How Feeling Safe at Work Helped Me Come Out as Bisexual

By | 4 minute read | September 21, 2022

Mark, a Senior Writing Consultant for the Americas, and part of IBM Consulting, recently shared his story about coming out as bisexual at work and the emotional journey that led to that moment.

I’m bisexual.

Not long ago, I could not have written that simple, two-word sentence. It would have been terrifying. And the thought of saying “I’m bisexual” out loud? Absolutely unthinkable.

When I was a kid, the boys – and the bullies – in school made it very clear: being bisexual was not an option. There were no bisexual role models and I never saw bisexual characters on the television shows I watched, the movies I went to, or the books I read. So, I put all my energy into trying to be “guy enough,” to fit in and not to stand out. I took that queer part of me and locked it away, hoping my secret would never, ever come out.

For a lot of bisexual guys, coming out feels far too risky, so they choose not to. What’s sad is that by keeping their sexual orientation hidden, it allows stereotypes about bisexuals to endure, and it means fewer bi role models who could help others.

I recently came across a book, Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality, by Dr. Julia Shaw, where she urges bisexuals to stand up and be visible, if you feel safe doing so. She said, “If you can safely be openly bi at work, please do it. Do it for all the people who can’t or haven’t yet been able to bring their whole selves to work. Do it for your younger colleagues, and those with less privilege or power. It makes a bigger difference to yourself and your colleagues than you would think.” [1]

 

 

After reading her book, I thought maybe other bisexuals are looking to see someone else safely and openly bi at work. So, I decided to step up and be that person.

When I joined IBM, I was thrilled to be part of an iconic global brand so rich in history – including a proud legacy of diversity and inclusion. I discovered a vibrant community of LGBTQ+ employee groups at IBM and became involved as an ally. At the same time, I was working with a therapist on the anxiety I’ve battled my entire life. It became clear that living with the taunts of those childhood bullies in my head had convinced me that my sexual orientation was a shameful secret – making it so much harder for me to improve my mental health. But how could I possibly come out?

In the summer of 2019, IBMers from all over the world gathered in New York for WorldPride, marking the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall riots, which was a turning point in the gay rights movement. As one of the volunteers working on IBM’s involvement in WorldPride, I called myself an ally, but I was also testing the waters – exploring how it felt to be in queer spaces. I realized that I felt safe, supported, and perfectly at home. On the day of the massive Pride Parade, I started to think I didn’t need to carry my secret around any longer – and that there wasn’t anything shameful about accepting who I am and being my authentic self, even at work.

As part of IBM’s efforts to create an inclusive culture and provide benefits and support for LGBTQ+ employees, the company encourages IBMers to make their sexual orientation visible by self-identifying in IBM’s HR system. It was a small step, and I knew it was private, but clicking “B” and declaring that I was a bisexual and part of the LGBTQ+ community felt like a giant step. It was thrilling.

Like anything else, taking one step can give you the confidence to take another, and I decided to confide in an IBM mentor who was also active in LGBTQ+ employee groups. I tripped over my words and was hugely nervous, but saying it out loud felt liberating, and the love and support I received in return felt amazing.

Work became my safe space, where I practiced saying things like “I’m bisexual” out loud, without stumbling. And the more open my sexual orientation became, the more I heard from other guys who revealed to me that they were also bi. They told me that seeing me come out as bisexual gave them the courage and confidence to think about doing the same.

During a recent team meeting, my manager selected me for recognition, and in addition to mentioning my work, I was surprised to hear her describe me as “an advocate for bringing one’s whole self to work.” I’d gone from being terrified that someone might single me out as bisexual, to being celebrated in front of my team as someone comfortable with who they are.

I’m hugely grateful that I work for a company that doesn’t just talk about equality but encourages a culture of inclusion and belonging. Working at IBM has enabled me to take those first small steps – knowing that I was safe – that got me to this place today.

Dr. Julia Shaw was right; being visible wasn’t just about me. In my own very small way, I feel I’m finally becoming the role model I wished I’d had when I was a kid.

Now, I can do what would have been unthinkable not long ago: I can stand up, be visible, and say – out loud“I’m bisexual, and proud.”

 


[1] Julia Shaw, Bi: The Hidden Culture, History, and Science of Bisexuality (New York: Abrams Press, 2022)