The working lesbian

I’ve just read a great short piece at Diva and was reminded of my outing experiences at work…

I was very wary. Especially soon after I’d split from my fiancé – the dreaded ‘What happened?’ question was met with the usual ‘We just wanted different things’, which of course felt like the biggest lie in the world. If anything it was our mutual interests in breasts and all things related that broke the relationship apart. So when at work, in my previous job, I kept quiet. Everyone had known me as straight and it was very odd trying to come out. It wasn’t until two weeks before I left the job that I felt confident enough to say in response to the ‘Up to anything interesting tonight?’ question with a casual ‘Oh, I have a date with Marty”. This of course was followed by the excited ‘Ooooh who’s Marty? Where did you meet him?’.

The look on their faces when I revealed I’d met HER ages ago through mutual friends. We’d always had our flirt on but it wasn’t until I was single and she was single that we both realised the other was a then-still-closeted lesbian.

 

Cue new job. New scenario. By this point, I was more comfortable with who I was. But the reactions of previous colleagues (who went on to ignore me/not pass work to me/have a generally uncomfortable air when I was around for the last fortnight) had made me incredibly cautious about who I came out to.

The decision: don’t label yourself. Don’t actively proclaim your sapphic tendencies, but don’t hide it if asked.

This worked surprisingly well, at first. Nobody gave a damn and all assumed I was straight. Until I met Him. You know who I mean: the one colleague you get on with best. You take lunches together, buy reciprocal drinks on Friday nights, build in-jokes quickly.  Doesn’t help that he (let’s call him Office Boy, or OB) is possibly the most attractive man in the office. I say this with clear unbias. Charming, intelligent, funny and a cheekbone/jawline combination you could shave cheese on. Of course, the gossip started.

Then tensions rose. Turns out if you have a female boss who liked her status as Top Bitch and enjoyed the over-flirts with OB, you can step on toes unwittingly. Gradually, team members found out through mine and OB’s not-so-subtle in-jokes (which was absolutely fine). Top Bitch had a marvellous knack of never listening to anything, whether work related or not, so clearly didn’t pick up on this.

It got to a point when the two of us (Me and OB) were getting into trouble for mistakes that didn’t even happen. Another colleague admitted that Top Bitch had said more than once she thought that OB and I were having a fling (the idea disgusts me; in my mind it would be close to incest). Eventually, I went to HR – I would have gone to Top Bitch but I rather liked my job – and mentioned that this tension was ridiculous because I was a lesbian and clearly therefore wasn’t having a thing with OB. HR immediately spoke to Top Bitch and tensions eased. But it often got awkward in downtime-chat (when Top Bitch and I had established some kind of unspoken mutual agreement to get along) when the team were discussing their partners/dating habits/relationship woes. Each would have their say, with a response from Top Bitch, but it came to my two cents and the conversation got shut down.

It was interesting to me that the rest of the team, all much closer in age to me, were completely accepting. They even liked the novelty of a girl admiring the new girl’s choice of dress more for skirt length than fashion critique, but that I was also a softie when it came to emotional discussions and am a girly girl at heart. But Top Bitch just couldn’t get her head around it, dodging any questions relating to personal life in case it was against some lesbian-specific policy and I was ready to sue her for discrimination.

I refer to a previous post, that it shouldn’t matter to anyone who you are getting your jollies with. But at the same time, it matters to everyone else and life gets a lot simpler without having to juggle the white lies.

Generally, now, I go on the assumption people know. Having a shaved head (through chemo, not choice) helped break down those barriers – but that opens a whole other Pandora’s Box of irritations surrounding stereotypes. I think this blog is long enough – let’s save that one for later…

 

Justifications

I have a confession to make: I’ve been confused. Mayhap it was due to hotboxing menthol vapours under my super kingsize duvet to try and rid myself of this annoying chest infection, but I think that’s just an excuse.

I’ve been pondering on how to follow up my last post. Why it’s the business of nobody except yourself of what your orientation is and, generally, I do agree with this. However, the more I’ve been pondering/high on Vicks, the larger the list of reasons people SHOULD know has become.

For a start, and for the most obvious reasons, it’s incredibly liberating. You can go to gay clubs without fear of people ‘finding out’, your social life may broaden when you start moving in these circles as you meet new people, with common interests. I’m not saying you should be friends with people just because they’re gay, oh no no no – but they will understand the difficulties of being so in what is still a hetero-normative society. The best moments for me came when I started to meet other people with non-straight sexualities – all of my friends (bar two guys, including a school friend who was my first ‘boyfriend’, oh the irony) are straight, which limits dating opportunities as they move in straight circles. I am still the ‘only lesbian in the village’.

