I am a 21 year old, queer female and decided to spend my summer working in a rural area (I am originally from a large city with a strong gay community). At the beginning of the summer, I decided that I wasn’t going to tell anyone at my work that I am gay because the town is small, conservative, and religious. I thought it was going to be ok for a few weeks, but I became agitated when I heard people around me use the word “faggot” and tell homophobic jokes. I thought I was fairly comfortable with my sexual orientation (I am out to my friends at college, but not my parents), but here I feel isolated and wrong all the time. It’s like I’ve reverted back to the state I was in when I first realized that I was queer some years ago, like I’m shoving myself back into the closet. I’ve started questioning my sexuality again and wondering if being gay is really worth such pain and shame. I’m in culture shock in middle America and not sure what to do.
Hi Jennifer, thanks for sending us your question.
I understand that leaving the reality and comfort of your home city behind and throwing yourself into another (completely opposite) world can sometimes shake everything up. What was once stable and secure and not even questioned in your own world, can suddenly become something we don’t even understand or relate to anymore. This culture shock, as you called it, is normal and often a good challenge for yourself to figure out what you are really about, regardless of your surroundings. I am really sad and sorry that you are having to hear homophobic ‘jokes’ and comments all day. This is something that you might have had to deal with at some point in a big city too. Being out and open at work is an issue that many LGBT individuals struggle with. How much can you mix your personal life with your professional life? Will it be controversial? Will it affect your job security or success? As wonderful as it would be for you to be able to be completely out, always and everywhere, sometimes for professional and personal reasons people decide to keep that information private. You have every right to disclose, or not disclose whatever information you want to your work colleagues.
From your question I am unable to tell what kind of work you are doing and who it is that’s making these comments. If your work environment is so bad you might want to consider speaking with your supervisor. I’m assuming the company wouldn’t have any kind of equality policy as many bigger companies do, but check that out. Depending on what state you are in you might be able to remind your supervisor of any regulations and laws that the company and its employees have to adhere to.
I am more concerned about your personal struggle here though. It sounds like you have a summer of personal exploration and a lot of thinking to do. As most people have come to believe, being gay is not a choice. It is therefore not something that can be ‘worth’ a certain amount of pain. You either are gay, or you are not (or you are sometimes, and not others, fluidity is cool too). But sometimes the being gay part does come with pain and struggle. Pain and struggle that you can learn and grow from. Not pain that can make you decide to just not be gay.
Maybe this experience will send you home at the end of the summer with a new found appreciation for the freedom you have in your normal life. Maybe you can even start some kind of support group at your school for others who might be experiencing the same thing.
Stay strong, Jennifer! Try to find positives and use this experience to your long term benefit. Please write in with any more questions!
Hillary, for Alterheros