On Coming Out as Asexual at Work (or not)

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is the whole coming out process. It makes sense, really – I’m at the start of my third week in a new graduate job – my first post-uni, adult, office job (definitely wasn’t expecting to be here so soon).

I haven’t had to think much about coming out in a long time, since I discovered asexuality. In my uni years, I was openly out to just about everyone except my lecturers (well, except for that one lecturer who I realised was part of the Ally training event I was part of the student panel for about halfway through introducing myself. But that obviously went well), and if someone ever gave me crap (which happened very rarely), it wasn’t very hard to just avoid them entirely. I was part of the uni’s queer and women’s collectives, I ran a couple of workshops on asexuality. Most of the time, being out was never an issue, and I never really considered not being out.

I’m feeling a bit differently about this job, which, to be honest, I’m a bit surprised by. As of yet, I’ve made no mention of being ace or being anything but straight, and I’ve stayed silent in the conversations about boyfriends and partners when they’ve come up. The people I’ve met so far – my fellow grads (there are quite a few of us) and the team I’m working with – have all being amazing. I’ve made a whole lot of new friends, and we’ve formed pretty strong connections already. And I haven’t gone out of my way to hide any of my past activism or anything – anyone who stalks me on Facebook or Googles me will inevitably see my ace awareness stuff. But somehow, I’m still feeling unsure of whether or not I want to actually be out just yet.

In a way, it’s because it feels like there’s more at stake. I’m in this program for two years, and we’re really being encouraged to maintain close connections with each other. So if for some reason things do go pear-shaped (which is probably unlikely, but always a possibility), then I can’t exactly just avoid everyone else in the program. And it’s even more acute for the team I’m working in – if I start being out there and someone takes objection, well, I still have to work with them. And being the newbie grad I am, I really don’t want anything from my personal life to be compromising my budding professional life. (Especially while I’m still in ‘let me show you that I am actually good at what I do’ phase.)

The thing about coming out as ace is that you can’t just say ‘I’m ace’ and leave it at that. Chances are that many, if not most, of the people that you come out to don’t even know what to make of that statement. For all its visibility on the internet over the last years, there are still many people who don’t know that asexuality even exists, or what exactly it means. If you’re lucky, they’ve read an article on asexuality and have an understanding of the basics. If you’re unlucky, they have no clue what you’re talking about, or think something must be wrong with you (or you’re faking or have a brain tumour, if you’re really unlucky and they’ve seen that episode of House MD). So most of the time, coming out will also involve you giving a crash course in asexuality – or you have to dance around the word a bit with vague phrases like ‘not really interested in dating’ or ‘not really interested in other people that way.’

The other thing about coming out (for anyone who isn’t straight, this time), is that you never stop having to come out. Like Queenie once wrote, it’s coming out (and coming out [and coming out {and coming out}]). Because if you don’t actively talk about not being straight, you’ll keep being read as straight by default.

So why do I even want to be out? I guess I could just keep going the way I have been the last two weeks – avoiding talking about my ace life outside work, hoping that no-one will ask me if I’m single or in a relationship, or stumble across my activist work on the internet. But the thing is: being ace is who I am. It’s as much a part of me as my boss having a wife and a one year old kid are part of him. And I don’t particularly feel like dancing around that, should it come up at work. It’s pretty important to me.

There are a lot of people out there who will say that your personal life has no place at your workplace, or that talking about your sexuality at work isn’t appropriate. And that’s true to an extent, because no-one needs to know the ins and outs of your sex life over the weekend. But it’s also kind of hypocritical, because almost every time I see that expressed, it’s directed at queer folks rather than straight folks, often with a ‘it’s ok that you’re queer, but do you have to flaunt it so much?’ mentality. When you actually stop and think about it though – and this is something I’ve been hyperaware of over the last weeks – people reference their sexuality all the time. It’s little things, like female friends mentioning how they had a lovely Valentine’s day with their boyfriends or male partners over the weekend. Two days into my induction week, I had already counted six or eight different instances where I could very easily and naturally have referenced my aceness, or at the very least my not-straightness. That’s how frequently sexuality or personal relationships came up, in one way or another.

