Coming Out of the Closet at Work

Dear Liz,

I'm 30 years old and I've been out as a gay man for years with my friends. I haven't said anything at work, because it's a fairly conservative place and I'm not sure how my disclosure would change my relationships here (not to mention my career path). I've been in the job for six months, and I look at my colleagues' baby pictures and talk with the young women about their dates, so it's not like people don't bring their personal lives to work here.

I feel kind of stupid not coming out at work when a reasonable person's gaydar probably already clued them in, but it feels safer to me. I was out with everyone at my last job and that was great, but I'm not sure how to gauge whether and when to say anything at this new job. Any suggestions?



Dear Trevor,

I say trust your gut. Right now it feels safer to keep your personal life to yourself, so listen to whichever voice is telling you to do that.

That being said, how much can you really bring yourself to the job when you feel like you have to keep a huge part of your identity under wraps? That stinks. I would never push you to come out at work when it doesn't feel like a safe thing to do, but I do encourage you to ask yourself another question:

How could a place like that, a place that doesn't make you feel comfortable being yourself all the way, ever deserve you?

You might be a straight guy who didn't feel that his workmates or his boss would be comfortable with his relationship with an older woman. You might be a single mom who kept quiet about her baby because she wasn't sure the company wanted her to have that baggage. I've talked to people in both these situations, and tons of other people who didn't feel they could bring themselves to work. Who the heck has time to work in a place like that? It shouldn't take shutting off a huge chunk of yourself just to earn a living.

You deserve to be among people who get you. If they don't get you, they don't deserve you. I'm not saying you should quit your job tomorrow; I'm just nudging you to ask "How much would someone have to pay me, to get me to deny my own life?"

If you think about that, you might realize that there's someone at work who really needs to know the real Trevor, and you might come out to him or her. Or, you might decide that there's no one at work who's made it clear that the authentic Trevor is absolutely perfect, and you don't feel comfortable sharing your orientation with anyone in the joint. You're still the same awesome Trevor either way.

As soon as you realize that, you're likely to ask "Why would I be willing to be Out Trevor at one job and Back in the Closet Trevor at the next job?" How many times are you supposed to pop in and out of that danged closet over the course of one career?

The people who deserve to work around you love you more the more they know about you. When you find people like that, you won't have to write any more letters like the one you wrote me today, because you would laugh at the idea that any job would require you to keep part of yourself under wraps.

That job is out there, the job with the people who get you and deserve you. Could it be that your current job is a carefully laid stepping-stone to that job where you get to be yourself every day and let down the ridiculous burden of having to play a straight guy at work, in order to keep people feeling comfortable?

Just askin'!



p.s. You'd be amazed how horrendous some people's gaydar is. When I was a twenty-something in Chicago and a parade of gorgeous gay guy friends went in and out of my apartment in their most boys-clubby attire at all hours, a neighbor pulled me aside and said "Don't you think your reputation will suffer when people see how many boyfriends you have?"