I have recently had a couple of very long weeks at work due to my coworkers’ issues around pregnancy and new babies, as in, one quit and the other is now on bedrest. So, more work for me. As a result, I am thinking a lot about family issues in the workplace and in particular how these are constructed around not only gender but also sexual orientation.
I appreciate that there are serious issues balancing work and family life, and that women in particular often get hit hard because pregnancy is a major medical event that can have unforeseen complications and requires recovery time in addition to all the stuff about breastfeeding which I am not even going to touch. I do not think that it is okay to fire women who are expecting children or who take leave, and I think more men should take time off when they have kids.
At the same time, I think there is a real problem with the limitations on family leave. Who is a family is typically constructed in heterosexist ways, as shown in the above paragraph where I talk about two opposite-sex parents.
In watching my coworkers’ family drama and seeing my workload increase in response to it, it occurred to me to wonder how different this would be for same-sex couple. It’s accepted that we all support my straight coworkers and their heterotypical reproductive choices, but what if I had a serious girlfriend and we decided to have a baby? I don’t even think she could get on my health insurance. Imagine how this goes for a lesbian couple who not only can’t sign up for insurance, but who can’t be out at work – one will have to get through all of the awkward questions about “daddy” and the pretense of being a single mother, and the other will have to pretend that nothing is going on or that she’s adopting. For two men, the complications are perhaps even greater.
My pregnant coworker had confessed to me early on that she was terrified to tell our boss she was pregnant. I had nodded, understanding the fear of having an employer find out about my personal life. Even so, though, I feel that my straight coworkers do not see the parallels between the ways we approach our personal lives in the workplace, and I think it would not occur to them to advocate for me to have the same room.
If you have used parental leave, you have increased the work load on your coworkers under the assumption that we all have lives and have to help each other out. That’s okay as long as it’s not a one-sided situation, where those of us who are queer or child-free help straight people with babies stay at work but our own families are sidelined or unacknowledged, denied official status and then denied other benefits because we cannot have that status. If you have used parental leave or you think you will need to, you have an increased obligation to be a good ally to those who are taking on your workload to advocate for insurance coverage for same-sex couples and for parental leave regardless of marital status as part of creating an environment where it is safe for us to be ourselves.
This fall I watched the first three seasons of Breaking Bad. I was psyched about it because it’s a wonderful critique of our current healthcare system, the war on drugs, and the state of the economy. It’s well written, and I think the actors do a great job with it.
Unfortunately, after finishing the third season I don’t know if I can watch the fourth because of the ways race and gender are being written. I’d complain about the ways the LGBT community is being written, but as is typical for television we’re not being written at all – it’s another show where all the characters just happen to be straight.
Breaking Bad focuses around two white men. They are forced by various different circumstances to work together to make and sell methamphetamine. That’s cool. It’s key to discussing the themes I listed above. I don’t have a problem with it.
However, I do have a problem with the ways the dangers of the world of drugs are portrayed versus their personal lives, and the ways that their personal lives are so strongly gendered.
The two white men, faced with economic obstacles, must leave the safe realm of whiteness and enter the dangerous world of people of color. Some of them are well drawn and sympathetic, others are psychotic assholes. There aren’t a lot of people of color outside of the world of drugs other than Hank’s DEA partner Gomez, who is highly competent but somehow not getting the same recognition as Hank is. There was also Jesse’s friend and dealer, Combo, who just happened to be the one who was shot to death in a territory dispute.
Further, the realm of the drug dealers is all men. In three seasons, the only women in the drug scene are buyers and prostitutes. There are no women in the power hierarchy of the dealers. Not one in three seasons even with a number of throwaway characters who have no development. None. Even here, the world of work is about men and the women are simply… elsewhere.
In the outer world, the world of the public identity and the home life and white people, women deal with home and caregiving while men deal with providing economic support and protecting their fragile charges from the truth. While Walter is out trying to work and cook meth and support his family, Skyler considers whether she wants to leave him. She gets a job, but as a setup for her to have a romance with her boss. For some reason even though they’re having economic difficulties at the start of the show and Walter is working two jobs, she hasn’t got a job at all. Her sister Marie has a job, but we never see anything about it. Overall the construction is of men at work and women in the home, and Skyler’s big dilemma is about which home she wants to be in, which man she wants to be with.
