Lessons learned from coming out at work

Fast Company

“I am so tired, and my friends are tired, and every queer person I see is tired.”

That’s the response of one of nearly 3,000 people who answered a survey that the WNYC Studios podcast Nancy shared this fall through its Out at Work project. And no wonder. Many LGBTQ employees explained how coming out is a never-ending experience. Each new client or co-worker they encounter means negotiating yet another disclosure.

Here are some other truisms that survey respondents shared about being out, or somewhat out, at work:


You’ll spend all day code switching

“I have never hid my sexuality at work, but I often have to hold my tongue when customers say things like, ‘I’m glad they don’t hire queers here; I need a man with muscle to help me with my lumber.’”

— Out, South Carolina

“My home life comes up fairly regularly in one way or another with my clients, but I lean on the word ‘spouse’ rather than wife, which fools more people than you’d think. It feels like too much of a risk to say ‘wife’ when I usually would. I live in the South. I am positive I would lose many clients if I started being out to them.”

— Somewhat out, Tennessee

“I still haven’t come out at my Army Reserve unit. My wife left the Reserves to pursue her transition, and many people still know her as my husband. We met in the Reserves and were in the same unit for many years. It’s stressful that two days a month, I have to refer to my spouse as ‘my husband’ and deliberately misgender her. We had been preparing for her to come out and rejoin the Reserves, but under the current climate it just isn’t feasible.”

— Somewhat out, Maryland

“No matter how directly I assert myself, how I dress, the information I share or don’t share, it’s ultimately up to the cis(gender) people who decide themselves how they will see me. It’s exhausting to exist this way at work because my identity informs the counseling work I do. When I’m sitting down with a client as a gay trans man, and they’re experiencing me as a queer bearded lesbian or some other identity, wires get crossed. I try to be extremely client-centered in my approach, and it sucks when conversations about me and my identity get in the way of that.”

— Out, California


Colleagues will inspire you

“I was not comfortable being out to anyone within the workplace at all until another queer woman joined the marketing team and was very unapologetic about who she is. She is slightly younger than me, and I’ve never told her this, but I look up to her for her courage.”

— Somewhat out, Oregon

“The two male business partners who run the illustration studio where I work are also married to each other. They have ended up being huge role models for me both in my career and as examples of out, successful, married gay men the next generation up. Like, ‘Wow, you can do that?’ I thought to myself. I didn’t know anyone like that at that age. Meeting them had a huge impact on me and taught me how to be comfortable as a gay man now, eight years later.”

— Out, New York


Co-workers will be bigots

“I hear a ton of racist and homophobic jokes. The moment I start to defend the LGBTQ community, people generally respond with something hostile, saying something like, ‘Why do you care? Are you gay?’ I’m a gender-fluid, polyamorous, wannabe drag queen that’s been dating a girl for four years. I know they will think I have a mental disorder, because I’ve been told by several college-educated co-workers that trans people are abominations and insane.”

— Somewhat out, Indiana

“My adviser has expressed some very homophobic views. He has said to other members of our research group that he doesn’t want to hire gays because they will be ‘more interested in sex than in chemistry.’ I’ve had ‘faggot’ keyed into my car on campus, so clearly someone isn’t happy with me prancing around the department.”

— Somewhat out, Texas


Co-workers will be open-minded

“When my wife was pregnant the first time, she had a miscarriage at 16 weeks. It was my first week of work in this company. I only took off one day to be with B in the emergency room. I didn’t want my mostly Southern church-going colleagues to know I was gay until I had proven myself to them. A year later, as I was preparing for parental leave, I had to explain why I didn’t look pregnant (plus I was excited!) and I came out much more publicly. My Southern, Republican, older, Bible-studying colleagues’ response? They threw both of us a baby shower! Turns out that I was the one who was being prejudiced. I had been so scared of losing my job that I hadn’t even given them a chance.”

— Somewhat out, New York


Co-workers will say and do dumb things

“When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision legalizing marriage equality nationwide, a co-worker barged into the office, threw his arms around me (the only out LGBTQ person), and proceeded to hug me while exclaiming, ‘We did it! We did it!’ Um, pretty sure you did nothing, buddy. And please stop hugging me. I don’t know you.”

— Out, Washington


Employers will make life difficult

“My workplace, despite being really affirming in many respects, actually violates the city’s human rights law on accommodating trans employees. I think about filing a complaint every day, but know if I do, I will be blackballed in this field and will really struggle to find work. I feel like both a subject-matter expert and a token at work. I spend way too much energy on all of the things that our HR department should be doing to fix the office policies that make it difficult for trans people at work here. I don’t know how to deal with the stress and get my actual work done at the same time.”

— Out, New York

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