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I have a friend who is openly gay, but the team does not know. The team refers to his partner as his girlfriend. This has been going on for a while, and it is now too awkward to go back and disclose this information. In addition, our colleagues are old fashioned and sometimes use homophobic slang terms.

He wants to let our team know he has a boyfriend without jeopardising their relationships. What is the best way to get around this situation without letting it go on too far?

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    @WorldGov why call them out at all? Do you think that would benefit this person's work relationships? – Retired Codger Jul 27 '18 at 14:10
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    What country are you in? What is the attitude of your country’s laws to homosexuality? (eg protected against discrimination in the workplace versus persecuted / imprisoned). – A E Jul 28 '18 at 18:23

10 Answers 10

65

The next time his partner comes up in conversation, your friend should refer his partner as "he", and not "my partner" or "she". Do not make a fuss about it, do not make it a challenge, state it as a matter of fact.

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    If I knew of someone previously understood to be female suddenly start being referred to using masculine terms without any other explanation, I'd be more likely to assume they had come out as FtM transgender than anything else! – Carcer Jul 27 '18 at 15:11
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    @Carcer even if you previously only assumed them to be female? – Jasper Jul 27 '18 at 17:34
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    @Jasper if it was just my unsupported assumption, then no - I'd just assume I'd been wrong! But if the assumption had been stated several times in front of someone who would know if it was wrong, and they never corrected it, I'd consider that to be good evidence that the assumption was correct. After a while, I don't expect I would remember that the assumption was never explicitly confirmed - it just becomes a "fact" I know. (I happen to know a lot of trans and nonbinary people, so I suspect my mind jumps to that possibility a lot more readily than most...) – Carcer Jul 27 '18 at 18:52
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There is one point I want to address: "without jeopardising their relationships".

Your friend can't control whether letting them know jeopardizes the relationships. Some people may be embarrassed that they had it wrong and deal with it fine and others may have a drastic change in their relationship with your friend, but this is on them and not something your friend can control.

In the end, your friend has to determine how much he really cares about the relationships with these people. He may not be able to have it both ways. He can't force them not to care about him being gay.

22

This shouldn't affect the workplace at all. If this happen, then you can post a question with your situation... but till (hopefully never) that moment you should treat this like a "common" coming out. Letting them know about your sexual orientation is accomplished with something along those lines:

Coworker: How is your girlfriend doing?

You: Fine, thank you. By the way, it's a boy- friend :).

And then just leave it. No need to disclose anything further. The relationship in the workplace should stay professional and not emotional, if you want to make friends this (coming out) could be really clarifying on who to befriend and who to NOT befriend. In the end, you get the job done and then go home to your boyfriend.

  • "This shouldn't affect the workplace at all." Exactly. What does it matter in the workplace if someone is asexual, bisexual, gay, straight, or any other-sexuality, as long as the job gets done as required? – Ron Maupin Jul 29 '18 at 3:55
  • @user87779, where did I say anything about the law? An employer would be foolish to tolerate discrimination (ignorance) among its employees. An employer has a fiscal responsibility to the business owners/shareholders, and wasting the resources that went into hiring and developing an employee, along with all the experience contained in the employee, is fiscally irresponsible. – Ron Maupin Jul 29 '18 at 16:09
  • +1 And if the coworker follows up with "But why didn't you correct us before?" you can just be honest and say that it had been going on for so long that you didn't know how to do it without being awkward (or whatever explanation is more accurate for you.) – David K Jul 30 '18 at 12:17
10

I have a friend who is openly gay, but the team does not know.

Then he is not openly gay.

The team refers to his partner as his girlfriend. This has been going on for a while, and it is now too awkward to go back and disclose this information.

There are a lot of people who struggle with social awkwardness for a variety of reasons. Your friend's relationship status and his feelings of awkwardness are two different things.

  1. Realize that your friend is not alone.

There are a lot of people like your friend in the same situation. Encourage him to reach out to his social network for help and support. Seek advice from others who've been in the same situation, and encourage him to understand that there might be others at the same workplace experiencing the same issues.

