THE SEX TALK: Come out, come around3 min read . Updated: 04 Sep 2014, 03:44 PM IST
Coming out if done and received wellis an act of great courage. But, the question 'Why' is deeply significant
One of the central questions that someone from the gender and sexuality diversity (GSD) spectrum – an umbrella term, sort of like LGBTIQA, but more inclusive – faces, is often this: ‘Why do I need to come out?’ In the West, coming out is a rite of passage; books are published on people’s experiences, literature is devoted to soothing anxieties and offering tips to ease the process, and on appropriate responses. All of it is, of course, valuable and necessary. Coming out – if done and received well - is cathartic. It’s also an act of great courage, and often requires one to take a leap of faith. But, the question ‘Why’ is deeply significant. Many folks I know – gay and straight - wonder whether it is necessary to come out at work, because after all, their straight colleagues don’t go about declaring that they are straight. For those of us who like to keep our professional and personal lives separate, how does one negotiate this tricky terrain of full disclosure? Does one really need to bring politics of identity into a space concerned more with Power Point presentations or back-to-back deadlines?
Charles, a software engineer from Bangalore whom I spoke with for a story that appeared on August 23 in Mint Lounge ( Workplace | Company tact ), offered an important insight while sharing his story of being ‘in the closet’ at work. Straight colleagues, he said, declare their straightness all the time – we simply don’t see it as that. They do so by talking about wives and husbands or boyfriends and girlfriends as matter of normal conversation. Weddings in the family, divorces, school admissions, family vacations, home loans shared with a spouse– all these conversations are in the domain of heterosexual relationships. These small doses of personal information aren’t seen as momentous or earth-shattering; their presence reinforces the norm. Seen in this light, it could be argued that the significance accorded to a single act of coming out ends up reinforcing distinction more than anything else.
Bharath Jayaraman, a 33-year-old human resources professional in a multi-national firm says he has never “faced any adverse reaction from anyone". While working for a software giant in Bangalore, he came out to a few colleagues whom he was close to. The least positive reaction I received was when someone told me, ‘I can’t believe what you just said’. They have Bollywood caricatures in their head."
Stereotypes are good for a few laughs. But it makes one wonder whether a woman in a similar position would find it just as easy to slip her sexuality into regular conversation, especially when her caricatures oscillate between asexuality (which is to say, socially-sanctioned sexual roles as mother or wife) and hyper-sexuality (boobs, boobs, boobs!). It is worth considering that a trussed up, momentous occasion of declaration just might be more difficult for those who must perform their gender roles to suit our stereotypes.
We would all like to assume that our workspace – based as it is on merit and qualification – engenders equality. But our assumption is also our biggest blindspot: we fail to look for conversations that aren’t happening. And we completely fail to see how our expectations of gender roles affect such non-conversations.
This is not to say that work spaces ought to be devoid of conversations around gender and sexuality. To begin with, we don’t work in sterile conditions. We reinforce gender roles or break them through each role we play – as boss, as employee, as colleagues. We question and challenge them as much as we follow them; gender and sexuality are not fixed ways of being, after all. But it is incumbent upon us to recognize the blindspots we carry: if we can talk about our husbands and wives, and assume that that’s all there is to relationships then we’re the ones in closets who need to come out.
A monthly blog on gender, sexuality and blind spots.