The simple answer to the question – How do I come out at work? – is: You don’t need to, at least not upfront. It really doesn’t matter what your sexuality is to a coworker, whether they’re straight or not, unless you want them to know. When you make up your mind to come out at work, whatever be the motivation behind it, just make sure it is not because of them, but because you feel the need to express your true self at work.
Be mindful that you are not under any pressure to disclose your identity at work. You wouldn’t come across any straight coworkers who would say, “Hey, hi. I’m straight.” Surely, that’s not the way you’d want to come out, neither is it the way you probably have imagined coming out.
Coming Out Stories
Let’s take a look at how others have done it from the below-mentioned excerpts from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) article and then, you can take a call on whether or how you might want to come out at work:
Jeff Nally, an SHRM Senior Certified Professional, decided that he would come out to the people at his new job as he was getting closer to being hired during the interview process. The final round was an informal meeting with the president of the company.
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m going to be honest,’ ” Nally says, recalling the moment he sat down across from the older, austere military veteran. “As I introduced myself, I said, ‘Before we order breakfast, I want you to know that this is my family.’ I showed him a picture of me and Bob, the man who is now my husband, and our adopted son. I said, ‘These are the most important people in my life. I really do want this job, but if who I am and who I love is going to be a problem, then we can have breakfast and talk about something else, but it’s not my intent to put myself in an uncomfortable position.’ ”
The older man looked at the picture, grinned and handed it back, saying, “I promise you this is not going to be a problem. You and your family are welcome here.”
Mikal Kelaidis, a sales development manager, was caught between two identities: “a work Mikal and a home Mikal.” Out to friends and family a decade ago, Kelaidis was worried that being his true self at work would hurt his career.
Kelaidis decided to open up when his new manager, in their first one-on-one, asked about any relationships in his life. Without thinking, he opened up about his partner.
Natasha Getler-Porizkova at her first job as a Digital Marketing Coordinator at the AT&T Performing Arts Center was quite not outspoken about her sexuality or gender expression. She used to be pretty reclusive when it came to her personal life which is not a bad thing as such.
After six months on the job, she was brainstorming with her team about ways to promote an upcoming musical about a young lesbian discovering her sexuality. “I threw out several ways to reach the target market—the lesbian community—and someone teased, ‘Natasha, are you trying to tell us something?’ In that moment, on the spot, I felt uncomfortable, with all eyes on me, but I answered, ‘Yes. I date women.’ ”
Alright. How Do I Go About With It?
The above stories might help you gauge some circumstances or situations where people feel an inner desire to come out. And, if you feel you are ready, then, below are a couple of ways and ideas on how you could in fact prepare or make way to come out:
Talk to people you trust, about the subject
As a precursor to coming out, it might be helpful to gauge the attitudes of the people at work by casually discussing LGBTIQ+ related topics like gay or lesbian celebrities, equal rights or something similar. This can help you get a sense of how open and supportive they are and also give you an opportunity to drop some hints about your own identity.
Talk to a therapist if you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed
Coming out at work must have been a challenging and stressful decision for you. You might be having mixed feelings about how your coworkers, managers, or clients would react to your identity. You may also be worrying about facing discrimination, harassment, or rejection. These are valid concerns, and it’s normal to feel anxious or overwhelmed by them.
One of the benefits of therapy is that it can help you cope with these emotions and prepare for the possible outcomes of coming out. A therapist can provide a safe, supportive, and affirming space in which you can explore your identity and the potential impact, positive or negative, of coming out. They can also help you develop coping skills, such as relaxation techniques, positive self-talk, or assertiveness training, to deal with stress and anxiety. Additionally, they can help you plan how, when, and to whom you want to come out and offer guidance on how to handle different scenarios or reactions that might have been playing out in your mind.
Coming out can also trigger trauma, depression, or suicidal thoughts for some, especially if you’ve faced negative responses or violence in the past. A therapist can help you process these experiences and offer support and resources to cope.
If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed about coming out at work, talking to a therapist can be a helpful and empowering step. You don’t have to go through this alone. A therapist can help guide you through this complex and personal journey with compassion and respect.
Research your company’s HR and employment policies and city and state laws
For the most part, Australian laws have come a long way in providing legal protections for employees against gender identity based and sexual orientation based discrimination at workplaces. However, it’s still best to have a look at your company’s specific policies with regard to inclusivity and discrimination against non-heteronormative gender identities/expressions.
