A weight lifted
I can’t say that ‘coming out’ for me was particularly traumatic. I remember coming back to London after a year of travelling aged 18 and being sat with my father watching TV. Out of nowhere he told me that he was proud of me, and would continue to be so, irrespective of who I chose to be with in the future: man or woman. Very queer. After what felt like an eternity of silence, he looked me and asked, ‘Are you gay, son?’. With a solitary affirmation, a weight I had been carrying since aged 9, was lifted. In very much the “Reynolds” way (no moment is too sacred for a joke), my dad went on to explain that he had known since I was very young, as I used to, and I quote, ‘mince in my nappy’. For those more oblivious to the subtle idiosyncrasies of a toddler’s gait, my insistence from age 10 on going to bed each night listening to Mariah Carey’s Music Box, or Celine Dion’s Greatest Hits on my Walkman, was potentially a greater indication of the many weekends I would spend in Soho and Vauxhall finding my tribe. Queer stereotypes aside, my dad and I made a pact that I would muster the courage to break the news to the rest of my family, and he would keep shtum.
Turns out that no courage needed to be mustered, as by day three post-revelation, he had outed me to my entire family: mum, sisters, uncles, and cousins I didn’t even know I had. With the awkwardness of initiating conversations about my sexuality now gone, I moved through the next years of my life with considerable ease, confidence renewed from the warm reception by my family and friends. I never considered that coming out would be a constant feature of my adult life as I began my career.
‘Should I say nothing at all?’
With the ability to choose who I surrounded myself with now gone, the certainty of acceptance that once was, evaporated; replaced with concern of how coming out would impact my career, and how it would make my colleagues feel and act towards me. Should I volunteer the information before anyone asked? Should I not say anything at all? I tried and tested several approaches before realising that I was overthinking. Much like my initial coming out, subsequent ones at work have been largely positive, save for the odd question about whether I am the man in any relationship, if I am sure, or whether I could be the new gay best friend. Please resist the urge!
On my last engagement, one of the clients tried to set me up with her goddaughter, showing me pictures, and explaining at length how successful she was. I responded by telling her that I didn’t think my husband would be particularly happy, and after the initial shock, the situation was laughed off. A friend’s son was quickly offered up as a sacrificial lamb before being reminded that I was still married. He had a lucky escape!
Authenticity at work
I do recognise my privilege. In a 2018 YouGov survey of 3,213 LGBT workers, 35 percent said they had concealed their identities in the last year due to fear of discrimination, and that figure jumped to 42 percent for black, Asian, or minority ethnic LGBT employees, as well as 51 percent for transgender employees. Further studies have shown that workers who are partially or not at all out at work, compared with those who are completely out at work, are significantly more satisfied with their jobs (29% versus 16%), enthusiastic about their jobs (40% versus 26%) and proud of their work (51% versus 38%). Having a double life – being out in private but not at work – increases social stress and depression. Authenticity at work remains an aspiration for many LGBT workers, with three-quarters of respondents say coming out is important to them, but only one-third were out to everyone at work. Unfortunately, the path to becoming your authentic and whole self is a long one, but one that is worth walking.
In a now famous BBC Radio interview in 1988, Gandalf, also known as Magneto, but best known as Sir Ian Mckellan, came out to the world. In his subsequent reflections he stated that “[he had] never met a gay person who regretted coming out – including [him]self.” I have walked the long path to authenticity and am now equally as comfortable in work as I am outside, and I try to set a good example to those around me of what it looks like to be an out and proud gay man in the workplace. February marks LGBT History month, and over the coming weeks, I ask you all to honour the work of the many before us, whether you identify as LGBT or not, and become activists in your own right. Consider what you might do to be more authentic at work, and more importantly, how you might encourage and support others to do so. After all, all of us in some way “want to break free”.
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Blu is an experienced NHS change manager with a special interest in operational transformation, process improvement, and complex technology programmes.