Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ponderances of Life at Work

Originally Posted on August 8, 2005

In my travels over the past 14 years of being an openly gay man, I find it amazing how many people never gauge me as being one of the tribe. It boggles my mind that even my own people would even think of me as either a closet case or some straight guy with a wife, 2.54 kids, a house in Maple Grove and a Honda minivan. Then, I realized that I have never done any of the obvious things that would even give any straight person any credence towards my sexual orientation.

So, here I am, looking pretty masculine to my own people, while walking among my co-workers at my mundane job who are probably wondering why I never talked about having any relations with a woman.

You gotta love heterosexuals!

I guess the one thing that makes the majority of our subcultures unique are the fact that most times out of many, we can never blip on any heterosexual’s defense radar as being gay. It is an advantage? Perhaps. Though, some of us former activists of Queer Nation and Act Up yore would like to make sure that they know there’s a gay man in their midst, and they shouldn’t worry about any sexual harassment from any of us.

They’re a strange breed: heterosexuals. The funny thing about them is that 92.8% of all heterosexually-identified men have had a homosexual experience, according to Dr. Alfred Kinsey. If this is the case, then why do most of them fear us? I understand if they were stepping out of my way at work, since I do carry a “wide load,” but, c’mon!

Granted, we do enjoy a lovely bit of scenery among the cube farm or any work environment we graze in. Yet, in the tight quarters of this struggling economy, any thought towards acting upon the passing fantasy is an invitation for disaster. In employment spaces in the past, I used to put up at least one indicator that I am of the woofy tribe of gay men in my workspace. It was amusing to know that anyone, even the gay folk at work, would anyone think anything of the International Bear Brotherhood flag pinned to the wall of my cube?

Yes, a few people at work know that I am a “friend of ‘Will and Grace.’” Or, at least, one who doesn’t look or act gay, but does wonderful things to other gay men’s bodies, especially large furry ones. But, I’m just the same as my co-workers, discussing sports, politics, work issues, my co-workers health, spousal, dating and children issues, and, to a point, my writing pursuits.

And yet, my co-workers can simply amaze me. A few years ago at my former job with a telecommunications company in Madison, Wis., a potential customer from nearby Janesville called and asked whether the company I worked for supported “homosexual causes.” The co-worker ran that by one of our supervisors, who shocked me by saying that it was an absurd question. The rest of my co-workers reacted favorably to his comments, and my further wanting the co-worker to transfer the homophobic customer over to my phone line. My co-workers now know who the gay one is and feels comfortable about it. After the customer stated that she’ll go with AT&T or Sprint, I offered up the fact that AT&T has one of the largest gay employee groups in corporate America.

Then, there’s the issue of clothing yourself for work. Back in 1997, I decided to get real about the job I had as a government contractor at a Defense agency near Washington, DC and went out shopping for some new work clothes.  It was quite embarrassing that I was running threadbare, so the need arose to try to look professional for my job.  As much as I liked my job, I would like to be able to keep it, so looking professional does help.

At recent job at a major retailer’s corporate headquarters, I had to be professionally presentable. Luckily, at my current position, I was able to slack off a bit and leave the ties and the pretense at home

I've always struggled with the several undeniable truths that always present itself because of who we are.  As gay and bisexual men, we are always pegged as the fashion plates of the business world.  We always look great in a pair of Polo khakis, a Geoffrey Beene dress shirt, and a DKNY tie with Kenneth Cole shoes.  However, as Bears, we are pegged on the negative end of the spectrum as "fashion disasters."  Wearing flannels, jeans, Doc Marten's and a bar vest may not work well on executive row, but at least we can coordinate and accessorize well.

Yet, I often wondered one thing about "business casual" or "business professional" dress codes: is it really required to wear slacks or khakis on the belly or below?

This is the big argument amongst us about how we wear our pants. I know in my case that if I wore my pants at my belly button, it'll hurt like hell!  Besides, I would look dorkier than I am now!  So, like my jeans, my khakis are worn below my gut.  Certainly my gut may not be the best bear gut on earth, but the right shirt does justice to it.

Dress shoes cut into my tender feet. The good news is that my current place of employment allows more sensible shoes even when you're dressing "business professional" or “Trend Right.”  To me, sensible shoes are a pair of New Balance walking shoes or a pair of athletic shoes. I have made my compromise with some nice black shoes that works well with khakis and slacks.

But once the pain and negotiation is eliminated, I figure the rewards will come.  On one hand, your boss compliments you.

"Gee, Randy, looks like you're after my job."
"No, I'm doing half of it already!"

Then, straight guys might look at you with respect.

"Randy, you're looking sharp!" 
Then, a quiet thank you...

Probably the reaction that throws a lot of us off is how women react to us.  Needless to say, straight women can be a gay man's best friend.  I remember back at my government contract job, my co-workers Tacilia and Meesha complimented me:

"Dang, Randy, you're going out like a lady killer!"
If the “lady” happens to be a big, furry, goateed gentleman wearing glasses and an adorable smile, yeah...

Sorry, I can't vouch for any gay male responses, since there aren't any that I can recall.

I must tell you the story of the Annual Meeting my former contracting company had back in 1997 in Arlington, Virginia. The country club that hosted the event had a rule stating that all men must wear a suit or sports jacket when they attend a function at the clubhouse.  Being one who does not own a suit, I had to get a sports jacket.  Luckily, one of my roommates at the time had one that did fit...somewhat.  I went with my boss over to the meeting after work and put on my jacket in 97 degree weather!  I had some compliments from the women and a few of the men there. I guess I can pull it off when you're in a pinch.

Yes, new clothes will does wonder to your future and your self esteem. It may score points with your Human Resources Department, your customers even the head of your unit. I know that with my close-cropped hair and neatly trimmed goatee, I can still retain my individuality and my bearishness while being professional.

Have I created a new image for bears?  I've once said that a bear in a Hugo Boss suit looks damn hot. Even out of that suit, but that's another topic...

I know that everyone’s experience in the work world is different than mine. Yet, after four years of working as contractor at a Defense agency near Washington, DC, I feel much more liberated now since I moved to the Midwest. This puts a major ease on my heart and mind when I walk into the cube farm every Monday through Friday. Now, I have no qualms when my co-workers ask me to join them for lunch somewhere on the downtown Minneapolis skyway or celebrate a birthday at a nearby drinking establishment as long as it does not interfere with my obligation to my writing work and with my significant other. Of course, that also means dressing well enough to want your supervisor’s job.

After all, a gay man has to have something to talk about on Monday morning, whether it’s the Minnesota Twins or the bear twins I met at Trickx last Friday night.

1 comment:


    Biff: Randy, this is one fine blog post. I too face the same challenges and approval as you do, dress wise as well as sexual orientation.

    It amazes me how straights don’t have gaydar.

    I also agree with you that while the suit doens’t necessarily make the hot bear man, a fine tailored suit does make him more WOOOFY.

    Thanks again for sharing your observations. They got me to thinking.

    Big hugs.