In the back of my mind I hear a persistent fear: Do I sound too gay?
I know this is a question I shouldn’t care about, yet it sits there. The question makes me attempt a very "straight" view of confidence — especially at work.
When I enter a meeting, I deepen my voice. I make long strides to show my confidence. And I will talk about my interests in investments and sports, rather than those in the arts and baking. I was called out on it recently.
A client I meet with regularly saw me talking to someone at a networking event. He came over and said it was as if I was a different person. I'm very relaxed around him and I definitely wasn’t at this event. Pointedly, he asked, "Do you think being more masculine correlates with career success?"
This confrontation spurred a series of thoughts: What am I hiding? Who am I trying to please? What do I want to achieve by doing this?
The truth is that I am hiding myself, pleasing no one, and getting nowhere.
I am the first to attest that my personality is nuanced and takes many forms, and I aim, sometimes unsuccessfully, to be undeniably me. By second-guessing myself and the respect of others, I am reducing myself. It's my fault for not trusting others to consider me an equal.
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, "Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner." When I adjust my personality to fit into another’s expectation I fall into a trap of my own making. I'm also assuming the worse of them; not trusting them to take me as I am.
I'm far from the only gay or bi man who fights this fight daily, especially in situations where we're outnumbered by straight people, especially men. A 2012 University of California, Los Angeles, study found, "Some gay men are preoccupied with traditional notions of masculinity and express negative feelings towards effeminate behavior in gay men. Various scholars have speculated that such attitudes by gay men reflect internalized negative feelings about being gay."
There is no denying that LGBT people face discrimination for being themselves, especially at work. We've all seen it, whether it's gay jokes or outright harassment. In kowtowing to this homophobia — and compensating by acting more "masculine" — we help cement the idea that there is one way to be a man, and anything else won't be taken seriously.
Gay men in their 20s and 30s have been given the privilege of seeing a generation of LGBT people live out and proud. It falls to us to champion greater inclusion for the next generation by living authentically — even if that means everyone knowing you dig guys the second you open your mouth.
CONRAD LIVERIS is an Australian writer focusing on issues of gender equality and diversity.