Roundtable: On Coming Out In Our Applications, Interviews, and Lives

It’s college application season, and last week some stressed out parents of a queer kid wrote in to the New York Times Civil Behavior advice column to ask a question of utmost parental concern: Should a student disclose or conceal her lesbian identity in college application essays?

Our daughter is a senior in high school and quite comfortable with her lesbian identity. We support her 100 percent, but we know the world is not always so tolerant. As she’s writing her college application essays this fall, she’s “coming out” in them — and we think that’s a bad idea. You just never know who’s reading these essays, so why risk revealing your orientation to someone who might be biased against you? We’ve strongly suggested she think over the ramifications of what she’s doing, but she doesn’t seem to have any doubt about it. Deadlines are approaching and we are at an impasse. How can we persuade her to keep some things private if they might hurt her chances of admission?

Here’s what Steven Petrow, author of Steven Petrow’s Complete Gay & Lesbian Manners and Mr. Civil Behavior for the NYT, advised:

Clearly you’ve given your daughter a strong sense of self and the confidence to be who she is, even if the world is not as tolerant as we’d all hope. Sure, one of a parent’s jobs is to worry, but after 17 or so years you can’t be there for every important decision in life. So, please reconsider what message you are sending to her when you ask her to conceal her identity.

It’s worth noting that Civil Behavior is an etiquette column written specifically for the “boomer-age audience” and published every other Tuesday in Booming, a section in the NYT specifically for and about baby boomers — the 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964. As Petrow points out in his response, times have changed since the “boomers” were applying for college. But could it be that they actually have a point? While it would be perfect if we could all be out and proud at every juncture of our lives, truthfully that’s not yet always the case. After reading the column the Autostraddle team started talking about this question in our daily email, and it soon became clear that we’d all had very different experiences coming out (not always by choice) in college, at our jobs, and in our daily lives.


Maddie

fe878aec2ae2ea21aa0d890981a06d6fI usually end up coming out to people within like thirty seconds of meeting them just by nature of the things that I would say to qualify as “small talk.” And as for jobs and college apps, my resume is basically a page of queer/women/queer women related things, so if I didn’t include those things, I would have no resume. This seems to have been working for me pretty well so far (because usually the things I apply for are more queer/women/queer women related things. Hi, Autostraddle). What makes me most uncomfortable is when the people hiring me or accepting me to their university want me for Diversity and Being Progressive, but only actually support me/other queer people if we do queer the way they want us to. This is a huge issue at Vassar, and other universities, that stress things like need-blind admission and feature students of color and queer people in their admissions materials. They’re still elitist institutions with institutionalized racism, sexism, homophobia and ableism. They are invested in Diversity because it reflects well on them, but when it comes down to making their campuses safe and inclusive, they aren’t taking the necessary steps.

Cara

9642c601da7159295722d7ce6abf13a4-bpfullI’ve been lucky enough to spend most of my life in a very liberal state. For this reason, I’ve always been a fan of the subtle signal. When I’m applying for jobs, I’ll make sure there’s something really obviously queer somewhere in my application, whether it’s an Autostraddle clip in my portfolio or an eye-catching ink splotch on my resume right next to “GSA Member.” If I make it to an interview, I’ll try to refer back to these flags so I can gauge their reaction in person. This way my potential boss knows exactly who they’re bringing in, and I know what kind of work environment to expect.

It’s kind of like dropping “my girlfriend” or “Autostraddle” into a conversation — if you’re in savvy surroundings, people will pick up what you’re putting down and send out their own signals accordingly. And if they’re bad signals you still have time to walk away.

On the other hand, when I applied for my college study abroad program — which happened to involve traveling and living in several countries where same-sex relationships are criminalized — I kept myself pretty deliberately closeted. I didn’t fear direct discrimination from the program directors, but I wanted to avoid being seen as any kind of liability (“Out and proud American student arrested in Uganda!” = bad press). In this case, the experience seemed worth it (and it was!). I can imagine certain jobs, in certain circumstances, seeming the same way.

Mey

125dfa9630e65daac62ee2c98a09a796For a lot of queer people, coming out is a pretty big part of life. Of course there’s your first time, then you come out to your family, or maybe your best friend or those closest to you. But there are also a bunch of other times when you get to decide if you want to come out. Choosing whether or not to come out can have huge effects on your life, your well being and your relationships. For trans women like me, it’s not quite the same. We do usually get a big coming out moment, but when we do come out as transgender, we don’t really get the option of who we want to come out to. When we start living as our real selves, we are coming out to everyone who knew us previously. A lot of queer women can come out to their family and friends, but choose to not come out at work. That’s not really an option for people like me. When I bump into an old schoolmate or cousin I haven’t seen in ten years, they definitely know that I’m transgender. Additionally, most trans women are also forced to come out every time we need to show a legal document or medical form. Of course, there are some exceptions. If you’re lucky enough to live somewhere that lets you change your documents and you’ve been able to get to that point in your life, you have more options. And if choosing to be stealth is the safest option for you, then go for it. Trans people, and especially trans women of color, need to do whatever we can to survive.

When I apply for a job, I don’t have the option to hide my queerness from a prospective employer. Even when I do “pass,” I still know that my birth certificate and even my driver’s license will out me without my consent. It feels weird for me knowing that these pieces of paper have enough power to take away some of my agency. I’m no longer in total control of my relationships with other people, the opportunities that I’ll have or even my own story. And that sucks, and that’s scary. There are lots of people who, when they notice that I’m queer, that doesn’t exactly endear me to them. I don’t like that I don’t get to come out on my own terms. Even more, I don’t like that I currently don’t have the option to not come out. There are some places where it’s really scary being a visibly queer woman and knowing that I had the option to be safer would give me some comfort, even if I still chose to not take that option.

