Book Review: Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office

The cover to “Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office”

I was asked to review a copy of Out & Equal at Work: From Closet to Corner Office awhile back.  At first, I didn’t understand why I was being contacted–was it because I run a blog that every so often touches upon LGBT issues? I certainly don’t spend a lot of time soapboxing on this blog; while I wholeheartedly believe in employer/government protections from sexual orientation discrimination, the fight for equal rights, etc., that’s not what this blog is about.  It’s about trying to find the funny and stupid in an marriage.

As I was reading through the first couple of testimonials in the book (the book is loaded with 5-10 page chapters, each from a different member of the LGBTQ and A community), it dawned on me why “Lance + Jeff” as a site would be a place somebody would bring this book.

Out & Equal at Work, the effort of the impressively large international organization Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, is essentially a collection of “It Gets Better” messages aimed not at teenagers struggling through the hells of emerging identities, but at professionals at all levels struggling with how to incorporate their personal identity in the business world.  For heterosexual people, the personal and professional often intersect unnoticed: watercooler discussions about what you did over the weekend, or your Valentine’s Day plans, or who to bring to the company picnic.  These seemingly innocuous, everyday conversations wreak havoc on somebody who does not fall into a normative identity: LGBT, religious and racial minorities, etc. (Though, for the purpose of this review and since I am a white boy who was raised Christian in America, I can’t much speak to the other identities with much authority).

I struggled with this issue myself at one time after getting my first real, full-time job.  I did that delicate disassociation between my personal and professional lives for several months.  Hiding this part of my life was not only a drain on my energy, constantly steering conversation away from personal matters and creating a separate and false narrative of my life to present at work, but lessened my ability to develop honest relationships my co-workers.

I stayed in the closet because I didn’t know how my co-workers would react, and only came out when I was forced to by a rather insistent and obnoxious co-worker who loved to pry.  Still, though I didn’t much care for her (we no longer work together), I do owe her for pulling me out of the closet at work.  It has made my life incredibly easier: my co-workers are very supportive, and I can be myself without trying to maintain some sort of ridiculous dual-identity.

So, to say that Out & Equal at Work is a bunch of “It Gets Better” testimonials is not to diminish its impact in any way.  If anything, the contributions from executives at Dell, Clorox, Wells Fargo, Disney Parks, Campbell’s and Accenture are more lengthy and in-depth than most of the Youtube videos of the same vein provide.  I saw this book as a useful resource for young professionals who may have already come out to family and friends, but struggle with how to incorporate their true identities into their workplace.  We often worry about threats to job security (many states, including Pennsylvania, do not consider “sexual orientation” a protected identity in job discrimination), job advancement, harassment at work, not to mention issues of benefits for partners.

Out & Equal Workplace Advocates works with employees and employers to create “safe and equitable workplaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”   This collection of testimonials is not only meant to provide hope to closeted professionals about the potential success they can achieve while still being honest about their identity, but it’s also an effort in normalizing equality in the workplace.  As a young gay man living in the most exciting, rapidly-changing period of the LGBTQ rights movement, it is very encouraging to read about companies who provide legal services to same-sex couples, or creating pride groups within their organizations, efforts they aren’t required to provide but go out of their way to anyway.  By showcasing examples of LGBT-friendly employers and featuring pieces by executives who are strong advocates for LGBTQ rights, Out & Equal at Work, broadens its scope beyond just being about LGBTQ leaders in business: the book’s purpose is to demonstrate the growing network of LGBTQA support in the business world.  By showcasing positive examples, Out & Equal at Work encourages current and potential allies and LGBTQ professionals to take a stand and push for inclusive policies in their workplace.

So, I don’t think I’ve quite answered why I responded so strongly to this anthology, and why I relate Lance + Jeff with it so well.  This blog, on the surface level, is not a rah-rah! gay rights blog.  It’s a humor blog that usually features two gay guys who happen to be married.  I don’t focus a lot on the “gay” aspect of it very often because that’s not how I, at least, identify myself most often.  I’m a shy, introverted geek first, second, and third most days of the week, and gay somewhere down in the list.  I hope that’s what this blog can provide to the much larger narrative of LGBTQ rights and inclusion: my marriage is just as loving and stupid and challenging and fun as anybody else’s; we laugh at the same stuff and cry when things are difficult and eat lots of ice cream and watch too much bad TV.

In a roundabout way, I hope Lance+Jeff helps, in its own (very) small way, to normalize the perception of gay marriage.  It’s really just a marriage.

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Downsizing

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Our old apartment.

