This poses a dilemma for any gay person in a law firm. Do you come out and risk the hatred, ridicule or contempt of your colleagues and clients, or do you keep it under your hat? The latter course is superficially attractive but once you start deceiving people it’s difficult to know when to stop. And when you finally do speak up, you’re exposed not only as a nancy boy (or girl) but a fraud.
This means that the best course is to be honest and come out. But how do you do it? There is no statutory notice you can put in The London Gazette – not that this would be an effective forum for any communication beyond the mundane.
So, here are my 10 do’s and don’ts to coming out at work:
1. Do, if possible, choose your firm carefully before joining. Some of the bigger firms have fancy equal opportunities and empowerment policies, normally a good indicator of the level of acceptance you can expect. Others – often the smaller regional firms – are still living in metaphorical caves with their animals. Expect them to have less enlightened attitudes.
2. Don’t make any grand gestures or announcements. Hanging a banner over your desk emblazoned with the words, ‘Yes, I’m gay, get over it’, probably isn’t the best move. Lawyers are conservative creatures by nature and are easily shocked by… well… anything really.
3. Do drop casual remarks into social conversations. These should leave no doubt which side you are batting for. “Oh, my boyfriend and I went to the theatre last night to see that play…” If said by a man, it leaves no room for misinterpretation.
4. Don’t make a big deal out if it. The less fuss you make about your newly declared sexuality, the less others will think it worthy of comment.
5. Do take your significant other to the firm’s Christmas party. You can be guaranteed that, within a few hours of arrival, the gossips will have done their work and that every last man, woman and child will know all the fabulous details. However, it’s probably best to avoid getting heroically drunk and snogging to the slow numbers on the dance floor. This may be a step too far.
6. Don’t feel the need to conform to any of the stereotypes. I have never felt the need, for instance, to express a love for musical theatre. And girls, it’s really not necessary to drive to work in a Jeep.
7. Do challenge homophobic behaviour when it arises. In my experience this is never normally overt and when it is, takes the form of carelessly inappropriate remarks or jokes. These need to be stamped on and crushed like a bug so that the offender is under no illusions that a repeat performance will be tolerated.
8. Don’t look for or expect homophobia where it doesn’t exist. We’re lucky to be in a profession that is generally well-educated, intelligent and tolerant. Most of your colleagues will want to be supportive if you come out. If they’re not then hit them over the head with a club. That last bit was a joke. Just.
9. Do remember to keep your sense of humour and have some fun. It’s not all deadly serious. In short – loosen up, for heaven’s sake.
10. Finally, for those who are ashamed or embarrassed about being ‘abnormal’, remember the words of the late Derek Jarman, who famously opined: “Heterosexuality isn’t normal, it’s just common.”