Savage Love Letter of the Day: Kept in the Closet with Golden Handcuffs


Yeah LW has a reason to be nervous about killing the golden goose, but extremely unlikely that anyone will give a shit. Also, the secretaries/female co-workers already know that hubby is a cocksucker.
I wonder how many people cheered Trump's election and thought, "Now all the gays will go away!" We just need to keep disappointing them by living our lives and never retreating. Most of America--and the tide of history--is with us.
I was hoping this LOTD would be far kinkier than it ended up being.
What sort of business gives retreats for both business staff and clients? This is an overnight "retreat"? What does that consist of? Hotel room? Camping lodge? What provisions are made for privacy? Are there shared bathrooms? I agree with everything Dan said about coming out at work. I'm just wondering about the wisdom of any workplace forcing its employees to socialize at that level.
Oh lord that retreat sounds awful! not the conservative clients meeting a gay couple, but the whole thought of being stuck at a retreat with customers and co-workers. Bad enough when it's just co-workers, but customers too? RUN AWAY!

ok, never mind, follow Dan's advice if you have to go....

While you‘re likely to encounter some uncontrolled smiles and the occasional angry-for-whatever-reason look, you will also be pleasantly surprised to see so many others welcoming and having no issue with the two of you married.

And considering what Dan and others like S. Kelley @ 2 had to say you may also be encouraged to know that your coming out is viewed as a community service of some sort by some LGBTQ folks.
5-PattyH-- Sounds like you're thinking like I'm thinking. SHH says he husband earned this retreat through his achievements, and I'm thinking, really? Because it sounds like hell to me. I'm the sort that conservative folks would love (as long as they didn't know my politics, non-attendance at church and regular comments on Savage Love). I'm straight, white, monogamous, an exceedingly modest dresser, etc. I also snore and have an irregular bathroom schedule in the morning. Like Sheldon Cooper, I keep track of the fiber in my breakfast cereal. I don't need co-workers and clients knowing that! Nor, for that matter, do I have any desire to know these details about the people I work with and for.

This whole idea of corporate America acting like a big family where you're on intimate terms with your colleagues is terrible all around. How about the single person from a conservative family, one where a young woman simply doesn't sleep away from her family home without a chaperone? Is she penalized for not being a team player if she doesn't care to go? Or how about someone who prefers not to drink alcohol and doesn't think much of socializing-- and making deals-- in bars even if all he orders is soda?

This whole idea of sleep-away as corporate reward smacks of a new racism. Businesses are supposed to promote diversity from the top down, but then someone can be fired for not being a team player or for not getting along with their co-workers or for not fitting in with the corporate culture if they like to be in bed by 10 o'clock and always avoid bars. It's worse for women and LGBTQ folk. Sounds great to say that you're not discriminating, but the very fact that SHH wrote this letter suggests that there's a great deal of discrimination going around.
I have lesbian friends who are in a similar quandary. The primary breadwinner - let's call her "BW" - is out in her personal life, but still very much in the closet with corporate clients, business partners, and casual acquaintances. Because she married a man and stayed married until his death, most people assume she's straight. She sees no reason to disabuse them of that notion. She estimates that she could lose as much as 40-50 percent of her current client list (some of whom have openly expressed homophobic views to her - so not everyone has great "gay-dar"), plus a lot more potential work due to negative word of mouth in her city's close-knit business community. This out-vs.-in dichotomy is a touchy and difficult matter for BW's current partner, who has been obligated to pose as her "friend" whenever BW's two separate worlds collide.

I love Tammy Baldwin's inspirational speech - hell, I love Tammy Baldwin PERIOD - and I liked and agreed with Dan's encouraging advice for LW. But at the same time, I have to say that the acceptance factor for non-straight partners in Seattle is much greater than the acceptance factor for other places, particularly in the Bible Belt, and for Dan to blithely suggest that both LW and his high-earning hubby could easily find new jobs elsewhere is to deny present-day socioeconomic reality in many parts of the US and elsewhere. And for those who will say "Why don't you just move to Seattle/SanFran/Boston where you can be who you are," I would counter with, "I have personal/family/community responsibilities that require me to stay in this homophobic place." These problems of out-vs.-in worlds are not always so easy to resolve.

