Where ARE all the gay men in offices these days?
Written by Cattie Bratshaw
You know, gay co-workers who are clearly gay? Flamboyant. Fun. Flirty. Fashionable. Fabulous!
Now that we are all part of the conversation, do we miss the secret updates, contorted facial gestures, and rosy-red cheeks of embarrassment when there was a line that could be crossed? Does being fully out to our co-workers mean that we can now regale them with stories about our fabulous private lives? Or should we tone it down?
Just recently, the Center for Work-Life Policy published a landmark study in the respected Harvard Business Review that is the first such academically rigorous analysis of gays in the workforce. The good news? Based on nearly 3,000 respondents, the researchers found that we’re ambitious (just ask our personal trainer), committed to our jobs (too committed, if you ask the boyfriend), “willing to go the extra mile for employers” (willing to go down for some employers who look like Ben Cohen), and better educated (duh!). More good news: 52 percent of us are out at work. Now the bad news: 48 percent aren’t. And in way too many states and local jurisdictions, we don’t have any protections against discrimination.
That’s a sobering thought. But I’m old enough to remember when even the ones you could spot with a pince-nez halfway down your nose — you know, the flamboyant gay-as-a-goose, the Just-Jack screamer, the Liberace flamer, the sulky James Dean bad boy, the sexy nerd — never publicly revealed their sexuality and certainly didn’t discuss it during office hours, except for maybe a shared cigarette with another Friend of Dorothy well outside corporate headquarters. (I can make that assumption because, in those days, everyone smoked. Another big difference from then and now.) The recent end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” not only means that gay men and lesbians can serve openly in our armed forces: It’s the most potent symbol possible in a democracy that we have arrived as citizens equal in every way to our heterosexual counterparts.
All this gooey goodness, however, comes with a few caveats. First of all, let’s look back on the bad old days when we were at least nominally closeted. We would have to suffer the forced bonhomie of the dreaded water cooler. Gay men had to express an interest in team sports (when the only baskets most of us cared about were the ones inside the uniforms). Lesbians had to profess interest in recipes, child rearing, schools and sex-reluctant spouses. Well now, we love team sports. We’re having kids. And lesbians can finally dish with their straight girlfriends about sex-reluctant spouses.
Does this mean that we have graduated to the point where we are given the same God-given rights to pull out endless snapshots of Little Prince and Madonna taking their first steps? That the gals can share their recipe for no-cook vegan faux meatloaf? That we’re given carte blanche to complain about how crowded the ferry to Fire Island was, how horrible the music at Tea and how ghastly the housemate’s attempt at a clam frittata?
Let us keep in mind that full equality does not have to include the right to be boring. On the other hand, there’s the question of Too Much Information. Where straight, married, parenting co-workers live lives somewhere between Leave It to Beaver and Desperate Housewives, some of us have more sex partners in one weekend than these people will have had in their entire lives.
If you think I’m exaggerating, try this experiment: Imagine it’s the Tuesday (‘cuz you took Monday off) after the Saint-at-Large Black Party and Alegria XXXtreme. Now imagine that a co-worker innocently asks you what you did last weekend. It’s probably easier to imagine what you didn’t do. Now describe to Mabel in Accounts Payable the sexual mosh pit of the dance floor, the omnipresent “back room,” the outfit that told everyone you were Jewish at 20 paces.
The key word here is “discretion.” That doesn’t mean you have to be an Uncle Tom (OK, Auntie Tomasina). You can talk about your life, because much of your life really is every bit as quotidian as theirs. It’s just that you’re so busy thinking about the next party, the next sex date or the next Atlantis cruise to step back and realize that, yes, you too did the laundry. You took the dog for a walk. You saw Mom in the ‘burbs. You defrosted the refrigerator.
See, our lives are just like theirs — only with added spice. Oh, and don’t get suckered in by the conspiratorial employee who puts her (traditionally a “her,” but the advent of the metrosexual and stag hag has changed that) arm around you and gets you to confide in her. You feel you really have a friend at last — someone to explain that you’re wearing sunglasses not because you ran into a subway door but because your pupils are still dilated; that that “date” was really a hand-job in the club restroom; that you don’t mention the last name of your latest “boyfriend” because your fuck buddy never gave it to you.
Girlfriend, you won’t even have to open her Twitter account or Facebook page. Before you get back to your desk, everyone in the office will know that that “fungal infection” you were treated for last spring was the clap, and that you don’t really have an aunt named Gina whom you visit periodically.
This is a brave new world — on both sides. Don’t make it any harder for well-meaning straight co-workers by pushing your world on them. Flaunt the shirt, recent Botox treatment and photos from your trip to Belize. But if they ask how the Atlantis Cruise or the early spring trip to Palm Springs went, just smile sweetly and tell them you accidentally deleted all your photos.