At the same time, the one thing I heard over and over again in my induction week was that networking and making connections with other people is crucial. Interestingly enough, the focus wasn’t always on the professional scale either, but also on connecting to other people on a personal level – even people like your boss and coworkers. And I actually really like that, because it recognises that in the end, everyone is just a person, and good relationships lead to happy and productive workplaces. So while I’m not exactly having to change gender pronouns for a partner or dress in a way I don’t want to (like some queer folks do), I want to eventually be able to reference my sexuality in conversation if it comes up. Not just because I don’t like being read as straight, but also because it just seems more honest and open to me, and I think those things are really important for building good relationships, even professional ones. And if you do a bit of googling there’s also a tonne of material out there saying that queer folks who are out at workplace tend to be much happier and more productive as well.

But ultimately, I’m still not entirely sure if (and how and when) I want to start being out at work. I have been playing with the idea of making a little chain of sexuality flags to hang on my desk (I have a desk now!), as a way of flagging (pun not intended) that hey, I’m some sort of queer, but leaving it very open as to where exactly I fit, and going from there. Or maybe I’ll give it a few more weeks. I’m trying not to put too much pressure on myself either way.


17 thoughts on “On Coming Out as Asexual at Work (or not)

  1. MMMHMMM, I feel this. I’ve actually…stopped coming out in the last two or so years. Part of that is that I’ve gotten a lot more private (partially my girlfriend, aka the most private person in the universe, rubbing off on me and partially my advisor, aka the second most private person in the universe, encouraging me to be a total enigma to any and all informants and partially a couple of SUPER BAD coming out experiences) and part of it is that if you know me in a personal capacity, at some point you are going to realize that my partner is Not a Dude and I don’t have to have the whole awkward coming out conversation. So I mostly have accepted that there are some people who read me as a lesbian (or some flavor of attracted-to-women) and a much larger group of people who have no idea how to read me because I very intentionally do not talk about my personal life to anyone but my close friends.

    1. I wonder if the drift towards being more private as you go along is common among aces… I can certainly see that happening with myself too, in that I’m more cautious now than I used to be. I luckily don’t have many bad experiences with coming out (sorry to hear you have!), but that’s aldo because at uni I could be a lot more selective of who I had around me, so the odds for good reactions were already pretty high… In some ways, the visiblity of having a same-sex partner would be quite useful (though I’m sure it’s not all puppies and rainbows either), like you say. But at the moment I’m about as invisibly ace/queer as it gets, so I guess it’s either drop enough hints to mybe make myself read as queer (but probably not ace), or just be read as straight.

  2. I’m not out at work and tend to avoid giving away any details about my personal life when it comes to partners and the like and nobody tends to ask about it (I had an indirect attempt about a year ago at a team meeting but nothing since then).
    I’ve found I can still talk about some of the stuff I do with the ace group and have even been able to talk very vaguely about some of the volunteer stuff. So overall I’ve found it hasn’t been too limiting and has avoid more of the awkward situations that could potentially pop up.

    1. That’s pretty good to hear, Victrix! Is your workplace generally a bit quieter? My team is super talkative and chatty, so there’s a lot of sharing that happens in between the more serious work.

      1. From a social side maybe, depends on who is around. We don’t have set desks so everybody is constantly moving around. My team also tends to be in and out of the office a fair bit. Also being male dominated probably means the direct personal questions aren’t asked very much within the team.
        Haven’t had anybody from other teams ask any personal questions though either.

  3. Yeah, I’m really feeling this right now! I moved cities not even two weeks ago for my studies, so it’s almost like a fresh start for me. One of my New Years Resolutions was to be more open about my sexuality (ie, not pretending and going along with it when my classmates talk about hot guys etc)- although I was debating whether I’d start with the ace bit or the bi bit.

    And I was also thinking about my workplace as well when I was thinking about all this. But then on my second day, one of my coworkers repeatedly referred to her brother (whom she’s angry at) using homophobic slurs.

    So that was a punch to the gut, and a guarantee that I won’t be outing myself to them.

    1. Ugh, yeah, that really sucks. :/ I have been keeping my ears peeled for any comments that may indicate what people’s attitudes are like, but nothing so far. I mean, given from how supportive and ‘come talk to me about anything at all’ my boss has been, I am 95% sure he would not let anyone give me any crap. But I’ll keep listening.

