Suffocating In The Closet

Screen Shot 2013-08-19 at 10.42.07 AM

Dear Dr. Darcy:

How do I deal with questions about my relationship situation at work? I've worked for the same company for about 9 years, most of my close co-workers are very respectful of me and just don't pry. I am not "out" at work I guess you could say. I assume most people have either drawn their own conclusion about my relationship status or simply don't care to make it an issue. I am the earner for my household so I feel afraid of losing my job because people who would go out of their way to target a lesbian don't care what I have depending on me at home.

Over the years working for this company at meetings such as benefit meetings it was explained to the group of employees like this: “We are a family oriented-company, we extend benefits such as medical and family medical leave to legally recognized relationships only, and we are not bound by state law (NY) but by federal law.” So when I first started and asked about domestic partner benefits for health insurance I was simply told that [our company doesn’t offer it]. It’s like don't ask don't tell to me. I've never felt threatened by management but if it became any distraction in day to day operations I feel they would just get rid of the distraction - Me. While other employees can proudly announce upcoming nuptials or talk about their spouse I remain a 40 yr old closeted freak all because I'm afraid.

I have a daughter who is 14 and have been with my first and only woman for about 8 yrs.  A couple months ago a former co-worker who I did work with for about 2 years [told me that he went to the same mechanic that I go to and he mentioned that the mechanic thought I was gay but that he’d told the mechanic I am not gay.  I did not correct him.] So now not only am I a coward. I am a liar.

I spent the rest of my night stressing over what a hypocrite I am... Last week while closely training a new guy [at work], the subject of my personal life was brought up by him and once again I stumble... " Uh well I have my daughter and a couple of roommates." He says "Roommates? What do you live in a dorm?" And then I say, "No actually I am a homeowner and I have two female roommate's." He replies, "Oh very interesting. How did that situation arise?" Feeling cornered I get short with him, "Uh well its been that way for about 8 years or so now and that's all I have to say about it, I don't really like to talk about my personal life at work. " He says shocked, "Oh ok."

I feel it is more my problem than his and that I should be able to answer people better but am not mentally equipped to I guess.  Do you have any advice? I also feel bad for my girlfriend. She is not new to being in that position and has no problem answering people's questions about me... I don't want her to feel like I'm ashamed of her.

ANSWER

I feel for you. Your fear, which keeps you in the closet, is palpable.

You are right – this is entirely your issue and has nothing to do with the dumb mechanic, the former co-worker or the new guy who you recently trained.  I did some research to confirm whether your fears are grounded in reality: They are not. New York State has a law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is not to say that you wouldn’t be fired but that you’d have a basis for litigation if that were to happen. You can click here to see for yourself. But I suspect a law will not magically dispel your fears because I don’t think your fears are entirely about being fired.

As members of the LGBT community are granted more and more equality and as additional laws are passed (DOMA repeal, etc.) to protect these rights, an odd thing is going to happen: Some of us will remain in the closet.

When it is legal to discriminate against any group, members of that group can externalize reasons to stay hidden (or in the closet) because there are legitimate reasons for secrecy. The problem is that those members are never forced to examine their own beliefs about who they are or, in our instance, what it means to be gay. We are never required to focus on what may be our internalized homophobia because the homophobia of society is a big distraction. But like I said above: When that goes away, some of us will still be in the closet. Like you.

All of this is to say that I believe you have some unexamined conflicts about being gay and it may be time to take a closer look at your beliefs. You’re feeling deeply ashamed over being a hypocrite (your word – not mine). You are no longer comfortable lying about who you are. There is an expression: When the pain of where you are outweighs your fear of change, you will move. I think the pain that lying is causing you is worse than your fear of coming out of the closet.  I think it’s time to do something different. If not for you, than for your daughter.

Shame is something that we learn and believe me your daughter is learning to be ashamed of who you are. She is learning through you that the world is a scary, unsafe place, and that even her mother can’t keep her safe, because if you trusted that you could keep her safe, you’d speak your truth about who you are.  There are some things that are more important than a steady paycheck. The values that you’re communicating to your daughter will stick with her for her life. Show her that it’s more important to do what’s right in the world than to be forced in the closet. You’re suffocating, for God’s sake.

Get into some therapy to examine your beliefs and to work out any conflicts you may have. Email me for names of shrinks. Once you do that you’ll be better equipped to handle the work issues.

Writer’s Stats: Female, lesbian.