No one teaches us what the work environment will be like for homosexuals. In truth no one teaches us the protocols of the corporate world at all. I sometimes wonder what dynamics exist for the average homosexual doing a 9 to 5 stuck in the same deadening quotidian as people who fall within (perceived) normative ambits. As an activist I have found myself bargaining and intellectualizing the openness of my sexuality. I have grappled with ideas around dress code and demeanor never-mind the politics of commercial spheres and inevitably the career limiting outcomes that potentially await me after exposing my truth.
In most cases I have found myself in virtual battles with belittling and undermining behavior. At those points it becomes crucial to demystify and unclothe the garb of “retard” that fellow colleagues mistakenly tailor for us- which occurs effortlessly as I am quite charismatic, confident and absolutely intelligent. My only qualm is the existence of such condescending attitudes in spaces where it seems inappropriate. Professionals and intellects can demonstrate ludicrous ignorance but I have come to understand that being uninformed is not unique nor does ignorance discriminate.
Once colleagues finally warm up to the fact that you are gay there comes an interesting dance with the people of the same gender ( women in my case). They tend to be of the opinion that you would automatically want to bed them irrespective of your non-existing advances. Canteen conversations over sandwiches always end in requests for detailed descriptions of homosexual intimacies or the religious dogma fanatics telling you about Sodom and Gomorrah (even though they are cheating on their partners with someone else in the office). It is even worse if you are a butch lesbian being. People never get tired of talking about you day in and day out. In some cases people will want to use you as their personal gaydar asking if “that one” is straight or skew, bent or otherwise. It is really absurd I tell you.
In my own experience I think I felt extremely touched when I recently moved to a new job. I was leaving my superior who was initially homophobic – I say initially and I guess I should find out where his heart rests today on this matter. He knew before I worked for him that I was a little “special”- to use his term. He found his own way of making sure I knew where his mind was about homosexuality. I aimed to not make my sexuality the core of our existence but sometimes my calling cannot escape me -activism. He was not aware of how much I enjoyed being the queer I am. He was even more alarmed to find out that I had absolutely no reservations or fears about my lesbianism and soon fell in love with the common ground we shared when he realized our shared love for our female partners. I recall the Monday after Joburg PRIDE when I sat with him going through pictures of the event; shocked as he was at first he would sit down with me year after year and ask to see what happened. He enjoyed debating the issues around Joburg PRIDE particularly in 2012 because the 1 in 9 campaign asked me to comment on whom I supported, who is right and what went wrong. Every now and then I would receive newspaper articles on my desk on hate crimes, countries that support gay marriage, gay adoption, the different PRIDE events taking place around the world and texts alerting me about documentaries and radio talk shows on LGBT matters – ensuring I stay abreast with my current affairs.
He began to know more than I did most of the time.
I simply refuse to be untrue to myself no matter where I am. I find no need to announce which side of the fence I fall; in truth that has nothing to do with my 8 hour a day job. I have found strength in acknowledging that I am gay when I am asked. I do not wince while doubting my standing – I have come to realize that if I am not shaken in my certainty no one else has reason to believe contrary.
In many instances I question my company’s policies. I am a woman who is pro marriage, family and having children. Should I pursue that lifestyle I worry if these very policies would cater for me as a homosexual. I worry about Maternity leave, Paternity leave, Partners on Medical Aid and Benefits available for spouses and family.
On the first day of my new job my new superior asked me if I had a boyfriend. I nonchalantly told her “no”. She proceeded to ask me if I have a fiancé then and I told her that I do not have that either. She then asked me if I am in a relationship, I smiled and excitedly said “yes”. She hesitantly asked if I have a girlfriend – mumbling away and not looking at me in the eyes like she had the previous two times. I told her confidently that I do. Then she did something that got on my last nerve. She asked me if I am attracted to women – of course I am attracted to women – then proceeded to say that she hoped I was not attracted to her. Annoyed, I asked her if she is attracted to all the men she meets randomly and her response was obviously not. I continued to tell her she was not my type at all and that most people have a huge misconception about homosexuals and their wanting everything and everybody. The poor woman shrunk in her seat and then after an uncomfortable moment of silence she bravely said to me “Can I ask you a couple of questions about your sexuality”. I agreed without any hesitation, as I knew she was now embarking on a journey to liberating her ignorant mind.
How is the corporate working environment for you?
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