Homophobic Coworkers Trolling--To Get Me To Come Out

Gah, this is so jacked up. I don't know what to do. I need some advice guys, because I can't loose this job too. I haven't been on here in a while because I've been pretty wrapped up in finding a decent job, but I hope some of the regulars are still around with their usual wit and wisdom. This blog post is going to be a rant, but please give it a look-see.

My new coworkers are obsessed with the sexuality of the guy I just replaced and they've been talking about 'how it totall makes sense because, of x,y, and z,' or 'of course he's gay, he wouldn't even lift a finger to help us move this big heavy thing.' It's been stereotype after stereotype and even a gem of a joke about me catching AIDS from his office supplies. Joy!

Today one of them went off on a short rant about how 'He should have told us. It's not a big deal but if you don't say you are gay, it makes it weird. It's not weird unless you don't say you're gay, then it's weird.' Whole time she's standing up in her cubicle and staring at me...I'm thinking, 'whaaaat... you are making this very weird!'

Maybe this poor sap didn't want to come out because of all the shit they tend to say about gay men. That's part of why I don't want to come out...because I don't want to fuel their nasty gossip any further. On the other hand, maybe they could just get over it then.

But I'm a private person and I don't feel like it's their business at all. I am pissed that they're making such a big deal about it. I look like a dyke, I'm not (I'm bisexual and genderqueer), but they don't get to hear the juicy details of my personal life because my haircut and clothes make them feel uncomfortable without a nice, tidy little lable to slap onto me. Jesus christ on a corn cobb, get a life, people, it shouldn't be this big of a deal--there are plenty of masculine, dyke-looking people in other departments. This isn't the 1980s.

What would you do? I'm three weeks in as a contract worker with very little information about the corporate culture here, an ambiguous chain of command, absentee managers, and a bunch of harpies out for my brilliantly rainbow-colored blood. And of course, ya'll will be pleased to know that there are daily send ups to Tha Lord going on here. I am surprised they haven't caught the scent of a heathen in their midst...won't that be fucking lovely (that happended at the last job)! Seriously though, I have no idea what to do.

There's not a person in out department who can be legitimately questioning whether or not I'm queer... Maybe I ought to come in tomorrow wearing flannel, baggy cargo pants, and a giant rainbow cape to announce that I have something to tell everyone: "guys, I'm sure you've already guessed, but I'm...not at all interested in discussing my sexuality with you." 

Am I wrong here...is there some unwritten rule about discolsing your sexuality when you start a new job?  I like this job. I'm good at it. I want to stay here a while. I even like my silly co-workers when they aren't gossiping and talking crap about us queers. They have nice personalities and are fun to talk to, so long as they keep it civil.

Views: 448

Tags: advice, frustration, homophobia, transphobia, work

Comment by Simon Paynton on April 22, 2014 at 3:15am

This is just my opinion, but I'd be inclined to come clean.  The issue's never going to go away otherwise.  It sounds like they would be sympathetic and curious. 

Comment by Erock68la on April 22, 2014 at 10:00am

You don't have to tell anything you don't want to; and you can't put the cat back in the bag.

I have a co-worker of about 2 years now.  When he first started, people would ask him, "Do you have any plans this weekend?" or some such innocent question. His reply was always, "That's too personal."  Some thought it was weird, some were offended, some thought it was quirky/funny.  But nobody asks anymore, which I think suits him fine.

It sounds like you may have had issues in the past from disclosing too much.  Maybe your need for the job outweighs your need to be open and expressive in that place; there's the choice you must make.  But everybody wears a mask at work to some degree.

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on April 22, 2014 at 10:26am

Before I reply, I have some questions, Kairan.

Where this is concerned, do your co-workers seem hostile and belligerent, or clueless and inconsiderate? Are they all this way, or is there a ringleader?

What are the employment laws in your state regarding LGBT discrimination in the workplace?

Who hired you for this job? If push comes to proverbial shove, do you have any sense of how your boss (if not state law) would react to your situation?

You mentioned there are "plenty of masculine, dyke-looking people" at the company. If that's true then does that suggest your company culture treats (or has motivation to treat) LGBT people like everybody else? For instance, if people with significant anti-LGBT prejudices were running the show, would they hire lots of ostensibly gay people?

I'm trying to get your sense of whether your company culture and management is likely to be hostile, neutral, indifferent, or an ally to you, if they fully understood what you're dealing with.

Comment by Obfuskation on April 22, 2014 at 1:58pm

Congrats on the job Kairan.

A lot of people fail to understand that a job is a job.  It is not a playground or social club, and there are usually rules regarding what is appropriate for the work place.