Are others out at work?
This knowledge would help ease your decision and may make it easier or more challenging for you. If there are coworkers who are out and you have a close bond with them, you can confide in them. And, they might be able to help you come out on your behalf if you agree to this idea of course. However, if no one is out as far as you know, then, you might want to tread carefully.
Do you have LGBTIQ+ ERGs?
Most modern-day organisations have inclusivity policies and LGBTIQ+ Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and/or support groups as part of such initiatives to create a warm, welcoming and safe space for non-heteronormative employees, whether out or not. If such is your employer, it makes it easy for you to come out. No need to let anyone know by having a conversation or official announcement. Simply join the support group and you’re mostly then out.
Work environment: Do people discuss personal lives?
If people at your workplace tend to typically keep their work and professional lives separate and do not discuss their personal lives, then, I’d suggest keeping it that way. However, if they do discuss their personal lives, then, I can see why you might be feeling secluded and would want to tell them how you spent your weekend instead of either hiding the truth or declining to discuss it altogether.
One way to come out in such an environment would be to casually simply say something like: “I went to the beach with my partner this weekend. It was great.” And, in the ensuing conversation just tell them who your partner is.
Rehearse before coming out
You really don’t need to write or prepare a script for coming out. By rehearsing, I simply mean preparing yourself mentally and envisioning how you’d ideally want it to be. Imagine a scenario where you’ve already come out and everyone is supportive and encouraging. That’s most likely how you’d like it to be. So, in what way would you rather convey the matter to your work people about yourself? Envision the ideal scenario in your mind. You might get some clarity just by doing this exercise. Or, if you’re the pen and paper kind of person then, write down the coming out event on paper.
First, come out to people you can trust
If you’re at a new job, then, you can skip this idea. However, if you’ve been working at a role for quite a while, long enough for you to have created strong bonds with some of your colleagues, you could choose to come out to them first. Although, this could put you in a tricky situation if you want to come out only to a few select people at work. At workplaces, you really can’t guarantee privacy. You come out to one person, no matter how trustworthy they are, word could get around quite easily. So, be prepared to let everyone know over time anyway.
Bring a date or your partner to the company event/function/picnic
Of course, your partner or date needs to agree to this idea that they’re okay if you let your colleagues know that you’re actually with your partner. You can disclose who the partner is when they ask you more about the person by your side.
How do I come out to coworkers?
A couple of ideas or ways to come out to your coworkers have already been discussed above. However, the whole idea of coming out changes when it comes to the designation of the colleague you’re coming out to. If it’s the manager or someone much higher up to whom you want to come out, the approach changes. And, the motive behind coming out to either your manager or HR or seniors could be several factors, like, you want to claim family insurance or partner medical benefits or some other company benefits that your partner could also avail, but, you simply cannot because you’re not out to them.
But, if you want to come out to coworkers who are your peers, then, we’ve already discussed some ideas above.
How to come out at work as non-binary?
You see, there’s quite a bit of acceptance when it comes to lesbian or gay individuals these days. But, that’s not quite the case with transgender or non-binary people. Society as a whole has come a long way up to this 21st century to recognise and accept the L, G and B folks. But, not so much the rest of the letters – TIQ+ in the acronym. There’s discrimination right within the LGBTIQ+ community as well. You can still try the above approaches to come out as non-binary. A note to you here. Don’t stress over it. Let it happen naturally. If you’re in a transitioning phase, people will get to know about you eventually.
Should I even come out at work?
If you’ve come this far, you might be jumping back and forth between the thought of ‘how to come out’ versus ‘should you come out at all’. But, don’t be harsh on yourself. It’s normal for our minds to analyse such things in the background all the time. And, if you do need help clearing out the chatter, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.
If you’re not ready for it, it’s totally okay
Like I said before, you have no compulsion from anyone at all to come out. What you might really need help with is the why. Why do you feel you want to come out at work? And, that question might shed some light on what you really want. Let’s say, for instance, you want to come out at work to avail company benefits for the sake of your partner. However, you can’t avail the facility unless to disclose to your manager and/or HR about it. In this case, you might want to only come out to them and request complete privacy about the matter. All the same, if it’s simply a matter of bringing your true or whole self to work, then you can employ any method that makes you feel comfortable to come out.
