My name is Javier, and I am a Data Associate at Xander Talent. I have worked in different companies in Spain, Italy, China, Hong Kong, and the UK and I have come out at work in all of them. I did it because it’s not about whether they accept you or not, it’s about allowing them to know who you truly are, and when you start talking about it, is when you accept yourself as you are.
How many times a day do you lie about yourself? How do you live a life from a character that does not exist?
You are in the office, it is your first day at work and you are taking a lunch break with several colleagues. They begin to tell you how their weekend was and when they ask you, you tell them things without going into much detail. You don’t know them yet and you may not even know yourself.
In Western societies, coming out at work is still a big, and sometimes risky, thing to do for many LGBTQ workers. But this is an even bigger issue in other countries. When I was working in Hong Kong, I often had to make trips to nearby countries. Before traveling I always had to put myself back in that character. Delete all the dating apps, prepare myself to lie about certain questions and go back inside the closet. The alternative was risking 20 years imprisonment and whipping in Malaysia or 8 years and 100 lashes in Indonesia. Luckily, I didn’t need to travel to Bangladesh or Pakistan at that time. I worked there for a year. It was a Spanish company where they always trusted me, but not all companies are the same and I probably would not have gotten a similar job with frequent trips to countries that criminalise LGBT people in any Hong Kong company.
Discrimination does not always have such extreme consequences, a lot of the time it comes from an unconscious or even from a well-meaning place, but it is always harmful.
You might hear derogatory comments or jokes about people like you, and one day, one of those colleagues will ask you if you have a wife or a girlfriend — hence, presuming your heterosexuality — and you will answer no. You are not lying after all. Then, maybe, another one will comment to you “how beautiful is that girl” and you might find yourself following the game. The difference will be that your colleague was genuinely attracted to her, while you relied on purely objective criteria. Again, you are not lying after all. You can continue like this. I did try it when I was working in Italy, but in the end, having to navigate this daily stress, increase in anxiety, avoiding conversations, prevents you from developing as a person and, most probably, it might also make your integration into the office quite difficult.
Like me, you might think that the solution is stop lying and stop lying to yourself, but It’s not just having to come out of the closet, it’s that people who are open about being LGBTQ+ often have to come out repeatedly. Depending on the side of the company sometimes multiple times a week, or even on a daily basis. In the UK, in one of my previous jobs it was not enough to refer to my partner using masculine terminology or “boyfriend”. One of my co-workers thought I was making grammatical mistakes more than three times.
In my experience, when you come out of the closet nothing will be the same again; you still will need to correct colleagues’ assumptions about your personal life, you won’t get a stag party invitation anymore, but maybe If you are lucky enough you might be included in the hen parties. The number of times you will meet male co-workers in the bathrooms will be reduced and the questions will change to, “you seems too masculine to be gay”, “I have a cousin that is also gay, maybe I can introduce him to you” or “I could not have imagined it – you don’t look gay”.
Although progress is being made, diversity and inclusion is still lagging behind in the rapidly changing world of work. Sometimes it is better to come out of the closet with family and friends than with co-workers.
Besides everything, you live better, with much more peace of mind, out of the closet, both on a personal and professional level. No one penalises you. Also, when professionals are comfortable in the work environment, they are more committed to the company, they are more innovative and can develop their full potential.
I am happy to say that I have landed in a company, Xander Talent, that invests in the individual and has very high levels of inclusion and diversity. More companies should follow their example and make a greater effort to normalise and promote everyone’s differences and individuality.