“Can’t get you out of my head.” ~ Kylie Minogue
I’d have to say, as a self proclaimed female gay boy, fitting into your standard corporate culture has certainly been challenging over the past 15 years. My ideal body is that of a k-pop star plus 45 lbs of muscle dressed like a cross between Adam Lambert’s face and David Beckham’s style. Things as simple as “business casual attire” would send me into a frenzy, overthinking and over analyzing every garment in my closet. To me, business casual comfortably meant a Nike polo shirt, khakis and boat shoes. But, looking around at all of the other women in the office, I quickly realized that’s what the dudes were wearing and there I stood, in the middle, and completely insecure about how people perceived me. Then, amp it up to the corporate attire stage, with suits! I call this stage of my life, “that time I used to dress in drag for work.” Referring to heels, lady tops, jewelry, long hair, etc. Not to mention that time I actually got gel tips. I still shiver with embarrassment when I think about it.
Here’s the real real. In your head, you create all of these elaborate worse case scenarios about what other people are thinking about you. “OMG, she’s staring at my shoes, she’s judging me, I don’t fit in”, the cycle starts running through your head, gaining traction like a snowball until you’re in a full on tail spin, assuming everyone is just picturing you and your bull dyke self on a motorcycle and cat tattoos, instead of thinking about you as a perfectly normal human like anyone else. Have you been there? Sure! But here’s the truth: no one is actually thinking about you as much as you you think they are. Henny, I assure you. If anything, the more ‘you’ you are at the office, the more comfortable everyone feels. The nervous and insecure energy you omit when trying to be someone you’re not, or trying to blend in, leaks over into other people’s space. People innately know when you lack authenticity. Once I truly started being real – and owning the shit out of it, the less crazy talk I made up in my mind. My hair got shorter, my heels went into retirement and I now feel comfortable joking about wearing the same outfits as some of my guy colleagues. The takeaway: No one is thinking about you as much as you fear they are. If they really are thinking about you that much, ask for their number, it’s probably a good thing 😉
“What other people think about me is none of my business.” ~ Rupaul
So, let’s really dig into Rupaul’s (ahem, Queen of all MF Queens) advice: “What other people think about me is none of my business.” Here’s the second point. EVEN IF there are those few folks at the office who sit there and ruminate about how you present yourself, whether with clothing or body language, or your sweet ass rainbow apple watch band, it is none of your damn business. It’s their damn problem. Easier said than done though, right? Here’s where some mindfulness practices can certainly help.
First, let’s identify why you care. Is it a fear of not fitting in? Fear of being judged? Maybe it’s just the fear that no one will react and we realize we are, in fact, just like everyone else regardless of high heels or boys oxfords. But most likely something happened to you when you were young, some event that has shaped your mindset into not feeling the freedom to be yourself in any environment. The Takeaway: Explore that. Breathe into that. If it’s something that overlaps into other areas of your life, think about getting a great therapist or an awesome coach (shameless plug: firstname.lastname@example.org)
“I guarantee your soul is telling you exactly what you should be doing. The question is whether or not you’re listening.” ~ Mel Robbins
You know deep down, you dream of the day you can prance around the office like Jonathan Van Ness in high heels, or Ellen Degeneres in her bowtie. You daydream and imagine the possibility of feeling so goddamn true to yourself and such having a more authentic experience at work. Here’s some advice: LEAN IN, GURL. That is your heart speaking and longing to reveal your authentic self.