I tend towards blunt-hammer diplomacy, and would simply say that work is work, and home is home.  That if they have work related things to discuss that I would be more than happy to talk about them, but the junior high school gossip garbage is out of line.

The management would be more likely to be positive since it is a professional stance.  The gossip club might get prickly, but they would be on notice that you're a grown up.  It should also buy some quieter time for you to get a feel for the rules and office politics.

Just my 2 cents.

Comment by Pope Beanie on April 22, 2014 at 5:09pm

This might not be your style, but (if you have a desk) I'd probably bring in a cheap old, obvious looking audio recorder. "It's just for notes at work", if anyone asks. I could play this, even if they press me to explain how it can be both personal and for work, and leave it up to them to prove why I shouldn't have the right to keep the device... or change the subject.

If I had to remove the device for any reason, the possibility of being recorded should remain in the back of their mind... even if a recording couldn't be used in court by law (e.g. to prove an atmosphere of prejudice).

In any case, I'd be wondering if anyone else there feels uncomfortably pressured to fit into the most dominant workplace attitudes. Maintain confidence in yourself; I'd also probably defend (even if indirectly) any other people they put down. (Btw, the only people I ever put down are those who put down others.)

Comment by Kairan Nierde on April 22, 2014 at 5:44pm

Erock68la-I've never come out on the job before. I did tell a coworker who said she was a 'heathen' that I didn't believe either. Her reaction was very strange, so I think she was just fishing for information on behalf of my boss (who hated me). My boss had begun the conversation about her religion (and since walked away). Pretty devious but that's how things were are the old job. I am considering femming up my hair with some gel so that they are less upset by my appearance, because they all commented on how nice my hair looked the one day I did not style it to my preference, to guage their reactions. My need for the job does outweight my need to express myself. It is very hard to imagine pandering to straight and cisgender norms at this point in my life--I've finally gotten around to accepting that I have a masculine gender and being myself feels so wonderful. Guess that's life in the Big (Midwestern) City.

@Obfuskation--I'm not sure about talking to management. At my last position I made a huge mistake by telling my manager that my coworker was routinely late, leaving me to do all the opening tasks alone--she didn't believe me and that was the beginning of the end. I don't want to be a snitch.

@ Simon and Bella--I agree with both of you, hence my indecision...

Comment by Kairan Nierde on April 22, 2014 at 5:58pm

@ Gallup--Before I reply, I have some questions, Kairan.

Where this is concerned, do your co-workers seem hostile and belligerent, or clueless and inconsiderate? Are they all this way, or is there a ringleader? I think it's motivated by fear and disgust, not hatered. They are mostly casually inconsiderate. The rant about coming out so that it's not "weird" was bizarrely hostile.

What are the employment laws in your state regarding LGBT discrimination in the workplace?

Who hired you for this job? If push comes to proverbial shove, do you have any sense of how your boss (if not state law) would react to your situation? I was hired by a contractor/temp agency. I don't know my boss at all. I know the team lead very little. I don't know the liason at the contracting agency very well either. I've screwed up my timesheets, so I don't want to be a thorn in their side in any other way right now.

You mentioned there are "plenty of masculine, dyke-looking people" at the company. If that's true then does that suggest your company culture treats (or has motivation to treat) LGBT people like everybody else? For instance, if people with significant anti-LGBT prejudices were running the show, would they hire lots of ostensibly gay people? I believe many of these people are permanent hires who work for the company itself, since I see them in other departments. Our department is new, and entirely staffed by temps. We're off to the side in a public but somewhat isolated area. Our boss and team lead work out of sight, but on the same floor. The team lead walks over one a day or every other day. The boss does so a couple times a week. I'm pretty sure that the corporation is LGBT-friendly. I think most management there would consider this type of situation in their department unprofessional and a liability. I think my managers are too busy to care what happens in my area. I don't want to make waves because complaining screwed me over at my last job by negatively affecting the light in which my manager saw me. I have no way of knowing how they would take it if I said something but I am certain that it would be pretty obvious to my co-workers that I was the one who said something...and that would be very bad.

I'm trying to get your sense of whether your company culture and management is likely to be hostile, neutral, indifferent, or an ally to you, if they fully understood what you're dealing with.

Comment by Kairan Nierde on April 22, 2014 at 6:12pm

@ Gallup--that was a lot...I skipped a couple:

The ring-leader wasn't there today, so they only brought it up twice, and it wasn't nearly as bad. Ironically, she sets off my lesday and she did say that her sexuality is not heterosexual. (Oh, the things they get into gossiping about). It's extra shitty to see this coming from her. Wtf, man!?

Looks like there's no legal protection in Ohio.