  1. Ask your friend where his feelings of awkwardness come from.

Try to find the root of the awkwardness. Does it stem from anxiety, fear, insecurity or low self-confidence. Trying to find the source of where the feelings come from, and it will help him overcome these feelings in different situations.

  1. Work to overcome shyness of the topic.

Encourage your friend to practice talking about the topic. You can talk with him and perform role playing games. Practice talking about topics he finds stressful to talk about.

  1. Encourage your friend to stop worrying about what other people think.

What another person feels, does or says is out of his control. Your friend can not control other people, and worrying about what they think is an attempt to control what you can't change.

In addition, our colleagues are old fashioned and sometimes use homophobic slang terms.

Homophobic slang was never in fashion.

He wants to let our team know he has a boyfriend without jeopardising their relationships. What is the best way to get around this situation without letting it go on too far?

His friends will understand and accept him for who he is. To them it won't be a big deal.

There is no right or wrong way to come out as gay. How he tells his co-workers is a matter of personal style. It's important to think about it first but pick a time and place when it would be appropriate.

I can only make recommendations:

  • Select a few people he is closest too and tell them privately. Explain the situation and how it makes him feel. When he's around other people being homophobic his close friends will support him.
  • Place a photograph of him and his partner together on his desk. Use a picture frame in the shape of a heart. Allow it to be the opener to the topic.
  • Ask for help from the HR department.
  • Your friend could invite his partner to work for lunch dates. Ask some co-workers if they would like to meet him.
7

Don't overthink this. Direct communication is best.

Hey folks, I don't feel comfortable listening to these homophobic slang terms. I realize you probably wouldn't have used them if you knew I was gay. I'm letting you know so that you can stop calling him my girlfriend.

If the coworkers continue making you uncomfortable after hearing this, it is their problem not yours. Do not hesitate to escalate it to the manager and let her deal with it. Avoiding confrontation at work is important, but that doesn't come at the cost of constantly feeling uncomfortable at work.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jul 27 '18 at 14:45
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I think although there's suggestions of what could be said, the real issue here is that the colleague probably feels awkward from a number of factors; not correcting people for so long and having to hear colleagues' homophobic slurs.

It isn't making a big deal of it to just let people know that they're incorrect, but nonetheless it may be an extremely difficult situation for them. I mean I am pretty sure that a straight man wouldn't often be asked, "how's your boyfriend" which could make them uncomfortable also. It is also more comfortable for many people in same sex relationships to use the word partner and no one should feel like they need to use "he" or "she" in replacement.

For the OP's colleague, they've potentially had to deal with hiding their sexuality in the past which could be a difficult thing to do/deal with.

The employer more than likely has guidelines and policies relating to equality and saying things that could be considered offensive or discriminatory would be prohibited.

If it's awkward for your colleague to personally speak to you other colleagues or correct them, maybe you could somehow bring it up in conversation on their behalf, if they would be comfortable for you to do so.

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From my once off experience of discovering a good friend is gay, your friends relationships will change, because he is moving from hiding something he didn't trust the team to revealing something deeper about his private life. The choice of if it is ultimately a positive or negative change will be up to the individual as long as your friend isn't aggressively defensive but is calmly straightforward about it.

I think the important thing for your friend is to not be defensive, not anticipate everyone is going to freak out, but decide ahead of time to be forgiving and gracious whatever happens - that will win over the most people possible.

As a rather blunt person myself, I would speak about the "elephant in the room" and explicitly say something like "I now trust the team enough that I can be more open about my private life and reveal my choice to have a boyfriend rather than girlfriend".

There isn't a "perfect" way of revealing personal details about yourself that you suspect some will react negatively about, because some people are just not that mature and experienced with life broadly enough to have a good reaction and are instead running on precanned responses from others around them.

When and if the subject comes up, you have as much right to mention your choice of partner as anyone else does, and as much right as anyone else to mention your private life.

If there are particular team mates your friend is certain will support him in this, then talking to them first and somewhere private so they can get through any of their own questions and comments would be helpful (on the basis your friend is anticipating problems)

later you can introduce some humor into the situation, eg if someone complains about the wife / girlfriend being moody during her monthly periods you can laughingly say "sorry to hear that, but very glad I won't ever have that problem!" (or "at least you can mark it on the calendar - I don't get forewarning")

If the comments are getting a unthinking or offensive, you can gently but firmly redirect it, eg for me, as a Christian, when people use Jesus's name in vain, I will sometimes interject in a calm manor "Yes, I know him, do you want an introduction?" - it clearly indicates they are saying something about someone I care about, but also opening the door to discuss Him if they want to.

