I had an interesting reflection earlier this week about my process of judging others within the community. We are all guilty of it to a certain extent – own it (Lisa Rinna voice). I’m sure most of us realize that rushing to judgments about others we don’t really know is probably unfair, but it’s what we do. I think it’s a bit amplified among gay humans, but I can’t back that up with scientific evidence. I can however back it up with detailed accounts of catty exchanges over the past decade.
But what made me think a bit more than usual this week came about after my workplace hosted a webcast where some of our longtime employees identifying as LGBTQ+ shared their experiences of how it used to be back in the day as a queer employee. This all comes on the heels of the historic Supreme Court decision banning discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. It was a really enlightening session. Even though I’m blessed to work for an employer that supports the LGBTQ+ community enough to even host a discussion like this, it was interesting to hear how much has changed (even in my own workplace) in the past 10 years or so.
The participants shared accounts of being heinously outed when they weren’t ready to do so, having to hide entire aspects of their lives to assimilate to workplace or educational environments, fearing retribution for living their truth…the list goes on. I only knew of one of the speakers, but not personally. I knew him because over the years, I’ve seen him on and off of Grindr when I was near work. To those of you who have read my books, you know that I have tried to stay away from the app in recent years, but when you’re single and desperate, sometimes you need to know if Mr. Right or Mr. Any Man With A Job in My Vicinity is in the building across the way.
Anyway, over the years I saw this particular speaker on Grindr. He was in his 40’s, and I knew he was not originally from America. He had a shirtless photo – face completely exposed – in a harness with a completely filled-out profile detailing some of the sexual activities he’s into (let’s just say the types of activities that many would classify as kinks). I always felt a type of way about him, because I knew he worked for the same company. It’s not my place to tell a man how to run his Grindr, but I personally would not even want an off-chance of my gay coworkers knowing that much detail about how I’d like it to go down in the bedroom.
So naturally, I judged this guy. I thought it was a little tasteless to be such a freak on Grindr during the workday. Maybe it’s my own issues or “internalized shame.” Sure I was on Grindr myself and even with a face photo, but I just felt like I was doing it in a “classier” way. Saving the details for my chats. I felt like if Grindr is something you plan to do near your workplace, there are certain precautions to take. Granted, you could go home and have an equally sex positive profile while living across the street from your gay boss (negating my theory), but you get it. Grindr and similar apps are a modern reality for many queer people, and I feel like we do an ok job of not judging or outing others simply by virtue of their having a profile on the apps. We have few safe spaces to begin with, I feel like it’s pretty effed up to point out to other coworkers that your gay coworker is a freak, for instance.
But that’s not the point of this post. The point of this post is that internally, I judged this guy. I thought I knew who he was and the type of “gay” he represented. When it came his turn to speak on this webinar, he told a detailed account of how he grew up completely closeted in China, eventually immigrating to America as an adult. For decades of his life, he felt extreme shame for being who he was. When he came to America, he continued to hide who he was, particularly in the workplace. He told himself that “he was just private” to cover up the fact that he was essentially closeted and afraid to share true details of his life. Outside of work, he eventually became a part of an AIDS organization – proving that he was able to come to terms with himself in his personal life and even stepped up to help our own.
He told us how a queer leader at our company shared his own coming out story (at a Pride-related function, similar to this webinar) and eventually inspired this guy to share his truth some years ago . Since then, he has committed to living his life out loud and stepping up for opportunities (like the webinar at hand) to show representation and to pay it forward and hopefully inspire others. I thought to myself…damn. Here I was thinking this guy was uncouth and tasteless, when his sex positive Grindr profile is case-in-point a result of all of the work he has put into loving himself and not being afraid to share it with the world. After checking my own damn self, I was internally proud of what this man had accomplished.
While I don’t think that living out loud always equates to listing your kinks on Grindr, I do believe that it is one form of it that should not be judged. The fact is, we do live in an era where our pursuit of love and companionship is digital, and from time to time we may have the awkward experience of running into people in our own circles during their pursuit of it. While most of us probably don’t need to know what our teachers, bosses, spiritual leaders (or what have you) like to do in bed, I think it’s our collective responsibility to be cool about it and respect their right to find that on apps like Grindr. These apps should function as modern safe spaces (much like gay bars), and it’s our responsibility to foster that environment. It is sad to think how much Grindr outing unfortunately does happen.
Anyway, hearing this guy’s story really put me in my place. I thought the least I could do is share it. There are often deeply rooted reasons for the judgement-inducing things that queers do. And when we take time to hear and understand those reasons, we slowly become a more understanding collective whole.