In the 1980s I worked briefly for a small catalog retailer. I won’t name them here and they went out of business long ago anyway. It was a brief term of employment, for the same reason a lot of my terms of employment back then were brief…back in the days of Ronald Reagan and the Moral Majority…back in the days when I was grimly determined to live my life just as if it didn’t matter to anyone that I am gay.
I was hired pretty quickly. I was young, had some good prior experience working on the warehouse and distribution side of retail, and had briefly managed a little supply office in a private hospital. Before that, I’d worked several years for a very large retailer whose shipping and receiving areas had been innovatively designed around the workflow rather then being the usual large empty spaces full of boxes and crates. It had been a revelation…the design of the workplace Mattered…and as my prospective employer and I toured his work area, I began making layout suggestions based on what I’d learned from that large retailer. He took an immediate liking to me, and the next morning I was extended a job offer.
It was, as I said, a small company. The morning of my first day I was introduced to my fellow employees. There were about eight of us who worked in the central warehouse. Within, I am not kidding, the first thirty minutes of my employment then, I knew who was a) Married, b) Had Children, c) Expecting Children, d) Dating, and what sex it was they were dating. I figured it was a safe bet they were all heterosexuals, because in their own way, they’d pretty much told me as much. “You live in Rockville? My wife teaches school there…” Of course, some of them could have been closeted, living double lives or self denying. But there was no Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy when it came to heterosexuality. There never is.
I worked there for about four months, until the day one co-worker said he was taking his girlfriend to the beach that weekend, and I casually mentioned that I was going to Pride Day. As I said, I was determined to live my life as if it made no difference. Problem was, it did. Back then, it always did.
So I’m thinking about that part of my life as I’m reading this news story about yet another anti-gay jackass bellyaching that he could get along fine with Teh Gay really swell if only they’d just stop flaunting it…
If homosexuals want to avoid discrimination they should be more discrete about being homosexual, U.S. Rep. Steve King, R-Kiron, said Tuesday on the radio program of Family Research Council President Tony Perkins.
Some days you wonder if you’ve slipped back in time a couple decades or so. This is an old, very old bit of kook pew rhetoric. We’re not prejudiced, we’re just asking you to kindly pretend you don’t exist… One way of looking at it is that it’s blaming the victims of hate for being hated. But it is more ugly then that. Much more…
King then told a story about his days in the Iowa Senate, when gay activists came to lobby a fellow Republican lawmaker, state Sen. Jerry Behn of Boone, for protected status for sexual orientation and gender identity.
He said, “Let me ask you a question. Am I heterosexual or homosexual?” And they looked him up and down ‚Äî and actually they should have known ‚Äî but they said “We don’t know.” And he said “Exactly my point. If you don’t project it, if you don’t advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?” And that’ at the basis of this.
And the answer to that is let me work for you one day senator, and unless you are living a double life (and you’re good at it) I’ll pretty much know your sexual orientation, and also the sexual orientation of everyone who works for you. I’ll see it in the photos on your desk or on your wall. I’ll hear it in your casual asides about your home life, about current events, culture, politics. Nobody keeps that out of the workplace. Nobody is expected to. Except gay people. Gay and straight, we all have lives. Loved ones get sick and need care. Relationship stress inevitably leaks into ones working hours. The smart, productive company cares for its employees as human beings, with human lives and human needs. Nobody is expected to walk into the workplace leaving their humanity utterly behind as if they were literally cogs in the machinery. Nobody. Except gay people.
If you don’t project it, if you don’t advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?
At first glance you might mistake this for Behn saying that if he doesn’t know you’re a homosexual he won’t treat you like human garbage. But it’s more malevolent then that. The fact is they don’t mind at all knowing that you’re gay, as long as You know that you’re human garbage.
Whether or not I present as gay, or to what degree, I’ve never really groked. Some days I think I’m wearing it on my sleeve. Some days I wonder what NARTH or Exodus crank I have to have a scandal with to stop getting Hot Young Asian Girls LIVE!!! spam. I’m not exactly fem, but on the other hand macho I am definitely not either. I suppose some people can figure it out within a few minutes, while others might have to wait for me to say something to make it plain. But I strongly suspect that many of the folks who hired me, and subsequently fired me over the course of my life, knew they were hiring someone who was probably gay. All the employment forms asked my marital status and by the time I was in my thirties being single and not divorced (yes, there was usually a checkbox for divorced…sometimes along with widowed…) would have raised some eyebrows. Plus, many of my job interviews took detours into my family life. I reckoned they were digging for clues as to how stable, how reliable an employee I would be. I answered all their questions cheerfully. I suppose I wouldn’t be a blogger if I was overly concerned with privacy.
