Life

What To Know Before Coming Out At Work, According To 3 People Who’ve Been There

Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection

There are a lot of different reasons to come out, but there are just as many reasons for people to avoid coming out, especially at work. While cis and straight people aren't expected to have to announce their gender identities and sexualities, queer folks need to find a balance between living freely and living safely. But do you need to come out at work?

"I'd like to say that you just shouldn't work anywhere that wouldn't embrace who you are," says Luca, 34. "But a lot of people, especially trans folks, don't have the economic luxury to do that."

According to a 2013 report released by the National LGBTQ Task Force, an advocacy organization for queer people, trans workers are twice as likely to be unemployed as their cisgender peers. Trans workers of color specifically are four times more likely to be unemployed than the national unemployment average. As a whole, LGBTQ people of any gender face potential discrimination on the job, with nearly half of LGBTQ people facing some kind of employment discrimination at some point in their lives, Reuters reports.

With the possibility of discrimination looming so large, it's worth remembering the benefits of coming out. Studies have shown that coming out at work increases day-to-day mental health and lower rates of burnout in LGB people, and boosts in confidence for trans folks. Having your coworkers use your correct pronouns, or making sure your spouse is invited to the holiday party, just makes work life a lot more livable.

"It can feel impossible, but you have to find a balance between your mental health and your job stability. It's like, day-to-day emotions versus 'can I pay my rent?'" says Leo, 36. "But like anywhere else, finding other queer folks on the job can be a life-saver."

At the end of the (work) day, the only person who can decide when, if, and how you come out at work is you.

Often, it's easiest to come out at work to people you've grown close to first, then gradually to others. Devin, 22, used to work in a retail chain. Because his uniform included name tags, Devin tells Bustle that he put a good amount of effort into making sure that his correct name was on his tag, rather than his deadname. He came out slowly after that. "I basically waited to see which pronouns my new co-workers would use and only said anything if it was the wrong ones," Devin says. "Eventually either I had told them, or they had been told by another co-worker."

When you're just starting at a new job or working at a smaller company, though, coming out can present a new set of obstacles. On Devin's first day at a new job at a smaller company, he says, his HR representative asked how he wanted her to handle people asking her if he was trans. He asked that she wait and let him come out on his own terms, until he's no longer "the new person."

Even if it's technically safe to be out at your job and you do so on your own terms, sometimes people just... don't get it. "I was working in a particularly gendered industry," Leo says, "so honestly? I didn't even try to come out as nonbinary and explain they/them pronouns." Leo thought that telling people to use he/him pronouns would be easier for their colleagues to grasp, but people consistently misgendered them anyway, even with their unambiguously masculine name.

"It made it super upsetting to go to work every day, like I was 'taking up too much space' when I tried to correct people or like I 'wasn't trans enough' when I didn't have the energy to correct people," they say. Finding supportive queer colleagues who used their pronouns and offered to correct other people for them was a saving grace for Leo.

At the end of the (work) day, the only person who can decide when, if, and how you come out at work is you. If you're in the process of deciding what's safest and healthiest for you, it's important to remember that you're not alone. "There's always another day to be yourself," Luca says, "and there's always another day to remember that you deserve safety and respect, on the job and everywhere, whether you're out at work or not." If you're seeking more resources on coming out of work, you can check out the Human Right's Campaign's guides for trans folks and other LGBQ people.