Coming Out At the Interview
My potential new boss (NB) and her boss (BB) smiled at me across the conference room table. Evidently they liked what they heard.
I was looking for a new position because my current commute was killing me. On good days, it was over an hour door-to-door. Routinely, though, traffic gridlock more than doubled my travel time. After yet another 7:30 p.m. arrival home, frustrated and starving, I announced to TDL, “That’s it! I can’t do this anymore.”
As I waited in the reception area on the day of my interview, I was confident and calm. Until I realized – new company, new boss, new coworkers invited a whole new set of opinions on my personal life. Panic set in. Immediately I thought, is the commute really that bad? Are you sure about this? For a fleeting second, I considered making up an excuse and running the hell out of there.
The first and only time I had come out at work was about five years prior, via an email to my boss, who had requested personal details for a company announcement. When I told her I had a wife, not a husband, her response had been immediate, non-judgmental and warm. I felt safe. Now, in these different surroundings, the familiar anxiety was again rising to the surface.
I’d grown comfortable being out at work. Long ago I stopped caring about what people think of me. I’ve been both closeted and out at work, and being out is better. I’ve grown immune to the occasional slur or negative comment that sometimes comes my way at work. I love having TDL’s picture on my desk. I refuse to edit myself any more in casual conversations about my weekend or vacation plans.
But yet, sitting across from the two women who controlled my potential employment, I was hoping (praying) that they’d confine themselves to business topics only. I reassured myself that no matter what their unknown individual beliefs or political leanings related to LGBT issues were, the language on their website affirmed their commitment to diversity. I pushed aside the thought that the text was probably written by a wordsmith like myself, and may not reflect what goes on at the company in the day-to-day. I listened intently for any clues in the conversation revealing their sentiments diverged from the company’s stated policy.
Two other people visited the conference room in 15 minute increments to ask specific questions. NB and BB stayed throughout. We were winding down when things took a turn.
BB had one final question. The job description required heavy writing experience, and she stated they were looking for someone “passionate” about writing. She asked, “Do you write in your spare time, for pleasure? Do you have your own blog, for instance?”
“Yes, I write a blog.”
BB leaned forward, interested. “Oh, really? What’s it about?”
Rapidly, my mind flitted through my options: 1) Why not just disclose everything all at once and get it over with? No, no, no. 2) After the offer, discuss privately with the HR director. Get her take on it. 3) Best to assess the lay of the land first. Wait a few months (or a year or ten) and casually bring up the subject one day. Or, 4) Simply place TDL’s photo on your desk and wait for the inevitable questions to follow.
The seconds were ticking away. I had to say something.
I hedged. “Well, it’s a personal blog. You could say I’ve led an interesting life.”
“Oh.” BB sounded disappointed.
NB cleared her throat. “Interesting life?” she repeated softly. I glanced over at her. She was staring at me with a downturned, sardonic smile. Suddenly I realized NB and I belonged to the same small industry networking group that met monthly. A little voice crept into my head. She knows.
I lifted my chin; my enthusiasm returned. “Yes, my life’s been interesting. People seem to like what I write.” I mentioned authoring guest posts, and told them how many followers I had.
Both women sat up straighter. NB said, “Well, I guess other people find it interesting, too.” BB smiled broadly. “We’ll definitely be getting back to you,” she said, shaking my hand.
I berated myself the whole way home. What’s wrong with you? You had the perfect opportunity, a gift-wrapped lead-in. You blew it, completely and totally.
I asked myself why. The answer made me sick to my stomach. Because, in that moment, you were afraid. What a coward!
I don’t know if they’ll request a second interview. But one thing I do know — if given another chance, I decided – I promised myself – to be forthright. If necessary, I’ll bring up the subject myself.
I’m not going back into the closet for anything, not even a 15-minute commute.