A recent survey by the Institute for General Research on LGBT found that only about 4% of respondents have come out in their workplaces, which means a whopping 96% have not.
I am the 96%.
I wrote a little about my reluctance to come out at work in the post Gay and Expat in Japan: Living in the Closet.
Since then, I’ve moved to Fukuoka City and have been working at a privately owned English school. The staff there is about 60% non-Japanese of a wide range of ages and from a variety of western and Asian countries, so as you can imagine, it’s a pretty diverse workplace.
I’m not the type of person who talks about himself often. I consider myself a good listener, and rarely do I try to lead a conversation. This has caused a predicament where I am closeted by omission. I don’t share details of my life except with close friends (or on this blog). I tend to speak generally and impersonally.
After several months working there, in came a new guy, an American about the same age as me, who was very openly gay. He talked about his Japanese boyfriend, and everyone seemed okay with it. For the first time I thought, “Maybe I could just casually allude to Taku in a conversation and come out naturally”.
But then, I started to notice how other coworkers treated my gay coworker. One coworker’s behavior in particular was especially troubling. We’ll call him ‘macho coworker’. I had already started to feel uncomfortable around him after hearing him tell a young boy who was crying “What are you, a girl?”. He would call my gay coworker things like ‘princess’ and other feminine nicknames. He even once asked my coworker ‘who was the girl’ in the relationship.
Another day, I overheard my boss and some other Japanese teachers talking about scheduling. With big group lessons for kids they like to have a mix of men and women, and the numbers were uneven. Then I overheard my boss say something to the effect of “well (gay coworker) is basically like a women anyway, it’s fine”.
One morning, macho coworker was talking with another male coworker about my gay coworker, and he suddenly turned to me and asked with a hint of hesitation “What about you, are you…?”.
I was taken aback at how directly he asked, but I answered “Yes, I am.”
And there it was, I was ‘out’. Kind of.
Over the next few weeks, macho coworker tried to pull the same kind of things with me as he did with my gay coworker. The first time, he tried to give me a flowery nickname, and I chuckled it off, hoping he would read the air and realize it was obnoxious. The second time, he tried to talk about something gay-related and tack on a “not that I have any problem with it” comment. I ignored it. The third time he referred to me with another flowery nickname, and I was not in the mood, so I snapped back “My name is (Rei)”. Needless to say, He hasn’t referred to my sexuality since.
All of these events occurred last spring. And since then, my gay coworker has moved on, making my job a lot less colorful.
Last week, I had to talk to my boss about a financial document I need to help secure Taku’s visa to come to the USA to get married. My plan was to ask her in a way that sort of talks around the whole engagement topic. I underestimated the amount of young workers she’s seen get engaged to Japanese nationals, because when I told her the type of document I needed, she guessed exactly why I needed it.
“Are you engaged?”
“Wow! Congratulations is she Japanese?”
My heart was pounding. I don’t think I’ve ever felt guilty for omitting information, but here was someone who was genuinely happy for me, and I didn’t want to potentially dampen the situation by telling her the full truth, which would lead to a much longer and complicated discussion. My priority was the get the okay for the document, not discuss my human rights in Japan vs. the USA and the complications of living together.
So I sat there for about ten excruciating minutes talking about our decision to live in the USA and so on. On the bright side, she now has a clear reason as to why I have to quit my job so soon, and she understood that I am a private person and said she’d keep my engagement a secret.
Maybe I will tell her the truth at the end of my contract. Once everything is said and done. In reality, I’ll probably just disappear quietly like I tend to do.
In any case, I should have an easier time in America, right?