Also, kudos to Fichu @7 for verbalizing the threat that corporate retreats present to all non-normative participants, even those who present outwardly as the cookie-cutter corporate image. Having participated in too many of these excruciating exercises myself, I recognized even as a 20-something that they were designed to encourage workers to drop their business persona and reveal personal vulnerabilities that could be exploited at later dates, rather than to foster corporate team-building as proclaimed by the Boss. My semi-closeted lesbian friend chose entrepreneurship over what would have been an extremely lucrative corporate career for very good reasons.
Sounds really unpleasant. And this is a prize you say.
1/I'd accept invite, then bow out sick at the time. Ok this with your husband first, as he would then have to go alone.
2/ Both of you decline.
3/ Go, and good Irish luck to you.
Again with the projecting. SHH does not state that either he or his husband believes the retreat sounds "awful," "excruciating" or "unpleasant," nor is there any indication that it is "forced." It may not be some commenters' cup of tea, but Mr SHH seems to be very much looking forward to it. The discomfort/privacy concerns being voiced here are a non-issue.

Mr SHH has already "opted to include" his husband. Is he now thinking of changing his mind?

If Mr and Mr SHH are as corporate and conservative as they seem, and if Mr SHH's initial reaction was to invite his spouse, I'm with Dan. This is a great opportunity to show the suits that gay people can be just as normal and boring as straights. Don't show up in leather or sequins or talk about your sex life, even if some rude people attempt to draw you into such conversations. There may be some surprise when the spouse is a husband instead of a wife, but hopefully the guests will be polite enough to stifle any negative comments.

I think that Mr SHH should come out to his closest co-workers first, perhaps by putting a wedding photo on his desk, or dropping SHH's name/gender in discussions about the upcoming retreat. That way he'll have allies on his side in case any of the clients do react badly.
BDF @10, not projecting. Here is what SHH actually said in his letter: "...we are both feeling nervous about how this will affect his relationships with [clients and coworkers] as he relies on commission for our financial well being...they will view his omission of the whole truth as a trust issue...I don't want to do anything to jeopardize our financial future...I have a great deal of social anxiety and am not sure if I can approach the people he works with as myself, or if I should adopt some kind of neutered persona, or recuse myself as much as possible." I looked for any indication in the actual letter that Mr. SHH is "very much looking forward" to the retreat, but found none. If you interpreted enthusiasm as the reason that Mr. SHH invited SHH to attend, think again. He did this only because married workers attending the retreat were allowed (tacitly understood as obligated, in many corporate circles - ESPECIALLY the conservative ones) to bring their spouses on what amounts to a company-sponsored group vacation. Thus wearing the wedding ring and letting people make their own assumptions is no longer going to cut it at work.

I do agree with you that it would reduce some of the potential drama if Mr. SHH came out in a casual, low-key way to his closest co-workers (and boss!) prior to the retreat, along with any clients whom he knows will be attending. But I don't think SHH and his husband would be worried about a potential fire if they hadn't already noticed significant smoke.
Fan @10: " we are both feeling nervous". The husband has let his clients assume he is heterosexual, and is worried there might be a trust issue with them. His big wage, which is generated by commission, is what they both rely on. The LW's husband believes his clients are mostly conservative.
And you think this means the LW is looking forward to this retreat?

Great title for this SLLOTD, by the way.

Cap @11: I was reacting to comments like
"Oh lord that retreat sounds awful! not the conservative clients meeting a gay couple, but the whole thought of being stuck at a retreat with customers and co-workers. Bad enough when it's just co-workers, but customers too? RUN AWAY!" (Patty @5)
"it sounds like hell to me" (Fichu @7)
"Sounds really unpleasant. And this is a prize you say." (Lava @9)

Aside from Lava's, which I admit I may have misinterpreted, these are reactions to the idea of the retreat itself, not to SHH and his husband's conundrum of whether to be out at the retreat.