There’s this notion that when you move, you’re movin’ on up, so to speak.  Dorm room to apartment, apartment to house, house to sprawling mansion with accompanying jet and in-home McDonald’s (oh wait, that’s Richie Rich).  At the very least, there’s this general understanding that you’re getting more of something.  (Oh my God, this post is going to be loaded with First World Problems.  Sorry to offend you, spambots from Nigeria.)

When Lance and I moved out of the city and into the sub-est of suburbs, we acquired substantially more space, several hundred square feet, at least.  A huge walk-in closet, enormous kitchen and balcony, so much space in the bedroom we didn’t know what to do with it.

So when we decided to ditch the suburbs and give the city another shot, we knew in a sort of vague conceptual sense that we’d be sacrificing something for the location: we’d be getting less space for our money, especially given that our requirements severely limited our affordable options (in-unit washer and dryer, dishwasher, central A/C).

“Sure, sure, we can swing that,” we both told ourselves about giving up space.  “It’ll give us the chance to purge stuff we don’t need!” we said.  “It’ll encourage us to lose weight to create the illusion of more room!!!”

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…And the new apartment (obviously, our aesthetic hasn’t changed much.)

I was also nervous because, since I work in the city and Lance does not, I was tasked with finding an apartment all on my own.  Lance was putting his trust in me, which, when it comes to your home (and let’s be honest, in general), is a scary proposition and daunting responsibility.  When I toured what would become our new apartment, I felt an immediate connection and told Lance the same.  “Let’s do it,” he said.  And so we put down our security deposit.

The day I picked up the keys, the same apartment I viewed some two months earlier looked SO SMALL.  Holy crap, I thought to myself, how are we going to fit everything in here? Lance is going to hate me for picking out this place and we’re going to get a divorce except we can’t in Pennsyltucky since it’s full of redneck bigots who don’t even recognize our union and we’ll be stuck in a violent tailspin of a marriage forever OH MY GODDDDD

The night before we moved; I couldn’t sleep–I was experiencing a low-grade panic attack as if we’d made some terrible mistake. But there was no turning back.

On the day we had Lance’s brothers over to paint the new place, dozens of rats were skittering around in the daylight just outside the entrance to our building.  Like, rats bigger than my adult cat just strolling down the sidewalk.  My stomach lurched.

Of course, we couldn’t fit everything in our new place (we knew early on in the process that we’d have to get a storage unit, not uncommon for people our age living in the city); we were giving up the walk-in closet, the balcony, the enormous bedroom.

The first few days in the new place, instead of being excited to be back in the city, I felt defeated, a whole variety of emotions:

Our bedroom is so small.

The dog isn’t adjusting well to the city.

Why don’t we own a house?

Why didn’t I notice that there was no garbage disposal before we put down the security deposit?

The Rat King is going to eat through the door.  I have to mentally prepare myself for this.

I had to remind myself that even though we were downsizing, we were downsizing on purpose. We consciously made the decision to live in the city; we’ll probably live in the (or “a”) city for the next 5-10 years, at least.  What they say about “location, location, location” is totally true.  You pay for what you get–all of it, not the space inside your four walls, but everything outside of them, too.

Our first weekend in the new place, when we were able to walk a block and a half to the Starbucks (as opposed to driving ten minutes to the closest location in a strip mall), I started to feel a little better.  When I was able to walk along the river path to work instead of biking to the train station, and then commuting an hour each way every day, I felt a sense of relief.

And a few days in, as things settled down, I felt content. The sense of constant irritation at being forever bored in the suburbs was gone; even if we were just lounging around the new apartment, at least the possibility existed of us just walking out the door and having dozens of different things to do right at our fingertips.

This is what I tweeted next.

Northeast Disney Meet-Up Or Bust

hitchhikingThis past weekend was the Northeast Disney Meet-Up hosted by the Disney Hipster Blog, Mouse on the Mind, and This Happy Place Blog.  I had been super-excited to go, given my recent resurgent love of all things Disney (I may or may not try to hit all the notes in “Out There” while in the shower), and soon after it was announced we made hotel reservations and booked seats on Bolt Bus for the journey up to New York City.

I knew even then that it was going to be a financial stretch for Lance and me to go, since the meet-up was coming at the end of a very expensive month of moving (I get paid monthly, so I measure time in 30-day chunks).  Still, I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know the Hipsters and Estelle and Melissa and Jamie and Keith via Twitter over the last few months, and even though Lance + Jeff is by no means a Disney blog, I was compelled to attend.

But the moving expenses kept mounting (SO MANY CURTAINS!), and my unofficial resolution of 2013 was to not spend money I didn’t have (how novel!), so we made the decision a few days before the meet-up to cancel our trip; while our $12 bus tickets weren’t refundable, the hotel was, so we weren’t out too much money.

