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The Corporate Closet


As my group settled into our seats at Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor on New Year’s Eve, I was struck by the odd presence of Auburn University paraphernalia. For a moment, I was back on campus of my alma mater. Everywhere I looked, I saw Auburn shirts, hats, flags, pins – a veritable sea of orange and blue. Someone finally clued me in that Auburn was playing in the Outback Bowl.

 

 

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As my group settled into our seats at Hamburger Mary’s in Ybor on New Year’s Eve, I was struck by the odd presence of Auburn University paraphernalia. For a moment, I was back on campus of my alma mater. Everywhere I looked, I saw Auburn shirts, hats, flags, pins – a veritable sea of orange and blue. Someone finally clued me in that Auburn was playing in the Outback Bowl.

 

Having matriculated from that university, I had a hunch my fellow patrons were unaware of Hamburger Mary’s nuances and eccentricities. I nudged my friend, motioning towards a table of guys in their early twenties – probably frat boys – with very confused expressions. Our private chuckles erupted into uncontrollable laughter when the drag queens took the stage and the poor, young, confused Alabamians’ expressions changed from perplexity to fear. Money was tossed on the table, half-eaten dinners were pushed away and half-full beers were abandoned as the awkward group clumsily fled.

 

Several days later, while waiting for a meeting to begin, I took the opportunity to recount the story to a co-worker. Midway through my tale, I had become completely unaware that the group had assembled and everyone was now listening to my anecdote.

 

“So then this six-foot, 300 pound drag queen dressed as Dolly Parton walks out and…” I fell silent, feeling all eyes on me.

 

For many years, I have had an ongoing debate with a close friend about being out in the workplace. He took the con-position, arguing that sexuality has no place at work and should remain strictly a personal matter. Even in progressive companies, one runs the risk of conservative-types who may restrict upward mobility based on sexual orientation.

 

I took the pro-position, arguing that, while sexuality is a personal matter with no bearing on one’s professional life, the two are not mutually exclusive. Offices are filled with a myriad of pictures on desks showing happy couples and families. People frequently receive flowers or gifts from significant others. While I would expect co-workers to refrain from detailing, say, Kama Sutra or foot fetishes, I gladly support the option of displaying a wedding photo and I would expect them to show me the same courtesy. If a corporation would restrict my progress based on elements unrelated to my job performance, then that isn’t a corporation I want to work for anyway.

 

I have proudly stood by my opinion throughout my professional career, but now I found myself in a boardroom, surrounded by VP’s and executives, all anticipating the outcome of my story about a six-foot drag queen. I swallowed hard. I could feel my face flushing. Had I crossed a line? This wasn’t a desktop photo or bouquet of flowers. We’re talking Dolly-with-a-Dick here.

 

I had a choice to make. Should I abandon the principles I had long touted for the sake of saving professional face, or should I stand by what I had always claimed to believe?

 

I looked cautiously around the faces now fixed on me, trying desperately to interpret my narrative, anxious to hear what would follow, and possibly using that information to decide my fate. I took a deep breath, made my choice and finished my story.

 

“…so this drag queen comes out…”

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