Tuesday, September 21, 2010

When Homophobia Poisons Your Work Environment


This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.




As people who read my ramblings on my LJ probably know, work has been causing me no small amount of grief lately and while there are many factors to their causing me grey hairs, a fair amount of it comes from unpleasant pits of straight privileged cluelessness that has caused me no end of headaches. 
 

When I had my expedited descent down a stone staircase, they called my brother in Wales before thinking to call my husband. In fact they didn't think of it at all until I insisted.  
 

I've been told to put Beloved's picture away because it upset clients - I've had the Senior Partners then apologize to both those clients and others who didn't want to work with me. I have yet to establish exactly what they were apologizing for. I've been taken off cases because clients and, in one case, a barrister objected. I've been put on cases because it was felt they needed a female lawyer and our female lawyers wouldn't add to their work loads. 
 

I do more flexible hours, more traveling, more police station call outs at 3:00am (which are so FUN, especially since 80% of the clients are too drunk to do anything more than vomit on your shoes) and more 90 hour weeks than my straight counterparts - we're all in relationships, but mine doesn't need time like theirs - it's not the same, "not really." My husband  - no, wait, they corrected me on that, "civil partner" - doesn't need as much attention as my heterosexual colleague's partners.
 

When I need time for my family, no chance; yet no-one ever questions my straight colleague's anniversaries, in-laws weddings/milestones (after all, Sparky will cover for them). And when I complain about this, I get a snarky comment about not needing that much time for my "sex life." Because sex is the ONLY reason I could possibly want to spend time with Beloved, right?
And part of it stems from that eternal fallacy that to be a homophobe/racist/misogynist/insert-ist here you have to be as extreme as possible. That anything short of being raging hateful bigots with torches and pitchforks  is not REAL -ism, -ist etc.
 

Because when I presented this semi-coherent grumble, the response I received was:
"We're not homophobic, we employed you!" 
 

To which I pointed out that they had no idea I was gay until I had been working for them for some time (I'd been burned before). And I got in reply... 
 

"But we didn't fire you or anything when we found out." And yeees, I do believe that's an expectation of gratitude there. It certainly explains why I feel a desperate need to wash.
Yeah. Am I supposed to be grateful? Give out cookies? Maybe a little star? I work longer hours, am infinitely more flexible and have a higher success rate and a lower screw up rate than just about any of my colleagues and accept far more demands - but you didn't arbitrarily fire me because of my sexuality and this is proof of your open and accepting nature? 
 

And this is something that arises so often it gives me a headache and adds to my growing number of grey hairs. You don't have to be a raging violent bigot to carry an ism - to be homophobic or transphobic or misogynist or racist or ableist or any other ist, ism or phobia. 
 

And if you aren't a raging, violent bigot, well... yay? I mean, should we say well done? Thank you? Like that Senior Partner being proud of not arbitrarily firing me expecting me to be grateful. And it's not uncommon - with all marginalisations I've seen - for the act of not being a raging bigot is treated as something... special? To be appreciated? 
 

I don't think "not being a complete arsehole" is really much of an achievement or especially praiseworthy  - even if complete arseholes are rather common - and doubly so if, while not being a complete aresehole, there are still elements of arseholery there.