CLOSETED WORKFORCE

Study Shows How Gay Men Alter Their Body Language In The Corporate World

business man

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.

Related: Gay Man Fired By Catholic Diocese Files Federal Lawsuit

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.

Related: Study Shows Homophobic College Men Attracted To Gay Imagery

“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.

Related: True Story Of Teacher Fired For Being Gay Subject Of Powerful New Film

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.

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13 Comments

  • Kangol

    Really interesting research, Queerty. Thanks for posting this!

  • Billy Budd

    I was harassed by a closeted boss when I was in my 20s. He had actually married a girl just to be accepted by our peers (unsuccessfully of course because he was kind of fem) . He was insane.

  • Jack Meoff

    I have always just been myself at work and it’s just never been a problem. When people assume that I’m straight I always correct them and they say oh I didn’t realise and then we get on with things.

  • Juanjo

    For over 22 years I worked for a company in the San Francisco Financial District which is the main business district in SF – more suits per square foot than anywhere less in the Bay Area. This company seemed fairly straitlaced but in 1982 when it was formed, placed a nondiscrimination statement in it’s employee manual specifying they did not discriminate based on sexual orientation. They meant it. Gay employees were treated exactly the same as straight employees. They were encouraged to bring their partners to firm social and recreational events. If you had a commitment ceremony the company announced it in the newsletter and gave the couple 1,000.00 just as they did straight employees who married for the first time. We had a couple of employees who were diagnosed with AIDS and the company did everything possible to ensure they were cared for and did not lose their benefits. They were assisted with applying for the company provided private disability payments.

    In 2010 they were bought out by another company out of the Midwest. Their employee manual also stated they did not discriminate based on sexual orientation but the reality was substantially different. If you had a photo of your spouse or partner in your work area which many people did, if you were gay you were reminded that personal photos were not to be displayed “prominently”. Straight employees did not receive a similar caution. Invitations to social events sponsored by the company would state “and spouse” for straight married couples but simply said “plus one” for unmarried people and gay people who were married or in long term relationships. One of the geeks in IT who was gay cautioned the other gays that they had been instructed to look on lap tops and desk computers of the gay employees at least once a month to see if the computer had been used to access a porn site or to download porn. No such request was made concerning the computers of the straight employees despite there was evidence at least two of the straight male employees had actually been cautioned about doing exactly that.

    Over the next three years all of the gay employees [save one] involved in upper or middle management were gone – laid off, fired or simply encouraged to go. Three discrimination claims were filed and quickly paid off. But the fact is that from a workforce which was highly trained, educated and motivated, which included roughly 20% gay employees, the place is now overwhelmingly straight and white which makes them stand out for that reason. At least I was able to pay off my house and live off the settlement for a couple years while I looked for a comparable job to replace the one I had.

  • davidjohng

    I think at some point you have to place more value on being yourself, really being true to yourself than advancing in some fear-based corporate world. Do you want to be happy? You can have both, self love and happiness, and a successful career.

  • Billy Budd

    Now I am a university teacher and researcher and virtually everybody knows I am gay. I have never been discriminated. It is awesome and liberating to be able to live an openly gay life.

  • Heywood Jablowme

    @Juanjo: What a horrible story! Depressing to think it was better than 1982 than now.

  • Hussain-TheCanadian

    I agree with the research, even here in Canada, I think at the upper echelons of management, I find gay managers “tone down” and hide any features of their sexuality. Its even true of me, when i’m sitting with the bosses, all dressed up in a suite, I find myself behaving more “straight” – I don’t mean to do it, but i do recognize it.

    I think its our own internal fears that we might be discriminated against for our sexuality, even though for me, when you walk into my office, you’ll be greeted with a host of pride flags – so its not like im hiding, its just fear, the “what if” factor.

  • Sansacro

    @Juanjo: Important story. Thanks for sharing it, man!

  • VampDC

    I don’t think this is gay men. This is all men.

    And honestly its women too.

    People behave themselves with a more ‘strong’ demeanor in a business atmosphere. I don’t think thats wrong. Of course you don’t show up to a business meeting as your usual casual self.

  • captainburrito

    @Juanjo: That blew my mind. It was a systematic and gradual purging but to me it still seemed violent in a way.

  • GayEGO

    Back in the day when terms like swishy, flip your wrist, etc. were used, it was not a thing to do at work. We did not want the straights to feel uncomfortable around us and some of then would make advances to us, married or not, and I went by the rule – Do not mix business with pleasure. I ignored all of the advances and focused on the work discussions.

  • montana88

    I’m a public defender, and I have to place my fiancé’s picture so clients don’t see it. Office is accepting and open. It’s a very weird dichotomy

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