HOMOPHOBIA IN THE WORKPLACE

 

I have worked in warehousing (retail and wholesale) for nearly twenty years now, and I have had good employers and many lousy ones. The current ones are possibly the worst. They turn a blind eye to drunken behaviour (some staff spend their lunch times in the local bars and come back clearly inebriated) and homophobic ranting from the workforce. It isn’t as if the ranting is subtle – crude drawings of employees in the nude and in compromising gay postures is pinned up on notice boards and around workstations. I was able to borrow some of the artwork and make copies of it.

 

The best of it is, I’m not gay. I went through a whole period of wondering whether or not I was on the basis of my lack of success in finding a nice girlfriend. You can read the long established essay on that at AM I GAY?

 

The homophobia at the security locks and keys provision company (which I won’t name here for now) seems to be rooted squarely in ignorance. I don’t think anyone at the warehouse is actually intentionally bullying or nasty – the staffs see such accusation as harmless banter and daily ‘having a laugh’.  I might even be able to turn a blind eye to it if not for the sheer repetition of comments that dominate much of the working day. “Are you gay? Are you gay? Is You Gay? You are, aren’t you? Go on, admit it? You’ll feel better when you come out of the closet. Are you gay?”

 

Stating that I’m not gay is seen as denial. The earliest pictures of me were silly, but inoffensive caricatures, but they were son spoilt by added speech bubbles denouncing me as gay or having e say ‘I’m not gay’ in a style that suggests the exact opposite. They have turned a simple statement of fact into a catch phrase for me.

 

My biggest problem is the lack of imagination and sheer repetition of such nonsense. If such ideas were mentioned once and then forgotten, or the ability to riff on the theme was more imaginative, I might find it easier to tolerate the increasingly intolerable.  I feel as if I am the one who doesn’t fit in for not rolling with this and accepting it as the norm – for me it is far from normal.  The repetition is actually tedious to the point of torture. The same words are used all the time, and the same cues set off the banter every day. For example, the radio playing in the background runs all afternoon, and whenever a known or suspected gay entertainer comes on, i.e., a recording by Elton John or George Michael, I know that it will be a few seconds before I am told that this one must be part of my collection. The banter comes with such predictability that I feel like a character in the film Groundhog Day, doomed to hear the same accusation over and over forever.

 

As I go to the cinema a lot, and watch lots of DVD’s, I’m often asked if I have seen films, which deal with gay issues, i.e., The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I point out that I have seen it, which only makes the case for me being gay, all the more apparent to the terminally ignorant. In fact, I have seen several films which address gay issues on one level or another THE DEEP END, GOHATTO, SHORTBUS, are among films reviewed by me on my film review pages. (See FILM REVIEW PAGES   The most frequently referred to film is however Brokeback Mountain, which I never saw on its release because the trailers made it look slow and ponderous and a little dull – not because it deals with gay issues. Staff at work frequently insists that I should watch the film, and one lad even brought a copy to work with him. I left it there, as while I now want to watch it, I don’t want to be seen dancing on strings for these idiots. I have actually read the story, which is excellent. See my review at BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN 

 

The assertion that I am homosexual, gay, a shirt-lifter and an uphill gardener (among other labels cited daily) is exasperated by a reference one staff member found in a selection of my performance poetry that he bought from me – the poem A MARRIAGE OF OTHER PEOPLE’S CONVENIENCE (given in its entirety here) is about peer group pressure and how people tend to speculate that a man might be gay if he doesn’t marry when others expect him to. At work, just using the word ‘gay’ is proof that I understand the word, and therefore proof of me being gay myself.

 

The claims, insinuations and accusations began soon after I accepted my contract with the firm, which claims to have an equal opportunities policy and a zero tolerance attitude to any kind of prejudice (racist, sexist, etc). It seems to stem from a/. Being a college graduate and therefore articulate b/. Not liking football (one of the few other topics of conversation) c/.  Being a science fiction fan.  The latter seems to have been the clincher to many. One work mate, who I will here call Paul) is a science fiction fan, and was already the subject of much gay insinuation before I started working for the firm. By stating my interest in the genre, I immediately became seen as one of Paul’s ‘bum chums’.  The strange thing is that a/. Paul is no gayer than I am, and in fact frequently goes to singles bars to pick up girlfriends, and b/. Paul has no objection to being called gay. 

 

Having been for a social courtesy drink with Paul after work (along with other friends), I was accused of dating him. Drawings of him and myself performing sexual acts on one another began to appear among the other caricatures. One depicts us naked with him sprawled over my knee, and Paul has a traffic cone up his rectum.  Paul doesn’t find this image uncomfortable. He has it proudly on display over his workstation, in full view of the supervisors and bosses. I see it too, and find it less comfortable to see. Paul’s attitude is that such statements are made more from work mate affection, and that we should be seen as tolerating such behaviour to prove we are ‘one of the lads’.

 

I like to feel that I have a sense of humour, but such behaviour brings out my inner Puritan. That staff find time to draw such images in startling detail when most of us are busy picking and packing is a concern in its own right. They are also using company resources to draw on and with, but that is by the by.  We live in a World where people have sued companies for harassment for seeing girlie calendars in a boss’s office, and a casual remark made because it quotes a comedy act that amused the teller, can lead to costly tribunals. I often feel that political correctness is going too far, but I am working ion the land that such correctness forgot.

 

What should I do about this? Ignore it? Turn a blind eye? Give in to a flash of rage and thump someone? (it has been tempting) Report the matter to the bosses or perhaps to an external body?  At present, I am undecided.

 

Arthur Chappell

 

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