A sociologist at the University of Cincinnati has spoken about the results of study into gay men and body language at work.
Travis Dean Speice wanted to find out if gay men modify their body language or clothing in the workplace to avoid being seen as ‘too gay’. He interviewed 30 men – primarily based in the Midwest – to talk about notions of masculinity, gayness and their job roles.
‘Although there is no hard, fast rule for general masculinity, there are lots of anxieties related to identity management and self presentation for gay men in many professional settings,’ he said in a press statement about the findings.
‘From the initial interview to moving up the ladder at work, if a gay man feels his supervisors don’t agree with a gay population, he may not want to reveal his sexuality to them.
‘Instead he may test the waters with a variety of strategies, including managing the way he dresses, the way he talks and whether or not he decides to disclose his sexuality to the people at work.’
He said that some gay men present what they feel is a more masculine version of themselves at work.
‘This happens when they don’t feel safe being themselves around certain supervisors or co-workers.
‘While many gay men have careers where they are respected and accepted for being themselves, several others feel that they have to hide, modify or conceal their behavioral characteristics and speak, act and dress more “professionally”.’
However, he says ‘professionally’ in this sense translates as ‘more masculine.’
‘Many of my participants discussed not wanting to be inauthentic, but not wanting their sexuality to affect their job status’
He says that some gay men avoided wearing certain bright colors from a fear of being labeled flamboyant.
Speice highlighted one respondent who typically used ‘wild hand gestures’, but who concluded that toning down his gestures was equivalent to ‘butching up’.
‘He felt it was less of a masculine/feminine thing and more of an intimidation issue where he doesn’t always get to be relaxed in his personality at work.’
Speice told GSN that although he didn’t specifically ask the respondents if their behaviour at work caused them anxiety, ‘some men did tell me about the discomfort they experience while at work – especially if they are closeted at work, but not in other areas of their life.
‘Many of my participants discussed not wanting to be inauthentic, but not wanting their sexuality to affect their job status – either negatively or positively. Many of the respondents did not, in fact see their clothing choices as a negative or a positive. They simply reported that they were complying with what they viewed as “professional” dress attire.
‘I make the case that what they are calling “professional” really is complicit with heteronormative, straight work-dress culture.’
A 2014 study from the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) found that 53% of LGBT workers in the US say they are not out at work, although this figure has likely decreased in the past two years.
The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) released data in April revealing that there had been a 28% increase in discrimination complaints from LGBT employees in the previous 12 months. It suggested this was partly due to more people coming out at work following the Supreme Court ruling in summer 2015 on same-sex marriage.