“Passing” and Coming Out in the Workplace

March 27, 2023

By Melanie Rosenblatt, Manager, Healthcare

This Women’s History Month, I thought about what it means to be a woman. Many experts in the field of gender studies will gladly explain to you that womanhood is not defined by pink skirts or the length of one’s hair. This topic has been hotly debated in many legislative chambers as of late, with some politicians angrily questioning the existence of transgenderism much as one would question the existence of Bigfoot.

While I myself am a cisgender woman, I’ve been an “out” member of the LGBTQIA+ community for several years now, and I’ve come to realize how much I previously took for granted the ability to be my true and honest self at work. In the small talk that opens my meetings with colleagues, clients, and vendor partners; in the sharing of vacation photos following PTO; in the correction of those who ask about my “boyfriend” (“she is doing well! Thanks for asking.”); I come out of the closet nearly every day.

I know that in so doing I’m surprising many people. I’m a straight-passing, femme, bisexual woman. I’m not a stereotypical queer, and I know that most people clock me as straight as soon as they see me. Heteronormativity and biphobia aside, it’s nerve-wracking to know that without my coming out, I wouldn’t be perceived by others as my true self. People would assume aspects of my identity that, unbeknownst to them, are invisible.

The act of coming out at work can be involuntary for non-cisgender employees, especially those who don’t present as their gender identity under traditional standards. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to join virtual calls and meet colleagues in-person and to hold one’s breath, with the fear that revealing your mere visage or speaking in your natural voice is your act of coming out.

This reality can go unrealized by those who are not faced with this daily dilemma, but my hope is that as more and more of us in the community become empowered to share our daily struggles, we can create a workplace in which we can be our authentic selves without hesitation.

I’m thankful to have Golin’s LGBTQIA+ Employee Resource Group, Go All Out, in which I’ve found a coterie of others navigating the workplace under similar circumstances. Our monthly meetings provide a safe space for discussing the news, bantering about queer culture, and sharing our aspirations for the future. As for the latter topic, I think we all agree that the future looks brighter – one in which all companies are safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ employees.