Personally, I’d probably keep on coming out even if I had the option to go stealth. I’m proud of my identity as a queer woman and as a trans woman of color. There’s a strength and beauty there that I gladly and enthusiastically embrace. Even more than that, there’s a community unlike I’ve been able to find anywhere else. Still, sometimes I feel like I’m missing out on one of the quintessential parts of what it means to be queer. I mean, I still do get to come out as a lesbian, but when I’m doing that, the people I’m coming out to already see me as a member of the “LGBTQ community.” Me being a lesbian is just icing on the cake and sometimes I feel like this second coming out is ignored. People know that I’m trans and that’s enough for them; I’m already queer in their eyes, so this added information doesn’t necessarily matter. I’d like to be able to choose when I come out, to be in control of that part of my life. Being in charge of that part of my story would be great, even though I would probably choose to come out every single time.

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65 Comments

  1. Thumb up 5

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    Wow, Fikri. It’s taken a lot of courage for you to get where you are at right now. And for all of us, of course. I really was surprised by your story though.

    I’m a lot like Vanessa with the femme invisibility and coming out in awkward ways to strangers. Whenever I say I’m a lesbian, people don’t believe me or say ‘but you don’t look like a lesbian’ so I end up bringing it up in bizarre ways in checkout lanes.

    I’m applying to grad school right now and while I didn’t exactly come out in my essay, I listed ‘Chicana feminist/ queer theory’ as one of my research interests in my essay. To be honest, I’m a little apprehensive. But if they don’t accept who I am, I guess I wouldn’t want to study there anyway.

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    Trans people have an entire added layer of identification complexity and possible discrimination which might overlap the larger queer population, but is also unique to our community. When you fill out an application and are asked the statement “what are prior names you used to go by” we have no choice but to fill it in. (there are no existing laws in the US which prevent this information from being mandated). Not filling it in means we can be legally fired at any time for not providing the info or providing incomplete or incorrect info. Many companies have availed themselves of this loophole and gotten around existing anti-discrimination statutes. It’s nice to say more and more companies have protections for trans workers but this language never includes HIRING because they don’t want to tie themselves down as to who they choose to hire (and you’ll notice the EOC case involved someone trans who applied as male but then informed the company she was trans… really the one situation which you could hope to prosecute a company’s change of intent of hiring). So if you’re visibly gender variant you very well might not get hired and if you’re “stealth” you open yourself to giving a company an easy out to terminate you for the reason of falsifying the application. This has nothing to do with identifying oneself as queer or not queer.

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      I always love your comments. You’re so on point.

      And yes, all this. I hate it a lot. Especially since I have the added difficulty of keeping a job because of my mental health issues. If it’s hard to get a job, getting fired is a lot more terrifying, and more stress in my life leads to an increased likelihood of me getting fired, because stress + anxiety disorder => panic attacks => missing work, being late, no call/no shows, decreased efficiency at work, weaker immune system, etc.

      It sucks a lot. I have been fired from both of the “real” jobs I’ve had, one of them just yesterday, and I’m living in a hotel because I couldn’t find an affordable apartment before the time limit for living with my parents was up. I have less than $2000 to my name, and I got into a car wreck last week that probably totaled my car.

      Overshare, overshare.

      Adding trans to all that is really stressful.

  3. Thumb up 21

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    You all are so articulate and interesting. I really liked reading all of these.

    I’m in the same boat as Vanessa most of the time, trying to beat people to the punch by mentioning my girlfriend. And then, right after, I find myself wanting to bring up an ex-boyfriend or two, because I feel like they’re assuming I’m a lesbian but actually I’m bi and I just want people to know who I am for real and not whatever false assumption of me they have in their heads, you know?

    In conclusion, I am socially awkward.

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      I feel this. I used to get really fidgety about people assuming I was definitively “gay” or “lesbian” or “bisexual” or anything other than the comfortably-nebulous “queer” and I would try to hammer home the point that those labels made me uncomfortable by over-volunteering information about myself.

      These days I’ve kind of stopped giving a damn and prefer just to course-correct as other people’s faulty assumptions make themselves known, but then I’m just generally the type of person who finds getting worked up about things to be a waste of my energy (I’ve largely stopped arguing about politics–which I used to love doing–for more or less the same reason).

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      YES THIS! I always try to bring up my GF in some way because there are times when people seem t o ‘x-ray’ you with their eyes and it’s really quite uncomfortable. That’s how I taught myself I guess to be more comfortable in my own skin. I realized that being real made things so much easier.

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    I’ve noticed that after I cut my hair short and started wearing ties to interviews, I received less job offers. I identify as female but I’m more masculine in presentation. During a phone interview, they probably assume I’m more feminine presenting than I am. Resume has changed a bit over the years as I gain more experience and my interview skills have gotten better, but the amount of offers I have been given have dramatically decreased. I tested it out one time and wore a more feminine suit (even that was uncomfortable for me) and borrowed dangly earrings as well. Got offered the job on the spot. Fuck that noise.

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      I’m butch and I’ve been really lucky– I live in a liberal place and so far I haven’t really had to resort to femme-ing it up for interviews and things. Sometimes I get a little nervous about it depending on the occasion/ location, but it would make me feel worse to wear the wrong clothes… I’m interested in hearing other butches’ experiences with this though

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    In the context of grad school, it’s important to me to be out and visible because I’m a teaching assistant, and I want my students, queer and not, to be able to see a queer person in a position of relative authority. I don’t know of anyone else at grad student or faculty level in my department who is openly queer. I also have tremendous privilege in being in a state where sexual orientation and gender identity are both covered under the employment antidiscrimination laws, at a university where social justice is baked into the mission (not that they always live up to it, but it’s still comforting).

    I am bi, masculine of center, married to a man, and genderfluid on the woman/genderqueer spectrum. I can’t come out with references to my girlfriend, as I have none (awkward: When people at school correctly interpret me as queer, see that I have a wedding ring, assume that I have a wife, and then I have to decide whether to formally come out as bi and possibly have to explain the whole “Yes I’m still queer even though I’m married to a guy” bit). But being masculine of center helps with visibility. I dress in my typical style and wear a shiny rainbow ring – this usually gets the idea across – and all during Trans* Awareness Week I wear a rainbow “Know Your Rights” pin. I’m also active in the university’s group for queer grad students.