  • "I now trust the team enough that I can be more open about my private life and reveal your choice to have a boyfriend rather than girlfriend" -> there's something grammatically weird about this sentence. Did you mean to say "my choice"? – Erik Jul 28 '18 at 18:03
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As presented this is an unresolvable conundrum. Is the priority to "come out" (switching to the correct gender pronoun is a good option) or on preserving the professional relationships? If someone "comes out" some people will be bothered about having been deceived while others will feel discomfort with the unconventional sexuality per se. That said: It seems unprofessional to discuss anything related to sex at work in any case so perhaps simply taking it off the table as a topic of discussion would be appropriate and is the only way to avoid being judged (justifiably or not).

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Well, part of the problem was caused by your friend not correcting the people on the onset.

How did they know he was in a relationship to begin with unless he discussed it? How did they come to conclude that he had a girlfriend if he didn't leave that detail out?

Most people are not gay, so if you say that you are in a relationship and they don't already know that you are, they are going to assume the most likely thing.

The best course of action would have been either to not discuss relationships at all, or disclose the details if you do.

Now, your friend has to deal with the fact that he allowed a deception to occur. I suspect there may be some bad blood along the lines of

"why would you think my opinion of you would have changed?" from those who would have been accepting to begin with, and the same feelings from those who would not have been. So he has multiplied his problems.

So, now the best course of action is to let it come out naturally. next time it's mentioned.

So, how's your GF?

Um, actually, I've been dating a guy.

and then deal with the awkwardness as it comes up.

Unfortunately, there is no good way to deal with this at this point. If anyone was going to react badly, they still will, and anyone who was not going to react badly, might, because your friend didn't trust them.

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    @RichardU I think you are correct in that the OP mentioned his "partner" and people made the natural assumption, but Jasper is also correct that the OP has to make a conscious decision about when to release information. There's no use blaming the OP about the "deception". – DaveG Jul 27 '18 at 21:56
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    @DaveG I don't agree. Your choices of how much information you choose to divulge, how you choose to divulge it, and what words you choose very much impact your work relationships. Moving forward, OP may find it preferable to avoid sharing any personal information at all. Go to work, do the work, and come home. Secondly, if your name is Dave and I consistently call you George for a healthy amount of time and you don't ever correct me, it would be reasonable for me to assume that your name is George, and reasonable for others to consider that a form of misleading others by means of omission. – The Anathema Jul 29 '18 at 7:37
  • @DaveG If you allow people to believe false information, you are deceiving them, and the longer you do so, the more foolish they will feel when you finally do. – Retired Codger Jul 29 '18 at 13:02
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I'm going to say first of all, this question is flawed, because it does not match your description. Its not your job to manage your "friends" relationship (I'll leave it to you to guess what the quotes mean).

Second to answer the actual question, why does that need to be "outed" at all? I don't run around going "say, did you know I am a heterosexual?". It would just get funny looks.

I think the nicest way I have seen that done in workplace environment was that we were hanging out one day and discussing relationships. One of our coworkers was gay and everyone knew this. It then came up that another guy there was gay, totally casual. I had no idea he was gay, and I looked at him, and he just smiled. I never asked him if he had tried to hide that, or why he never mentioned it before. I don't inquire about people's sex lives. As it was, it was just a shrug moment, like "didn't know that, ok".

This was in the 1980's, when people were still uptight about this. I was a very private kid in my 20's, and in those days the older guys at work were into various levels of obnoxious intrusion into your sex life. Like asking what girl I was seeing, etc. When I didn't answer, that occasionally spun into assumptions, and yes, 1980's anger about me being gay. I still think you can go overboard intrusive at work. There is such a thing as an ascetic, as in "I don't feel the need to get horizontal with anything or anyone". People's private lives deserve more respect than we get, even in today's live and let live world.

protected by mcknz Jul 30 '18 at 18:36

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