island, status quo was everything), so I decided to push it out of the script I re-told every time someone asked who I was. If someone asked any of my friends, “who’s Jesse?’ or, “what’s Jesse like?” I certainly did NOT want them to use the L word. No way.
When I showed up to my first day of work in 2012 for a television production gig at a daytime talk show, and sat down for our first full-team meeting (a small team of 5 or 6), the standard question re-arose. “Who is Jesse?”
“Tell us about yourself,” they said “We want to get to know you better!”
Fear rushed in. Do I come out? How long do I wait to tell them? Do I ever tell them? Do heterosexual people divulge their sexual preference on the first day of work? I think not?! “Why is it important?,” I asked myself. “It doesn’t define me.”
So I didn’t share. I used my calculated script that was basically the social media version of myself. The version that scrubbed my story of an important part of my identity, but stayed “safe.” I got some slight smiles and nods, and we moved on.
I went home that night, slouched down against my wall, and sighed. Pretty much all of my friends and family knew that I was gay at that point, so why was it so hard to imagine telling people at work? I didn’t know the political party or social issue preferences of any of my new co-workers. I didn’t want to be treated differently in the workplace. Thoughts began to fill my mind, “Would coming out decrease my chances of promotions? Would more pressure be put on me? Could I get fired?”
Cut to a few months later. I had started dating someone. I was getting pretty close to my co-workers and often we’d go for happy hours or meet outside of work. People brought their significant others along all the time. I decided I was going to go for it. I definitely went through a plethora of ways I could do it. My favorite idea involved rainbow balloons, an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, and cake. I scratched that idea, but, looking back, I realize that would have SLAYED!
One night we were at a happy hour and I said to my coworkers, “I want you all to meet my girlfriend! Cool if I bring her to the next happy hour?” Not even a second passed before they all in some form or another told me, “Hell yeah! Any person you date must be awesome.” A huge weight was lifted off of my shoulders. Though I had no cake, balloons, or great runway looks on tap, it was a celebration.
I’ve had about 4 jobs since then (hey, I am a millennial), and at each one I’ve gotten a little better at coming out. In fact, at each of those jobs it would have been harder to NOT come out, because I was privileged to be in jobs where my coworkers had become my friends.
Disclaimer: Not every job allows for the opportunity for coworkers to become close friends, but on the flip side, some of what prohibits that is within YOU and not the work environment itself.
My advice to you (and past me): don’t wait for a celebration or for pride month to talk about who you are and who you love. Drop a line about a past or current relationship into a conversation over lunch. Flat-out come-out to the person you feel closest to. Be casual, be inviting, and be generous of spirit...or invite colleagues over for an episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race, have rainbow balloons, and cake. Whatever you do, DO YOU!
In my current job, in a very academic setting, I am one of the youngest people (of 150) in the agency. Though I’m now experienced and far more comfortable with coming out at work, I felt nerves anew this time around (and maybe always will?). But when I decided to talk about my partner to colleagues with whom I interact outside my comfort zone (in a job that requires I wear business attire), I was met with the same-old reaction of acceptance! My current colleagues have been some of my biggest supporters, checking in weekly about my current relationship (almost 3 years strong! she’s da best!), and colleagues who want to see pictures from our travels, too!
I’ve come a long way from the person who didn’t want being gay to define me. I love being gay, and if I don’t have colleagues who are on board with how or who I love, then I’m in the wrong job.
Disclaimer: Not everyone is fortunate enough to work in an environment free from bigots. Navigating that is an entirely different ball game, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to not have had to deal with homophobia at work. But homophobia is real, and there are various Facebook groups that provide community and support to LGBTQIA folks dealing with homophobic encounters, both inside and outside of the office. Check some of them out. We should never have to go through these struggles alone:
Jesse is a digital communications strategist and former appointee to President Obama at a humanities agency on the Executive Branch.
Jesse, thank you so much for taking the time to share your personal insights with us. Your story has inspired us to be more self-aware and accepting in our work environment. We wish you all the success in the future!