    When I worked in industry I dressed mostly the same way, but otherwise kept it under wraps (I also didn’t know that I was bi until I’d been in industry for a couple of years). I was at government contractors that primarily did aerospace/defense work, and it’s a conservative industry – even at companies where most of the people are liberal, the clients tend to be conservative. I was also in the civilian auxiliary to one of the military services for a while and kept it totally under wraps – even though DADT didn’t apply to the civilian auxiliaries, most of the people around me there were fairly right-wing. Being out is something I deal with on a context by context basis, though eventually I will probably be too out in too many places for that to work.

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    This is so interesting and I have so many thoughts and feelings about this subject. I grew up in the South, and my first job was at a church so I’ve pretty much had to be in the closet at every job I’ve ever had. Even when I moved on to a corporate job I was about 98% sure that my boss would have found a reason to fire me if she’d known I was queer. I’ve always been super, incredibly aware of that, so my queerness is something that I have never even though of bringing up in a work context, to the point of going out of my way to avoid talking about it ever.

    On the flip side, I was out to literally everybody in my university. I was a creative writing major and I only wrote about queer people, and I felt safe doing that because there were other queer women in power there and every professor I had was really affirming and supportive. The first person I came out to was a professor, actually. I still got shit sometimes from other students, but I never had a professor I felt uncomfortable being out to.

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    When I was applying to law schools I’d only started identifying as something other than straight for about a year, and I definitely wasn’t out to most people, including my parents and most of my best friends. I had no qualms about outing myself to the universities in my applications (because in Canada discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited across the board) but I was worried who else would read my personal statement. My mom had already asked if she could read it, my dad offered to help me edit it, a friend who was already in law school offered to read it over for me, and another friend who was applying to the same schools as me suggested we swap our personal statements and give each other pointers. I had no problem coming out to strangers, but it was coming out to my friends and family that terrified me the most at that point. So I didn’t. And it worked out fine because I ended up at the most progressive, social justice oriented law school in the country where I am now an executive member of the school’s OUTlaw’s aka our LGBTQA groups.

    When I was applying for legal jobs, my work with OUTlaw was very prominently displayed in my resume. Maybe this was the reason I didn’t get a few interviews, but I seriously doubt it. And if it was, well fine, I wouldn’t want to work at those places anyway. I’m very lucky that I have the privilege to be choosy. The firm I finally chose is a small labour law firm that does a lot of human rights law as well, and one of my interviewers, an associate at the firm, was gay himself (i found out after the fact from a mutual acquaintance, though I did get a huge vibe from him during the interview).

    That being said, prior to starting law school I worked on a couple of film sets, and was decidedly closeted for both those jobs, even though my aunt, who knows I’m gay, was my boss on both projects. Hollywood might be lousy with queers, and the Canadian film scene as well, but film crews are still predominantly made up of straight cis men, and I never really felt comfortable being literally the ONLY queer on set every day. And since they were only short jobs, for a couple of months at most, I didn’t mind keeping my business to myself. Were I to try to make a career of that, it would be different, and I couldn’t stay in the closet at work for the rest of my life, but for a few months, it was fine.

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      Hey Allison, should you ever find yourself working production again, know that I’ve been comfortably out as gay/bi on most of the sets I’ve worked – even to the notoriously cis straight dudes’ club that is the grip/electric/camera departments. My experience is that people want to know that you are competent at your job, and after that, everything else is cool.

      One of the sweetest experiences I had was on my first PA job (on an indie feature): A camera guy, who was Filipino, mentioned one of my favorite Filipino dishes, and when I said how yummy it was, he asked how I knew about it. I said that I had dated a Filipino woman for a couple of years. He broke into a huge smile and said, “So we’re practically family!”

      I’ve worked in various facets of the entertainment industry for almost a decade, and (except for actors, who are pressured to stay closeted) generally all anyone cares about is whether you can do your job. I can only think of one or two offices in which I wasn’t comfortable coming out, and that was part and parcel of not being comfortable with any kind of personal self-expression (very tense high-pressure environments).

      That said, I only have a few colleagues who have transitioned (a number of years ago, and I’m not sure where they were in their careers when they did), so I can’t speak to that. I can imagine that that would be much harder.

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        Hey, thanks for the comment. The first show I worked on I would have felt totally comfortable being out, but the first day someone asked me if I had a boyfriend, I said no, and then couldn’t really make myself say the rest of it. After that I just felt silly having not told anyone, and then it got to be too late into the job to eventually come out, so I just didn’t bother, but would have felt totally fine.

        The second set I worked on was a very different atmosphere. I had been meaning to let it slip somewhere really casually, and then one day the 2nd AD was walking around with like, coloured socks and a bow tie, and some of the grips and sparks just started teasing him about his outfit, and someone asked “Hey dude, when’s gay pride this year!?” and just started laughing his head off. I was actually all set to answer “Oh yeah, Pride’s June 29th this year!” until a realized – oh wait, they don’t actually want to know. They’re just mocking him. This on the same set that had a joke “Hurt Feelings” form for people to fill out if they ever complained about something being offensive, and also had a sign above the recycling bin in the production office that said “Please crush your cans ;)” in a pretty obviously sexist implication. It was just not a place I felt comfortable, regardless of the fact that my aunt was the producer. It wasn’t so much about anyone caring (because obviously they wouldn’t) or being worried for my job (totally illegal in Canada, and my aunt was my boss) but about what they would say/do in terms of mocking me about it or asking really inappropriate questions, or stuff like that. The bottom line was I didn’t like most of the people on that set, we weren’t friends, and it wasn’t a place I felt safe. I think the atmosphere of a set can really affect stuff like that.

        But anyway, thanks for your insight!

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    I know this roundtable was trying to be affirmative and show how successful a person can be while being out, but I wish it had included the perspective of a person or two who has been placed into conservative environments, or evolving environments, or non-queer activist environments, and how they addressed that. Yes, corporate America is shit, but there are a lot of people still beholden to it.

    Maybe I’m a deeply cynical person (lawyer?) but I think there are no limits to the malicious bullshit that anyone can face in the workplace, particularly in a scarcity economy. While the good news is that homophobia is on a very rapid decline, it doesn’t mean these individuals don’t still exist – if anything, media focus on discrimination educates the open minded, but teaches bigots of every stripe how to operate by stealth. They are getting better and better at knowing what not to say every damned day. And even if they do openly say it, you’ve got to have proof of it or it devolves into pointing fingers. It’s also what big fat employee/ operating manuals are for – to keep at will hiring and firing alive, even if it hinges on discriminatory reasoning. A company or boss that wanted you out (or never in) would find “rules.”

