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After your family, coming out at work is often one of the hardest things for gay men to do, particularly if they do a job traditionally regarded as definitely masculine. Despite pressure on employers to fight discrimination, for many men the workplace remains a place of secrets and fear of discovery.
Journalist Dan Woog, who has previously examined the intersections, and often collisions, of sexual orientation and society's expectations in his books about sport, Jocks, and education, School's Out, has now profiled gay men who work in what might traditionally be thought of the male workspace in Gay Men, Straight Jobs. They include firefighting, farming, tv newsreading and share trading. This is work which seems only to attract straight men but, of course, appearances do not match reality.
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OutUK : How far does your book challenge the stereotypical image of the kind of jobs that gay men do?
Dan: That's one of the things I wanted to bring out. That we really are everywhere, we are in all kinds of diverse areas and some people are out and some are not. There can be a gay corporate attorney that nobody knows about and a driver who has a rainbow flag on his cement truck. I guess the over-riding theme is that for everyone, no matter who we are or what we do, being gay is only a part of our life. It is not the only thing we are. We're many other things besides being gay.

OutUK: How did you find the people you write about?
Dan: I put the word about on the internet on a lot of different sites and people started e-mailing me not only about themselves but about friends. I ended up with an enormous variety of people, far more than I ever thought possible when I started the project. I originally thought I was going to do just blue-collar, manual workers like telephone engineers and construction workers. But then there were things that I had never even thought of such as a gay prison guard, gay apple-grower, gay judge. I found all the people through themselves or through their friends recommending them.

OutUK: What surprised you most?
Dan:I think I was surprised by the range of people and the fact that you can't categorise their experiences. I mentioned that cement-truck driver who was completely out but then there's this incredibly sad story of an apple farmer in the rural Midwest who loves apples but by keeping his family's orchard going he's essentially given up hope of having a reallly fulfilling gay life. He's torn between doing the work that he loves and finding love. A very depressing chapter for me.

I think the oddest job that I found was the guy who works in a Christian bookstore. He has a real conflict over stocking shelves with publications that claim his sexuality to be perverse. On the other hand he knows he's doing important work as people come in looking for books on homosexuality and he's glad to recommend something far more intelligent and balanced. He says 'OK, I'm doing this job and I'd rather be the one recommending books on homosexuality than somebody else.'

OutUK: On the whole, do you think things have got better for gay men in the workplace?
Dan: Absolutely no question about it. Virtually everyone that I spoke to in every kind of job was out to at least some co-workers. The vast majority of people I spoke to had good work experiences. It didn't mean it was perfect all the time but if there was some negative incident, or some harassment, people could find not only comfort and friendship among his colleagues but also real practical response from management.

Let me go back to your first question. I think one of the things that is going to come out of last week's tragedy, and I'm sensing it already here in America, is that when people saw the range of humanity who were fleeing the buildings and wandering dazed round Downtown Manhattan, they saw men and women, black and white, Asian and Hispanic, young and old, able-bodied and in wheelchairs, Jews and Catholics, and Christian and Moslems. I think that people are also going to understand that there were gay people working in the World Trade Center too. They were working in financial services firms, and they were working cleaning the buildings, selling bagels and shining shoes. I think as those images sink in, people are going to realise that they're surrounded everyday at work by all kinds of different people and really it doesn't matter.

It might take some time to sink in and not be a conscious realisation but I think people will understand that their co-workers are human beings and it doesn't matter what they look like, what god they worship or who they chose to sleep with.


Also By Dan Woog

Jocks : True Stories Of America's Gay Male Athletes
Profiles several dozen young male athletes who have in most cases "come out" as homosexual to their coaches, teammates, and fellow students, with advice for coaches on dealing with homophobia.

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