A well-written and inspiring read, no matter your sexuality.
“Yesterday was my 12-year anniversary of being with my partner, Jimmy. I called a florist, and a nice woman picked up. I told her, “It’s my anniversary, and I want to send roses.” I know she’s thinking the roses are going to a woman. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been out for 31 years, I still get self-conscious when it comes time to tell her what to put on the card: “Dear Jimmy, etc., Love, Danny.” I steel myself for the usual response — “Did you say Jenny?” — but this woman gets it.
Last week, the pest control guy came to the door. “Are you Mr. Smith?” he says. “No, I’m Mr. Pallotta, Mr. Smith’s partner,” I reply. “Partner?” he asks. I’m being questioned in my own home. “Yes, partner,” I answer. “We’re a gay couple.” “Oh,” he says, trying to process this and maintain his composure.
People have the misconception that a gay person comes out once. It’s not true. If you’re gay and you’re authentic, you’re coming out constantly. You’re on a business trip, for example. A cab driver asks if you have kids, and you say that you do. Then he asks about your wife. Even though you may be exhausted, you find yourself summoning the energy to have a transformative conversation with a total stranger on whom you are depending to get to the airport and whose reaction you have no way of predicting. It takes a few tablespoons of courage. Every time. But you do it. Because it’s who you are, and you’ve learned long ago not to deny who you are or who your partner is. Because to deny who you are is a betrayal of yourself and the man you love and the children you have together. So you never, ever skirt the issue, no matter how tired or busy you are. You become a Jedi with your truth. Not just the truth, but your truth.
Your ability to stand up for your truth is a muscle, and the more you exercise it the stronger it gets. I do a lot of work in the humanitarian sector, and I find that many in the sector have let that muscle atrophy. They get into this work to change the world but get beaten down by the relentless pressure to keep administrative costs low. And that becomes their new mission. They forget how to stand up for their truth, to say, “I came here to change the world, and no one and nothing is going to stop me from doing that.”
The for-profit sector is no different. People at all levels, especially management, witness the slow undoing of good customer service, product quality, or safety standards, and they don’t say a thing about it. Even if it violates their own value system and the mission of the company. But if everyone at a crummy airline, for example, had the same zero-tolerance for bad customer service as a lesbian has for lying about the fact that she’s married to a woman, it wouldn’t be a crummy airline for long. To stand up for your truth is to be a leader.
Each of us lives with the reality of products and services that come from companies whose leaders have surrendered their truth about quality and excellence. My parents just bought a flat screen TV from a major manufacturer. The speakers are in the back, pointing away from the viewer, and they can’t hear the damned thing. Why is a product like that allowed out the door? Because of a thousand people at a dozen levels remaining silent. We ordered new stools for our kitchen from a hip furniture retailer. They were six weeks late. Throughout those six weeks, the retailer couldn’t tell us where they were, because, as the customer service reps explained, the European supplier doesn’t communicate with them very well. Why does the company continue to do business with such a supplier? Because no one along the chain will risk being marginalized by making a stink over it. The new Microsoft Surface tablet reportedly rips at the seam where keyboard cover meets tablet. Was it tested for durability? If not, why not? If it was, why was it allowed to go to market with such a defect? Probably because of the same kind of self-talk that goes on in a gay man’s head before he’s ready to come out: “Why make a big deal of it? It doesn’t really matter.” But when he finally comes out, he realizes it was the only thing that mattered, and that coming out transformed his life. Speaking the truth can do the same thing for businesses.
How can you develop this “coming out” muscle yourself? First, know what you’re coming out about. Identify your truths. Write a personal values manifesto. You can’t know if your values are being violated if you’re ambiguous about what they are. Second, learn to develop a sixth sense for when your line is being crossed. It may be a gut feeling. A nervous laugh. A habit of rationalizing. Not an hour ago a delivery company called and asked if anyone would be home this afternoon to accept a package. I said, “Yes, my other half, with three sick kids.” “That must be fun for her,” the guy said. That tiny voice in my head rationalized, “You’re about to hang up, let it go.” The moment I heard myself say that, a trigger went off and I came out to him with a simple, “She’s a he.” Rationalization is a red flag for me. Let it be one for you.
So you’re not gay. You can still develop the strength to stand up for your truths. Stop trying to think outside the box. Start thinking outside the closet.”