Comment by Kairan Nierde on April 22, 2014 at 6:13pm

**lesdar, not lesday. Every day is lesday. JK. ;)

Comment by Gallup's Mirror on April 23, 2014 at 12:36am

What an absolutely awful situation to be in. After a lifetime spent living in the free world of the liberal, blue state northeast, backward states like Ohio-- with anti-LGBT discrimination enshrined in state law-- seem more like stone-age Pakistan to me.

I was once an employer at a company in Massachusetts, where even ONE incident like this, brought to HR's attention, would cast serious doubt on the ringleader's future employment. An offensive LGBT remark made to an LGBT employee would have gone over like an anti-semitic remark to a Jewish employee, or a racist remark to a black employee. Zero tolerance. It's just good business: the cost of fending off a civil lawsuit (even if you win) is less than the cost of firing one bigot and hiring a replacement. But I digress.

The way I see it, you have three options; Sue for peace. Arm for war. Withdraw.

Doing nothing probably isn't an option. Situations like this rarely get better, they fester or they get worse, but they almost never improve on their own. You'll just end up miserable.

Suing for peace means making concessions, but on your own terms. Give a little (but not too much) ground. You don't have to give specifics about your personal life, or even tell them anything that's true, just give them something to chew on. A joke or a small gesture of trust might let off some of the pressure in a standoffish environment.

For instance, next time it comes up-- especially if it seems like finding out is the reason why they're doing it-- how about a lighthearted, enigmatic, joke that, no, you're not a lesbian, you just play one on TV. If pressed for more specifics, smile, shrug, make another joke, and put the emphasis back on THEM: "I would tell you more about my private life but I don't have one, unless minecraft counts. So why does this keep coming up? Is everyone here gay or what?" (A coworker I once knew used to joke: "I'm a trysexual. I try to have sex but nobody's interested.")

Come up with a few remarks like that in advance: be friendly, but enigmatic, tossing them the occasional crumb that suggests your life is too uninteresting to inquire about. "I'm in the middle of a torrid love affair with my television set. How about you?" "What did I do this weekend? Well, I finally cleaned out my car. The excitement overwhelmed me. What did you do?" Mind you, it doesn't matter if it's not true. Even if you're the most exciting, interesting, fascinating, sexed-up human being at that office, if they want forbidden news: give boring news, then ask a question that deflects the interest back on THEM. Be friendly and show genuine interest. The more they talk about themselves, the less they'll inquire and talk about you.

Arm for war means you're playing hardball. I have no idea how this will play out in a state where it's perfectly legal to discriminate against an LGBT person in the workplace, but maybe as a matter of company policy it would play out to your advantage. The safer assumption is that most likely it won't be to your advantage, but it's worth considering anyway.

If you're not prepared to sue for peace, be on your absolute best and most professional behavior. Meanwhile, document every lousy remark, every stupid action, every unprofessional thing that your co-workers say and do to you. Most importantly, document yourself making two or three attempts to explain to the ringleader (ideally in private) that you find her actions hurtful and unprofessional and that you want her to stop. 

Ohio recording law is one-party consent, so it's legal for you to record yourself and others on audio and video in secret. Get a pocket recorder or spy-cam, bring it to work and let it roll all day long. This is not a big deal at all. You'd be surprised how quickly you get used to having a recorder rolling in your pocket all of the time. (And more surprised at how exposed you feel when it's off while you're in a potentially compromising situation.)

Compile a list of "greatest hits". Be sure it's truly awful stuff, not anything that'll make YOU look petty or foolish. Go to your boss. Explain you've spent months trying to resolve a problem with your co-workers until finally, in desperation, you put together a recording of some incidents that you hope will help others understand the difficult situation you're in. Play the recordings. Once done, explain you only want this to stop so you can do your job in peace, but you don't know what else to do. Ask for help.

Part of my job used to be to compile such recordings (and email and security videotapes) for civil suits. Believe me, to executives, to judges, and especially to managers who had no clue it was going on, this is some serious shit. Audio is damaging, but video is absolutely devastating.

But of course, none of this means a thing (especially in Ohio) unless you've actually got serious shit to record, and you've got a company that cares about it. Failing that, if it's really juicy, I suppose you could offer the recording to the local news as a human interest story, or post it on YouTube for a trial in the court of public opinion, and then ready your...

Withdrawal, which means doing what your predecessor probably did. Work there while you look for another job and when you find one, resign on the best possible terms for yourself. I think I would probably be doing that no matter what. It just seems like an oppressive, unpleasant place to hold a job.

If I've held your attention this long, thanks for reading. Best of luck in working this out Kairan.

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