To make a footnote about Jesse Pinkman’s junky girlfriend, that’s really all there is to say about her – the bright, artistic white girl who had her life cut short by drugs and whose death so affected her father that he made a plane crash. Not a character valuable for herself, but for the impact of her destruction on the men around her. I think that’s all there is to say about that.
As much as I’ve gotten out of the first three seasons on the war on drugs, American health care policy, and the pressures of the current economy, every time I think about watching the fourth I decide to watch something with fewer themes about the ways the system wrongs white men.
Once again, Catholic Charities has opted to close down operations rather than comply with state requirements to provide services to same-sex couples: Bishops Say Rules on Gay Parents Limit Freedom of Religion.
Because practicing your religion means impinging on people’s rights to conduct their civil lives, apparently.
While it’s true that an organization cannot be discriminated against on account of its beliefs, it is ludicrous to argue that a contract should go to an organization that will refuse to fulfill a part of the obligations of the contract. It’s like saying “oh hey I want this job but I’m only going to do half of it” and expecting to get the job.
If you receive taxpayer dollars in any amount, you must conform with the legal requirements the same as everyone else does. Religion is not a free pass to ignore the law, and it’s not a means to use public funds to deny services that the public has the right to access. When you take the king’s coin in exchange for performing some of his responsibilities, you become his agent and subject to his rules.
The right to practice your religion is for you personally. It is not the right to restrict other people’s behavior or force them to conform to the dictates of your religion’s doctrine. It gives you a little bubble for yourself, not the right to get in everyone else’s space. You are not being oppressed when you are not allowed to use taxpayer dollars to inflict your belief structure on other people.
Over this past weekend I was engaged in a discussion with a close friend who expressed relief that job discrimination is resolved for the LGBT community at large and we can all go on about our business. I thanked him for the update and instead of worrying about my future ability to change jobs while not lying about something I am very very bad at hiding I… oh, wait.
Me and some other folks explained to him that this was still real.
Note: this is from my perspective as a white woman who is now a professional and who has typically worked in office jobs. I can only write what I know and if this is what it’s like for me with relative privilege, then I know it’s a lot worse out there for other people. So please, read this and understand that most of the iceberg is underwater.
On the top of your resume, under activities, it says that you were involved in your school’s LGBT group. You probably did a ton of work on that, or maybe not, but certainly as much as various other people in various other groups. If you leave it on there, potential employers who are kinda bigots will not call you. You won’t get an explanation, and unless they are a big employer and someone decides to undertake a significant fact-finding mission involving multiple resumes for people who are exactly alike except for in this manner, you have no recourse. So odds are almost overwhelming that you have no recourse.
If you take it off your resume, you have fewer activities and your overall resume is weaker, decreasing odds that people will call you.
Then say you get called in. Finally!
You go to the interview. What do you wear? Do you wear the clothes you will wear to work every day of your career, which are men’s clothes, butch, more along the lines of the standards for professional wear? Do you dress femme but without all of the usual attitude that makes femme so awesome? Do you dress to pass, shave your legs, try to walk in shoes you wouldn’t touch on a bet and don’t want to get stuck wearing for longer than the interview?
Do you take the pride button off your bag, or the various other obvious signs that you are an individual with varied tastes, one of them for pussy?
Or even just the bands that are an identifier?
Do you look at your hands, and try to remember if you lied and said that you wanted to move to this area because you were engaged? Will it help you if you pretend to be married? Or will that just bring on a lot of questions about kids?
Then you look at your haircut and realize you’re not fooling anyone who is paying attention at all.
You go to the interview.
They’re looking for someone who fits in a little better. They want a guy’s guy, who’s excited to talk about sports with them, never mind your love for baseball. They want another woman to balance things out, and all the things the other (straight) women do are alien to you. They want someone who gets along with the others there on their terms, which are heterosexual terms. You can do the work and you like the people, but perhaps you are not quite who they think they’re looking for.
Or perhaps they are conservative, uncomfortable with your obvious signs of queerness and simply call to let you know that the position has been filled, wishing quietly that you had left the LGBT group on your resume so no one would have had their time wasted.
Once you get hired, you have to stay hired. Maybe your work is cool. Maybe your work says they’re cool but makes clear that actually they’re cool with you keeping it to yourself. Maybe they’re not all that cool, or maybe it’s actually a hostile environment. Maybe you have to choose between work and being out. Maybe you have to stay closeted at work because of a situation outside of work that would put you in danger. Maybe you’re so obvious that this isn’t even possible except with your rural relatives.
