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The only gay in the workplace

This is a guest post written by Sanctus Head Coach, Dr Albert Viljoen.

“Gay in the workplace.” It’s kind of weird to write a piece about being ‘gay in the workplace’. It makes me think of the Little Britain skit on being “the only Gay in the village.” But it’s Pride month; inclusion is front of mind, and awareness shall be raised!

I have never really written about being Gay. Not publicly. In fact, I often find myself still hiding parts of myself, parading like one of the boys: dropping my tone of voice, broadening my gait, using the “bro lingo”. I’m white. I’m male. I’m not queer, eccentric or ‘femme’ – so I can pass as masc/’straight’. Ugh, these labels are exhausting, but it’s with these labels that we try to navigate this new world – well, those of us who stand on this side of the sexual orientation line.

In my previous job, I became very skilled at playing the straight white man. It counted in my favour. It got me a seat at the table: a ticket to dine at “the boys’ club”. I have conflicting feelings about this: should I have been ‘more myself’, or was it appropriate to show up as I did? What I do know, is that I – like everyone else – did not want to feel like an outsider. I would play the role of the ‘good guy’, the ’strait-laced professional’. I would avoid talking about anything sexual, yet still laugh at all any crass jokes, and join in all the bro-banter. 

Why? Because I wanted to belong. No, wait, I wanted more than that: I wanted security, power, esteem. I wanted to be part of the upper-most tier of the upper-most class: the Caucasian Homo Sapiens, Heterosexus Male. Because, it seems that – to this day – if you are one of these specimens, you gain some special shield of invulnerability. Did I consciously do this? Did I have selfish intentions? I don’t know. It’s a combination of survival, cowardice and just navigating the competitive environment of capitalism.

This is not my coming-out piece. Been there, done that. No, this is more like a “coming more into myself”-piece. Approaching 40 will do that to you. It’s a reflection on the war-zone of the work-place, and all the subtle ways we all still duck-dive and dish out prejudice of all kinds. For me, the worst experiences are those inside-jokes, those completely absent-minded comments that spill into conversations after the second beer. The “That is so gay!”“I’m not like those queens”“She’s such a princess.”

For me, the work will always be the same: 

  • lessen the judgement I have on myself
  • humble myself to learn from others
  • don’t take myself too seriously

For me, it’s okay to hide the parts of myself that I don’t feel safe to display. I have discovered that, as I grow in maturity, those hidden parts naturally show up with ease. I can trust the process. And my request to others, is to do the same:

  • be kinder to yourself
  • be humble and willing to learn from others
  • don’t take yourself too seriously

And in time, I believe that showing up more fully would not be considered “brave”, but just part of the joy of being human. Because we are all still figuring s#!t out.

Check out our Pride 2021 page here for more stories and other pieces of useful content.