    So I don’t know what I would tell a kid. I wouldn’t feel OK telling them it was completely roses.

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      I think the problem is that the types of people who are going to want to contribute to Autostraddle in the first place–let alone participate in a roundtable like this–are overwhelmingly likely to be occupying an “out and proud” sort of space in their lives. I don’t think very many people for whom self-closeting is a necessity would choose to write for a website like this, and it looks like the roundtable was entirely made up of contributors.

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        Speaking only for myself here, I was very and maybe am still somewhat hesitant about participating in this roundtable (and even just writing for Autostraddle in general, sometimes). I am completely, completely financially dependent on my employers and literally cannot afford to break my contract with them, and I’m constantly afraid that my being gay or writing about being gay or writing about being gay while specifically under their employment constitutes violating the terms of this contract. So. Yes, I am (mostly) out and proud, but it is an incredibly vulnerable position that I am not always sure I want to be occupying.

        I don’t mean to invalidate what you say in your comment! Because it’s true that we’re a self-selecting group of people that are at least secure enough to be able to write publicly about being queer on the internet, and this is far more than what a lot of people have. I just thought I’d give you a little more insight about what goes into this kinda thing.

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      Welp, I am firmly entrenched in the corporate world, so I feel like I can lend a bit of perspective here.

      Important disclaimer – I live/work in a jurisdiction with pretty robust anti-discrimination laws, at least where for-profit, non-religious ventures are involved. This means I have a bit more latitude, although of course discriminatory bullshit goes down anyway, just more quietly. I also live in one of the gayest cities in the world, although my current job is in one of the least gay parts of that city!

      Both of big corporations I have worked for have been pretty conservative. Even so, I’ve been completely out at both jobs because I’m somewhat like Vanessa and not very good at keeping my big mouth shut. My presentation is also a bit fluid – I’m as likely to come to work in a dress as I am to come into work in men’s slacks.

      While this has definitely caused some tension with certain coworkers, for the most part it’s been fine. However, there’s a big part of me that wonders if my obvious queerness makes people less likely to respect me as a colleague and take my work seriously. (I’ve been obliquely told as much by people in positions of power, which doesn’t feel awesome.)

      Another thing that makes me sad is the number of people I see around me who are afraid to be out publicly at work. I expect for some of those people, that’s due to hard-earned experience. That’s just upsetting.

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      Thanks for this comment. I’m a graduate student, whose funding (i.e. my pay and my housing and my ability to do research) depends on my professor. I don’t think anyone in my lab has malicious intent, but if they did, they could potentially threaten my degree.

      Like you, I’m deeply cynical about this. I hate that “you never know” who will be that person who attempts to sabotage my work. Conversely, if I accuse someone else of sabotage I better have a damn good bit of evidence, because other people are equally suspicious that I could myself be a saboteur.

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      Hi! I work for a conservative non-corporate America organisation. I’ve already had a seat at the roundtable, but I thought I would respond to this comment too.

      One of the biggest things I had to consider before coming out (talking generally – I am not out to my employers but I do know they keep fairly close tabs on us, and the Google machine makes that easy) was that I knew this would immediately limit how far I could advance in this career. Not only because homosexuality = immorality round these parts, but because I was also coming out specifically to politicise my identity and engage in queer activism and these are touchy areas with the Overlords. But it also wasn’t the hardest of sacrifices for me to make, because (a) this is not the career (or country) I see myself in for the long haul, and (b) as a racial minority, those limits were already in place for me, so realistically I really wasn’t shaving that much off my future career trajectory.

      What I still constantly grapple with is that I do not know what the implications of me being out really are in this line of work. They’ve more or less gotten rid of the clear “gay is not okay” line, but in its place is a shit tonne of ambiguity in which I don’t know when or how my identity (or activism) could be used against me – because while there might be no formal discrimination (though there’s also nothing to protect me against it), I definitely don’t live in a society where most people are comfortable with queer people existing, much less doing the work that I’ll be doing. Right now I am young and I am reckless and for most part I feel like this was a Good Move, but in five years’ time I could find out that this is the worst possible thing I could have done. I just don’t know. The best I can do is build communities and resources and relationships outside of work to increase my (and others’) capacity for dealing with work-related shittery, and hope that I’ll be able to deal with whatever comes my way whenever it does.

      But honestly, what I’m really afraid of is being complicit in making life worse for other queer people. The Overlords might be able to deal with a gay employee, but they’re actively involved in things that undermine queer communities, families, and lives and even if I’m never involved in a project that directly does this kinda harm, I am part of this machinery. I am benefiting from this system, in fact, and it’s a really hard thing to square off: am I being selfish, or just trying to do the best that I can in, as you said, a scarcity economy? Does it matter that I am using the resources and opportunities that I am lucky enough to have access to to try to make things better for people like me who don’t have that same kind of access, when the source of those resources and opportunities is what causes so much of this oppression in the first place?

      I don’t really have a coherent narrative here but what I just wanted to say is that I don’t know what I would tell a kid either. (There’s a pretty big caveat here in that I’m really not much more grown than a college-bound kid at this point and am in no real position to give advice.) No one in circumstances similar to mine would believe that it’s all roses even if I told them so – and I wouldn’t – but I also wouldn’t be able to tell them if coming out, whether for The Queer Cause or to Stay True to Yourself, is worth it, y’know? Because I’m still waiting for the answer myself. The best I’d be able to do is to tell them my story, and my fears and my hopes and everything, and trust that they’d know what’s best for them. Which, I guess, is what we’re hoping things like this roundtable (and all the comments!) will do for some people.

