SL Letter of the Day: Coming Out in Conversation
by Dan Savage
on Fri, Jan 20, 2012 at 3:47 PM
I work at a small company in a small, conservative Midwestern town. Like you would expect from a small town, we have a fair number of VERY conservative religious types in positions of power in our company.
Here's the deal: We just hired a new employee. He has a rare skill set and he's moved across the country to work here. He's gay. He's not closeted or shy about it, but his sexual orientation doesn't come up in conversation. Mine doesn't either (I'm straight). He's a good guy, good at what he does, and I want him to succeed here.
My conservative coworkers are so conservative that their is to assume that everyone is straight and evangelical, and any deviation from that narrow worldview isn't even on their radar. (They were shocked to learn I was Catholic!) When they discover Coworker is gay, it'll be a real shock—one they probably need, but a shock nonetheless. I'm not suggesting that Coworker closet himself just so a few narrow-minded fucks can feel comfortable, but I do want to warn him that there are some narrow-minded fucks in management so that he doesn't walk into a situation that can be avoided.
How do I help Coworker out? Do I keep my nose out of it, or is there something I should say? Is this any of my business? I've had gay coworkers before, but those were at far more open-minded workplaces. This is a first for me. I'm hoping for a "Mind your own damn business" here, Dan, but I'm open to whatever advice the Great Dan Savage is willing to bestow upon me.
Meddling Midwestern Coworker
P.S. I owe you some thanks, Dan. In school, I was a closed-minded anti-gay asshole. I'd say through ignorance, more than anything. I've been reading your column for years, and you convinced me to go out and educate myself about people who are different than me. It worked. My friends are a more diverse group than they would have been, and as a result, I lead a richer, fuller life. I have a daughter now and I can promise you she is being raised with an advantage I never had as a kid: an open mind. Thanks.
My response after the jump...
I'm guessing that the new gay guy with the rare skill set—so rare that your company went and recruited him (look who's doing the recruiting now, huh?)—isn't an idiot. He's aware that he's taken a job in a small, conservative town in the Midwest, MMC, and he's sized up his new coworkers and bosses. Which explains why his sexual orientation isn't coming up in conversation: he's waiting until he's either beloved, indispensable, or off to his next job before he comes out to the homophobes where he works now.
As for your sexual orientation, MMC, I'll bet it comes up in conversation all the time—you just don't realize it. Whenever you mention your husband, your boyfriend, or your daughter's father, your sexuality just came up in conversation. Likewise, whenever your heterosexual coworkers mention their SOs or spouses, their sexual orientations just came up in conversation. If your new coworker's sexual orientation isn't coming up during casual conversations about weekend or holiday plans, that's because he's censoring himself.
Reach out to your new coworker. Don't go to him and say, "Hey, you're gay, right? I'm so cool with that—no one else is, but I am!" Just offer to help him settle into his new town and make a point of inviting him over to your place sometime for a party where he can meet your diverse group of friends. Your coworkers have a default assumption—everyone is a conservative evangelical—and he probably has a default assumption too: everyone at his new job is homophobic. Once he gets to know you a little better he'll realize that, at least in your case, his default assumption is incorrect.