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Coming out: The fear within me

By reading this article, you’re probably not going to take much away that is applicable to your life. It is basically a piece that needed to be written to air out something that’s been bothering me and that I haven’t had the opportunity to bring up with pretty much anyone.

I’m gay.

No, this isn’t a public outing of a 23 year old. I have been open and honest about this for many years. I hear your cynical remarks, “Why is the article then written by ‘Anonymous’ if you’re out and open about it?”

Well first let me say, ease up champ. The reason why I have written this article under the guise of anonymous is because the fear that is within me is more to do with the professional aspect of my life and I haven’t decided yet whether I want my future employer to immediately know that I am gay. Why? Well…

In a profession where women are sometimes treated unequally, particularly in terms of lower pay rates, missing out on professional advancements due to the possibility of maternity leave etc, I have been thinking about whether the managing partners of firms, those who may harbour the stifling ideals of their an older generation, will feel differently about me if I were to, for example, bring my babein’ partner to work functions.

“I haven’t decided yet whether I want my future employer to immediately know that I am gay. ”

The idea is simply suffocating. It takes a great deal of strength and courage for someone to admit to themselves and their loved ones that they are in fact gay. Most make the decision to come out because living in the “closet” becomes so unbearable that they simply must. So in my professional career, what should I do? Do I hope that my lifestyle when I leave the office will not effect my professional advancement or do I push the coats to the side and hop back in?

Take Justice Michael Kirby, for instance. He wasn’t comfortable enough to come out (perhaps for personal reasons) until he was serving on the High Court. Look how much he could achieve, regardless of who he lay beside when he went to bed. However, is this indicative that I must not be open about myself until my ripe old age of retirement? I realise Justice Kirby was practicing in a different time and opinions on sexuality have significantly changed since then, but those in positions of power (judges, equity partners, other senior practitioners, etc) may still be in this negative mindset when it comes to the employability of someone who identifies as homosexual.

I personally don’t intend to be any different. I don’t intend to sashay into the office wearing a floral pink suit (unless it looked really killer on me), and I don’t believe that my sexual preference encompasses who I am as a person, because I am much more than simply ‘gay’. I just fear that something beyond my control and something I had struggled with so much in my youth may come into play in my adulthood and prevent me from progressing professionally.

I feel that no matter what your sex, race or sexual preference, it simply plays no part in the legal world (other than the fact I may be slightly more judgmental of the opposing counsel’s choice of tie). I realise that these fears and thoughts are not a generality. They are my own and I don’t speak on behalf of the other gay/lesbian/transgendered practitioners (to be).

It was best said by Hon Michael Kirby in his interview with ABC’s Lateline. When discussing his homosexuality within the work place he noted: “You didn’t reveal it, you didn’t force it upon people and as long as you kept quiet then that was something that was tolerated. But toleration is a very condescending emotion and toleration is over as far as I’m concerned.”


This article first appeared on the Survive Law blog here and was reposted with permission.

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Mann

Mann said on the 28th Mar, 2012

I work for a law firm and it is not an issue. My fiance will waltz in and having been to Vanuatu with half the firm, everybody's like a big family. I know a lot of SameSamers that work in professional services/law and they seem happy to be their unmasked selves eight (or twelve) hours a day, most days of the year.

The issue is with how most law firms function. It's all about the billable hour, keeping time sheets and competing with the lawyer next to you. It's a very cut throat world, especially when you're first getting into it. By this virtue, all you have time for is getting billable work done. Even answering your emails isn't countable time for some crazy firms. When you're working so hard and at such a desperate pace, personal lives are heavily relegated and secondary to the matter.

I think the uncomfortable atmosphere comes from being anything but a highly specialised lawyer. That's all that's accepted.

It really depends on the firm, its idiosyncratic culture and the type of law it deals in because I've found that shapes the mood quite a lot. (Criminal prosecutors vs LPMs)

iwaswayoff

iwaswayoff said on the 28th Mar, 2012

An interesting point you make as I am sure many people who consider themselves out, are not so forthcoming in work situations. And what about client lunches, at some point the conversation invariably comes around to "So are you in a relationship? oh fantastic what's her name!".