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      i was going to contribute to this roundtable but have been mind-numbingly busy moving my whole life around so alas BUT i was going to talk about being stealth and how i recommend it to so many people because in my experience, the stuff i’ve done workwise has mostly been for conservative small-town folks who know my family and definitely should not know i am queer. i do not tell people i write for this site, despite having a pretty popular online presence through tumblr and here, because i consider this part of my life a wonderful ideal world that i cannot realize in reality at this time. i don’t recommend coming out in work applications because it’s not fun or fair out there and not everyone has a choice in fair and equal workplaces. despite the fact that i present in a very masculine, and to people who know the cues “obviously queer” way, i can get away with it here (my rural locale) when i work labor jobs, and if i keep my head down and don’t talk too much, it doesn’t matter.

      i think there’s a ton of pressure in the queer community to come out come out come out but in my experience and in the experience of a lot of people i know from backgrounds similar to mine, it sure as hell is not always the safe option, nor is it always an option at all. stealth is possible, sometimes i try to make a game out of it so it doesn’t make me so depressed and nervous, but please please anyone reading this who is considering their options – don’t come out unless you 100% know the next step in your life is fully supportive and open, and that includes employers, housing/roommates, community groups, etc.

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      Your points about stealth operation by bigots is so spot on.

      I work for a corporation in one of the offices located in one of the most liberal states in the country, yet most of the people I work with are of the white, right leaning, middle-aged, family oriented variety. I’m the youngest there, no kids, single, lesbian, and one of two visible people of color. As much as I would like to say I don’t think about these intersections and carry on about my days, I do, especially knowing in the back of my mind the mind sets of some of the people I work with and how they’ve treated me as a result. It controls how I carry conversations that veer into the personal. I’m out to only one of my coworkers because I know I can trust her, but there is still the risk of being randomly outed in conversation.

      I most likely won’t come out at my current workplace for a long time, if not ever. Even though there are legal protections to keep me from being fired in this state because of my queerness, that doesn’t mean they can’t fire me by “justifiable means” when it was really them being bigoted shit bags.

      I would tell any non-visibly queer person uncertain about navigating the corporate world to feel out their environment before jumping ahead because you just never know what could happen. I know people have taken those risks for the greater good, but some of us don’t have that privilege when our livelihoods hinge on what we have, especially in areas with scarce opportunities.

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      I have that experience. Hence the line in my portion about having two resumes. I have to gauge a company beforehand. I have been working in corporate America for 5 years and have rooted myself in the belief that I am a “private” person to combat my overwhelming fear of coming out. Especially at the place I currently work, which is populated mostly by catholic employees. There was the fear of being fired before ENDA but more than that of being not respected anymore by people I needed to respect me in order to do my job. I didn’t include all that because my thing was already long. But I hope the tone of mine wasn’t “come out come out! Do it!” Because that’s never been my experience or path.

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        Can I just say these replies were wonderful and as rich as the post itself?

        I detected doubt running throughout this thread. Like, we don’t know how this is going to play out. Again, I suspect stealth will be/is the name of the game – all major corps/institutions/even gov’t will have a fixed percentage of queers in their ranks, with perhaps one to two or a handful at the top, with authority that is more apparent than actual, and these used to shame and victim blame the many others who could/do not cover or, who because they had to support themselves or others, could not fulfill the requirements to be part of those organizations. (Pamphlets for diversity enclosed.) Again, it may be deep cynicism, but I feel like we’ve seen this movie before. So in that sense, maybe it doesn’t really matter – maybe queer people should just come out no matter what?

        Except that it does – the more “different” boxes marked by your name the more time you spend convincing others you are safe or worthy enough to move in or up. Or getting them to even perceive you in a way that is not obliged or subservient.

        (FYI: I’ve been out at all work/professional school environments save one since identifying as queer. I outed myself, in many situations, as a behavioral experiment: I told a non-queer person, to see what they would do. As expected, in every situation, they told everyone else. I don’t think much of workplaces, or the overgrown children who populate most of them.)

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      Melanie, I’m really glad you wrote this. Because I think many of the people who proclaim “you must come out, think of the community, you’ll feel better yadda, yadda” are doing so from positions of relative safety. There are many younger people for whom coming out as trans would land them living on the street, mostly unemployable and exposed to brutalization. Unless you’re willing to financially and from a housing standpoint support such a person or walk in their shoes, no one should be telling anyone else they have to come out or how coming out will always be a positive because that’s just not true (in many cases). Safety, food, support, education, health care and shelter are all important too.

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    I was just thinking about this stuff while at work today! We were out doing fieldwork and my coworker was asking me all this stuff about if I was having boyfriend problems, if I’d ever dated a man with kids, if I had a husband, etc… I didn’t really want to tell him that I’m gay, I didn’t know how he’d react. I just brushed off the questions and made the excuse that I’m too young to worry about any of that (I’m 20). I’m not nearly as comfortable as y’all seem to be coming out at work or to people I don’t really know.

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    I’m not really out to many, except a few friends, & there’s no job experience that i could put on my resume that would out me if i chose to do so. There have been some uncomfortable moments where things have been said & i just kind of keep my mouth shut & continue doing what i’m doing– ie. back during the Chik-fil-A thing, i worked around a bunch of middle-aged+ women, & they were all, “But the food’s good & they’re so nice there, who cares what their CEO believes?” & i said nothing aloud. Sometimes at work now lesbianism will randomly come up (something about cryogenic freezers & “with your luck you’d wake up the only lesbian lolol” so yknow), & it’s always kind of treated in a joky sort of way, it feels. I keep my mouth shut. I’m that kind of person, where i feel uncomfortable & nervous about speaking up, even though my manager has told me that if i’m ever offended by anything that i can say something. And in the past with a different situation, i was able to nonverbally send a message that got across & everyone apologized to me for what had happened & so everything was okay again.

    So yeah, there’s no real moral to the story, just my two cents. I’m not even really read as queer, i don’t think– the awkwardness when your coworker asks, “Haven’t you ever looked at a guy & thought he was amazing?” & you say “no” & they’re scandalized but they don’t go “R U GAY????”– & i’m not Out out. My sexuality didn’t even feel like a big deal to me personally until the past few months, but even now, i’m not comfortable with outing myself. If i had good job experience that was queer-centered, however, i would probably put it on my resume, simply because of it being experience. The fun part then would be explaining it to my parents.

