June 2, 2011

The Ghost of Summer Past

I'm back at square one again. If you're a long-time follower of the Blog, then you'll remember me struggling with coming out at my job. (You can catch up here.) Well, I ended up not doing anything and kinda letting the situation disappear. I never really came out but I always avoided any kind of conversation about sex and/or girls. I tried to leave subtle hints like leaving my internet browser on my computer with the Blog open or shopping for a "Legalize Gay" shirt while at my desk but nothing that directly said "Oh hey, btw, I'm gay."

I left my job at the end of the summer not worrying about it, thinking that I would never see those people again except for maybe passing each other on the quad. Obviously, I was wrong.

I was invited to come back and work again this summer. I didn't have any other summer plans so I figured it would be a good way to make some money for the school year. Little did I know that two of my fellow coworkers from last summer also decided to come back and work again.

Ok. Cool. That's awesome. They already know the ropes so things will go a lot smoother this summer. The whole I-never-actually-came-out thing didn't cross my mind... until a few days ago.

As we were starting our day at work, we found one of the yearbooks from last year and began to flip through it. My other coworkers had not seen it yet. We browsed through, commenting on how we thought it was funny/awkward to have pictures of tailgate in the yearbook. Then, we got to this beautiful photo of a certain three rooms in Kilgo that were flying rainbow flags outside their windows. One of my coworkers stopped on that page. I stood there bracing myself for what he was about to say.

"I didn't know what those flags meant until last year. I just knew that a lot of people liked flying rainbow flags", he said. Ok, not bad. I can deal with that. If people aren't exposed to certain cultures, they wouldn't understand the different symbols of that culture. He just needed to be educated. So, now he knows. Good. Next page!

"I have a friend that loves to tear them down hahaha!"

I don't know how to explain how I felt after he said that. It was a mixture of rage/ disgust/ anger/ fury/ thirst for blood and sadness/ pity/ hurt/ pain/ disappointment. I wanted to tear him limb from limb like in Mortal Kombat and at the same time, just hang my head and walk away. This was the same coworker from the other post that invited me to his fraternity party by telling me there would be plenty of girls.

He confirmed my worst fears about him. As much as I tried to not impose the "douchey frat boy" stereotype on him, he just kept insisting that I treat him like one of those frat guys that make all of us look bad (Yes, even as a fraternity member, I recognize that some members of the Greek community are complete and total... bad, awful, not nice people).

I was able to compose myself to squeeze out a nonchalant "Why would your friend do that? Does he have something against gay people?" I was on the verge of saying more but I knew that if I did, I would end up probably with my hands around his neck. He said that he didn't think his friend was homophobic, he just thought it would be fun. "I think it's kinda funny actually." Now, that actually pissed me off even more. At least if he was homophobic, there would be some hope of educating him. But you can't cure stupidity and ignorance. Luckily, before I could unleash my fury upon him, my boss walked in and put us to work.

I fumed about that for days and I'm still fuming actually. That event showed me two things: 1) He didn't get the sexuality hints I was trying to drop and 2) As much as I hate to admit it, sometimes, stereotypes are spot on. He's the perfect example of the negative connotation of "frat star." (Sidenote: I think "frat star" can also have a positive meaning. I'll explain that later though. Stay tuned!).

I just don't know how to handle this situation. I know that I should say something to him about how I didn't appreciate what he said and that I find it really offensive for someone to do something like that. However, I now find him so repugnant that I don't want to talk to him anymore than absolutely necessary. And I know that's not a good way to feel about anyone, especially a coworker, but I just don't want to put up with people that I despise. I've got better things to do with my life. I know, I know. That's a horrible attitude but I just get so frustrated with intolerance of any kind that my temper would be more of a detriment than an asset to the cause.

So, my question is once again, what in the world do I do?


  1. First off-thank you for posting this. I am currently wondering the exact same question. The people at my summer job assume i am straight, but they have not yet ask, or left me an opening to let them know that i am gay. I feel like i am in limbo, i'm not in the closet, because i'm not pretending i'm straight, but i'm also not "out" the way i am during the school year. I don't want to make my work space weird, but i can't help but feel like i am hiding who i am.

    Sorry to go off on my own problems when i'm supposed to be addressing yours. I'm not sure how much help i can be seeing that i'm in the same situation, but i can tell you to remain strong, and look for an ally at your job, one person can make it so much better. I think i'm gonna try to come out at my job this summer, so know your not alone in the struggle. God luck

  2. Ugh. Do you trust your boss enough (or anyone other managerial person at your office) to report the incident? Because I'd call that workplace harassment, or at the very least, intolerable insensitivity. This is what HR and our office of institutional equity exist for.

  3. Do you date your coworkers? If not, then your sexuality should not be any sort of issue in the workplace. You don't need to come out to them any more than straight people need to make clear that they're straight.

    You don't have to like your coworkers, you have to work with them.

  4. Anon 8:07, it isn't harassment. It's an insensitive person, certainly, but that isn't illegal.

    AJ, I was in a similar situation a few summers ago when I was working a job with a coworker who insisted that she was just uncomfortable around two women being romantic and that she couldn't and shouldn't change. I wasn't out at work (because in Florida you can be legally fired for your sexual orientation--thanks, home state!). Out of frustration I ended up telling her that I was bi. It made my work environment pretty awkward for a while, but I'm still glad I did.

