I am not going to talk about what bisexuality is, as my friend Mark and the Bisexuality Fact Sheet have already done an excellent job of that. Instead I’m going to share my experience of coming out as bi at work over the last year.
Last year on Bi Visibility Day I made a resolution to myself that I would spend the coming year being more visible. I made that decision for a number of reasons. Partly because I was tired of feeling like I was constantly hiding part of myself. And partly because I read a case about a bisexual civil servant who was bullied and harassed for who he was, which deeply upset me and made me feel a certain sense of moral obligation to make myself visible to support my fellow bi civil servants.
I was unsure how I was going to achieve that, particularly as I am often shy in social situations and had not previously felt comfortable talking about personal matters at work. I was also conscious that although my office had LGBT-inclusive policies, there were few visible LGBT+ staff members and as a result LGBT+ issues were seldom talked about.
A few months later I bought myself a lanyard in the colours of the Bi Pride flag (pink, purple and blue) to wear my work ID on, in the hope that this would be a subtle way of being visible, at least to other bi people who might recognise the colours. I was extremely nervous the first day I wore my new lanyard to the office, wondering whether people would notice and ask what it was. To my dismay exactly that happened two hours later when, in a crowded lift full of people, a colleague commented on the lanyard and asked me what it was. I awkwardly explained that it was a Pride symbol, that I felt there was not enough visibility in our office and that I hoped to lead by example. There followed a period of silence before we all got off the lift. Not exactly how I imagined my first morning of being visible to go but it was a start.
Shortly afterwards I decided to write a blog post for my office’s intranet about bi visibility and why I felt it was important at work. As we had no LGBT network, I didn’t know who to turn to for support, so I eventually asked a friendly colleague I felt I could trust, for whose support I remain extremely grateful. I then submitted it to the communications team, who could not have been more supportive and encouraging.
The post was eventually published at the beginning of this year. I have seldom been as anxious as I was on the day it went up – I am used to dealing with all manner of acrimonious situations in my day job but sharing such a personal part of myself to 500 people was definitely outside my usual comfort zone.
To my delight I received numerous messages of support from colleagues across my office who had read and appreciated what I wrote. It started a number of conversations about LGBT+ issues that had not previously been talked about. From those conversations a few colleagues and I decided to launch an LGBT+ network. It turned out that a lot of people were happy to see us finally have a network, everyone was just waiting for someone else to take the first step.
I’m glad I took the step of coming out at work. It took a lot of mental effort and involved a significant amount of self-doubt but now that it’s done it feels like a huge weight lifted off my shoulders to no longer hide such a big part of who I am from my colleagues. Or in corporate HR jargon, I now feel able to bring my whole self to work. It has also allowed me to connect with other bi+ civil servants through BiSpace, get involved with the Civil Service LGBT+ Network’s Bi+ Inclusion Team, host a virtual discussion on how to be bi and visible at work, and guest speak at a bi visibility event at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office.
Whether to come out at work is a deeply personal decision that everyone needs to make based on their personal circumstances. For me doing it was one of the best professional decisions I have made and I hope that I can provide the visibility and support that allows other bi+ civil servants to do the same should they wish to.
Does your department network have a blog post to share on our website celebrating Bisexual Awareness Week or Day? Email the Civil Service LGBT+ Network with your contribution.