(Not) Coming Out – A Different Perspective
I know what it feels like to be different, to belong to a minority and to be excluded because of things you can’t control such as gender or origin. The Second World War may be in the past, but the image of “the Germans” from that era and the events of the Third Reich are still ever-present in many people’s minds. As my father is originally from Germany, I was frequently confronted with such prejudice when I was growing up in Denmark. I didn’t always feel like I belonged like most other people. Often I wasn’t just Sara Marie, but Sara Marie the German.
Yet recently I experienced what it’s like to be in the minority because of your sexual orientation and not to find the courage to say “I’m heterosexual” out loud. “What have you got to worry about?” would probably be some people’s response, but I don’t think coming out should be classed as a first world problem. In fact, I think it should be taken very seriously.
But how, as a heterosexual cisgender woman, did I manage to get into a situation where I wasn’t capable of disclosing my sexual orientation?
It was in May this year and I’d only been at PROUT AT WORK for a month when I went to an evening event about LGBT*IQ topics. A large number of company representatives had gathered to hear various presentations on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workplace. As usual, the event was also a networking opportunity and, having only just started my job, I wanted to make the most of it.
My first conversation was with a young man, who talked with ease about his husband, as I did about my boyfriend. We had therefore both outed ourselves. As the evening went on, I joined a larger group who were discussing sexual orientation in the workplace. Everyone was sharing their experiences and talking about their same-sex partners. Everyone, that is, apart from me. I suddenly kept quiet and felt like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I was convinced I’d missed the opportunity to out myself – I couldn’t possibly tell them I was heterosexual now… What would they think of me? They definitely wouldn’t see me as being qualified for my job at PROUT AT WORK. What would a heterosexual woman know about the concerns of the LGBT*IQ community? That’s why I said nothing. I certainly wasn’t going to make up a story for the sake of joining in or turn my BOYfriend into a MALE friend. If my sexual orientation was later revealed, I’d look even more foolish. That’s why I said nothing. Saying nothing, not being able to join in and the fear of giving myself away used up all my energy, so I left the event a short time later.
Unfortunately, the scenario and the associated feelings I’ve just described are definitely not uncommon for many homosexual people. What have I learned from my experience? In my opinion, we shouldn’t call it “the cost of thinking twice” because I certainly thought more than just a couple of times about whether to join in and what to say – internally I was holding entire debates that sapped all my energy. I’m fully aware that this situation was only a brief moment for me – I could have left the event at any time and returned to the world in which I’m part of the heterosexual majority. However, this possibility is not available to homosexual people because they, too, live in a world in which heterosexuality is predominant. Although I was convinced even before this experience that PROUT AT WORK champions important issues, it confirmed to me how vital it is to be able to switch your perspective sometimes. In my view, every heterosexual should have this experience because it was only then that I really understood what hiding yourself like that does to a person.
About the author
Sara Marie Jonek, assistant at PROUT AT WORK, acquired her theoretical knowledge of Diversity Management during her Masters degree in Intercultural Communication at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich. Before joining PROUT AT WORK in April 2017, she had already gained her first practical experience in the Corporate Diversity department at the Deutsche Post DHL Group.
 This term denotes people whose gender identity matches the gender assigned to them at birth.