GEEZ, though, I was so bummed.

I moped around last Thursday and Friday trying to basically figure out my life.  It was very intense: frustration over being cash-poor, mostly, while still wanting to meet in-person people who’ve provided such goodwill and humor to my Twitter feed over the past six months.  Major internal conflict!  I was scrambling, trying to pull together money from different places in order to get our butts up to New York.

Since we’d already canceled on the dog-sitter, we felt bad un-canceling, and the cost of boarding Ripley would’ve added up fast.  Lance fell on his sword, courageously sacrificing himself to watch the dog so that I could attend the meet-up.  The plan was for me to use our original bus reservations to get up to NYC out of Philly, then book Amtrak back late the same night of the get together.  I’d save on a hotel and splurge just a little for the train ride out of Penn Station.

That, and it turned out that Ripley had some tummy troubles the night before the meet-up, needing to go out every hour or two to release some stank diarrhea.  It just wasn’t meant for Lance to come with me; we couldn’t have left Ripley with somebody else given the state he was in.  Poor little guy!

Aww, Dads! My rumbly tumbly!
Aww, Dads! My rumbly tumbly!

(Now that I think about it, a lot of my weekend revolved around poop…)

So, I went up to NYC solo, bummed around Midtown for awhile buying socks (no, really, the Uniqlo socks are THE BEST. Why doesn’t anybody believe me??) and gorging on some wonderful pizza at Eataly.  It was raining and miserable so I thought I’d hop on the C Train down to Brooklyn early and work on some blog stuff at a Starbucks with a big hot cup of coffee (remember, I was working on about four hours of doggy diarrhea duty sleep), only to find out that those crunchy granola weirdos in Brooklyn don’t believe in chains.  Why are there more Starbucks per square mile in Baghdad than there are in Brooklyn?

I was a hot wet mess by the time I got to the Cornerstone Lounge in Brooklyn for the meet-up.  Lots of soggy hugs were had before the Disney-inspired drinks started flowin’.  You can check out a cute photo re-cap over on the Disney Hipster Blog. Update: Estelle over at This Happy Place Blog also has some wonderful photos!

The meet-up was great, and I got to put a lot of faces to Twitter handles that I’ve been following for weeks or months.  There was some super-hard Disney trivia (do you know what year they added the magnetic strip to Disney World tickets?) and some not-so-hard background music trivia…and then more drinks.

I ended up missing my train as the night grew long, though thankfully New Jersey Transit and SEPTA run pretty frequent service between NYC and Philly.  This also afforded me the opportunity to guest on a couple of episodes of the Disney Hipster Podcast, the first one which is now available on iTunes!  The hipsters and their “co-whores” Jamie and Keith are a lot of fun, and I had a fun time bullshitting about Disney with them…which in the second episode we recorded, is a more literal statement than you’d think.

So thank you for hosting the Northeast Disney Meet-Up, guys.  There was a reason I felt so compelled to get my butt up there: it was really fun, and it was great getting to know new and not-so-new Disney pals.  It’s a great, mostly positive corner of the internet these fans reside and operate within, and I’m glad to be even tangentially a part of it.

The Pizza Code

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There’s something truly gratifying about “cracking” your partner’s secret language, coming to understand their implicit cues and body language.  Especially when you’re pretty dense, like myself.

This isn’t even something I considered until it dawned on me one day that Lance was saying something but meaning something completely different.  It was the same question he’d ask me at least once a week:  “So….what do you want for dinner?”

For months–if not years!–we went back and forth for a half an hour before finally deciding to just order a pizza.  And then there came the day, after experiencing this dozens of times, that I realized Lance only asks that question when he doesn’t want to cook, but is too unmotivated (or broke!) to go out to a restaurant.

“What do you want for dinner” was code (you guessed it!) for pizza.

Now, instead of wasting a half-hour on failing miserably to come to a compromise, I know right away that we’re just going to order pizza and I can spend the next 29 minutes watching old episodes of Louie on Netflix.

Other examples of Lance’s Code include:

  • The “I’m not answering your e-mail so I don’t have to acknowledge whatever you’re proposing” trick (I’m pretty sure Lance swore, “Sonofabitch!” when he found out that I broke this code);
  • The “We need to do X” play, which really means, “You need to do this because I don’t want to, and I’m trying to be diplomatic.” 

Of course, this isn’t to say that I’m without my own “code”–hell, I’m arguably the most passive-aggressive person you’ll ever know. We’re all about codes!–but I’ll leave that to Lance to detail in another post.

