Friday, April 09, 2010

Email from a gay guy with a difficult colleague

While I was on holiday, a gay reader sent me the following email:

Dear GB,

First of all thanks for the blog, and for Dear GB.

The time has come for me to ask for some advice.

I recently took up a new job. I am the youngest in the office, most of the people around me are much older.

One of them was very friendly, and was among the first people I talked casually with. We also take the same bus to and from work. My stop is before his to work.

Now I figured out that he is gay, and he does not know I am. How I found is simply because he was paying far too much attention to me, which obviously raised my suspicion. He would constantly ask me what I was up to. For example, I go to the gym every day, and he keeps asking me every day if I went to the gym. If he saw me taking the bus, he would literally run on the street to catch up. He is 50+, around my father's age, and the running I admit I find terribly embarrassing. OK so I thought maybe I'm just being an ageist. Never had a colleague run after me like that, he's just friendly I tell myself.

One day at work he comes into the urinals, and I caught him looking at my dick. I look at him, and needless to say a man at 50 is not agile enough to hide it with a head turn. I let it slide the first time, forgivable perhaps by some conjecture of justifications. Gay, young guy, dick, ok ok. I might do the same at his age, who knows. I do sneak a peek in the showers at the gym every once in a while, though it is just a quick glance! What annoys me though is this is the workplace.

If we end up on the same bus, he sits next to me to talk. Fine. But he stares at younger guys in the bus. Sure we all take a look, but he literally STARES. And he is sat right next to me. Makes me extremely uncomfortable. At this point I wonder if some distance would be a good thing.

Now obviously as a result of all the friendly chats over lunch and in the bus, over the past four months, he has a fairly good idea of how I think. A work issue comes up, and he uses this knowledge to arm twist me into doing something his way. It was not relevant at all, and I was able to brush it aside, but I did not like the fact that he was using that information to get his way.

At this point I decide distance is most certainly necessary. I reduce conversation to the casual and make it very impersonal.

And then the urinal thing happens again. He makes this "Oh.." with a gurgling giggle as if he was surprised to see me there, I give a quick smile and turn back, he is to my left and I can literally see him looking at my dick from the corner of my eye. That is one too many for me, and this time I give him a proper angry stare. Again slow head movement, this time he is staring at the ceiling to his right. Even seen someone pee with his head turned right and looking at the ceiling? He makes some stupid conversation about work to diffuse the situation and I do not reply.

Now I am positively furious. I absolutely avoid him. In the bus, I make all conversations extremely terse. I put on music as soon as I see him at his stop. I just nod when I see him. He still just behind me in the bus, and then starts questioning me when we leave the bus."Did you go to the gym?" "What were you reading?" I answer with lies and then switch the conversation to some work thing. I even tried walking really slow from the bus to make him go further, but he simply waits for me.

When I think about it, I am furious for a number of reasons:
  1. I am new to this city, have no friends and I really want to go out, checkout the gay scene. I know he frequents it, he told me as much, and together with his manipulative behaviour means I cannot really be seen out. I am not sure what will happen at work if he knows I am gay.

  2. He gives gay people a bad name. Where the hell does he come from peeking at my dick! Twice!! At WORK!!!

  3. He is now involving himself with my area of work, where he has almost no relevance. He comes up with "suggestions" for me, and then I get into long conversations having to explain why it is not sensible. I now make it very terse and say "Don't know", "I'll think about it", "Let me see" etc. I do not like that kind of a reply, as it makes me seem less flexible at the new job.

  4. After all the distancing and terseness, he now has started making this fucked up puppy eyed look if we do make eye contact in the bus, which makes me seriously want to punch him. I have turned from very friendly, to casual and impersonal, to downright borderline rude. Can't he take a fricking hint to just fuck off! He has not yet asked me WHY I have changed my behaviour, which is the first thing you do if it were all innocent. If he thinks I am homophobic all the more reason to just leave me alone!
I would like to give him a earful, but my new job, his lack of morals and his manipulative flair has left me very angry and confused. He's been working for the company a mighty long time. Everyone else is much older than me, married, kids, 35+, there really isn't anyone around my age to talk to.

It's been five months, I moved here to make gay friends. It has really taken a lot of planning, as I am not out and really want to deal with my sexuality!

So GB, what do I do? I am literally hoping he retires or is fired tomorrow! If I had some evidence, I would file some sexual harassment charges or something!

Please help!

Subsequently, after I'd sent this reader an email to let him know that I was on holiday, he replied with a suggestion of his own:

I might probably just talk to him straight if he happens to be at the bus stop, clear the air once and for all. Easier said than done.

In any situation like this, and certainly in advance of any straight talking, it's a good idea to try and put oneself in the other person's shoes to work out how they're likely to react to any plans. Judging from the reader's description, I'd guess that although this guy must be gay, he doesn't have a boyfriend. So he might be quite a sad and lonely guy, and gradually becoming more so as he gets older. His work is likely to be a big part of his life. Given all this, since the reader is probably the cutest male in the office, it's not surprising that this guy is interested in the reader. Unfortunately this also means that the guy's interest in the reader is unlikely to go away, at least not until the firm hires another young guy.

