Thursday, August 19, 2010

Email from a guy with a boyfriend who's not out at work

Last week, I got the following email from an American reader:

Dear GB,

I have just started reading your blog and must say I have found it very interesting to date.

I am a guy in my early 20's and have been in a relationship for four years or so with a guy who is ten years older, and who's been working in banking for the past 15 years.

We live together in NYC and have a good relationship most of the time.

One thing that does trouble me, however, is that nobody at work knows anything at all. We live in SoHo which is quite close to the Financial District, so are often bumping into his colleagues etc. The other day, for instance, we were in the local deli and he ran out upon seeing one of his colleagues as he did not want to be seen with me.

Firstly, is it wrong that I find this a bit insulting? Normally I am quite outspoken if there is a problem but for some reason I just let it go despite being annoyed on the inside.

Secondly, I don't work in banking so I don't really have an understanding of what the atmosphere/environment would be like should he reveal all so to speak.

I am a relatively normal acting guy, although I suppose I can be a bit camp if I have had a drink. I am not out at work (am relatively new so it is yet to come up) but previously if anyone has asked or indicated they know I have been honest about it. I have to be honest, I do find it hard in a professional environment to deal with really camp people flouncing around and making a spectacle of themselves so I can understand how negative opinions can be formed. But my boyfriend is not like that at all. If he has worked there for many years surely it would not have a significant impact, should he actually acknowledge who he is?

Have you experienced anything similar at all, or do you have any suggestions of how to tackle this? He tells me I know what he was like when we met so I shouldn’t have a problem, he kinda has a point but it is still very frustrating never the less.

I would be appreciative of your thoughts or any advice you may have.

Best regards

This kind of situation is common when one of the two guys in a gay relationship are at different stages of coming out. In fact I can relate strongly to the reader, because my boyfriend T is also closeted, possibly even more so than the reader's boyfriend! With boyfriend T, my only plan is to give him lots of love and support, and hope that he'll gradually feel more and more comfortable as a gay man.

With the reader's situation, one possibility is that in the past, his boyfriend has pretended to be straight when he's been at work. A consequence of this could be that the boyfriend would feel that he'd lose face if he comes out as gay. Unfortunately, if this is the case then the only way to solve the problem might be changing the bank that he works for.

In big international banks these days, when it comes to employing gay staff the key word is "Diversity". I mentioned this in the posting 'Email from a closeted investment banker' earlier this year. If the reader's boyfriend works for a big bank, then the reader could do research over the Internet to find out what the bank's diversity policy is. That information might help the reader's boyfriend feel more comfortable about coming out at work. Another point is that all the big banks also have networks of gay employees these days, so even if the reader can't work out if such a network exists at his boyfriend's bank, he might be able to encourage his boyfriend to find out.

Of course, rather than coming out with a big fanfare and dramatic announcement, it's much better just to stop pretending to be straight. A big coming out is always very egocentric, because with that the person coming out makes the assumption that people are interested. Instead, if the reader's boyfriend does reach the stage where he wants people to know, a better strategy is to quietly tell the biggest gossip in his department! A good thing about making sure other that colleagues know that you're is gay is that inappropriate questions about girlfriends or marriage will cease, and one can relax :-).

To answer the reader's question, although the boyfriend's behaviour is slightly insulting because it implies that the reader is less important than his boyfriends reputation, the behaviour is understandable. In any case, if all else fails, my plan of just loving my boyfriend as much as I can and making him feel more and more comfortable being gay is likely to work in the long term :-).

Do any other readers have any thoughts on the situation?


Anonymous said...

If anyone's to blame it's society, not your boyfriend. There have been times in my life (not recently, though!) where I've felt similar urges to deny my "real life" when the ramifications of revealing my sexuality in the workplace seemed huge. If anything I would rationalise it in terms of my work being *less* important than my home so I didn't have to be honest with colleagues.

These days it's a non-issue for me, really. I don't wave a flag but I don't shy away from it. I certainly wouldn't deny my husband in public. I think it's just something that comes with time and being in the right situation.

John Williams said...

What would have been so hard about X (the banker) simply staying put? The mere fact that he's at a deli with Y (your correspondent) doesn't necessarily mean that X is gay, or that they're dating. They could just be friends.

My hunch is that there may be more to this than what X told Y. Could X possibly have more than a purely professional relationship with the "colleague"?

Anonymous said...

Everyone has to go through their own journey, in their own time and in their own way. (Isn't that how we felt before we came out?) No matter how you feel about someone else's being closeted, all they can do is come out when and to the degree and at the pace they are comfortable. No one wants to be rushed or forced out. The only thing you can do is decide whether and how long you can deal with it.

Anonymous said...

This desire for "diversity" is a load of crap. I have noticed that in lots of businesses once one "comes out" and adds to the "diverse nature" of the staff, he can kiss any sort of professional advancement goodbye. The diverse employee will NOT move beyond the position he is in when the big announcement is made.

My two cents.