Image via Jose Pablo Garcia
I've spent most of my professional life worrying about how I present myself to others and it all started with this sentence: "Hey dad, I think I like boys."
My father said nothing as he pulled the car over to the side of the road. I can still hear the sound the tires made coming to a stop on the dirt and gravel. He turned to me and grasped my shoulders so hard I thought he’d leave bruises in the shape of fingers. He began to shake me while speaking in a low, angry yet concerned voice: “Never say that again, Christopher. Never, do you hear me? If I catch you ever saying that again…”
He trailed off for a moment before letting go of me. He faced forward, slamming his hands down onto the steering wheel. The car suddenly spun out in the gravel before gaining traction, slamming me back into my seat as we hurdled onto the road. I sat in silence for the rest of the trip. I never said a word to him after that for the entire weekend he was home. He left the following Monday, he was a truck driver, and I didn’t see him again for several months.
All and all, it was a tame reaction for my father. He’s never been one to shy away from striking his children or kicking us out of the house. It wasn’t until I was an adult I realized he was probably trying to protect me in his way. I grew up in the forested mountains of Eastern KY, you see. Directly in the heart of the Appalachian coal mining industry.
When I was in Highschool, I was openly Pagan, which got me a few snide comments, but that’s about it. I’m sure the other kids just assumed I was trying to be goth or something to get attention. It wasn’t until I let it slip that I liked everyone, which includes other boys, that I got the ever-living snot kicked out of me by a group of five other boys. I tried to brush that off as backwater jerks being intolerant.
Fast-forward a few years, and I'm on the other side of the state in Louisville, KY. I moved away from home a few weeks after graduation so I could start college early and so I could get as far away from home as I could. I thought this city would be way more progressive and I'd find other people like me, which I did, but it's not all I found.
While working for a certain unnamed company I used a floating holiday to take August 1st off. My supervisor told me I couldn't do that because floating holidays, in that company, were only for actual holidays not any day of the week. I replied to the email telling them it was a religious holiday of my faith. I got the day off and I was feeling pretty good.
I went into work for my shift on August 3rd to find my security badge wasn't working. I walked around to the public-facing office and told the person behind the desk that I couldn't badge in. They looked up my employee ID and told me to hold on while they verified something. A few minutes later a security guard came into the room and told me my badge didn't work because I had been terminated. He led me up to where I worked to collect the things that they had already cleared for me. As I was leaving my supervisor told me it was due to my poor numbers/stats. My manager however had no qualms speaking up over them saying "we just don't need your kind here."
As I walked to my car it struck me, I'd been fired because of my religion.
I spent the next several days being angry and not knowing what to do with all the frustration and anger inside me. It was clear to me that no matter where I went there would still be people who were intolerant, bigoted, racist, asshats. I wasn't going to let them control my future. If letting someone know I was Pagan got me fired I didn't want to even imagine what would happen if they knew I liked the same gender.
I spent the rest of my professional life pretending to be straight and never talking about religion or politics in the workplace. I thought that had served me well but all it did was ensure that I worked for the same blue-collar types that ran their software departments like they were trying to mimic IBM in the 70s. Even in software development I always found myself working with the chauvinist types. Day in and day out it was always sexist jokes and guys talking about women like they were objects and I just tried to ignore it and focus on my work.
Sometime in the Summer of 2020, when things looked horrible, and we were all working from home I had a f*ck it moment. I decided that even though it had been years since I on was dialysis and got my transplant that I should stop doing what I had always done. I'd had three jobs between my transplant and my f*ck it moment and I was in the middle of two interviews but I just didn't care. I opened Twitter and sent out a single tweet "I'm gay." I mean, it would be great if that's what I said, I'm sure I said something awkward but I couldn't find the tweet.
So far nothing bad has happened. I haven't been fired, very few people in the professional community have said anything negative to me, and the world is still spinning.
Do you know what did happen though? I dropped 22 years of stress off my shoulders in a single week. All of a sudden I was open and honest about who I was and the greatest thing happened, no one cared! It was amazing!
I know it sounds weird to say that no one cared but what I mean is; it's not the early 2000s anymore, people are way more accepting than they used to be especially online.
If you get anything from this story I hope that it's you don't have to hide who you are in your workplace. If you feel like you have to then you're in the wrong place!
Just know I love and support you no matter what you do, and I hope if you are still in the closet that in time you find your way out into a loving caring place.