Which can be a delightful novelty. I’ve naturally always had more male friends than female friends, just the way it is. Which, when I was younger, obviously meant I was sleeping around with all of them, if you listened to any gossip going. But when I came out, there was a brilliant reaction from my male friends: relief. Suddenly, standard barriers between male/female relationships dropped – no longer did they censor themselves, no longer were they acutely aware of any tactile moments in case they ‘meant something’: playfights, bear hugs, dead legs abounded. They love that they can talk about women with me as if I were a guy – but bringing a female perspective to it. I’ve become a wingman: she’s either going to be interested in them or me, and either way the other friend can big them up to ensure success, safe in the knowledge there’s no competition. Except when it comes to bisexuals, but that’s a whole different ball/nonball game…

I have freedom within myself, to be myself. I used to be annoyed by the gossip, I used to worry what people thought of me, and this is a strong reason I held back from coming out. But then, when I did, I realised it was the false gossip about which boy I was taking home that had bothered me the most precisely because there was no truth in it. I wouldn’t mind so much if there were rumours that I was dating someone like this:

 

 

But alas I am yet to hear of those.

In the end, you should never have to justify yourself to anyone but yourself. But in doing so, you need to realise why you are making justifications for not being yourself to everybody. My relationships with people have massively improved, because I am no longer hiding this huge part of who I am. Some may say orientation isn’t your identity and to an extent I agree. But while there is still a hetero-normative society, where even the state continues to sanction semantic differences in legal unions between straight couples and same-sex couples, there is a need to normalise non-traditional orientations. And to do that, we need to be out of whatever closet/duvet/hermit hole/false relationship we are in. It is not to satisfy others: it is to satisfy yourself.

Something people often ask on the ‘coming out’ discussion is simply: “How do you know?”

I’ve tried explaining in lengthy terms, in short sentences; once I even used a diagram. The easiest thing to do, I have found, is to simply ask:

“How do YOU know? How do you not know?”

This often gives enough pause for you to redirect the question, or ninja yourself away.

I knew when I was 13. There was a girl at school, the typical story I suppose, when I realised I had more than just a friend crush on her. She was, of course, a cool girl, who a) didn’t know I existed and b) I am glad didn’t know I existed as it allowed me to work out my feelings with this distant infatuation without the confusion of actually getting involved in them. Like a scientist observes experiments, I detached from myself and watched as I fumbled onto the conclusion that I was, in fact, gay.

This was aided by the fact that my ‘boyfriend’ at the time – a mere cover story – never got anywhere near even a peck on the cheek from me because I didn’t have one iota of teenage lust, attraction or even curiosity for him. However we were still at the age when holding hands was likely to get you pregnant so thank goodness kissing was off the menu. Otherwise, I’d have been Found Out and that, my friends, Would Not Do.

Nowadays, I look back on that pubescent puppy-fatted and bespectacled bag of hormones and I don’t think wryly to myself  ‘Oh, how differently I would do that now’. I think I still would have done the same, even if I had the confidence I have today. School is horrible. Kids are even worse. I understood then that the best thing to do for a safe, quiet life to avoid as much of the bullying  as possible, was to fit in as much as I could. And being a lesbian, clearly, would not have sufficed in these aims.

I took this feeling of necessary hiding with me, though. All through school. Through college. Through university. Through the mis-starts of my career. And it was easy. The more I pretended, the easier it became, until I found myself wondering why I wasn’t marrying the man I lived with. Aside from the lack of physical attraction, the question of marriage would fall away when my dreams of the wedding came into my mind’s eye. Not once did I ever imagine him standing at the altar, tears in his eyes at how beautiful I looked in my wedding dress. No, I could never see who exactly was waiting at the other end of the aisle for me, but I could tell you one thing: they wore a wedding dress as well.

Leaving my long-term straight life behind was more nerve-wracking possibly than coming out when I was 13 would have been. I still faced similar reactions – some friends ignored me, some supported me, and some thought it was just a phase. But I had built a life of lies, and it was incredibly hard to disentangle myself from what had been, in all reality, a very comfortable existence.

We worked, we got home, we had dinner and talked about each other’s days, we had a cuddle on the sofa, we went to sleep, we got up, we went to work. Weekends consisted of lazy brunches and Xbox marathons. It sounds boring, but it was safe. And yet my insomnia returned, my restlessness in an otherwise calm nature kept bubbling up, until I couldn’t ignore it any more.

It broke my heart to break his, but I was lucky in that I had been dating my best friend. He is still my best friend, and even sent a Christmas card with a pair of birds on the front with the message ‘I tried to find you one with a nice pair of tits on it, but this was the best I could do’. I count every blessing I have him in my life still.

Rebuilding my life post-breakup was a struggle. Not only was I single for the first time in my adult life, I was dating on the gay scene for the first time, I had to start telling people for the first time. It. Was. Terrifying.

And then I realised, after telling the closest friends and – eventually – family, nobody gives a monkeys. If they do, they aren’t worth knowing.

Which makes me wonder why we put so much pressure on people in the public eye to ‘come out’. Not only them, but everybody who has a non-traditional sexual orientation. Why should it be anybody’s business?

Well, I have found a few reasons. But they, Dear Reader, shall have to wait for tomorrow.

How do you know?