Happy Friday everyone!
The forthcoming week, September 19-24 is Bisexuality Awareness Week. I just received in the mail my Fall issue of Boston BiWomen’s quarterly newsletter. The topic is Out at Work (or not). I didn’t get a chance to pen anything before the deadline because I’ve been wrestling with employment issues and my focus has been on trying to stay fiscally afloat since the start of the pandemic. But I’ll write something now and “wave my flag” to be seen.
I’ve been in and out of many jobs since I came of working age. I was a late bloomer when it came to recognizing my sexuality — my mid-20s. I was already married (and we’re still going strong) and had a child (he’s 28 next month). The “picture perfect heterosexual” working mom. I didn’t know whether or not coming out was going to be validating or cause problems in my workplaces.
After giving it quite a lot of thought and quite a few not-so-good reactions, I now compare this issue to being a woman who established her professional identity before getting married (degreed under a maiden name, for example) and having to figure out what to do with that. Would changing my identity for all these people also change how they saw me? Would I have to start from the ground up again building a reputation?
Turns out, unfortunately for me, the answer was yes and the experience has been quite negative. Almost every time my sexuality came out at work, in a dropped comment about a past girlfriend, or me stating I’m busy during Pride, or when mentioning the subject matter of the books I write (look, everyone else gets to talk about their hobbies), I found myself pushed to the edges of my workplace’s social strata. I was left in the breakroom to eat by myself. No one stopped by my desk just to chat anymore. The worst was when I was left out of meetings and then passed over for opportunities. Then I would feel the swing of the door coming in through attitudes that were no longer congenial. I learned to exit the door before it could hit me in the rear end. If I was dismissed it was always something like my attitude no longer fit the workplace or I wasn’t “professional” enough.
My cycle seemed to be about 5 years. Around year 3 or 4, I get too comfortable. I’ll open up about myself too much and the reactions of being given the side-eye begin.
I live in the South. As you can see from the map it’s pretty terrible when it comes to workplace protections for LGBTQ people. I can’t relocate so I’ve basically given up on working anywhere corporately. In the last six months, I have pivoted fully to freelancing and working temp jobs. I take on contract projects to piecemeal an income together and get health insurance through my spouse’s employer. (Sometimes I feel bad about that because I’m “passing for straight” being married to a man, and there are a lot of employers around me who still won’t give benefits to same-sex partners or spouses.)
By freelancing, too, I have gained more freedom to be my whole self. To care about the things I want to care about. To talk about the things I want to talk about. To work on projects where the subject matters to me. I get to choose exactly who I work with and those people generally already know or learn up front about my orientation. If they want to work with me, great; if they don’t, well, okay then. They find someone else and so do I.
I realized something in the last year. I’m past 50 now. It was high time I stop letting people treat me like who I have relationships with, or that I write about women who love women, is something they can’t associate with.
I’m on the lookout in my graduate writing program for the chance to bring up my place in the LGBTQ community. We’re discussing how technical and professional writers can be advocates for social justice. We discuss how language in workplace documents creates exclusions for various groups. Right now we’re talking about systemic racial discrimination. The next topics are ageism, gender and sexuality discriminations. And boy, have I got a lot to say about that.
So, yes, I’m glad I’m finally out as bisexual all the time. It’s been a long road. These words come to mind and finally I am going to live them:
“Be yourself and speak your mind. Those who matter won’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.”– Bernard Baruch, presidential advisor to FDR
PS – Tonight is also the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Joyous, sweet holiday wishes to all my friends and family who celebrate. May the next several months be for all of us a time of improving health (go away, COVID!) witness the return of a sense of purpose to seek the common good. L’shanah Tovah!