  4. All in all, coming out has not been a pleasant experience. I constantly tell my parents about my asexuality and they just can’t believe it. “You just haven’t found THE ONE yet..” -_-. I told my friends that I’ve never kissed anyone or dated anyone, just to get a taste of there REAL reaction, and they look at me like I’m an alien. Maybe they think I’m gay, I don’t know, but whatever. I’ve never come out as asexual at work, but I know there the type to gossip and make you feel bad. I’m 19 now, but I can understand why asexuals especially are more private as they grow older. You just get tired of explaining yourself, educating others and defending yourself.

  5. One of my coworkers is…a lesbian? She’s never said the word, but she has a wife…anyways, I used to think how awkward it must be for her to know that everyone knows something about her sex life…and how brave she was for just putting it out there so casually. But then I realized, I’m married….everyone knows (or thinks they know) something about my sex life too. So obvious when I thought about it but it was so…. weird. I’ve only recently discoved asexuality…and i think it really fits me. But because im married, no one would probably ever assume this. Is there a point of saying anything? I don’t know, probably not, because at this point it would be going so out of my way to counter assumptions….which are sort of true (I’m heteroromantic). Anyway, i still think my coworker is brave and she is awesome, and don’t mean to diminish any challenges she may have faced with my crude comparison.

    1. Yeah, I think often there’s that sort of unconscious double-standard by which it’s more ‘personal’ to talk about things when it’s a non-straight person involved? Haha, it must be pretty weird to think about though. Anyway, welcome to the ace community! I know another ace who is also married, so you’re definitely not the only one, but yeah, it probably does make your ace-ness less visible or obvious. Which may or may not work for you, who knows!

  6. Hi there! I heard your interview on triple J’s ‘The Hookup’, and I’m so glad I found this blog! I think you have a really good point about how people saying things like “there’s no need to actively discuss your sex life (or lack of it) at work/school/etc” and how it’s quite hypocritical. I don’t think queer folk are going around explicitly telling their coworkers the gory details of what they got up to on the weekend, I think they just want to acknowledge the fact that it’s a part of their lives.

    The part about being ‘read’ a certain way is interesting – I had previously thought I didn’t really mind what people thought of me so much, providing it didn’t directly affect my life, but the idea that people think I’m having sex with my girlfriend when we stay at each other’s houses, or go away for the weekend, or effectively spend any time together privately does somewhat bother me. The idea that a relationship can’t be fulfilling unless there’s sex is an indicator of how hypersexual our current society is, and I think it also devalues how meaningful intimate relationships can be without that component.

    Regardless, thank you from a young asexual trying to juggle appearances and expectations

    1. Hey Frankie! Good to have you around the blog, I’m glad you’re finding it useful and interesting. Don’t worry, you’re not alone in trying to juggle things around and people’s expectations and how you present to others. I’ve just started a new job this last week (part two of the program I’m in) and everyone there knows I’m queer of some sort because I’m working on an LGBTIQ project (which I pitched by talking about looking for support for queer people and not finding any). So hey, I figure that I’ll set the record straight at some point, but we’ll see when it happens. Anyway, your comments are spot on. 🙂

  7. Hi, I know this entry is over a year old, but I want to know how it turned out? Did you encounter any problems? I’ve just finished my MA and about to enter the workforce, I’m positively dreading these conversations.I find them really cringy any tips you could offer would be really helpful. X

    1. Hi! I’ve been a while in responding to your comment, so my apologies for that – not really actively blogging anymore. But in answer to your question: it’s complicated, but mostly positive. I actually ended up realising quite quickly that what my workplace was doing for queer folks wasn’t near enough, and got some great initiatives off the ground with support from some senior people. That kinda involved being more obviously out again, at least as not-straight. And for all of my actual interactions with people I work with, that was a really positive thing. That said, it’s only in the last months or so that I’ve also started talking about being asexual, rather than just ‘assumed gay’ (which I suspect a lot of people think). So it’s a slow process, but one which has, for the most part, been very positive.

      I don’t know what I really have for you in terms of tips, but you might find that it’s not as bad as you expect it to be. Most conversations you can deal with by saying ‘I’m not really interested in dating’ (etc) and other vague, but directed comments. There are plenty of ways you can deflect more intrusive questions, and if it comes down to it, a well-placed ‘I don’t think this question is appropriate’ or ‘I’d rather not talk about my personal life at work ‘ or similar should work pretty well. Appropriate is a bit of a magic word in most workplaces!

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