    The thing is, you get to pick your friends and your roommates, but you don't get to pick your coworkers. It sucks to be forced to spend a lot of time with someone who is a jerk, but it's something that you sometimes have to do. Learning to deal with people that you find distasteful is a part of the everyday working world. It's what I call AFOG--another fucking opportunity for growth.

    Good luck with your work situation.

  5. Hey, anonymous 8:10. While you're absolutely right when you say "your sexuality should not be any sort of issue in the workplace," the fact is that A.J.'s coworker's behavior is making it an issue. I find it incredibly insensitive and unhelpful to dismiss A.J.'s situation by saying that sexuality 'should be' a non-issue. Straight people don't need to come out because they enjoy a kind of privilege in society which brings with it a dismissal or a denigration of anything that doesn't fit within heteronormative bounds. But that doesn't mean that people who are LGBTQA don't deserve the same respect and expectation of a safe, healthy, and fulfilling life and work environment.

    A.J., I agree with anonymous 8:07 - if there is a coworker or a supervisor that you trust, please consider speaking to them. In my mind, you are having to deal with an unhealthy work environment, which will affect you psychologically, and it might impact your ability to be an effective employee. Good luck - what you're dealing with is so hard, and you're very brave to do it.

  6. aj! it is great to see your post. very funny to click on the link and see a shout out to me.

    two questions...what do you have to loose by coming out at work? is the risk of loosing those things too much?

    i tend to think i would come out if i was in your position, but it is probably much easier for me to say that given i'm not dealing with the person. my thinking tends to be...i'm going to be miserable if i don't say anything. if i say something and it goes badly, i'm still going to be miserable...so i might as well risk speaking up and hope it goes well cause that's the only way i won't feel like shit. but again, that's just me.

    i would love to hear what you decide and i wish you the best no matter what you do. enjoyyy the lovely TIPsters.

    - Brandy

  7. Everything Jen just said is so, so spot-on.

    I also want to add that I think that the idea of coming-out as a "cyclical process" (coming out at sometimes, yet perhaps not at other times), is a really good metaphor to compare this to.

    I don't think there is any shame or embarassment that should be felt for not directly addressing this coworker this summer, or last summer. Homophobia is not only offensive, but it can also make us feel unsafe. I do not think it would be considered "incorrect" to forgo coming out then, or otherwise, regardless of the situation. I used to think I ALWAYS had to come out-"fight the good fight, 24/7", right? But I think this is a type of situation that clearly demonstrates the contrary; you don't always need to be out, especially if you feel unsafe by doing so.

    Did you ever see that video of the woman on the D.C. subway, and the way she responded to sexual assault? She got REALLY upset and the video became an internet sensation. (See the video here, if you haven't: http://jezebel.com/5696376/subway-flasher-picks-the-wrong-woman-to-mess-with)

    I bring it up, because there were a lot of comments initially that said things along the lines of: "This is how you should respond!" "All women must do this next time they're assaulted or harrassed in public!"And then one woman sort of stood the conversation when she responded: "I'm a survivor of sexual assault, and there is never a right way or a wrong way to respond to sexual assault. There is only the way that works for you, and the way that makes you feel the most safe." I think the same idea might apply here-perhaps there is no "right or wrong" way to respond. There's only the way that makes you feel safe, and as Jen outlined-psychologically happy and confident at work.

    Whatever you do, I wish you the best! You have a whole lot of people rooting for you. And to second the above-whatever you choose, you've already been very brave thus far.

  8. Great post! Honestly, if it were me, I think my work space would be quickly covered in pride flags :) Pride flag desk covering, pride flag backpack sticker, pride flag screen saver, pride flag locker decal, whatever. But then again, I'm not one for subtlety and I don't mind burning bridges. And as Megan points out, sometimes the decision to make a statement is contingent on other privileges - as an ally, I would be interested in reminding him that I do welcome his opinion of his friend's behavior, but I do not have to balance an interest in also coming out.

    And of course, I have no idea if you even take a desk at work. Or a locker. Or a backpack. :P

    Speaking practically, a more effective option would probably be to talk to a third party. I'm not sure you can ask anyone to do anything for you, but it doesn't sound like you are looking for anyone to do anything formally so much as you are looking to build awareness of the environment you're working in (which is, after all, something they could possibly take into account as they decide who to invite back the next year). Casually mentioning to a supervisor that it's starting to feel awkward between you and your coworker might be an intro to discussing the incident in more detail, without having to make a formal statement on it. That is assuming a supervisor who is open to listening though (some supervisors would not continue the conversation, on the assumption that you are simply going to recount office drama). Best of luck!

  9. I really love this post!
    Imo, I think you should "Finish him" with a "Fatality" but, that's just me. :P

    To be honest though, I don't know how I'd go about addressing this issue. I'd either say, "Hey, I kind of take offense to that because of blah blah blah" or I'd avoid them and conversation with them (of course that would make work more like a battle field than a comfortable space for you to do what you need to do). But I think Irene has a good idea of how to go about it--third party middle man, perhaps?

    Also, on a related note, how would you go about displaying pride at work? Would your employer allow you to do that? I went out to a restaurant the other day with a friend, and our waitress had a pride bracelet on--and I noticed it and pointed it out to my friend. And she thought aloud, "Are employees allowed to do that?" and I really didn't \ have an answer for her. I suppose it varies from work place to work place, but what about yours, AJ? Would that be alright?