Bear in mind that no one really has a say in whether you want to come out or not. If you don’t feel comfortable, there’s no obligation. Just let things be as they are. You’ll still be totally fine.
6 Stages of coming out
After all, coming out is not an overnight act. You go through a couple of stages before you feel ready to come out of the closet. Following are the 6 stages of coming out as per clinical psychologist and sex therapist Vivienne Cass:
Identity confusion and denial
Internally, you start feeling that you don’t fit into the heteronormative society by observing people, media and your peers. You become aware and at the same time, you’re confused about how you feel, your thoughts, your emotions, physical reactions and overall experiences aren’t in alignment with the majority of the society.
A major part of your lifetime might be spent in this stage. One tends to avoid information about sexuality with inhibited behaviour and self-denial of one’s sexual identity or orientation.
At this stage, you’ve come to terms with your sexual identity or gender expression. However, you’re not ready to assimilate into the world yet. You think that this is just a phase and you’ll be fine eventually. You give yourself justification for who you are and compare yourself to those of your heterosexual peers and society.
Here’s when you realise that you’re not the only one. You start to seek out others like you to get yourself out of the feeling of isolation.
This is when you accept that you are who you are.
The identity acceptance stage means you accept yourself. You say, “I will be okay.” You attach a positive connotation to your sexual identity and accept rather than tolerate it.
Identity pride – This is where you are now
In the identity pride stage, the coming out of the closet might happen and the main thinking is “I’ve got to let people know who I am!”
You integrate your sexual identity and/or gender expression with all other aspects of yourself and your sexual orientation becomes only one aspect of yourself rather than the entire identity.
What you need to know at this stage
The coming out at work happens just once myth
Coming out is not just a once in a lifetime event. Depending on the level of openness you allow, you may need to come out either several times a day, a couple of times a week or once every other week. This may get exhaustive. So, prepare yourself to allow only to reveal as much is needed to keep everything sane.
Expect to come out again and again. This could be an exhilarating experience in the beginning, but, could easily get you worn out psychologically. Seek help when needed, either from friends or family or a counsellor.
Stick to your boundaries
Boundaries are your protection mechanism when it comes to how often and to what extent you want to let people in on your personal life. Decide how much you can allow anyone to intrude into your life and stick to what you want. Boundaries simply mean that you want things in your life to be a certain way and you keep it that way without letting anyone step beyond your own space and time and letting them know calmly what you really want. If they needn’t know what you and your partner are going to have for dinner, for instance, you just don’t need to tell. That’s it.
If you feel that it’s difficult to set and keep your boundaries, feel free to get in touch.
Decide what level of openness you’d like to have
Decide in advance before coming out, to whom and to what extent you’d like to be open about your sexual identity or partner relationship. Being prepared will help you to keep your mental health in check.
What you can expect
Possible negative vibes
Some of your colleagues may become quite indifferent towards you. Others may turn nasty with slurs and gossip.
Although the law protects you against discrimination and differential behaviour at work, not everyone might be in favour of you coming out. Some biases whether consciously or unconsciously may lurk and you might have to deal with it anyway. Read this resource to see how you can handle bullying and harassment at the workplace: Is Workplace Bullying Illegal In Australia?
Stay strong and be proud of who you are. Take care of yourself. Sometimes, it just takes some time for everyone to get adjusted.
On the contrary, most LGBTIQ+ folks have experienced a generally positive response and overall acceptance from their colleagues. They may even look up to you for any LGBTIQ+ related issues and guidance. They might respect you for your courage and boldness to be your true self. And, no need to go overboard in case someone is stepping too much into your personal space. Tell them only the things you feel comfortable sharing.
A profound feeling of relief and lightheartedness
Keeping your identity undisclosed could take a toll on your personal as well as professional life. Carrying this weight around for years together might be tremendously stressful. Upon coming out, you’ll feel like this heavy burden has been lifted off your shoulders and you can finally be your full self at work.
You become a champion and advocate for others
By coming out, you might help others who are still struggling with the decision to come out. You don’t need to become an LGBTIQ+ spokesperson or activist. Just by being yourself, you’re creating a space for others like you to free themselves from the burden of the closet. Because, it’s like the adage goes – ‘united we stand, divided we fall’.
I wish you a great and enlightened life ahead.
Disclaimer: The information and views expressed in the above blog article are individual and inspired from the writer’s experience and study in Mental Health & Hypnotherapy.