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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National Coming Out Gay

A photo from one of our first dates, where Lance schooled me in bowling. His unnaturally long arms must give him an advantage, like Lance Armstrong’s enlarged heart…and all the performance-enhancing drugs.

Sorry posts have been so sporadic lately, dudes and dudettes! It’s the busiest time of year at work and nobody’s paying me to do this blog full-time, ya know!  Plus, we’re neck-deep (that is a saying, right? Or is it knee-deep? Or chest-deep? Or deep end of the pool?) in planning for our impending trip to Japan and holiday traveling to various theme parks …so, you know, a full plate.

But fear not, semi-loyal readers and spambots: we hath not forsaken thee! In honor of National Coming Out Day (which is a thing, I think), we’re going to jump forward a little bit in our narration of “Jeff + Lance: Secret Origin” to discuss my very own coming out story…

I was 22, and you could probably count the amount of people who I’d come out to on maybe two hands and half of a foot–and none of those phalanges were family members.  Though I’m sure some psych major could Britta me and identify shame, guilt, embarrassment, and a whole slew of other underlying emotions which kept me from stepping loud and proud out of the closet, I knew my conscious mind held me back because I was just so unsure of how things would unfold if I did.  There was a giant question mark in my way whenever I’d try to logically deduce what sort of outcome was in store.  The uncertainty–for somebody who hates not being in control–killed me.

I’d been dating boys for a few years by the time I met Lance, but I did that awful social limbo that all half-closeted gay dudes do where you deny half of your life to the other half and vice versa, coming up with convoluted excuses for this or that to explain away what you did last weekend (“Oh, me and…a friend (yeah, a friend, that’s it!) went apple-picking together.”) I came out to my friends slowly as circumstance forced me to, not usually by choice.

That…and I don’t really like talking about myself.  I mean, I do talk about myself quite a bit, but it’s mostly topical stuff…revealing heavy emotions, man, just isn’t my bag.

There came a time, though, when it became a necessity to tell my parents, and not just because Lance basically forced me to. See, I had just finished my master’s program at Penn and my parents had come down from Michigan to Philadelphia for my graduation.  I was also using their car as an opportunity to move all of my stuff out of my grad dorm and into…you guessed it, Lance’s apartment, since I hadn’t secured a job yet and, without a sizable chunk of money in the bank or a demonstrable source of income, landlords wouldn’t even consider me for an apartment.

Even thinking about trying to come up with a platonic explanation of my “association” with Lance hurt my brain.  There’s no logical reason why I’d ever meet Lance, a guy five years older than me who worked in a non-profit theatre who I’d be bunking up with while I found a place to live, anywhere outside of a gay bar.

Lance, too, was not-so-subtly pushing me to come out to my parents.  “Are you going to tell your parents?” he would ask in a non-sequitur.  “When’s the next time you’ll see them in person to tell them? TELL THEM NOWWWWWW.”

Hrm.  He had a point. Between the total lack of opportunities to actually say something to my parents in person, now that we lived 800 miles away from one another, and the fact that any fake straight-guy explanation for us knowing one another would create a paradox in space-time…well, I had to tell them.

Oh, that and I guess I loved Lance and stuff at that point and I owed it to him as well.  Y’know…that.

So, my parents and I packed up my belongings and were making our way over to “my friend’s” apartment, and I still hadn’t told them.  My dad pulled up outside of Lance’s building, and I still hadn’t told them.

Um…you’re running out of time, dude.

“Uh, guys…there’s something I need to talk about.”

I couldn’t not say anything anymore.  At least if my parents suddenly disowned me (all prior behaviors suggesting otherwise), I was already 800 miles away and could just figure stuff out then.  But hopefully they’d at least let me unload my stuff before they drove off in a bigoted huff!

You know how it goes at this point: I cry (which might be what Medusa looks like), my parents are instantly and unwaveringly supportive, just wanting the best for me and mostly concerned about my safety and well-being in an intolerant world.

I realize how lucky I am.  Not that somebody should ever have to consider having the full love and unconditional support of their parents as “lucky,” but that’s not how the world works, unfortunately.  I am lucky.

My parents were pretty honest with me, too. “Yeah, I suppose we’ve known for awhile,” my mom said, pointing to my perhaps-too-fervent appreciation of *NSYNC as evidence in the case against my straight-hood.

We had a warm and fuzzy, “Don’t worry, we’ve got each other’s backs” family moment.  It was touching!

…but, we were still in the car, out in front of Lance’s apartment.  I’d waited until the last possible moment to come out to my parents; literally, I came out and 10 minutes later they were going to meet my “we’re pretty serious” boyfriend.  A whirlwind of gay!

I called Lance on my cell.  “Uh, hi.  We’re here.”

Lance, who was upstairs in his apartment at the time, said, “You’re with your parents?”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I talked to them and they want to meet you.”

There was dead air on the other line, then a nervous laugh that only barely concealed seething hatred Lance felt for me at that moment.  “You mean, RIGHT NOW?”  Lance was probably upset because he didn’t have nearly enough time to prepare a proper outfit and scent medley for being introduced to my parents.

“Umm…yes?”

My coming-out, basically pulling off the world’s biggest band-aid, as fast as I could!

And, as Lance likes to point out, my parents ended up liking him more than me! What the hell, Mom and Dad?!