SHH describes the event as "a very nice company retreat" and never once mentions any ambivalence over attending. Yes, they are nervous about coming out to the colleagues and clients. But there is no negativity expressed toward the concept of the retreat itself.
To reiterate, the letter states that the retreat "allowed" for a spouse to attend and that Mr SHH "opted" to include SHH. SHH's attendance is not mandatory. Mr SHH has the option to attend on his own and claim his "wife" had a clashing prior engagement.
@7 - well said! You covered the issues very well.

I have had to go to annual sales kickoffs with my company.... hanging out with 1500 coworkers for 4 days. and yes, gotta attend the dinners and the drinking sessions and the parties and the... ugh. And due to lack of diversity - almost all the speakers were white males (oh wait! one man from India! And the head of HR who is female! yeah, those didn't help) - they were always very demotivating.

I did go to one Sales Club- brought the spouse for that one - but we were able to duck out on most of the group stuff there. Still, just give me money and let me take my own vacation; that is much more fun.
Lava @12 - Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery! Thank you for echoing my comments @11!

BDF @13 - Right, no ambivalence whatsoever...except for that whole social anxiety thing, and the fear of jeopardizing their entire financial future. I read "very nice company retreat" as "expensive," not "socially accepting." Typical reward-style retreats are held in places like Hawaii, the Caribbean, Mar a Lago...
I didn't read your post first, Capri@16, and did think as I was writing if you had made similar points.
What does it mean to say the Husband had lead them to believe he was hetero? Too many shady areas with this one.
I don't think this retreat is the safest way for this couple to come out.
13-BiDan-- You're right. I was spinning off the subject and talking about work retreats in general, not SHH's feelings about this particular one. I hoped that in doing so, I could shed some light on SHH's situation in a general way, maybe give him (and all of us) something to think (and talk) about.

If SHH is anything like me, it's perfectly possible he has mixed feelings about the retreat. It might both sound like fun AND be a cause for concern. I was trying to help him sort out feelings, maybe help him uncover some reasons for his ambivalence that he didn't state, possibly didn't even know consciously. I realize that in some circumstances that can be overstepping (in which case, I apologize, SHH), but I figure that as long as my comments are kindly meant, I'm allowed to ramble now and then.

I figure corporate slumber parties are a lot like corporate everything else. I like most of the people I work with and would gladly be more friendly with them outside of work if it didn't mean I'd have to do the same with the few co-workers I don't care for. With them, I maintain a professional work relationship, and that's great. Same with everything else about a retreat. I don't know what SHH's retreat will be like which is why I asked in 4. I can imagine liking some of the planned activities and not others.

Mostly I'm thinking about SHH's position as spouse. I'm imagining a straight relationship in which wifey is expected to be kind and ingratiating to hubby's business associates. It's a tough role to play under any circumstances, and SHH mentions social anxiety.

I think the clients' reactions depend on what the partner has told them. If he's simply dodged talking about his private life, that's one thing. If he's outright pretended to have a wife instead of a husband, then I think people might actually have some trust issues with the husband. I certainly would, and I'm far from conservative.
Lava @17 - Aw, shucks! Well, in that case, another old saying applies - great minds think alike.

BDF @14 - As Fichu @7, Patty @15 and I have all noted based on our own experiences, so-called "optional" activities at corporate retreats are only optional if you are OK with being labeled as Not A Team Player, which generally will exclude you from future consideration for the most lucrative contracts and/or the sales management track. Similarly, a presumed-straight married man who does not bring his spouse to a "spouses invited" event will get labeled as both Not a Team Player and Not A Family Man, especially if the company has conservative leadership or a conservative client base. (Ironically, this is one of the few corporate areas in which women have the advantage over men; conservative corporate executive and clients tend to admire a woman who can super-perform in the sales force, yet still remain "feminine" enough to accommodate her husband's reluctance to attend her corporate events, so she still passes muster as being Family-Oriented.)