The reader mentions sexual harassment law. However it's worth pointing out that anyone who ever needs to rely on the law or the human resources department to solve these kind of issues are identifying themselves to the management as 'difficult' employees, and that's unlikely to be a good idea. So other ways of solving the problem must be found.

It's clear that the way the reader is actively trying to ignore this guy is not having the desired effect. It's like a tug of war. However hard one side pulls, the other side tries to pull harder. Using the tug of war analogy, we need to find a way of letting go of the rope.

Rather than actively trying to distance himself from the guy, a better strategy might be for the reader to try passively ignoring the guy. This means that he wouldn't try and escape if the guy comes over and talks to him, but equally he wouldn't bother with conversation. So if the guy starts talking and asking questions, the reader wouldn't show his irritation, but would simply smile and perhaps occasionally reply with short uninformative answers ("OK", "maybe", "perhaps" etc). After following that strategy for a week or two, a casual bit of straight talking might work better. The reader could smile and ask very casually "Why do you like talking to me?" and perhaps later still smiling "I don't think we have much in common", but most importantly never showing any irritation with the guy.

It's also worth asking whether the reader likes his job, given that there isn't anyone closer to his own age to talk to. It would be a pity to change jobs just because of this one annoying older guy, but if there are other reasons to move too then it might make sense. In any case if he does stay in his current job, he needs to forge alliances with other employees. That might also help in connection with this annoying older guy, who'd see that this reader isn't alone in the office any more.

Do any other readers have any thoughts about this situation?


Sir Wobin said...

What an unpleasant situation. :-(

Some subtle interference with his work attention might be useful. Always use a locked stall in the loo and avoid the urinals. If he does try anything there it's really clearcut that he must be dismissed.

Ask other colleagues why he's trying to contribute to your area when he has little expertise or relavance. It's a way of drawing their attention to the fact that something is amiss with his behaviour. When he tries to interfere with your work, make sure a relevant colleague is always present. Walk to their desk if necessary to take up the conversation with them leaving him to follow if he must.

If you do your best to include a third person as much of the time as is practical, he'll eventually have to show them that his attention is perhaps inapproriate.

Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I'd also ask how well you gets on with his other colleagues and particularly your direct boss.

If not well, and you can't improve those ties to the point that your colleagues will support you, then I'd be looking to leave. I know it is unfair, but it is difficult to see how you can come out of the work situation well.

If you do get on well with others, and you feel that you have the support of your direct boss, then you're in a much better position. At least where he's interfering with your work, you can have a chat to your boss (this issue has nothing to do with sexuality), and get some clarity on whether his suggestions are good, and whether they might be better given via your boss.

Also, having the support of your team and having them around reduces the chance of him being inappropriate, and if he is, increases the chance of others spotting it.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Hi guys, I'm the one who sent the Dear GB email.. Thanks for your comments.

Since sending the email, something happened after which he has stopped completely. I think it is an incident in the toilet, he was at the urinals, and as soon as I saw him, I turned around towards the stalls. Another colleague was present who might have noticed this? I think it is after this that everything has stopped.

As for his suggestions, I actually did something similar as Anonymous has commented. I have asked him to jot them in an email to me, with my boss in CC. Total suggestions since: 0!
So work front is fine now.

It's a good experience in any case!

Now with part 2: making gay friends in a new city! I'm writing up a gaydar and guardian dating profile.. Not looking for quickies, well at least not yet :P

Anonymous said...

Great to hear that things are working better. It is one of the sad facts that not all gay men are well adjusted (I blame it more on the being in the closet experience rather than any malice on their part), and many of us have been at the receiving end of that, and it is awkward (and sometimes awful).

My thought is that if you're after gay friends, dating profiles aren't the way to go, as people will be assessing you either for a quicky or for a lifelong relationship, but not so much for a friendship. Lots of cities now have gay networking events, gay sports teams, gay dinner clubs, etc. Look at your local gay newspaper or search the web. Yes, you'll still meet some freaks at these things, but there are nice guys out there who might not want you as a boyfriend, but are good friendship material.

Anonymous said...

Good lord. That was EXACTLY what I had been thinking when I read your email. Make it obvious that you choose to use the stalls if he is in the toilet at the same time as you.

By the way, good to hear it's stopped. I feel bad for the older guy, but it's no reason to make others around him uncomfortable.

Eric said...

I feel bad for the older guy as well.

What a sad, sad, lonely existence he must be living to try to pursue a colleague at work who could probably be old enough to be his grandson.

Are there really no such thing as older gay dating sites. Or maybe a club he could join perhaps? If anything he should be the one on the receiving end about how to make gay friends.

Almost makes me wonder if anyone else at the office knows the older guy is gay. Imagine if he was over 50 and still closeted?? Wow.

Anonymous said...

Just tell him you already have a father, you dont need another one