“My daughter has been offered a job with a rather close-minded company. She is a recent graduate and needs a job. Should she take the job knowing that she would probably have to remain quiet about her sexuality?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Renee Zalles
As soon as I turned 18, I started amassing a collection of tattoos on my arms and chest – all in very visible places. The only way to cover them up is to wear a button-down shirt, buttoned all the way to the top and at the sleeves. My dad always said, “How are you going to get a good job with those tattoos?” and I always responded that I’d never work somewhere where people judged me in such a superficial way. And it’s true. Thirteen years later, I work at an office where tattoos are commonplace, and have worked at similar places since I was 18.
When I first started in advertising, I would hide my tattoos during job interviews, and especially in client meetings. Even though I love them, I was afraid the big, corporate, suburban-dwelling clients would think I wasn’t as smart as everybody else in the room. Over a long period of time, as I got to know the clients, I started rolling up my sleeves more often, feeling that I had already proved my intelligence and worth enough to finally reveal who I truly was. And a really funny thing started happening. It turned out I was way better at my job when I was being myself. I was more confident, more creative, and far more outspoken than ever before.
When I interviewed for my second job in advertising, I didn’t hide my tattoos. And when I met the new clients for the first time, I didn’t worry about what I was wearing. And things are going great so far.
The point of all this is that you can always cover a part of yourself up, but sometimes you don’t realize how important that part is to you until you let it free. I didn’t know I was missing something really key to my identity and self-confidence because I’d never tried revealing the tattoos. I had always assumed something negative, without giving coworkers or clients a chance.
Honestly, this is a really tough question to answer because there is no right answer. But as a proud gay person who has found much success in being honest about myself, both tattoo-wise and sexuality-wise, I would suggest your daughter take the job and be open about her sexuality. Overall, I think it will be a vastly better learning experience than if she were to not take the job simply out of fear of being herself, and here’s why:
1. There’s a good chance that even though the company is conservative, the individuals who work there are caring and accepting. I’ve often found that by simply being casual and talking about my girlfriends in the same way straight people talk about their significant others puts people at ease immediately. If you act like it’s normal, all of a sudden they’re the ones being abnormal for thinking otherwise.
2. If coworkers are not accepting and your daughter feels uncomfortable, or feels she isn’t being treated fairly, she can just leave. It often takes experiencing things we don’t want to be a part of to truly get to the heart of what we really want and need. So even if she does end up leaving, she’ll probably learn something and grow. I know that sounds a little harsh, but that’s my belief. I am a firm believer in trying things and feel that regretting things or having “what-ifs” is far worse than going through a rough but short-lived period of time in which valuable life experiences are gained, positive or negative. In fact, one of my tattoos says Trust your Struggle.
3. Lastly, while it’s by no means the job of the LGBTQ population to educate others about ourselves or our lives, I have to admit I think it’s pretty cool to be the token gay person to broaden everybody’s horizon. At my first job in advertising, so many people at the office actually said to me, “I didn’t know gay people could look like you do [feminine].” It was shocking for so many reasons, a huge one of which was that it was an office in San Francisco. Anyway, what I loved about this was that I had unwittingly played a small part in showing straight people who lived in a really straight bubble (in San Francisco, for god’s sake!) that gay people come in all shapes, sizes, etc, and can be super normal! Super normal looking even; maybe even “straight-looking”!
These days, I don’t hesitate for a second to let coworkers and clients know I have a girlfriend, not a boyfriend. And I won’t lie – it was definitely hard the first few times. Ok, it was hard like the first 50 times. But, it’s just so true that It Gets Better, even when you’re an adult. It just keeps getting better.
Renee Zalles has a BA in English Lit, a MFA in Advertising, and a PhD in being gay.
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