Climbing the corporate ladder often requires a heightened sense of awareness with how one is being perceived by coworkers, bosses and clients. This is especially true of gay men, it seems.
Sociology research out of the University of Cincinnati examined the various strategies they use to manage their identity in the workplace.
Travis Dean Speice says his research, which consisted of interviews with men between the ages of 22-52, indicates that gay men often feel they have to change certain distinct gestures and body language behaviors in order to avoid potential negative consequences.
“Although there is no hard, fast rule for general masculinity, there are lots of anxieties related to identity management and self presentation for gay men in many professional settings,” he says. “From the initial interview to moving up the ladder at work, if a gay man feels his supervisors don’t agree with a gay population, he may not want to reveal his sexuality to them.”
This includes all forms of presentation, including fashion expression.
“While many gay men have careers where they are respected and accepted for being themselves, several others feel that they have to hide, modify or conceal their behavioral characteristics and speak, act and dress more ‘professionally,’” he says, adding that “professionally” may often be a subconscious euphemism for “masculine.”
“Sometimes the strategies are so intertwined that the participants themselves do not realize that their efforts to manage sexuality are also managing gender,” says Speice. “Whether they are conscious or unconscious, these strategies reinforce and perpetuate both idealized forms of hegemonic masculinity and hegemonic sexuality, indicating that some behavior strategies for ‘being gay’ are more desirable and rewarded than other ways.”
The atmosphere of the work environment and the attitudes of those inhabiting it will also help determine whether or not they feel comfortable coming out, and how they go about doing so if they decide to take that step.
Speice said one strategy a respondent reported using to “test the waters” included mentioning the name of a gay bar they had been to recently in an effort to gauge the response. If no negative reaction was registered they might feel more comfortable coming out, allowing them to present themselves more genuinely at work.
Still, many men feel unwilling or unable to be open about their orientation at work in spite of a desire to do so, for fear the repercussions will be too great.
A study conducted in 2014 by the Human Rights Campaign showed that most LGBTQ workers were closeted at their place of employment.