In my opinion it is better to just let these things unfold as they will, in their own time. Straight people don't feel the need to out themselves upon entering the door, so neither should you. Once you start in the office environment, a simple "I had a fab time with my bf on the weekend" to the office gossip and all your work will be done for you. No one will need to ask you in the future. And by the time the work Christmas party comes around, Sheryl from accounts will be bounding up to ask you if you are bringing your man. Relax and it will all be fine.

Doolander

Doolander said on the 28th Mar, 2012

Babein - You're using an assumably 'Urban Dictionary' word in an article?
Sachet - Something you get sauce or condiments out of
Sashay - A way in which one walks....

I work in Real Estate, I have been in the industry for almost 10 years. I am also openly gay in my personal life AND in my corporate life.
People do not generally that I am, so I am fortunate in that I can choose who I want to know, although generally, if someone asks, I tell. I don't see the point in hiding it. I don't think that anything bad would come of it. I have been up against some very hard agents in the past, and to my knowledge, only a handful of times has the 'gay card' been pulled. But interestingly enough, given my professionalism and ability, I have won the client (on the times that I have been aware of)

I think irrespective of your orientation, as long as you conduct yourself in a professional manner, and work hard, people don't really give a damn.
In my experience anyway.

Good article though, but try not to beat it up to something it doesn't have to be :)

little_fish

little_fish said on the 28th Mar, 2012

Why is what someone does in their personal lives anyone else's business? I don't hear people asking "hey, are you, you know, hetero?" because it's no one's bloody business. If anyone does guess it's usually because they couldn't give a rats anyway.

Correz

Correz said on the 30th Mar, 2012

‘Coming-out’ is a somewhat old-fashioned term which tends to suggest ‘All-or-Nothing’, when for majority of gay people it is a relative / contextual consideration which is usually more evolutionary than revolutionary.

As the author places this question in the context of his/her workplace the issue of relevance is significant. Should it be any more relevant to ‘announce’ your sexuality in the work place, than it would be (say) to announce that you were a vegan, a practising Christian or indeed a heterosexual? In most circumstances the answer is ‘probably not’ and this may be an important consideration at the beginning of a law career when you still have to prove your value to an employer and don't want to risk being handicapped by old-school opinions (which unfortunately still remain in many conservation professions such as the law) of what a gay person is or isn't.

Certainly there is the further consideration of the ‘authenticity’ of your developing relationships with your colleagues and the constant (& frequently exhausting) ‘pronoun vigilance’ that we usually have to undertake if we really don't want to be identified as gay. You certainly could decide to make no announcement initially and then take a 'wait and see' approach, confiding your sexuality gradually and incidentally in certain trusted colleagues as your working and personal relationships develop. Using this approach (as I have myself) ‘coming-out’ is evolutionary. You are not faced with making ‘an announcement’. Similarly your colleagues aren't faced with meeting expectations for how they should react to such prominently displayed information. But by the time the information has eventually filtered around the office (as it will eventually) over a year or so, hopefully you will be seen as a capable & valuable colleague who ‘just happens to be gay’ rather than ‘the gay person who wants to be a lawyer.’

GaryNunn1

GaryNunn1 said on the 30th Mar, 2012

Moving article.
There's a great program of work called Pride in Diversity that assists major employers (including Goldman Sachs, PWC, AFP, law firms and banks) with the inclusion and support of LGBT staff in Oz. It does some great stuff, including ranking the top 10 places to work for LGBT people in Oz: http://www.prideindiversity.com.au/

It sounds relevant to many of the issues raised here and is the first and only program of its kind in Oz so could support you and your employer. The best thing about the prog is it's based on sound research which proves that people perform better at work when they can be themselves - so there's a strong business case for employers to sign up to it if they want to get 100% out of all their staff.