Out at Work (Or Not) & How It Affects Our Workplace
How out are you at work? Do your co-workers know you’re gay? If they do, do you still find yourself censoring your own communication in order to make others feel more comfortable?
Of special note: How is your communication with other gay co-workers? Is there a comfortable ease in the communication between you and others or, are you afraid of overstepping boundaries for fear of creating any sexual tension at work?
Similar to the lack of communication often seen at the gym, workplace communication can have similar dynamics due to potential awkwardness if and when you may become sexual, and the relationship doesn’t go past the first night. I can speak from personal experience on that point, after one night of passion with a fellow bartender at a gay club where I once worked.
But I am positive that several of you may have had similar experiences in the workplace. This brings to mind a quote from my Italian grandmother (made famous in the movie "Moonstruck"): "You don’t shit where you eat." In a recent blog on "Sex in the Workplace," employees from one company complained that 37% of their employees admitting to flirting with a colleague, 8% had a crush on someone at work, and 17% of the workers confessed to secretly dating someone from work.
Communication at work can be tense and uncomfortable, not only as the result of potential sexual tension, but also the result of personal discomfort concerning one’s sexual identity. For those men perceived as gay but not out to others at work, they can oftentimes become hostile or non-communicative with co-workers whom they themselves view as gay and a potential threat to their own sense of comfort in the workplace.
I interviewed a close friend about this type of non-communication in the workplace. He told of a handsome young man whom he knew to be gay, but who never spoke a word to him in the five years he worked at this store unless he absolutely had to. "He seemed to be willfully trying to make me invisible to him in order to avoid any possible interaction that might be perceived as his being attracted to me in any way," my friend said.
This type of non-communication or selective communication will be addressed more fully in a book I’m working on, "The Gay Communication Game" It is very wrong and dismissive in the least, with terrible results for normal workplace interaction. After all, no one likes to be ignored, especially for reasons that are completely unclear to them, not to mention, unfair.
When anyone goes out of his or her way to purposefully avoid interacting with someone who has no idea why he is being ignored, it is more illustrative of gay shame than anything else is. That is, not shameful for the person being ignored but, for the person perpetuating that dismissive behavior towards others.
It’s as if by interacting with my friend or toward anyone else perceived to be gay -- whether or not he was physically attracted to that person -- it would be sending a message that was completely shameful to him. For example, "I don’t want that guy to think that I am attracted to him in any way! What if he thinks I’m interested in dating him or going to bed with him?"
With an increasing number of people openly self-identifying themselves as gay at work or, even for those who do not, we may find ourselves to be not only concerned with how our "straight" co-workers view us.
Now we may have to consider how our gay brothers and sisters may feel with our being out at work -- especially when they choose not to do so. Or, in deference to my previous example, we have to consider why someone is being somewhat uncommunicative with us for reasons unknown to us; as if an interaction between both parties may suggest feelings not expressed but mistakenly perceived as sexually suggestive.
Quick remedy: Stop playing mind games. Be clearer in your communication. Because the one you hurt most by your selective communication is yourself.
Dr. Vince Pellegrino has PhDs in educational theater and drama therapy from New York University and is a board-certified psychotherapist in New York City and Connecticut. He teaches communications at Hofstra University. He is currently working on a book, "Gay Communication Game," about "Gayspeak"; an interactive TV program featuring real-time therapy sessions in development. Go to Dr. Vince TV for more information.