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      Ugh, the Chik-fil-A thing. I’m not out to my family (though I probably will be – ironically, I think I’d have an easier time coming out to them if I were a lesbian rather than bi; I’m afraid their reaction will be “Well since you’re with a guy, why did you even bring this up to us?”). They must have noticed by now that I’m masculine of center but I think they read that as “weirdo” (which I have always been) rather than “queer”. I have a teenage cousin who works at Chik-fil-A. I can hardly tell her that she shouldn’t work there; her family is poor and benefits from the money, and there are few other places in her small Appalachian town that she could work. The problem is that at family reunions, other family members, some of whom I KNOW are in favor things like same-sex marriage and ENDA, then try to reassure her that she isn’t doing anything wrong by hating on the idea of the boycott or people who participate in it. It pretty much comes down to “I support this thing in theory but I’m going to whine about the tactics used by supporters because they might make someone feel bad.”

      It’s very awkward for me. I don’t blame my cousin for it. I wonder if the way they talked about these things would change (and whether it would be for better or for worse) if they knew I was queer. Or if they wouldn’t change because they would figure that being with a guy means I’m not really queer.

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    I had people tell me not to come out during my scholarship essay for the same reasons. Since I needed a scholarship to be able to go to school, I followed their advice. I’m still not sure if they were right or wrong – I did get the scholarship, but I don’t know if I would have. The school I chose is somewhat liberal, but the department (engineering) is pretty conservative. I haven’t had any issues with the staff or faculty directly, but I’ve heard comments from students, and aside from one freshman, I’m the only person who is out in the department.

    Since I’ll be graduating next year, and the entire scholarship committee knows me by now, my essay is going to be a Sharpie sketch on a napkin of a stick figure (me) punching out a stick figure Chuck Norris with “Me = Awesome, Money = Yes” written on it. Maybe I’ll put a rainbow cape on it for good measure.

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    Wow, I really needed to read this. Making decisions about college essays and what to include/not include in them has been really nerve-wracking for me. Especially when it comes to the “Overcoming Obstacles” essay, which tends to be a common feature in college applications. There are just so many things – will it seem whiny if I talk about biphobia? Will they think of me as nothing but my sexuality if I write about that? Will the person reviewing my application believe my stories about shitty things that people have done to me because I’m an atheist? Will they thing that I’m being anti-Christian or otherwise intolerant for talking about discrimination against me? Can I just write about coming from a single parent household? Will I be able to detangle my experiences growing up in a single-parent household from all those other things?

    Long story short, I’m pretty glad I’ve decided to go the Missouri-sponsored-free-two-years-at-community-college-if-you-meet-certain-requirements route. Maybe by the time I transfer to a four-year school I’ll be better equipped to deal with those questions.

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    +1 for acknowledging that being able to come out in interviews comes with a certain degree of class privilege.

    I don’t typically come out in interviews, because it would be completely off-topic, but I have avoided applying to jobs in places that probably aren’t all that gay-friendly (i.e. Texas, Oklahoma).

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    Woah Fikri, do you have to be that damn amazing all the time? And although I’m not going back to Singapore to work for Overlords of any sorts, I do know how it feels to be queer, an ethnically and religiously minority woman and a HDB-kid. Thank you. <3

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    I’ve never come out in an application or interview, partly because I’ve only recently come out to myself and only a handful of other people, but mostly because it’s just not terribly relevant in my line of work.

    I haven’t quite come out at work yet, either. Basically I’m a big wuss when it comes to self-disclosure. But my co-worker is going to the gay bar with me tomorrow night, and I just found out today that my already awesome supervisor is also one of those adorable older gay men who wears sweater vests and listens to classical music, so pretty much my heart is now 64 times larger than it was on Monday and I can just feel that soon it is going to burst open and shower everyone with millions of glittering rainbows.

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    ……as someone currently considering whether to apply to a six year bond Overlord(albeit the science/tech kind), you’ve given me a lot to think about, Fikri. Thanks. [and it makes me feel slightly less mercenary to know that someone else has thought about it in terms of potentially needed financial independence, heh.]

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    I once had a job interview and the woman in charge kept asking questions about my personal life. Things like, if I had a boyfriend, a husband, if I was married. And I just wanted to shout to her how I was gay and to just get to the point. Long story short – I did not get this job, but I lost no sleep over it because I would not want to work for someone like this.

    I’ve thought of coming out many times to my current employer. I lost my job 2 years ago due to the company just not being able to afford to keep me on, so I’m kind of scared that THIS one little aspect of my life could possibly cost me my current position. Now, my current employers are swell guys and they are from San Francisco for the most part, but I’m still hesitant. What’s funny is that today, my boss opened up to me about a personal issue he was having with his girlfriend and I wanted to joke along but I just gave him some advice and kept my mouth shut about it. :(

    One day…

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    Guy sitting on my stoop: Oh did you just move in?
    Me: Yeah! My girlfriend didn’t move in with me though.
    Guy sitting on my stoop: Uh…okay?

    Lady at the bookstore: Oh, is this a gift?
    Me: Yes. For my girlfriend. I’m gay.
    Lady at the bookstore: Uh…okay?

    My brother: Hey Vaness, these are my friends.
    Me: Hi guys. I’ve gotta go in a moment, to call my girlfriend.
    Everyone: Uh…okay?

    THIS THING!!!! They have their eyebrows kinda raised with a slightly gaping mouth.

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    This topic always interests me so much. My line of work makes my sexual orientation irrelevant in the work place, but it still comes up.

    In my grad school program, I am out to a few of my classmates. Of them, some of them have asked about my preference on being out in the department. My response has been that I don’t care either way, as my being out shouldn’t and doesn’t effect my ability to do math.

    I also work for my dad in sales, which involves dealing with overseas manufacturers. His work associate came out to us a year ago. He had been in the business for 35 years, 20 of which my dad was in contact with him, and hadn’t been out except to a select few individuals.

    My dad later commented on how it shouldn’t matter what orientation the man is, because business is business. I had to point out to my dad that, in every single meeting we’d had, he’s brought up my mom, my brothers, and our family… but that for 35 years, his associate never got to be an active part of those conversations. In fact, he actively avoided them.

