Wednesday, October 01, 2008

In The Workplace

I've just begun a new professional endeavor with a once-professor of mine, now colleague (that still feels weird). In this role I've been dealing with new folks and I often forget that my family may strike people as... unexpected? I don't have a filter on how I talk about my home; if the subject comes up and it does in any workplace, I don't hesitate to let it. Still, it's far from a problem, and only a problem if their curiosity leads us into a conversation about being a gay parent in Utah when there's other things to do.

Reminds me of how things used to be, though.

My first professional job (if you don't count my 5 years as lumber yard stock boy) was for the US Bureau of Mines. It was my first job in a lab and I was thrilled to be hired as I was working towards my BS.

I hit it off great with my boss. It was just him and me in the lab and we talked a lot and I enjoyed his company, along with the invaluable experience I was getting. But about a week into it we were having lunch together and were talking about a training session I'd have to complete, part of which was diversity training.

This comes out of his mouth:

"Let me warn you, the poor woman conducting the class has a fag for a son. She went on and on about his disgusting lifestyle. It was all I could do to keep from telling her her son will be burning in Hell."

Now I have to say, I am ashamed even today for what I did then. I changed the subject, and didn't let the force of what had happened affect me until I got home. Everything was going so great; I loved my job, and, worse, I really liked my boss before this... I didn't speak up the next day. It's funny thinking on it now, because I thought that my similar experience at Boy's State was a turning point for me. I mean, this is even after I manhandled a bigot right in the student union. But I failed here. I guess I've 3 big mistakes as a gay man: Boy's State, the other one, and this.

And it gets worse. Rob and I were getting married that summer, and it got back to my boss through other students working there who knew me, but it only got back to him in part. He, in his eavesdropping, assumed I was marrying a girl. He began a not-so-subtle campaign to be invited to the reception; I mean, who wouldn't invite their boss, right? All the while he'd shoot off an anti-'fag' salvo about once every other week, telling me about their disgusting lives and why they deserve what's coming, in love of course, from Jesus. At some point the work situation became both ridiculous and hostile.

Finally, after a couple months, I couldn't take it anymore and I gave my two weeks notice without a good explanation, and went back to being a stock boy.

But, it gets worse, again.

During my last two weeks, my boss boss took me aside and told me how much he respected me and my work. He went to try to impart some lessons about married life, with sincere emotion--he choked up--and topped it off by giving us a wedding present, an antique crystal candy dish. He was clearly hurt and confused as to why I didn't want him to come to my wedding. I kind of felt sad for him. No, I did feel sad; damn it, I liked the guy, if not for that one thing.

I could have told him then too. I was quitting and had enough for our wedding. Maybe I could have changed his whole world view regarding gays, but I didn't say anything. I just escaped. To this day he doesn't know that he once gave a wedding present to a gay couple 13 years ago. Heck, he's probably in California right now going door to door in support of Proposition 8.

It should never cease to amaze how some people can be antagonistic, bigoted, and yet oblivious to it, even feel like they're your friendly mentor. But it's painfully common. Conservative churches take on this PC stance quite often, from the inquisitioner loving the sodomite to death, to the churches of today loving families headed by same-sex couples out of equal protections. It must feel better to hurt a person while feeling love rather than hate for them, but you're still hurting a person and the love is only for your benefit. But, eh, we've been over this ground before.

Thankfully, I'm at a point in my life where I'm the one with the doctorate. That was the last job I took without introducing my family right away, and now I don't have to rely on bigots for my family to make a living. I'll never work under those circumstances again and I guess there's value in this experience found in that lesson.

Still, it's easy to be brave when you're strong, right? It's a world apart to be brave when you're weak.

9 comments:

Ophidimancer said...

I've had moments like that, though not quite as extreme. Moments when someone made comments about people who are "like that" and I wish I had spoken up about being "like that" myself.

I think it's important to resolve these feelings either by talking to those people for closure or forgiving yourself.

Either way, it's not good to walk around with guilt or tension about "should haves."

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I've just begun a new professional endeavor with a once-professor of mine, now college

colleague, not college. :)

I was really confused for at least 5 minutes.

I often wonder what people might say if they didn't know I was gay. I've heard some interesting things said either around me or to me when someone is unaware, not because I've hidden it, but because it hadn't come up yet.

It's great that you feel comfortable enough to talk freely about your family with people you work with. Now that I'm going to school, I don't have any worries, but when I was working this past year, there were a few times where I didn't feel comfortable disclosing that I was gay, mostly when I was working for the SLC school district as a substitute teacher.

Still, it's easy to be brave when you're strong, right? It's a world apart to be brave when you're weak.

Exactly.

Scot said...

Ophidimancer "I think it's important to resolve these feelings either by talking to those people for closure or forgiving yourself."

Amen to that. I wish I had just told the guy how wrong he was the first day the topic came up, and left the job.

"Either way, it's not good to walk around with guilt or tension about "should haves.""

I'm of two minds on this. For better or worse, I'm not the sort to beat myself up too much. But part of me never wants to let go of a couple of my errors.

I guess, it's because irreversible mistakes can be inexhaustible motivations. When I get tired of activism--and I do--I can always look back and be reminded why I do some of the annoying things I do :-).

Craig: "colleague, not college. :)"

Hey, I got bureau right, and I usually have problem with that one. I've no defense; I'm a differently abled speller. Yesterday Brian corrected me on two words!

"mostly when I was working for the SLC school district as a substitute teacher."

I can imagine. Particularly when it is possible in Utah to be fired for sexual orientation. It's far best here for the GLBT to be the person looking to hire.

Dichotomy said...

colleague, not college. :)

Pssst... Scot... head over to Craig's blog and let him know that "aggregious" is spelled "egregious"

:)

Java said...

The older I get, the stronger I am. Sometimes. Except when I'm really weak. Mood swings are a bitch. So the bravery thing comes and goes. And for me, the gay issues are relatively new. I'm only 2.5 years on the correct side of that discussion. I once was a homophobe, but now I'm found? So when I hear attacks against the gay, sometimes it comes from an angle I wasn't prepared for, and don't have the presence of mind to protect and defend.

I have a similar situation, though, with my family. Well, on two fronts. My family now includes homosexuals, so anti gay rhetoric bites. As you point out here, others can't tell if you don't tell them (a lot of times). In addition, as a Caucasian couple we have adopted two African American children. People who meet me without seeing my children will occasionally say something racially offensive. I've had 10+ years to prepare for that one, but it still hits me blindside sometimes. And sometimes I don't respond the way I should.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

I swear Dichotomy, I don't know what the hell you're talking about.

Dichotomy said...

I swear Dichotomy, I don't know what the hell you're talking about.

:)

Of course, I screwed up the link in my comment pointing out your mistake, so I guess we're all idiots... Except you and Scot can edit your posts and fix your mistakes, but I can't edit a comment, so mine is there forever. :(

playasinmar said...

Or maybe he eavesdropped the truth? Maybe?

Scot said...

Dichotomy, "Except you and Scot can edit your posts "

Yeah, but Craig quoted my mistake in the comment, the aggregious jerk.

Java "People who meet me without seeing my children will occasionally say something racially offensive."

I'm sorry to hear that. Bigotry against yourself is one thing, but against your children...

The Illusive playasinmar: "Or maybe he eavesdropped the truth? Maybe?"

I'm pretty sure he didn't find out that I was gay right away as I quizzed the people from whom he heard I was getting married, about what he heard exactly. But I have wondered if he later learned the truth; still, he was quite open with his homophobia late into my term there.

Man, though, I like that ending and the new light that would put on our last in depth talk much better.