While billed as rewards for outstanding work performance, these retreats are actually screen tests to help corporate executives identify the best candidates to be fast-tracked for management careers, and similarly to weed out those who do not fit the desired corporate mold. SHH and his hubby both understand this...and I do not think SHH would have written in to Dan about this if he didn't have serious qualms about attending. I hope Mr. SHH's company is progressive enough to accept his gay spouse with open arms, and that Mr. SHH's sales prowess is sufficiently great to overcome any negativity that follows his corporate outing. But they both have good reason to be concerned about the career fallout, and ultimately they are damned if they do/damned if they don't. Hence their dilemma.

If they do attend, I think Mr. SHH should at least put out feelers to other (more progressive) companies or to a headhunter firm before the trip, and be prepared to jump ship if necessary. Or they could take Lava @9's suggestion to have SHH get too sick to travel at the last minute...maybe even so sick that Mr. SHH has to stay home to take care of him. That might buy them some extra time to find a better company, where their marriage is more acceptable. If the best people only choose to work at companies with the best employment policies, that is also an effective way to bring about social change.
"even the most radical conservatives can embrace a gay dude—even a flamboyant gay dude—so long as that gay dude is willing to throw immigrants, Muslims, women, trans people, people of color, lesbians, and other gay men under the bus."

Well, see, there you go! Show up and act like a dickhead and you'll be in the clear!
(Lava @12: As this seems to have caused you confusion, my way of referring to the partners of letter writers who have not been initialed/aliased is to call them "Mr/Mrs/Ms ACRONYM." So I was not asserting @10 that the LW, aka SHH, was looking forward to the retreat, but that his husband, aka "Mr SHH," was. Hope that clears things up, for this and future letters. It's more obvious when the partners are different genders.)
Cap @16: See @22.
While I grant you obviously have more knowledge of corporate events than I do, I maintain that this is not mandatory, and that Mr SHH (aka the LW's husband) has expressed no reservations about going. He has the option to make his excuses and not attend, but this has not been suggested, therefore I see no ambivalence *on his part* *about going to the retreat.* The ambivalence is on SHH's part, and again, he has the option to be "otherwise committed" and not attend, if the couple think his presence will do more harm than good, or if he (the LW) feels he'll have a rotten time.
(I do admit that there may be negative repercussions career wise for SHH if he does not attend. They just have to decide whether, in his field, it's worse to be seen as gay or as "not a team player.")
@24: Gah! I did it. Negative career repercussions for *Mr SHH*. No wonder I am confusing people.
@ 10 BiDanFan has read the tone of the letter correctly, imv. There is no reason to think that an expenses-paid 'very nice retreat' is another other than a desirable, very nice retreat. Or it would be nice if there weren't the threat of being exposed to homophobia and the couple losing income in the process.

The first thing to say is that the husband invited the LW to the awayday / retreat as his spouse. This suggests that he didn't see an extraordinary problem in appearing as gay in a work context and also would rather not, all things equal, upset the LW or have any truck with homophobia by hiding him away. With his suggestion that some of his clients and coworkers may have misinterpreted the ring as indicating heterosexuality, it may be that he's getting cold feet. Does he want the LW to be there at all? But this needn't be a painful, or marriage-testing, problem: in fact, the LW prioritises 1) the couple's income; 2) the couple's joint peace of mind, and especially his in not putting himself in the way of nasty archaic attitudes, and then only last 3) being included socially on an equal basis with the straight partners of other workmates. The LW should say this to his husband--he should offer, if the husband sees reasons to worry for his income or career, not to go to the retreat. The couple can at least soberly and in a calm mood assess what the risks are (whether there are any risks) to the husband's income in his being out among conservatives people to whom he sells financial or other products.

