One day at a previous place of employment, the executive assistant to one of the founders of the company motioned me to come into her office and close the door behind me. “Before I tell you the whole story, I want you to know that everything’s been taken care of and you’re fine.”
This was not an auspicious beginning to a conversation. Particularly at work.
“An official complaint was filed against you,” she said, “claiming that you were shoving your ‘lifestyle’ in your co-workers’ faces by having an ‘explicit’ picture of your partner on your desk.” She had even made air quotes when she said lifestyle and explicit.
Yep, one of my co-workers had claimed I was fostering a hostile work environment. The photo was of my late husband, Ray. He was wearing a sweater and slacks—it was a silly Christmas sweater, to be exact. I had taken the picture on a Christmas Eve, at his mother’s house while we were there with all his siblings, their spouses, and our nieces and nephews, opening Christmas presents.
Not only wasn’t there anything remotely sexual, explicit or otherwise, in the photo, but I had the picture in a frame on my desk, tucked in next to one of my computer monitors, behind a standing file-sorter. No one could see the picture on my desk unless you were sitting in my chair, or had come into my office, around behind my desk, and were looking over my shoulder.
Because an official harassment/hostile work environment complaint had been filed, and the company had adopted a fairly rigorous anti-sexual harassment policy a couple of years previously, several members of the committee responsible for investigating said complaints had found excuses to come into my office and talk to me, to try to figure out what picture the complainant had been talking about. They had only found the one inoffensive picture in my office. To confirm, they had gotten the complainant to describe the location of said picture frame.
So, the complaint was not being sustained. Someone had talked to the person to inform him that there was nothing untoward about the photo. They were telling me because the policy required notification that an investigation had happened.
I was surprised. I tried really hard not to suddenly become suspicious of all my co-workers, and put the whole thing out of my mind.
At a later point, through a series of events way too complicated to go into at this juncture, I was finally told which co-worker it was who had claimed that my one, modest photograph of my partner was “hostilely shoving” my sexuality in other people’s faces. It was an engineer who had covered an entire wall of his office with photographs of his wife and all five of their kids, including more than one photo which had been taken in a delivery room obviously only minutes after the birth, not to mention wedding pictures, and photos of himself and the wife at various beach vacations dressed in skimpy swimwear. And, of course, there was more than one picture of them embracing and/or kissing each other.
And I was the one “shoving”?
It is, of course, the most common excuse people make for their own bigotry. “I have nothing against gay people, but do they have to flaunt their sexuality all the time?” They take any public evidence we make of our relationships—holding hands in public, adopting a child together, mentioning the name of our significant other in casual conversation, listing our significant other on an insurance form, or placing a simple photograph on our desk—and label it “flaunting” or “shoving” or “explicitly sexual.”
Yet they have no qualms at all plastering their wedding announcements in newspapers, setting up gift registrations for weddings, expecting us to contribute to baby shower presents in the workplace, or going out for drinks with a male co-worker on his last work day before a wedding, or buying cookies or candy or other fundraisers for their children’s extracurricular activities at the workplace, or bringing their children to the workplace. They expect family discounts at parks and museums and public festivals, plaster the pictures of their kids on their computer screens and around their cubicles at work, not to mention expecting tax breaks, financial aid programs to help send their kids to college, and insurance benefits that cover their spouses and kids.
If none of that is flaunting their own sexuality, then neither is ours. Of course, this cartoon that my friend, Sheryl, shared with me, sums it all up better than my ramble.
Addendum: I decided I needed to balance this out with another story of a very different reaction someone had to seeing a picture of my sweetie on my desk, so I’ve posted “The opposite of shoving.”