Thursday, February 10, 2011
Lately I've been thinking a lot about the workplace and being gay there. Mine is in San Francisco so you'd think that all these issues would be a thing of the past and, on the surface, that's true. But work is a place where we are required to deal with people who might not interract with us at all in the real world. In that environment, all kinds of negative assumptions are alive and well. The one that has come up for me, of late, has to do with the hypersexualization of lesbians in the eyes of the straight world, in my case, straight women. I know that in the seventies it seemed as though every straight woman thought that every dyke (and every striaight man as well) wanted to jump her bones. In my real life, I have many straight friends both male and female. They are unabashed progressive types who have opened up their lives to include all genders and orientations. And many have come a long way in queer conciousness since I first met them.
I have always found the entire process of making friends at work daunting to say the least. When you are economically dependent on your job, it can be a path laden with danger. Although I get along well with everyone, the people that I actually talk about my life with tend to be queers. Not that I get along swimmingly with all the other queers but at least there is no "fear factor." This hypersexualization phenomenon is truly amazing. About five years ago I tried to be friends with a straight woman from the Phillippines, married with kids and grandkids who was a world traveler with an interesting history of working in the Peace Corps. We schmoozed a lot in our cubicles so one day I asked her if she wanted to go to lunch. After hemming and hawing a bit she said, I don't think so. You know I'm quite happy with my husband. Wow! I guess that she envisioned one hell of a lunch. Silly me, I was just thinking about a salad.
After that disheartening experience I gave up on befriending straight women at work until recently when I connected politically with a union activist. Last year our workplace was a very stressful one, filled with pay cuts and layoffs. I liked her politcal perspective and her sense of humor. Here, I must add that I've been with my present partner for 12 years and am not looking for another sexual involvement. Both my girlfriend and I are monogamous sexually but neither of us are monogamous emotionally, meaning we both actively befriend other people. Also, I have to admit I'm not good at small talk and being of jewish descent, Im a bit of a terminal neurotic.So maybe I was inappropriate and too forward with self-revelation because I was having a meltdown due to my incredible, shrinking paycheck. But I felt that it was mutual and I certainly never proposed anything untoward or made any kind of advances at all. In fact I remember a conversation where I admitted that my libido was disappearing as I got older. But I was beginning to notice avoidance behaviors from her, which are really destructive in a workplace. Then I heard from a gay male friend that she though I'd been coming on to her!
Now, I avoid her completely which is sad but much safer for my career. I thought she was a lefty, but I guess the political isn't always personal on some level.
I find this whole episode tremendously depressing. It reminds me of the way the critics of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy worried about gay males distracting straight comrades with aggresive sexuality while dodging bombs and bullets. Has all salaciousness been relegated to us queer folks? Do other people who've had these experiences have any suggestions? Maybe only time will shift this kind of prejudice.