I grew up in the early 2000s in the suburbs of London, and while homosexuality was not taboo, it certainly wasn’t normalised within British society while I was discovering who I was. I look around now and almost envy the current generation, who have 10+ seasons of RuPaul's Drag Race available on Netflix, thousands of LGBTQ+ influencers easily accessible on social media and whilst we do not have a completely accepting society, it is for sure a more tolerant one than I grew up in.
The biggest regret of my life so far is only coming out at the age of 21, as I feel I hid my true self for far too long. I cannot claim to have had a hard upbringing compared to others in my community – especially as a British, white male - however whilst growing up there was limited visibility and role models outside of the heterosexual norm for someone like myself to look up to.
I knew from my early teenage years that I was attracted to men, but the fear of not being normal meant I sheltered a huge part of who I was for many years and is probably why self-acceptance is something I still struggle with to this day. Many people, I am sure, will sympathise with the fact that you can be your own worst enemy - lingering doubts that can overwhelm your inner thoughts - and coming out was no exception to this. I reached a point where I believed coming out would have me losing friends, not because they were in any way homophobic, but because I had convinced myself that everyone would think I had been lying to them about the biggest aspect of my life for so long. In reality, people didn’t really care either way and had already accepted me for the person I am – regardless of sexuality.
I have experienced homophobia before - someone screamed vulgar language at me while sharing a kiss in Soho (bewildering end to a first date) - but in the workplace I feel that my sexuality has never come into play in terms of positive or negative treatment.
I have worked at Dentsu my whole career, starting as a fresh-faced graduate in January 2016. I had come out as gay about 12 months prior, and in that time had bagged myself a lovely boyfriend (RIP my first relationship) who made me feel super comfortable in who I was - so it didn’t bother me starting a first job in the bright lights of London as part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Work is an environment where I am allowed to be unapologetically myself and feel surrounded by an accepting group of people who are supportive and allied to the community that I was born into. I have never personally felt like an outsider within this industry or Dentsu, but can appreciate that everyone lives different experiences completely based on where they are based, what departments they are in and, most importantly, the people they have on the team around them.
Although I have never experienced overt homophobia in the workplace, there are a couple of things that I have found awkward within the industry (and wider society):
1) The reaction when conversation does come to sexuality often produces the classic: 'Oh but you don’t act/seem/look gay!' People who say this, do it completely innocently as they have an engrained stereotype that has filtered down from a general lack of societal education. I know that one blog post will not change the stereotypes that currently exist, but I do have hope that a younger generation, who seem a lot more socially conscious, will eradicate this thought process over time.
2) Using gay as an adjective. I would have never called this out 5 years ago, but now feel confident enough to challenge people when they do use the terminology. Most do not use it in a malicious sense, as it has long been engrained in peoples psyche as a negative term - whether from friendship groups or popular culture – but it brings connotations that helps to enforce stereotypes. It makes everyone feel uncomfortable when called out, but if you don’t correct someone, they will continue to use it as they do not realise offence is being caused.
I will end on a note wishing a Happy Pride Month everyone. Keep on fighting the good fight for equality amongst all and remember, you can be an ally all year round – not just June!