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    Lauren, thank you so much for sharing your story, which resonated for me in a serious way.

    My mom and I have had the same conversations. After every one I wonder if I should just say “screw it, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who doesn’t accept me for me anyways!” or if I should take my mom’s advice seriously because, unfortunately, she may not be wrong. I live in a small, conservative town where I’ve been targeted many times for other aspects of my identity (“targeted” sometimes = being denied a job). Why wouldn’t I believe it’s possible that someone might not hire me because I’m gay?

    But I’m mainly glad you shared this because it made me feel as though someone finally understands my experience.

    I usually find that very few people seem to understand what it’s like to have that voice in the back of my mind telling me to be careful. Very rarely can people see that my mom may just have a point. So on top of my initial worrying I’m left feeling guilty that if I take her advice when it comes to job applications, I may single-handedly be letting the queer community down. Or that I’m not being true to myself or being as queer as I can be (or as queer as other people think I’m supposed to be). While I’m proud to be gay and am continuously finding ways to share that part of myself with others, I wish more people understood what it’s like to know that my mom worries and for me to

    So, basically…thank you, thank you, thank you

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    Lauren, thank you so much for sharing your story, which resonated for me in a serious way.

    My mom and I have had the same conversations. After every one I wonder if I should just say “screw it, I wouldn’t want to work for someone who doesn’t accept me for me anyways!” or if I should take my mom’s advice seriously because, unfortunately, she may not be wrong. I live in a small, conservative town where I’ve been targeted many times for other aspects of my identity (“targeted” sometimes = being denied a job). Why wouldn’t I believe it’s possible that someone might not hire me because I’m gay?

    But I’m mainly glad you shared this because it made me feel as though someone finally understands my experience.

    I usually find that very few people seem to understand what it’s like to have that voice in the back of my mind telling me to be careful. Very rarely can people see that my mom may just have a point. So on top of my initial worrying I’m left feeling guilty that if I take her advice when it comes to job applications, I may single-handedly be letting the queer community down. Or that I’m not being true to myself or being as queer as I can be (or as queer as other people think I’m supposed to be). While I’m proud to be gay and am continuously finding ways to share that part of myself with others, I wish more people understood what it’s like to know that my mom worries and for me to “always worry that she worries.”

    So, basically…thank you, thank you, thank you

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      oh thank you so much for writing this!
      i love how you put it as the voice in the back of your mind, that’s absolutely what it feels like for me too. no matter how confident i feel in coming out, no matter if i’m 99.99% percent sure that it won’t end up affecting my chances, my mom’s voice totally represents that little worry that maybe it’s not worth it to risk it. be careful. play it safe.

      it really does weigh heavier than people can realize sometimes, which is awful. but i’m glad we can relate through the awfulness! so thanks so much for that.

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    This was a really interesting read.

    I’ve never directly come out in an application or an interview, partly because I assume people will read me as queer based on my appearance (which is usually true, though my previous employer didn’t realise until some months I started working) but also partly because if you haven’t done specifically queer work you can put on your CV, queerness not an easy thing to shoehorn into an interview for a language school teaching position. I’m out at work because I live somewhere that has anti-discrimination laws, at least in theory, and I just don’t want to hide big parts of my life. So far, I haven’t encountered any major problems – there have been some people who don’t grasp the concept of same-sex relationships, but as far as I know it hasn’t had any professional consequences. I do sometimes wonder, though, whether I would still get hired by these places if they knew beyond a doubt that I was queer based on my application/interview, whether being openly queer will be an obstacle to getting promoted, whether my mother is right that I should avoid mentioning it altogether (and dress in a more feminine way!) because ‘some people’ have a problem with it. It’s too early in my career to know what effect my queerness is having.

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    I was out to staff in my Peace Corps application from recruiter to host country. It took me a long time to feel comfortable coming out to the small village that I work in, but when I did, I saw the amazing personal transformation of so many students around me, including one young student who had the courage to stand up and come out as transgender in a gender identity and expression lesson we co-taught. That’s right, you read that correctly. A rural village student came out to an enormous room of other rural villagers.

    Being out has been an integral part of my life, be it professional, or personal. When I face the long road to medical school, I’ve asked myself these same questions: do I come out? Don’t I? Well, I’ll tell you after having to go in the closet for almost two years abroad and seeing the amazing things that happens when “You Do You,” well, safe to say, I’ll never go there again, be it application, introduction, or lifestyle.

    Great article. Great food for thought. Thoughtful contributions from commenters. Thanks for a good, lazy Saturday read in my PC village ya’ll. You’re pretty wonderful, and pretty inspiring.

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    Coming out…

    – about being mega giga tera gay: no i would never do that on interviews and first impressions, because unprofessional and because i don’t want to be prejudged as a theory-this theory-that ‘progressive’ (which comes with the image of a queer woman) – because industrial workplaces are either extremely unpleasant 100% arsehole dudebro culture (which i can’t bear and the little time i could stay i’d rather be coldly professional, safe and not targetted for anything, thank you) or ‘live and let live’ (which i adore – and think they are entirely justified in not wanting an avatar of Judith Butler proselythising ex cathedra).

    But in the end everyone knows it in 2 weeks anyway.

    – about my bloodline, Second Creation, Curse of the Underworld, my being dependent on a chemical naturally occuring only in human and higher mammal blood in order to avoid pain and rapid visible decomposition: i kind of come out eventually, they don’t believe, think i’m drunk and talking rubbish.

    – about the biomech sysframe and modularity: –“–

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    This is really really really great you guys!

    My life is career focused at the moment, and this means I only spend about 1% of my time thinking about being gay. This issue is where my two poorly aligned worlds meet.

    My industry in the city where I live is actually pretty gay friendly, but so far I have chosen not to be out at work. There are so many thoughts and feelings here that I have avoided confronting and this article really lays a lot of those out on the table. I think the discussion on parents investment of time and money rings true with me. But now that I am making money and career decisions for myself this has translated into worry about derailing my own investments of time and energy by being out in the workplace. I worry that having that being out will distract from my hard work.

    So thank you Autostraddle! This is definitely relevant to my interests!