Love In The Time of Superheroes

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Thanks so much to Estelle over at This Happy Place Blog for inviting me to write about sappy love nonsense.  Well, not really: the prompt was to write about what makes some of the great Disney couples work. And I couldn’t think of a better couple then Helen and Bob Parr (a.k.a. Elastigirl and Mr. Incredible) from Pixar’s The Incredibles.

Writer-director Brad Bird obviously has a knack for capturing true emotion on film, be it the passion for what you love in Ratatouille, or the complex identity of an outcast in The Iron Giant, or the at-times strained but always loving marriage of the Parrs.  They love each other immensely, but that doesn’t mean their marriage is without insecurity.  They squabble, they fight and nag, but they know each other better care about each other more than anybody else.

(I also love Helen Parr because she reminds me a lot of Tami Taylor from Friday Night Lights!)

I drew a little comic strip to try and capture the essence of what makes their relationship tick.  Head over to This Happy Place Blog to take a look!

How To Look Like A Bum Without Really Trying

Here I am to dispel any notion that gays have an inherent sense of style or are too proud to leave the house without being properly quaffed.  Lance+Jeff, crushing stereotypes daily!!

My dream of living in Chicago (it’s like New York, except cleaner!) will probably never come to pass: I hate the cold.

Though a native of mitten-shaped Michigan, where I spent the formative years of life under an overcast blanket five months out of every year, we lived not far from the border with Ohio.  Everybody assumes Michigan is some frozen wasteland, but suburban Detroit’s climate is not unlike the Northeast’s.

With age, though, comes a general intolerance of everything: in my case the cold, especially.  It dips below 50 and I’m shivering me timbers.

The problem with living in the Northeast is that you spend a good chunk of every year below the freezing mark, so you don’t have any excuse to make it look nice.  Look at Lance’s fashionable Lululemon outerwear:

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See?  He makes the cold work for him.  Stylish and functional!

I, however, can’t go outside this time of year without bundling up like I’m going on a lengthy and colorblind dog sled run through the Arctic Circle.  Nothing goes together: the red hat, the purple-striped scarf, the charcoal gloves riddled with holes.

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I keep an extra pair of dog-mangled fingerless gloves at work because our building’s heating is so bad.

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And I have this saggy skater hat I bought from Hot Topic for $4 a year or so back during my quarter-life crisis (™ John Mayer)…Lance won’t let me wear it.

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My favorite though is this flappy-earred hat I’ve had for several years, which may accentuate the enormity of my forehead, but I like to think it just stresses that my brain is really big.

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If you want my look, you’ll mix-and-match any of these for a sad-sack “Coat of Many Colors” effect.  You may feel warm, but the other kids will laugh at you.

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I should be embarrassed and ashamed of myself for walking out of the house like this, and I am a little, but WHATEVER I’M WARM.

 

Bowling Bawl

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Relationships 101: it’s not really about compromise.  Compromise implies that you’re meeting somebody halfway between your opinion and theirs.  How often does this happen in relationships? Never, because then both parties end up being half-miserable because neither person got what they wanted.

No, relationships are really about sucking it up and giving in completely on half of everything you do, or doing stuff you would never do otherwise because, gosh darnit, you just love that person and it would mean a lot to them.

Case in point: Lance’s family often chooses to go bowling as part of a birthday celebration.  This is totally fine and normal and completely in line with how, like, every American ever probably celebrates birthdays and other family get-togethers.

BUT…

I did not grow up in a family of bowlers, or a family who willfully chose friendly competition if any other options were available to us.  Everybody in my family has both a competitive edge and sucks at sports, two things which don’t mesh really well.  The stories of my dad cursing his way through his own adolescent bowling experiences are legendary.

This is where I come from: I’m competitive but I’m terrible, and I don’t possess the honest self-deprecation required to play it for laughs.  It’s all for show as I roll ball after ball into the gutter, haw-hawing as my insides are not-so-secretly twisted up in pretzeled frustration.

It’s even doubly irritating because I usually count on Lance to be the one that people laugh at, except he’s surprisingly good at bowling, the jerk!

I would never agree to participate in any sort of physical competition because I SUCK at it and can’t shrug it off with a laugh.  But, I do it for Lance and his family since it means something to them, which in turn means something to me, etc. etc.  Because of this, I’m happy to bowl even though I don’t really want to, and am not really good at it.

But that’s not to say I’m not keeping track of how many games of bowling we’ve playing, just waiting for the right moment to cash those chips in for something I want: a trip to Colonial Williamsburg!!!!!