Going back to work after a holiday is always a scary business, especially in a job like mine where every single day you are holding back a tide of customer enquiries that never, ever ends. So I returned on Wednesday morning fully expecting to be burnt out by the end of the week. It wasn’t so bad; there was a lot to do, but somewhere along the line I must have prepared myself mentally, and it was on the whole fine.
That didn’t stop me from having a few dark moments, such as when the new guy that we are temporarily sharing our office with had a fit of casual homophobia, calling everything ‘fucking gay’ when he meant to call it ‘rubbish’ and ‘defective’. I hated him dearly for most of Wednesday and wanted to slap his arrogant young face, but I didn’t. By Thursday he had clearly forgotten about it and I was just about prepared to tolerate him again. But I was left wondering if it’s possible, really possible, that he hasn’t worked out I’m gay yet.
Everyone else in the company seems to know – Melanie saw to that last year when she was still there, bless her – though this guy is very young, he doesn’t seem like the cruel, tactless type of person who’d be casually homophobic directly in front of a known gay person. We all have our slips sometimes, I guess. To my shame even I can be bitchy about various subsections of the population, sometimes. I don’t know why this guy’s behaviour hurt so much on Wednesday, why I felt like I had been punched in the stomach for hours afterwards. Yeah, I’m an overly sensitive alcoholic with a history of being picked on because of my sexuality, and every time this sort of thing happens in my new life, which is mercifully seldom now, it’s like the thin blanket of security that I’ve made for myself in sobriety has been pulled away. Exposure to the nastier side of human company can still bring me back to my past, to the time when I wasn’t protected by anyone or anything and I had to put up with being attacked all the time. This week, I wished for the millionth time in sobriety that I wasn’t so sensitive. That I didn’t have to be me.
He’s going to find out that I’m gay eventually, and it’s going to be awkward, I’m sure of it. I hate it but it looks like there’s no way around this sort of thing from time to time. Even in twenty-first century London, this is life for gay people. Think it’s easy? I doubt I’ll get much overt trouble from this guy, he wouldn’t be allowed to do anything to me, not when the managing director of the whole company is gay. I’ve always felt lucky to be part of a company where the management is gay and everyone is on the whole very liberal. But if we didn’t have an openly gay boss, if it was just an average company where 95% of the staff were middle aged and heterosexual, how lucky would I be then?
It’s easy to think that things are so much better now for us, that because we have the legal equality we ought to be able to have normal lives, but we can’t. People still think it’s all right to call a defective piece of technology ‘gay’. Men still cannot express affection for each other in public except on one little street in Soho. We can get married but we can’t hold hands outside, we can adopt kids but we can’t expect them to be educated about the realities of being gay in school, because kids aren’t supposed to know anything about that side of life, they need to be shielded from it until they’re 18 when they’re allegedly old enough to handle it.
I’ve banged on about this a lot recently, and I realise that there are some things in life you just have to let go of. I’m not really angry at this guy at work, I know he doesn’t mean to be offensive, he’s just a naïve kid who’d probably be mortified to think he’s hurt my feelings. Instead of asking him to tone his language down this week, what have I done? I’ve said nothing, because I hate confrontation. I loathe causing a scene and I despise speaking up for myself when I feel someone is behaving inappropriately. Anyone else might have sorted this out weeks ago. When it’s up to me, it could take years.
And I find myself asking my higher power, yet again: why me? Why does it have to be me? When I asked them to let me move out of the claustrophobic glass cage I really thought I’d won the battle against my fear of confrontation. I believed I’d reached the turning point that I had been waiting to reach all year. I managed to tell Jan exactly how I felt about my work situation, I kept cool and calm about it and I got what I wanted. Everything seemed balanced and good again, for a millisecond or two. Then this new situation developed, and it seems an even deeper, more damaged part of me is now being tested and brought into the open. I know it’s all happening for a reason and I know that during all the previous character tests which have got me to this point, God has not once abandoned me. The chances are he would not abandon me now, after seeing me through all the hell of the year just gone. But, as we all know, I’m not exactly one for taking chances, am I? I’ll open my mouth and confront the problem at the point when continuing not to confront it is far too painful to contemplate. Of course, with this current problem we haven’t reached that point yet, so it’s just sitting and waiting. During which I will probably torture myself for three or four hours a day over it. An old pattern successfully repeats itself.