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    This article (and all the comments) was a fun read for me. Being out at work is a craft I’m still perfecting. I live in Ohio, where employers could fire me for being gay, but I work in a creative field, which results in a more open-minded team. Only queer people know I’m gay when we first meet, so my work is cut out for me when I start a new job. When I say “my girlfriend”, people still usually assume I mean that in a girls night out type of way, so I usually end up having to come out multiple times to get the point across.

    While Columbus, Ohio has a large gay community, there’s still a lot of education that has to take place. I feel a responsibility to establish a positive relationship with coworkers before coming out. While many of them may be in support of gay rights, I’m probably the first lesbian they’ve talked to on a daily basis. I don’t want to overwhelm them with my gayness (it was all a bit overwhelming for me at first, too!). I want to be evaluated on my work, not the fact that I go home to make love to a woman.

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    Thanks for this roundtable! My wife and I had our biggest disagreement about how out I should be for work. I’m self-employed, working from home watching kids in a smallish, rather conservative, rural community. As Ansley Phillips said, “I want to be evaluated on my work.” Also it seems like an issues of professionalism, to some extent, and being private. I don’t hide that I live with another woman, but I also don’t explicitly out myself. Or maybe it’s some internalized notion that “gays shouldn’t work with kids.” I don’t know. I’ve debated getting a job out of the home just to make it less of an issue. But for the most part I love my job, so it’s tricky.

    After getting upset at me for not outing myself in a certain situation, my wife took a step back and to acknowledge that I do love her, oh so very much, and it was in no way a reflection on her. After thinking it over she said she did not want to force me to out myself.

    Still we walk around this small town holding hands and the kids hear us say “I love you.” (Love is a good thing and I teach love and kindness.) I have wondered since my wife moved in with me, I have had a more difficult time filling openings. Part of it may be my own hesitation to “recruit” as much, and I have wondered if part of it has to do with people knowing that I’m a lesbian. So many thoughts on this issue!

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    “My mother is of course trying to balance the feeling that she’s okay with me being gay while she’s scared that people in positions to discriminate against me won’t be.”

    This. Even though I suspect it’s no longer an issue, I’m still very scared of outing myself back at home to people that my mom knows because her initial rule to me coming out was that she was not comfortable with people (who have known me since I was a baby) knowing that I’m gay. It’s even affected my ability to come out to people that my mom doesn’t know, but are in the same community just because it’s that reflexive response to slip into a heterosexist ideal.

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    I am very out. For the most part, I was very out to absolutely everyone from the moment I started dating a girl (19 years old/first semester sophomore year of college). My job knew, my church knew (guessed, actually, but whatever), my friends and family knew, etc. The only time that I specifically kept it quiet was when I moved into a sublease situation with sorority girls who were Christians. They figured it out before I told them and have actually been the absolute best coming out experience I’ve ever had.
    Besides my family, my church, the kids I went to high school with, and a couple of my friends, I’ve had it pretty easy coming out wise. For one, my city has really strict anti-discrimination laws. My main issue now involves my super outness bothering little closeted Christian baby gays. They’re the main reason I keep semi-involved in a church, so that I can be a positive gay presence for them, but they avoid me like the plague because they think that if they interact with me people will figure out I’m gay. It’s kind of funny but also horribly sad, because I was just like that pre-coming out. Oh, and my aunts/uncles not really letting me around my baby cousins, because they’re afraid I’ll infect them with gayness or something.

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    This is multiple levels of fantastic. I love getting perspective!

    I’ve always been pretty out and proud, since the moment I had my first girlfriend 8 years ago. Literally called all my friends and told them in person, which was mostly received with “yay you’re so happy!!” And life kept going.

    Then I decided teaching abroad was a thing for me. It’s perfect actually, aside from the gay thing. In my current situation, all my foreign (meaning not native to the country in which I work) co-workers know I’m out and proud. I’ll call them out if some small minded comment is made regarding anything in the realm of their unknown. They respect when it happens and are usually fairly open minded (which is part of the draw I have to teaching abroad, it’s an amazing group of people for the most part).

    The flip side is that I’ve been advised not to let the “native” teachers/coworkers find out about my sexuality. Which for me is fine (to an extent because I really am proud of me) I teach second grade so the topic doesn’t come up with my students. Though I have short hair which in this culture on a woman is like waving a giant rainbow flag, but that’s a whole other story.

    Along with a few interesting discrimination situations I personally have had, there are people in my life who deal with the complete non-acceptance in this country. They help me truly know I should not disclose my sexuality to natives until knowing and trust them well. There are families sending their kids to psychology programs to “cure the gay” (yes you read that right), and some teachers have asked to start a GSA but have been denied because the parents (who basically run things) would not tolerate it.

    It makes me sad, but at the same time I’m so out in all other areas of my life it’s okay for now. Actually writing that just makes me sad because it’s not okay. But my hope is that if I continue to have great relationships with my native teacher friends, I can tell them before I leave this school in a couple years. Then they’ll be one step closer to knowing that sexual orientation does not make someone undesirable for friendship. Whether a person is a good person is what they really need to know.

    And I’ll be more conscious with the queer-friendliness of my next international experience. (If you have ideas, please share!!)

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      I wouldn’t say that Guatemala is less gay-friendly than the US, but I digress. Parents in the US send their kids to cure-the-gay programs quite a bit, for one.
      I always side-eye white people doing things in brown places, but whatever. If that’s what you’re going for, Argentina is gay-friendlier than the US. I have family in and around Buenos Aires and Resistencia and it’s great.

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    It makes me really mad that so many of you have to deal with discriminatory hiring practices.

    I keep advocating with everyone who will listen at my job that the organization needs to hire more people of color and queers and actually support them/us at work with an awesome environment and make them MANAGERS. (Let’s not even discuss how hostile the field is to ppl with disabilities and ppl who grew up poor and a whole host of ppl who like do not even go into the field or apply so I cannot even ask my boss to interview them because they are not there.) It hasn’t happened, but I think ppl are thinking about HOW hiring decisions get made.

    IME, it’s a sweet feeling when you walk into a job interview and (score!) the person interviewing you is obv gay.

    For context, I wrote my college application essay on skinny dipping in the South of France.

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