Thank you to everyone who read part 1 of this series about my experience of being closeted at work – it wasn’t an easy article to dig up some memories from a past I suppressed for a long time, but I’m glad I did and feel lighter because of it. Even more so, I appreciate those who reached out to me to validate my experiences, share their experiences with me, and even those who have come out to me since then. Your words & stories give me so much joy, gratitude, inspiration, and pride. I’m excited to continue doing a better job of loving myself & embracing my uniqueness, rather than hiding to fit in.
In part 2, I will talk about deciding if you should come out and how to come out. Once again,I acknowledge that coming out is different for everyone based on their gender identity & sexuality, the country they live in, and their support system around them, to name a few factors! This post series is based on my own personal experience and opinions.
Part 2: Coming out at work
i. How do you know you’re ready to come out at work? The two bottom-line considerations before setting out on this journey are that (1) you want to come out and (2) you’ll be safe if you come out. Please do not do anything you don’t want to do, and make sure that coming out won’t put you in danger. Beyond that, I took a couple steps that may be applicable to you:
Make sure YOU are ready, internally. Before thinking about “am I ready to come out at work?” think about “am I ready to come out?”. You shouldn’t come out when your parents, workplace, school, friends, or neighbors think you should—you come out when YOU are ready. That being said, sometimes it can be hard to tell. Like many things in life, I don’t think we ever feel truly ready, but oftentimes after the fact we are surprised to discover we actually were fully prepared to make the leap. A couple deeper reflection questions to ask yourself are: “Have I accepted my sexuality/gender identity internally?” “Do I think I’ll be happier if you come out?” “Do I feel emotionally and physically safe to come out?”·
You know your co-workers are supportive (enough). I emphasize the word “enough” because everyone’s context and threshold is different. If you work at a job where you clock in and out with minimal substantial interactions with your co-workers, being closeted may have little impact on you. However, if you work in a job similar to mine (team-based consulting work) where co-workers were close and open with each other, being closeted may have a much larger impact on you. If you decide it’s important that your co-workers are supportive of you, there are ways you can test the waters by bringing up something in the news—like this year’s 80+ laws targeting trans people proposed by conservative lawmakers nationwide—and see how they respond.
You know your workplace is supportive (enough). Again,I emphasize “enough” because everyone’s threshold is different, and this factor needs to be weighed against other factors that you care about in your workplace. You need to figure out for yourself exactly how supportive is enough for you. For me, it was knowing that not only did I have other colleagues who were both out of the closet and excelling professionally, but that their identities were both embraced but celebrated. At Bain we had a worldwide LGBTQ+ conference every 2 years, our Employee Resource Group (ERG) organized educational seminars and events frequently, and almost all managers had “LGBTQ+ Ally” stickers outside of their offices. I acknowledge that I had an unusually supportive workplace, and am lucky to have had the support I had to make me feel comfortable coming out.
You know your federal and regional rights. Across and within countries, there are various laws protecting LGBT employees from employee discrimination. In the US, the laws vary by state and don’t always include protections for gender identity. Make sure you check the HRC’s state employment laws and policies map.
If not all of the above boxes are checked and you still want to come out, that’s okay. You know what you’re up against and are ready for the fight. Even if your co-workers or workplace are not supportive, you may still want to come out for your own reasons. That’s completely okay. It’s important though, that you seriously consider the potential effects of coming out, which run the gamut from negligible to very large. For example, if you know certain co-workers (or groups thereof) may not be supportive, or may even behave in an outright discriminatory fashion, you can protect yourself by planning ahead. Figure out someone you can go to in HR, the LGBTQ+ ERG, or your manager/supervisor to escalate the matter so you’re prepared in case you face discrimination. By planning ahead, you can better prepare yourself to quickly handle uncomfortable situations.
Lastly, if you decide you’re not ready, that’s also okay. Deciding whether to come out can be confusing and tiring, and no matter how invested you are in the process you can always turn back. Depending on where in the process that you didn’t want to come out, there are often actions you can take. For example, if you discover your workplace is not supportive, you might decide to help educate your workplace, or you might decide to switch workplaces. If you realized that you’re not ready yet internally, you might decide to wait. Coming out is a choice you’re free to make on your own time, and every person’s situation is different. Know that you’re on your own journey, and there is no right answer.
ii. How do I come out at work? There are so many ways you can come out at work, and each person will have a different style based on their personality and relationship with their workplace. Here is a non-exhaustive list of potential ways you can do it:
Drop subtle hints: Sometimes if you don’t make it a big deal, nobody else will. This tactic works best in workplaces where you’re newer, or you don’t know the people as well. I do this now with new people by dropping in phrases like “when I was dating her . . . ,” “last night at the queer event . . . ,” or “when I first came out . . .” I like doing this early on so it’s out of the way, and if I’m lucky enough, word will travel and I don’t have to do it for everyone.
Come out to a guaranteed advocate: An easy way to boost your confidence and feel less alone in the process can be by coming out with a close friend who you know will support you, or someone who is queer themselves. . This was the tactic I took. I came out to a gay co-worker and he became my cheerleader. The added benefit is that they can give you advice along the way, encourage you, or even help position you for the right conversations.
Get someone else to do it: Coming out can be exhausting, and sometimes you just don’t want to do the work. A sneaky tactic is to tell one person, and mention to them that they can tell whoever they want—and that you want them to! If you pick the right person, ideally someone very connected, you could hit many birds with one stone.
Do it with a bang! If you’re the type that wants to make a splash (I’m definitely like this), there are unlimited ways you can come out with style. At first, I was only out to the LGBTQ+ community at work. However, at the next work party, I decided I wanted everyone to know then and there. I paraded around the whole party with another woman’s hand in mine, and declared to everyone one-by-one, that “we met at the LGBTQ+ conference last month,” as if it was no big deal. Responses were mixed between indifference and suppressed surprise, but it was out there. I hid my nervousness and tried my best just to own it. I’ve also been to a birthday party where, upon arrival, we discovered that it was a coming out party with rainbow balloons—that was a blast!
Remember, you don’t need to come out to everyone, and there is no right timeline: Coming out is not exactly binary.You can be out to some people and not all, and you can also choose to come out slowly over a longer period of time or rip off the Band-Aid. Maybe you only want to be out to your close friends at work, your supervisor, or the LGBTQ+ community. At my last workplace there were 4 stages you could fall into: Level 1—completely open and out, level 2—out only to level 1-3 members, level 3—out only to BGLAD (our LGBTQ+ ERG) administrators, and level 4—straight allies. I started off in level 3, moved to level 2 a few months later when I went to the conference, and then to level 1 after my big bang party from the last bullet point.
Thank you for reading part 2 of the series. It’s been liberating for me to tell my story in an unfiltered way. Writing about my experiences and takeaways has helped me process an important part of my life that was long overdue for reflection. Hopefully this was helpful to you if you’re thinking about coming out, or to allies who want to be there for co-workers who are considering coming out.
Lastly, I want to note that I intentionally separated the 2 parts to hold space for the hardships of my journey in part 1, and as a tribute to all the stories out there that are alike and different from mine. Part 2 is hopefully more optimistic and actionable, as our society moves towards becoming a more open and welcoming place. I’m extremely grateful for the privileges I’ve had growing up in Canada and working at accepting workplaces thus far. I know many are not in the same situations where they feel safe to come out. I hope I can use my experiences to touch the places I’ll go in the future so that we can all live authentic, healthy lives.
Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or just want a listening ear. I gotchu. <3
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