If you’re like most people, you’ve told a lie from time to time.
But have you ever been forced to lie? By a boss? Or parent? Or friend?
How did you handle it? Did you ever come clean and tell the truth?
Back in the day, I got a great job. It was in the Social Work field.
A majority of jobs in this field are low-paying, but I managed to find a position that paid well. Plus, I got to work with teenagers, which was my passion at the time.
In other words, I scored.
During my job interview, I came out.
No, I didn’t come out as a card-carrying Goofball. They could probably tell that the minute I walked in the room.
I came out as a lesbian.
I didn’t plan on coming out, but they asked a question that could best be answered by revealing my sexuality, so I did.
Soon after I was hired, I found out they had considered not hiring me because I was a lesbian.
Not long after that, my boss requested that I hide my sexual orientation from the teens I was working with.
He said he wasn’t worried about the teens as much as their parents. He didn’t want our program to attract negative publicity because I was gay.
I checked with some friends who were well-versed in anti-discrimination laws. They said it was a gray area and there wasn’t much I could do. I also read a book about coming out in the workplace. It said that if you don’t have your boss’s support, it’s not a good idea.
So I stayed in the closet.
When the teens would ask my colleagues if they were married or dating, they would answer. I, on the other hand, was forced to be cagey.
At the time, I had a partner with two kids. So I wasn’t just hiding my sexual orientation, I was hiding my family.
I had only come out as gay a few years before.
So I had only recently waded through a swamp of internalized homophobia in order to admit I was gay. And now I was wading in another swamp, one imposed by my boss.
Needless to say, the work-swamp added to my lingering belief that there was still something to be ashamed of. Something to hide.
Given my internal swamp, it’s not surprising that my surroundings were swampy as well.
So, what did I do?
Given that my choices were limited on the “doing” front, I decided to change the “being” component of the equation. I decided to change how I felt about my queer, Goofball self.
I read books with positive lesbian characters. I watched documentaries about the gay and lesbian liberation movement. I came up with affirmations about my lesbian identity and said them regularly. I kept myself strong emotionally, physically and spiritually with meditation, exercise and healthy eating practices.
And, once a year at my performance review, I checked in with my boss about coming out to the teens.
Was it time? Would it be okay, now that I had been there X number of years?
The answer, time and again, was No.
And still I kept up my internal practices, building myself to a place where I knew, without a doubt, that there was nothing wrong with me. Building myself to a place where, even if I couldn’t tell the teens who I was, I knew who I was.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the time finally came. My boss finally gave me permission to be honest with the teens.
I’d like to say it was incredibly liberating, and in many ways it was. But it was also a little anti-climactic.
It was only when I didn’t care about coming out, when it didn’t matter whether I did or didn’t, that I finally could.
I told this story recently in an Ethics class at Holmes Institute. Jaws dropped as I recounted my boss’s prohibition. My teacher noted that it was a good example of being patient and persistence in the face of injustice.
But what I’m most struck by, as I review the facts of the story, is that I had to change in order for my environment to change.
Yes, it was an injustice. Yes, I did take slow and steady action to change the situation. But the external change was a reflection of my internal transformation.
Ultimately, I walked away from that job. Not because I hadn’t been allowed to come out, but simply because it was time to move on.
And because of what I’d been through, particularly because I’d been able to build my fortitude in the face of resistance, I left there a stronger person. A more flexible and patient person.
But still a Goofball. Praise Spirit.
When have you faced injustices? And how did they change you?