job discrimination isn’t dead yetPosted: January 13, 2012
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.