While having a much-needed tea break in a nearby café just before closing, I ran into a friend and colleague I hadn’t seen in a few months. We’d become friendly after we collaborated on project but when the it ended and we went back to our departments, we never seemed to find the time to meet up. It was unfortunate as I enjoyed her company and she was one of the only gay people at work I was friends with. However I wasn’t out to her. She once described me as “the straightest” straight man she knew. While I was amused, I wasn’t sure I liked that description especially the frisson of pleasure I felt when she said it. Did that mean I was completely boring with no redeeming qualities? Was the fact that I felt some pleasure inside mean I was still clinging to the hetero-normative ideas of manhood and had a problem with feminine qualities I or other men possessed?
Early on I’d made a conscious decision not to tell anyone I was gay at work. When I started working there and would try to become friends with the gay folk, there seemed to be a high, impenetrable wall that I could not breach. Later on I discovered that they assumed I would be homophobic because I am from a homophobic country. I also didn’t feel the conversation starter “I heard you’re gay. Well I’m gay too!” was appropriate. Especially not at work.
But we sat and talked, she informed me about her decision to move away and her challenges with work and living in London. It dawned on me that although she was out, in a relationship and life seemed to be going well on the outside, she still faced discrimination and other issues that I didn’t expect. She said that being in the company sometimes made her feel like she was going back into the closet gradually because there was a silent, but very strong lack of willingness on the company’s part to give any sort of support for gay staff. Even though staff numbered in thousands, there was not one gay group in the entire organisation. I wished I had said something earlier because we could have been so much closer and supported each other through the year. I finally came out to her. She didn’t blink. We just continued chatting about other things but out of the blue she remarked “We could have been famous friends”.
On my side, it felt that a huge weight had gone off my shoulders and it just felt good to talk to someone without my guard up. We met up again a week later and took a long walk through central London, found our way to the gay quarter and had drinks at a bar. It felt nice to have someone I considered a friend and whom I’d held back from for a while finally get to know all of me (well, not all of me but you know what I mean). We both felt a little sad at the end of the evening since she was leaving town but I have a feeling we’ll be seeing each other again soon.