Many gay men and lesbians are hush-hush about their sexual orientation at their workplace as they fear hitting a glass ceiling or worse, even losing their jobs — especially in Asia where equal opportunity laws are hardly existent. While it may seem that coming out will only serve to create additional problems, it is a vital step towards greater integration in our lives and leads us towards fuller and more honest relationships with those around us.
For some, the process of coming out at work may be relatively easy, for others it may be far more painful – taking into consideration the industry they are in. Here are some pointers you may take into consideration in light of your own personal situation and needs.
What advice do you have for people who want to come out at work?
First and foremost, consider safety. You may get pressure from other friends to hurry up and come out but you need to be [confident] that it won’t hurt your position at work. Fortunately, today, there are more workplaces where it’s okay to come out. There are gay and lesbian unions at a lot of companies and that’s a major sign it’s okay to come out. But even if you’re worried about losing your job, sometimes you have to simply weigh what’s the cost of remaining closeted versus not being able to stand being in the closet any longer. It’s kind of a cost/benefit ratio you have to consider.
Should people make a list of pros and cons?
Absolutely! Many of my clients find (at certain times) that it’s more beneficial to stay in the closet at work.
When is it so important to come out that job security doesn’t even matter?
Well, every person is different. There comes a time when it begins to hurt to stay closeted and that’s hard. People think, “I’ll be discriminated against or thrown out,” and in some cases, that’s true. But you need to really explore and make sure your fear isn’t irrational. Has anyone ever hinted that they thought you might be gay and encouraged you to come out? Maybe talked positively about their nice brother who is gay? Nine times out of ten, my clients eventually come out at work.
What else can you do?
You might look for someone else who’s out in your office. Observe what their experience is. This doesn’t mean there aren’t risks, but it’s something to consider.
It has to be hard to remain in the closet.
Well, if someone comes to me for therapy, obviously they’re tired of feeling bad about themselves. We also discuss how they can make a job change if it’s really not safe to come out but they can’t stand being closeted.
When it’s time to come out at work, what’s the best way to do it?
Most people who are just starting to come out feel the need to make an announcement — to everyone — though it’s fine to do it on a one-on-one basis too. You could say, “There’s something you may not know about me…” But whatever feels most comfortable is okay. Why not just normalize the experience? When everyone’s talking about their dates over the weekend, talk about yours and don’t change the pronoun.
What about people who assume you’re straight?
When I meet people who do that, I’ll just chime in or say “Don’t you know that I’m gay?” If someone asks, “Did you meet any hot babes this weekend?” — which is so demeaning to a gay male — you can always respond by saying, “No. Did you meet any hot dudes?” Mess with them a little bit. Use humor.
Jim Fillman is a psychotherapist based in Newtown, Pennsylvania, (USA) and is also a professor at Bucks County Community College.
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