The Corporate Closet Managing Gay Identity on the Job
Though we tend to think of organizations in asexual terms, a certain model of heterosexuality pervades most white-collar workplaces. Heterosexual behavior and values are disguised by official ideologies that require professionals to be "asexual" at work, in accordance with prevailing beliefs about privacy, professionalism, etiquette, intimacy between co-workers, and the irrelevance of sexuality to work. The hegemony of this model ensures that heterosexuality is rendered invisible, while homosexuality is made to seem disruptive, conspicuous, and unprofessional. Working within these environments, gay professionals adopt one of three strategies in their management of sexual identity. Some men "counterfeit" a heterosexual identity through the manipulation of outward appearances. Others "integrate" an identity by minimizing, normalizing, politicizing or dignifying their sexuality in the workplace. Still another group tries to "avoid" a sexual identity altogether by verbally or situationally dodging sexual displays. Some men use more than one of these strategies, which requires them to segregate their audiences, carefully monitoring the different approach used with each. The choice of strategy is influenced by several factors. Men who counterfeit an identity usually do so to evade the stigma of being gay, but feel socially invisible, anxious, and dishonest. Avoidance strategies protect the gay professional from social situations that might expose or discredit him, but deny him social opportunities and relationships he might enjoy. Finally, men using integration strategies pay for their candor by exposing themselves to prejudice, intensified performance pressures, and the double-edged sword of tokenism. The men's choice of strategy was also influenced by their co-workers' attitudes towards homosexuality, by their perceived economic vulnerability, and by the availability of role models. The study draws on interviews with 70 men in five U.S. cities. They range in age from 22 to 64 and represent a wide range of professional, white-collar organizations.