Should I come out at work?
"I'm worried that telling her I'm attracted to women would change our relationship"
In a lull between serving customers in my shop today, my colleague (actually my employee) told me that one of her friends had “become a lesbian” recently. She was wide-eyed in the telling, and clearly hadn’t seen it coming. She recounted with amusement how another friend had thought this girl was coming on to her (pre her coming out) and how my wide-eyed friend had assured her second friend that the other friend (are you still with me?) had been in a long-term relationship with a man and was just a very friendly girl. Not hard to guess where this story is going, right? So… I smiled as we discussed her second friend’s accurate gaydar… and wondered whether I should fess up that I myself was of the same ilk as her lovely, friendly, previously-straight friend.
I too have recently been in a long-term relationship with a man. And have three virtually-adult children to show for my twenty year marriage. I suspect my colleague would be surprised at my admission of “becoming a lesbian”, although not shocked. It would be safe to tell her. She is young and liberal, and today’s conversation handed me the perfect opening for it. It would be good for me to be honest and true and real about my feelings… wouldn’t it? And yet… I said nothing.
In truth, I think a customer appearing interrupted our conversation, so it would have been slightly rude to continue chatting about my or anyone else’s sexuality in the middle of a busy shop. But as I walked upstairs to the stockroom I pondered whether I should re-open the subject in the next lull in business. There is really no reason not to. She doesn’t know the woman I am in love with so there is no danger of her accidentally outing her too. She doesn’t know my children. In fact, she doesn’t know anyone I know. But I realised that what held me back from divulging my sexual preferences is the nagging worry that telling her that I am attracted to women not men would change the dynamic of our relationship.
I am her boss, but we get on quite well and I am kind of an older-friend-come-mother-figure. Our conversation topics range from our political leanings and relationships (more hers than mine, not surprisingly!) to body shapes and attitudes thereto. My fear is that once the cat is out of the bag, I can no longer so freely reassure her that, no, I don’t think she has particularly big breasts, and that she has a lovely figure and should not be dieting, for example. I worry that if I had these kind of conversations as a gay woman I may appear predatory and weird to her. Would a lesbian boss commenting on one’s breasts be taken as sexual harassment, whilst the same words from a straight, female boss could be viewed as simply a reassuring and friendly remark? And particularly with the age difference between us? Would she consider me a sad, lustful old woman and be creeped-out?
In truth, not one part of me is having lustful thoughts about her, or seeing this conversation as anything other than two women talking about their bodies, but it is impossible to know how it might appear to her, in the new spotlight of my sexuality. It is fair to say that she is an attractive 27 year-old, but not to me. And does it constitute sexual harassment even to just say that about her, in writing, here? Crikey! Being a lesbian boss with female employees could be a minefield! I think I won’t come out just yet after all!
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