“No…I’ve never been married. Yes…I still live with my mom…we get along fine and it’s cheaper for both of us…”
There are some controversial studies that claim people actually do size each other’s sexual orientation up pretty quickly. I read this and wonder about what some of those prospective employers were thinking when they saw this wirey, not-deafeningly-masculine guy who’d never been married and was still living with his mother sitting before them. Nobody ever came right out and asked me if I was gay. In retrospect I wish some of them had because it would have saved both of us a lot of time. But I have to figure more then a few of them figured it out and hired me anyway. I have a good work ethic, and enough experience freelancing that I can appreciate how business involves attracting customers and making a profit. They probably took my silence on the matter of my sexual orientation as an affirmation that I knew my place and would stay in it. But as I told a straight friend back in those days, I’m not discreet, I’m single. It’s very easy to be discreet about your love life when you don’t have one.
I have never been ashamed that I’m gay. But if I’m stubborn about anything its that I’m going to act as if it’s nothing unusual. It was simply a matter of having the right context to be open about that part of me. Discussing shipping and receiving workflow wasn’t it. Chatting about plans for the weekend was.
That’s what they’re always saying isn’t it. If only you people didn’t wave it around all the time… But it isn’t about waving it around. It is never about waving it around. That is not what they are complaining about. What they are complaining about, is we don’t hate ourselves anymore.
That’s the unforgivable sin…being gay and being okay with yourself. Looking back, I suppose some of those employers might have felt a bit betrayed when I started actually talking about it. You lied to us! You acted closeted during the interview and you’re really one of those Militant Homosexuals!!! But think about it for a second. Do you really think that someone who regards themselves as fundamentally flawed, damaged goods, a morally tainted human being, makes a good employee? A reliable one? A trustworthy one? Well…no. But if prejudice does anything to a person’s intellect besides killing it, I can’t imagine what. More important then being a good employee is being a good homosexual. And a self hating homosexual is a good homosexual.
If you don’t project it, if you don’t advertise it, how would anyone know to discriminate against you?
But if advertising is simply being honest with people about ourselves and our lives then not advertising means engaging in a deliberate deceit. Why would you? Human sexuality isn’t something we keep discretely enclosed in the four walls of the neighborhood adult video store, it’s a fundamental part of our everyday adult lives. We search for a mate, and finding them, try to build lives together. For better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and health. Empty the worlds art museums, theaters, music and book stores, of anything pertaining to sex…all the love songs…all the achingly beautiful portraits, statues…all the books and plays that so much as touch upon desire, loneliness, the struggle for love…and you have practically emptied them. It is a part of the human bedrock. How do you tell your employer you need to take some time off to be with the one you love when one of their parents have passed away, without explaining why it is vital to both of you that you are there by their side in a time of need…
Uhm….er….my Roommate…er…is burying their mother tomorrow…and…er…I think I should go with them…ah…if that’s okay with you…
If you’re asking yourself what kind of self respecting person even thinks to hide the nature of that relationship you are starting to get it. What King is demanding of us isn’t discretion, but self degradation. We have to accept that there is something profoundly wrong with us. We have to agree that it is not only normal, but an act of moral rectitude to treat gay individuals with contempt. We have to loath ourselves as much as they loath us. We must hide our lives…our Selves…away…in shame.
Then they won’t trouble us. But then they won’t have to…as we’ll do the job of beating ourselves up for them…
“If only we didn’t hate ourselves so much…if only we could just not hate ourselves quite so very much…” -Michael, “The Boys In The Band”
A Militant Homosexual is a homosexual who doesn’t think there is anything wrong with being a homosexual. A Militant Homosexual Activist is a homosexual who acts like there is nothing wrong with being a homosexual. That really is all there is to it. You don’t have to wave the rainbow flag. You don’t have to march in your annual Pride Day parade. You don’t even have to swell with Pride whenever you think of how far we have come as a people since the Stonewall riots. You just have to be comfortable with being gay and being the person you are…and behave accordingly. There is nothing remarkable about expecting to be granted the same human dignity as everyone else. There is nothing unusual in people standing up for themselves, defending their integrity, fighting injustices perpetrated against them. That is simply the human status. We are not the ones making a big deal about our sexual orientation Mr. King. You are.