What are the husband's feelings? That he's a bit regretful or ashamed at working with stiff-necked people, but on balance would rather go alone, or with his sister or mother? That wouldn't be an issue; the LW should tell him he doesn't need to be at the retreat, and his partner's coming out is something they can work on more gradually. That on balance he wants his husband to be proudly there, and that he can ride out any politely-expressed prejudice, aversion or withdrawal of business? Either could describe his attitudes; but he (the LW) needs to have his husband hear he's not standing on his right to be present at this event.
@8 +1. Dan's a bit privileged. Yes, things get better when you live the change you want to see.

But even 2 white guys in USA c. 2017 may face economic insecurity. Does hubby work in a business that sells to clients like Hobby Lobby? Think carefully!

Even Dr. John Fryer aka Dr. Anonymous was ANONYMOUS when he first came out, a watershed moment leading to homosexuality being removed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association.

The early pioneers who were truly out and paved the way for a better world often were fully out because they had to be, very gender non-conforming, arrested, early HIV, etc.
"His concerns weigh on the idea that he has allowed many of his clients to assume his wedding ring symbolizes a heterosexual marriage, and in the face of his husband, they will view his omission of the whole truth as a trust issue."

Not sharing specifics of marital life has nothing to do with trust?

Unless your client is Liberty University or any of the other hatemonger institutions, there's no need to give some dramatic "I am... A GAY!" speech out of Little Britain.
@22; Fan. Yes I see the confusion. I did assume you meant the LW.
So why now? Why after seventeen years together, the last two married, he's going to burst thru now, at a retreat. And by what the LW says, Husband is nervous about this as well.
It just seems a fool hardy way to open up to his work buddies and clients. Why would clients be going?
It is 2017, marriage equality is real in the US, so why hasnt husband acknowledged his truth, to his work world.
If the clients are conservative and homophobic, being thrust into the company of gay men, might make them angry. Variables.
Husband may trust he is valuable enough to do the great reveal this way, and be sick of hiding.
Is that fair on the LW, especially as he has social anxieties.

I disagree (big surprise there). If the hubby winds up losing considerable income, you'll always remember this as the moment that changed everything for the worse. If the reward is significant, it might be worth the risk, but honestly, work-related retreats don't tend to be much fun, and if the clients are mostly conservative, then so are the coworkers likely conservative and who wants to hang out with those old farts anyway. If hubs makes a buttload of money, use some of it to take your own retreat where you can fully relax and be yourselves. Combining work and recreation is challenging under the most ideal circumstances, but why risk it when the payoff is minimal. It doesn't sound like hubs has a burning need to be out at work, so don't let a free weekend force his hand. I say this as someone who almost *never* keeps my mouth shut, even when it could hurt me, and it's not true what they say that there may be consequences but you won't regret it. i regret the hell out of standing up for what was right on little things (like advocating for therapeutic glitter glue for my prison counseling clients) which cost me my job. I'm not saying you should be scared to live freely, just why start now when the stakes are high?
It might help to know a bit more about the husband's work. Is he selling to high net-worth individuals or companies?

Most people I know at work fall over themselves not to be homophobic. (A higher than typical proportion are also queer). Yes, I do come across unexpected prejudice, when aspects of my work personality are perceived as having been determined or shaped by sexual orientation. E.g. my otherworldliness or 'sainted fool' manner, taking everything by the book rather than knowing how guys club together and thrash out a deal behind closed doors, is always seen as gay, or as not being properly American, being French or Euro or too good for the world. Sometimes I'm shocked by how far colleagues see me thinking a certain way 'because' I'm gay / queer / of a nonnormative self-image. But this isn't people flinging from me in bigotry. There's less of that about than the nervous may believe.
So far we've talked about whether coming out at the retreat would be pleasant for SHH or risky for SHH's husband's source of income. I'd like to shift the topic slightly to the morality of advising someone else to do something risky-- assuming that it is risky.

