Right after “Have you ever been to the Mansion?” and “Have you met Hugh?” (yes to both, by the way), people love asking me “What’s it like being gay and working for Playboy?” I would say it’s probably just like being gay and working anywhere else, but that’s simply not true, because it’s pretty damn amazing. Given that this company has championed sexual freedom for six decades, I’ve never had to hide my gayness, and, as a sex editor, I’m expected to talk openly about sexuality. I literally get paid to write about intercourse. We editors sit in enough meetings about kinks, condoms and cuckolding to make even Queen of the Booty Hole Amber Rose blush. So, being gay is a non-issue.
Of course, few workplaces are as open and most of the time, coworkers choose to stay mum about their personal lives for the right reasons. There’s nothing wrong with a little personal space in a professional setting. Sorry, Linda, we don’t care about the man you met last night, and no, Barry, I don’t want to go to your birthday party at Tortilla Cantina. We all know it’s going to be awkward, because you’re awkward.
A lot of those conversational filters can change when you’re gay, however. That’s because even though the rate of acceptance of gay people in the United States is at an all-time high, at 63 percent, there’s always the chance that, no matter where you live, a coworker, boss or hiring manager could be in the 37 percent minority. Of note, in 2013, Pew Research Center reported that one in five LGBT people have been discriminated against by employer in terms of hiring, pay or promotions. The Los Angeles Times reported that same figure to be as high as 43 percent.
But if you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re one of the good ones. With LGBT Pride Month celebrations rolling out across the country, now more than ever is the right time to become an ally, especially as we observe the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando and the Trump administration adopts increasingly nebulous stances on LGBT issues. More than anything, becoming a straight ally, especially at work, starts with knowing how to talk about it.
Whatever your reason for being here—maybe Bryan with a “Y” just took the office next door, maybe you want a gay friend who can take you to Pride for the first time or maybe you’ve just started binging The L Word on Netflix and need a nice lesbian to discuss it with—the first rule of talking to your gay coworker is no judgment. In other words, if your gay coworker doesn’t want to talk to you about being gay, move on. Let it go. Find a token gay elsewhere. (Personally, I can recommend a few “social networking” apps we gays like to use to find “gym buddies"—just tweet me.) Here are a few more tips. Remember, this isn’t that hard.
TURN OFF YOUR GAYDAR
Being gay is kind of like Fight Club. For one, a disproportionate number of us have Brad Pitt’s abs. Two, like with Fight Club, you shouldn’t talk about us if you’re an outsider—especially when you’re standing around the office Keurig. No matter how many signs there are—even if Gabe has an actual sign of George Takei riding a rainbow unicorn pinned at his desk—don’t assume your coworker is gay unless he or she has explicitly brought it up.
First of all, it’s none of your business. Second of all, doing so is an exercise in stereotypes. What, you think just because Marc with a "C” is listening to Katy Perry’s new album he’s gay? Or because Kathy in Accounting goes golfing on the weekends, she’s a lesbian? Don’t these stereotypes make you cringe just reading them? By those standards, I’m going to assume the only reason you’re still single is because you’re more obsessed with my sexuality than your own. Which could be true—but bringing it up out of the blue will be awkward for everyone.
You shouldn’t be asking any gay person, let alone your coworker, about his or her preferred sex position.
DON’T GAY BAIT US
You probably don’t know this, but a few years ago, heterosexual hunk and former boy-band member Nick Jonas did a promo tour for his solo debut that played out primarily in gay clubs. He also popped up nearly nude on the cover of gay-culture magazine Out. His friendliness toward the gay community was cute for a second, until it went on and on. At that point, it became obvious Nick was gay-baiting us. In other words, he was pretending to be gay to win us over.
Gay people love when straight people opt in to learn more about our culture. We love taking you to our bars, drag shows and our Pride parades. We’re open to telling straight people our coming out stories, if they ask. The difference between that and gay baiting, though, is that the latter has an intended consequence in mind. In the workplace, it may be figuring out whether someone is gay by leading the witness. Don’t feign appreciation for Lady Gaga, RuPaul’s Drag Race or Moonlight for the sake of getting us to open up against our will. We can spot a fake a mile away, and as Nick Jonas found out, we don’t take nicely to that shit.
ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
We gays know we’re probably more interesting than a lot of other people at work. It’s fine. We get it. If you want to be nosy, be polite about it. Ask your gay coworker about his weekend, what he’s listening to in his headphones or what he likes most about your city. Do not ask “What’s your type?”, “Do you think Khloé Kardashian is hot?” and “So, what’s your deal?” Those questions make it obvious you’re fishing for a certain kind of answer—and we don’t always know whether, in your mind, there’s a wrong one and a right one.
This much is true: if your gay coworker wants to talk about being gay, he or she will make a pointed reference about it sooner or later; comments like “My boyfriend and I checked out this new exhibit”, “I went to Dinah Shore weekend” and “This gay bar I go to downtown has a great karaoke night” signify something important: that your coworker feels comfortable talking about this with you. Not all of us do, so working through some unassuming questions in conversation is the perfect litmus test. But if we do, I promise you, you’ll know.
BUT DON’T ASK US ABOUT OUR SEX LIVES
A few years ago, a coworker asked me the most invasive question a straight person can ask in a group setting: “Who’s the guy in the relationship?” He may have thought he was pulling one over, but everyone knew he was actually asking, “Whose penis goes where?” Listen, gay sex is complicated, but that’s another post entirely. You shouldn’t be asking any gay person, let alone your coworker, about his or her preferred sex position unless you’re together on your third date, en route to the bedroom.
BE POLITICALLY AWARE
Perhaps one of the more bittersweet interactions I’ve had with my straight coworkers came a few years back, on July 26, 2015. That morning, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage, announcing it around 7 a.m. PST. Only one coworker ended up mentioning it to me that day (“Hey, did you hear about what happened today?”) and that wasn’t until about 5 p.m. PST, meaning I had to celebrate the biggest milestone in gay history at my desk, silently, for more than eight hours while everyone else went about their day unaffected.
It’s a tumultuous time for the LGBT community as the Trump administration rolls back many Obama-era protections, not to mention Trump’s own signing of an executive order that favors religious liberty over non-discrimination policies. Gay marriage may very well be the law of the land, but LGBT people are still subject to discrimination under the guise of “religious freedom.” If you live in one of the 28 states where it’s still legal to discriminate against LGBT people, be vocal about your support. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the gay rights movement as irrelevant with statements like, “Well, things aren’t that bad, right?” Yes, “things” are better than they have been, but we have a long way to go. Maybe even ask someone this year if you can join them and their friends at a Pride parade.
A FEW MORE BAD, BAD EXAMPLES
I’ve been out since 2008, so I’ve heard a lot of weird shit come out of my coworkers’ mouths. Here are a few more real-life examples to avoid at all costs.
“Can you believe James Franco isn’t gay?”
No, none of us can, but part of being gay is accepting when other people aren’t gay. Get over it.
“I feel like you’re the kind of gay who…”
Unless that statement ends with “who hates being stereotyped,” this won’t end well.
“I drove by this gay bar last night and thought of you.”
Cool. I drove by a breeder bar last night, but you don’t hear me talking about it, do you?
“Is Deborah in Legal gay?”
Hold on, let me check the gay directory GLAAD mails us every year…
“I have a cousin who’s gay.”
I have a friend who’s gay. Weird, right?
“I don’t understand what dancing on a float naked has to do with gay rights.”
I don’t understand why it bothers you.
“Who do you think will win Best Actress this year?”
Okay, admittedly, this one is legitimate 97 percent of the time.
WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS
As I started off by saying, this isn’t that hard. While society has gotten off on defining gay people by their sexuality for hundreds of years, we don’t. At the end of the day, when we’re at work, we want to talk about our gayness just about as much as you want to talk about your straightness. Don’t make a big deal of it, because it’s not a big deal. And finally, definitely don’t pull a Michael Scott and ask a gay about how “he does that to another dude.”