Sometimes, coming out isn’t the hardest thing you’ll do – Part 2

by Jeremy Ellis

Part one centred on the challenges you may face as a queer person after coming out – that of romantic and sexual validation, an issue not sufficiently present in social discourse. Alternatively, Part Two addresses other potentially unperceived difficulties in the workplace and social life.  

Coming out can be followed by unimaginable challenges – those you likely wouldn’t expect, having already pushed yourself through what is usually a social and personal obstacle, and you may face difficulties in achieving romantic and sexual validation in a heteronormative society. However, there are other social difficulties that persist after you come out, both in your professional and personal worlds.  

Interacting with others in the professional context can be a pathway to microaggressions, and the merit of your achievements may be invalidated by your sexuality. Even amongst what should be a simpler setting – friends and family – your identity may be continuously challenged.   

For young queer people who graduate and move into any professional setting, living authentically can cause a problem. In workplaces with conservative or prejudiced members, any kind of microaggression can arise; over-sexualisation, excessively personal questions, blatant homophobia (not so much a microaggression).  Imagine you discover someone was fired from your company for making inappropriate advances on young employees, and the person telling you this finishes their story by looking you up and down, pausing, and then saying ‘Wow. You would have been exactly his type’. How would you respond?  

You are faced with a choice – either you make a complaint, blatant argument, informative disagreement or you can remain silent, smile and wave, and move on with your day. 

Any queer person facing this choice is completely entitled to both reactions. It will and should always be within your discretion. The rationale behind the potential response is a balancing act. Firstly, you’ll likely consider the need to maintain professional relationships and keep your career stable. You’ll then weigh this up against the insult, your emotional response, and the gravity of their ignorance or prejudice. No matter what you choose, there is no wrong answer. Whilst it is an extremely challenging position to be in, it is only you who can decide what is best.  

Let’s consider a different side of struggle in the professional sphere; de-valuing your achievements due to perceived ‘special treatment’ and ‘benefits’. More and more firms are moving to holistic recruitment processes; foundations are giving away grants, and historically disadvantaged people are finally getting their place at the table. These are spots they would have earned long ago, had it not been for discriminatory obstacles. These spots were once reserved for the white, straight majority.  

But this is only the gradual combatting of historically entrenched oppression. And yet, those who have not been similarly disadvantaged view it as the reason that a queer person or a member of any minority has achieved something. To that, I say one thing – they are blind.  

You are achieving despite the obstacles. All any kind of equal-opportunity initiative does is attempt to level the playing field.  They do not privilege queer or minority individuals above advantaged groups, and it will take a lot more to make any change that counts. As recently as 2014, the former Director General of the BBC was publicly criticised as ‘racist’ for promoting equal opportunity schemes within the broadcasting giant. To clarify, a conservative MP called the Director General out for racism against white people. Ignorance at such high levels can be disappointing or even frightening, but it should only show you who to avoid or tackle head on throughout work and life. You do not owe them niceties.  

Consider that which is essentially opposite to your professional life. You would think that an environment of supportive family and friends would be a balm from general social ignorance.  Despite a loved one’s best intentions, they can continue to alienate you.  

In interacting with others, whether heterosexual or even queer, there is an external obsession with how you express masculinity or femininity, and the balance between the two. Your behaviour, outfit of that day, literal way you are sitting, walking, or talking – all of it becomes tied to your sexuality. It is always taken to be an indicator of not only sexuality, but masculinity and femininity. This is completely unequal; no straight person’s every movement is micro-analysed to become some blatant marker of their sexuality and the connotations that come with it. When it gets to a stage where you cannot take a step without apparently making some social statement, self-doubt and uncertainty blossom like infected wounds.  

How is a young person supposed to find themselves and grow into their own identity when they face relentless external assessments of themselves? Comments like ‘You look straight today! It’s cute!’ when wearing something more traditionally masculine, or ‘God, so gay today’ for walking with a swing in your step, are often made in jest by friends. Yet, this entitlement to dictate your sexuality can leave you unsure of yourself. Even throwing a ball on a beach – something that a straight man would receive no comments on – can earn a volley of praise, or analysis, if it’s not something you do regularly.  

Again, one of the most important lessons you can learn from experiences like these, is who to trust, love, and keep around. You do not owe anyone an obligation to educate them, to demonstrate, change their ignorance, carry any sort of burden that they don’t owe you. On the other hand, if you want to, that’s fine too. Autonomy is everything. Anyone who tries to tell you how you ‘need’ to manage your own experience and response to discriminatory people, is frankly not worth your time. All that may be important is being practical, honest with yourself, and putting yourself first.  

No matter the sphere of life you’re facing once having come out – romantic, personal, or professional – it may not always be easy. That said, it won’t always be hard either. You’re certainly positioned to face specific kinds of challenges as a queer person, but please recognise your own value and advantages within that status. It takes time, energy, and selectivity to find the right partners, workplaces and friends, but once you do, do the world a favour. Break your glass ceiling.   

DISCLAIMER: I write from an incredibly privileged position and have intentionally chosen to focus on issues of professional and personal disadvantage rather than general discrimination or harassment, as I feel this has less discussion. Those are separate and substantial issues. I cannot speak for the queer experience in its entirety, or for anyone and everyone, especially not the lesbian or transgender experience. I only seek to convey the experiences of myself and friends over time. 

If you need someone to talk to, or want to find out more, these organisations can help you. Many have specific support for people who are LGBTI.

  • Head to Health – a guide to digital mental health services from some of Australia’s most trusted mental health organisations
  • QLife (counselling and referral service for LGBTI people) – call 1800 184 527 or chat online
  • Beyond Blue (for anyone feeling depressed or anxious) – call 1300 22 4636 or chat online
  • headspace (mental health service for ages 12-25)
  • (youth mental health service) – visit the website for info or use the online forum.
  • Lifeline (support for anyone having a personal crisis) – call 13 11 14 or chat online
  • Suicide Call Back Service (for anyone thinking about suicide) – call 1300 659 467