A gross extreme example to make my point. It's all very well and good to cheer for the guy who threw himself on a bomb to save his buddies in a time of war. After the fact we say how heroic it was to do such a selfless act for the benefit of others. I believe it's different to say beforehand "hey, go throw yourself on that bomb because it can really help other people."

Yet Dan tells SHH to "risk being your husband's husband publicly." He goes on to say "you wanna live in a world where a man can take his husband to a company retreat? Go to that retreat, SHH, and you live in such a world." I'd prefer it if Dan had helped SHH weigh the risks and benefits for himself because the way it reads now, it's like Dan has urged SHH to take the risk for the purpose of helping create a better world -- for everyone else.
Fichu @32: There is also confirmation bias. I think anyone who writes to Dan knows his views, and could have reasonably expected Dan to say "come out! Be out! It's 2017, let's make progress." So it's entirely possible SHH has already decided this is the way forward and just wanted a professional pep talk to help warm his cold feet. If he were truly on the fence, he might have written to someone like Carolyn Hax instead. Just a thought.
My extremely conservative dad met a guy through his fishing club. The guy kept talking about his partner. That night, at home, my dad asked my mom, who knew what was up and didn't care, if the guy (who actually is a doctor) owned his own medical practice. When he figured out that the man from his fishing club was the husband of the man who was in my mom's book club (and not his partner from the doctor's practice), he was surprised, but no one died of shock and there was no question that they would continue spending time with them.
BDF, For what it's worth, my take on the letter is pretty similar to yours. SHH calls it "a very nice company retreat." He doesn't call it "this awful tedious event at a very fancy/expensive location that I feel obliged to attend." To me, that's almost conclusive that, other than his concerns about the potential risks associated with outing his husband, SHH really wants to attend. So, while everybody is certainly entitled to share how they'd feel about attending a corporate event in an unknown industry, at an unknown location, and unknown activities, SHH, who presumably knows all these things, thinks it sounds "very nice." Perhaps he's right?
While I agree overall with the advice (go to the retreat and be the change, yadda yadda), I think Dan has some wrong assumptions about people.

First, less than 1% of married couples are in a same sex marriage, so no, it is not a 'dumb assumption' to assume a wedding ring means straight. 99% of the time, it does.

Second, conservatives do know gay people exist, but that doesn't mean they like gay people or want to do business with us. According to 2016 polling, support for same sex marriages among self-identified conservatives is 30%. Among conservative men, especially religious, that figure is likely lower. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still very real.

So yes I think the LW's assumptions are reasonable. Coming out to colleagues is not like coming out to parents -- the LW's spouse doesn't have a whole lot of leverage over his colleagues or clients, like an adult child coming out to his parents would.

Fortunately, I think most people will be OK with it. If the LW's spouse is very good at his job then most likely his colleagues and clients would be reticent to abandon their working relationship with him even if they did not 'approve' of his sexuality. They would likely see that getting on his bad side isn't in their own interests.

As for the "trust" issue -- I doubt trust will come into play unless the LW's spouse has actually lied to people about his orientation. Then that could be thorny. LW probably needs to find this out before the big weekend.
I was in a similar situation but a few decades ago. It was a week at a resort and there were no mandatory company sponsored events. Our solution, which may not apply to the scenario above, was to reschedule our week to a time different than everyone else.
Back in the days when my company used to do annual meetings (at nice places because all the principles golfed) I always brought my now-husband if he could attend. And no one batted the first eye. If they did, no one said ever said anything. And while we had the 'official' part of the meeting my husband went off with the other spouses to do whatever they did as a group. And everybody loved him and still ask how he is doing.

And this was more than a decade ago.
@34 "My extremely conservative dad met a guy through his fisting club."

That's how I misread your sentence at first. I like my version a lot more! Ha!

@38 I won't ask you to identify the company, but what about the industry or part of the country?
From now on, my gender identity is Lady Person.