LGBT Issues: Being a Gay Woman in the Workplace

Contrary to seeming popular opinion, gay women do not exist solely to populate male fantasy. Sure there are plenty of young, attractive, gay women who can kiss in public and have people cheer for them, and more power to them. This article isn’t about those women. This article is about being a working woman who happens to date other women on her down-time.

There are all sorts of prejudices facing women in the workplace, and adding LGBT issues onto the pile doesn’t exactly make life easier. Sure, I’ve been out for years now, but I find it’s not the way I open conversation. Rarely have I ever walked up to someone, shaken their hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Jan, and I’m gay.” So sometimes I’ve worked with people who find out about my sexual orientation after a while of working with me, and they react a couple of different ways.

First I’ve seen first-hand the sting of betrayal on someone’s face as if I’ve been lying to them all this time that we’ve worked together. I’ve had coworkers ask “Why didn’t you tell me?” numerous times, and my answer is always the same. One, if it doesn’t come up naturally in conversation I’m not bringing it up out of the blue. Two, does it change anything about our working relationship? The answer is no, it doesn’t.

The second reaction is discomfort. I don’t have to go into details here, I’m sure, because we all know someone who’s maybe kinda slightly homophobic. You find out about it in that moment, and you try not to rub salt in the wound. Plus you try not to be awkward even though you know that your very existence now makes this person uncomfortable.

The third most common reaction is a bit more proactive than the second one, but it’s equally as insulting. If you’re speaking to a woman who just found out, you can sometimes deal with the “Would you date me?” or the less flattering, “Are you hitting on me?” questions. Or my personal favorite, a nervous giggle and then a “But why are you attracted to women?” Oh, I don’t know. Why don’t you ask your boyfriend?

Sometimes speaking to men about it can be more difficult and equally insulting, however. Some men will think that because you like women like they do, they can talk to you about conquests and have you share your stories too. They’ll think you’re just like a guy who talks about the women he’s with all the time. That’s just not me. Besides it’s hard enough to struggle to get equality in the workplace when you’re a woman without having to deal with women being nervous around you and men thinking you exist in some other world where talking about the women we’ve been with is more important than work. This isn’t to say all coworkers fall into one of these categories. I’ve met some very supportive people and even others in the LGBT community by discussing my orientation openly and honestly.

The important thing to remember about being LGBT, a woman, and in the workplace is that it’s important to be honest but maintain your boundaries. You have the right to be heard, and you should speak up when you have something to say.