Even in an accepting environment, your straight coworkers have about 5 million times more license to talk about their lives than you do about yours. This necessarily makes you seem distant and removed, and when someone from the team gets cut, you’re the most likely to go on the basis of “not being a team player”. You have no recourse from this unless you manage to find it in writing that it’s about you being queer, and you live in a place that protects against this kind of discrimination. And if you’re not out you probably can’t do much even then.
With a larger company, they will use periodic layoffs and troublemakers will go then, where troublemaker means anyone they don’t like.
If you are lucky, this will be as weird as it gets and you won’t have problems from coworkers who feel that the appropriate thing to do is to bully you and attempt to force you into some kind of ex-gay therapy program or to take on more of their work in addition to yours.
If you have a straight-dominated environment that is relatively accepting, you will still not be able to talk about your life much, though your coworkers will not only talk about theirs but be offended if you do not engage with them on their terms – my favorite so far has been coworkers who are getting married and really wrapped up in wedding planning, asking if I have recommendations as though this is a totally neutral thing to do (my wedding plans would necessarily include changing federal law, if I were actually interested in getting married) but there is also always a lot of talk about gender roles in relationships, how men versus women behave, and a lot of other social talk which is totally not offensive but is very heterosexually modeled. Your options here are rocking the boat by saying things about how gender is not like that for you or that gender roles are not like that for you, but good luck with that. It will likely get you stared at and shut out of conversations at best. This may seem like an escape, but being seen as asocial or an outsider is not only awkward, it can also hurt your career. This is all the more true if you are in an environment where you have to stay closeted – if you are out and just don’t get into it much, people will sometimes give you a little room, but if you cannot be out then you will be seen as hostile, snotty, disinterested in engaging with people. This is especially true in a situation where you otherwise have a lot in common with your coworkers and would like to hang out with them if only you didn’t have to hide.
If your coworkers decide to harass you at a low level, they will likely get away with it. They’re just expressing their religious views! They’re just asking questions! They’re just concerned! You’re just too sensitive, they’re just being friendly.
With a coworker who is seen as more valuable than you are, here as anywhere else there is nothing you can do, and if your boss is uncomfortable with you, complaining about it may seal the deal on ending your job. If your coworker is more valuable to your boss than you are or you are getting harassed by your boss, there is often nothing you can do besides look for another job.
If you work in a physical labor job, you may face violence, threats of violence or “accidents”, not only for any perceived queerness but also for not conforming to gender norms adequately (same thing). If you are a man, this may mean a demand that you participate in harassing or demeaning women. If you are a woman, you may be in increased danger for sexual harassment, especially if someone else figures out your secret.
Further, if you have to be closeted for reasons outside of work and have an out coworker, you will probably have to avoid them like the plague for fear of guilt by association.
You just want to work at a job you are totally qualified for doing something you would be badass at, and instead you, like everyone else, are trapped in a situation where your crazy boss can fire you for anything, dress it up like anything else, and make life difficult for you due to your extreme fabulousness, which is probably not even that extreme. You want to not be threatened, put in danger, or crushed into a role that doesn’t fit and isn’t even relevant. You want to just do your job without having it be about some other thing entirely. We are sadly not there yet.
While I think that much of Congress is not listening and does not care about my petty gripes about civil liberties and what it means to be an American, even when I am taking the shortest view possible I like to waste lots of their time and plenty of the internet’s electrons. I endorse other people doing the same:
Because I loathe drop-in text and think it means the writer isn’t paying attention, here is the letter I wrote, which you may copy, steal, modify, or whatever.
I am disturbed by provisions 1031 and 1032 of the NDAA. The first puts indefinite detention on the table for American citizens on US soil, and the second states that US citizens are exempt from mandatory detention, meaning that detention is discretionary, but still optional.
I believe that one of our most shameful acts as a nation was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. I have no desire to see anything like this ever repeated, and am therefore extremely uncomfortable with these provisions.
Further, I do not like the NDAA’s codification of treatment of detained persons in Guantanamo Bay. I believe that indefinite detention is contrary to the American approach to justice, particularly the right to a fair and speedy trial and the right to habeas corpus. Our civil liberties are an asset, not a liability. To truly be the great country I believe and hope we can be, we must protect the rights of all persons under our jurisdiction. This is a cowardly circumvention of the holding in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and it is unworthy of us as a nation.
I urge you to remedy this by supporting and cosponsoring Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Due Process Guarantee Act.