Start by writing some shit down. First, write down all of the ways you feel inauthentic in how you present yourself. This could include: hyper-feminized (OR hyper-masculine) shoes, jewelry, pant style or hair style. This could also include behaviors that feel inauthentic such as happy hours at uber conservative straight bars where you feel out of place, your body language or the way you speak. Then, write down all of the ways you WISH you could present yourself at work to feel purely and fully you. Choose 5 things you’re going to change, and like Mel Robbins says “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 fucking do it.” At one point, I was beyond tired of being talked over or interrupted by male senior leadership. What I decided to do was physically own my space in a meeting (being hyper aware of my body language, making sure I did not appear small and closed off) as well as continuing to talk even though I was being interrupted looking the person who is interrupting me dead in the eye and not backing down). Oh, my darling, how effective these strategies were! Not only did I feel more confident in my presence, it was a catalyst for me to keep adding and deleting the things and behaviors I identified as needing to change to reveal my total authentic self. Gone were the pearls and in went the stud screw earrings (with a phillips head and flat head combo, don’t put me in a box, hunty).
“When a Flower Doesn’t Bloom, You Fix the Environment in Which the Flower Grows, Not the Flower.” ~ Alexander den Heijer
Now, this may seem obvious, but in some cases it’s much harder to execute. But again darling, the barriers you’ve created for yourself in your mind will super cede the possibilities if you give them more power. A great example is well, most of my adult career path being a part of companies that did not outwardly embrace diversity (despite policies) and had painfully low percentages of women in leadership. At one company, I was the only woman. And I felt I had to be ‘part of the guys club’ to fit in. Throughout these experiences, I truly felt I didn’t have other options, and if I did explore other companies, they would be similarly consistent with their conservative environments. The pure fact is, all of that was utter bullshit. The truth is, subconsciously, I still didn’t feel worthy or confident enough to reveal my authenticity in the workplace (cue: limiting beliefs caused by childhood experiences). If ONLY I had an avenue to work through those mental blocks (cue: another shameless plug for stellar LGBT coaching at Kinsey Academy). If ONLY I understood my worthiness and abilities I would have understood I deserved more and better. It took years to uncover that confidence.
But let’s just assume you are more aware of your abilities than I was and you still feel the hesitation to truly be you in the workplace…. My advice is to GTFO! This is a gentle acronym for “get the fuck out”. Time is precious. You can and will find another job. You can and will move to a state or a city that is more accepting of diversity. You can and will be better off than remaining mentally handcuffed to a dead end. The Takeaway: Change your mindset to embrace the fact that you do not need to change, your environment does. And you have the power and control to do it.
“You don’t need to explain yourself and tell people everything. You owe no one any explanation for what you do. Your life is yours, not theirs.” ~ Prince Ea
Now here’s the unapologetic piece of the strategies. Sometimes we feel obligated or compelled to explain ourselves, again, being driven from insecurity and worrying about what other people think, so we try to manage the message in their minds by filling in the gaps. One time, during my “dressing in drag at work stage” I got a haircut that ended up being reallllly short. I mean, when I was home, dancing around in my muscle tank and jorts I felt like a goddamn stud! But then I went to my HQ for a meeting and received a lot of comments (mostly compliments I should add) about my new haircut. My immediate response was, “thanks, it’s a little short for me, but at least I know it’s not permanent.” What the holy hell?! WHY would I say this? It was to deflect the possibility I was comfortable and confident and authentic. I certainly didn’t want people to think I was presenting myself too gay or too much like a dyke. Talk about some deep rooted emotional corruption. It took a deep dive into my psyche and some excellent discussion with coaches at Kinsey Academy to even recognize that I did this and most importantly why I did this.
Now, I live unapologetically. I now share openly that I go to a barber for my tight fade. I feel no need to try and minimize the way I look, like it’s something to feel shameful for. I am proud of my androgyny and who I truly am. And at no point do I now feel the need to explain any of it. This is my life, and I am going to be, dress and act unapologetically, and it’s none of your damn business, Brenda.
Recap and Takeaways
You have to work through the need to explain yourself to people who have no real impact on your life. Spend time thinking about the why behind feelings of shame and insecurity and fine someone to help you work through it. Spend every day unapologetically being your best damn gay self.
In the words of Latrice Royale, “It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to fall down. Get up. Look sickening, and make them EAT IT.”