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I work in office environments as a web developer. I also perform as a drag queen as a hobby and spend time advocating for LGBT rights. On past occasions, usually to direct lines of questioning that cannot be avoided, I've had to reveal this at work. In some instances this has been fine, perhaps a co-worker or two has felt uneasy, but those who are 'ok' make a joke, or perhaps express interest in it moving things along.

However, I've also been in situations where I've been forced out of a job due to others being uncomfortable with this or forced to leave myself.

In addition, as someone who is publicly in the public eye as both a drag queen and an activist it has to be accepted that this information will come out whether I choose to reveal it or not.

So how do you bring this up (proactively) to avoid/minimise causing other people discomfort, and what is the best way to deal with the uncomfortable situations when they arise?

I work in the United Kingdom.

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    I have a coworker that does crossplay at anime conventions but he has no (that I know of) urge to dress in feminine attire outside of these events. Do you consider yourself the same or would you dress in "women's clothes" at work if you felt comfortable with it? – Catija Aug 28 '17 at 15:57
  • @Catija : For the purposes of the question, I would consider myself the same. – Jesterscup Aug 28 '17 at 15:59
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    Not answering the main question, but if you are forced out of a job again and if it is at all possible, you should seek out LGBT friendly workplaces. One answer below indicated that HR would prefer you to keep these parts of yourself separate from your working life, but that is most definitely NOT the case everywhere. Where I work (in Ireland), HR would be 100% on your side in this situation. We have LGBT network groups to support this, too. It is policy that no one should be harassed or discriminated against because of their sexuality or gender identity. – sudowoodo Aug 28 '17 at 20:17
  • Also not answering the question - but I'm pretty sure in the UK you have some protection from being forced out of a job for these reasons. If it happens again, talk to Citizen's Advice Bureau and even talk to a lawyer. – HorusKol Aug 29 '17 at 0:30
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    @Jesterscup I'm pretty sure your right to work has more protection than just equal rights - like I said: talk to CAB – HorusKol Aug 29 '17 at 8:34
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I'll try tackling this based on my own experiences in my own workplace. I have had a pretty strict christian upbringing (read: completely homo-phobic). I have been attended to this fact by co-workers before, that initially my reactions upon learning that a co-worker is LGTB are not really appropriate. I am trying to improve this, but my initial reaction is still somewhat cold and distant, clearly showing some disagreement and trying to move to a different topic as soon as possible.

First of all, this is highly dependent on your workplace. If your co-workers are discussing their weekends at the coffee machine on Monday morning, or Friday afternoons while having a drink, you are certainly right in wanting to disclose this information to avoid awkward situations. If private matters are never discussed in your workplace, I would keep my own matters private as well.

You can not, and will not ever be able to control peoples reactions. I can say that if you disclosed information as described in your question to me, my first reaction might be experienced by you as hurtful. You can also never avoid discomfort, and should be prepared to encounter a period of uncomfortable encounters after disclosing your information to co-workers.

I would advise you to use some peer pressure. So don't pick the most friendly people first, as suggested by @apaul34208, but all of your co-workers at once (or make sure there are accepting/friendly persons present when you disclose to people that you think might not be as accepting). The good people will probably act as an example, and might even be helpful in backing you up if reactions from the bad people run completely out of hand. For me, the presence of others gives me the opportunity to remind myself that what I was taught for about 20 years of my life is not the right way to react, and to prepare a more proper reaction.

Don't be offended when people let you know that they do not agree with your lifestyle. Let them know that they have a right to disagree, but explain to them that you wanted this info in the open before some stumbled upon it, since you know this in controversial info, you have had people stumble upon it before and thus land you in situations where you could not remedy their discomfort. Tell them (because some might not realize it themselves) that you are absolutely not different from the person they knew before the information was disclosed to them, and that for your part, this also counts for your work-relationship with your coworkers. The drag queen thing is something you do in the weekends, just as advocating LGBT rights is something you do in your spare time, and keep separated from work in all cases, except for this case of disclosing that you do those things, to avoid even more uncomfortable situations.

Please be prepared to 'agree to disagree' if you disclose this information, and leave it at that. If your co-workers are not treating you differently after disclosing the information, but are not enthusiastic about it either, do not start conversations about it. It should not be necessary, but do not try to force conversations about it with people that have not shown to be interested. In short: don't talk about it unless spoken to. Just keep the contact with these co-workers purely business (Could you pass me the stapler?), and hope they will thaw out when they realise that you are prepared to not force discussions about it with them. For some people it can take a few months to process the information and realise that it really is not going to kill them working with you.

If your coworkers keep sending hurtful reactions your way after the first discussion, say to them that their reactions are hurtful. You are not trying to 'convert' them to be drag queens, so they should not be trying to 'convert' you. But you get to be what you are, just as they are what they are, especially since you are only a drag queen in your spare time. If they keep insisting on having hurtful discussions with you, go to HR/whatever party is responsible for workplace diversity and complain. Make sure to let the co-worker(s) in question know that their behaviour in the workplace is unacceptable.

If relations between you and your co-workers show no sign of slowly returning to 'normal' (as they were before disclosing the information), then I think you should not want to be working with these people (easy for me to say, I know). But in the end, you and your co-workers should all be grown-ups and perfectly capable of at least maintaining a business relationship.

What is a drag queen? Is it just a weird hobby? Why do you do it? What do you like about it? Does that mean your gay? Can I come and see a show? Will that be safe for me? Pretty uncomfortable situation if someone blurts out this questions to you... But, these are some of the questions I could blurt out when you told me this. Yes, I had to actually google what a drag queen is (saw some awesome make-up and dresses btw). Answering questions, how stupid they might seem, with a lot of patience, can greatly help furthering understanding and thus removing discomfort. And be prepared to be tackled on your way to the coffee machine three months later with another list of even stupider questions because I have been thinking and ...

TLDR: You can not control initial reactions, but by choosing your moment and preparing a little 'defensive' speech (sadly necessary), and providing your co-workers with options like 'I will never mention it again', you can hopefully achieve a lot.

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    best answer so far imho. - no you cant control initial reactions, but the way in which it is handled is important. Particular bits that I like are the encouraging questions and answering them honestly is a pretty big part of this. In situations where it's been ''not mentioned again" if anything workplace relationships continue to deteriorate. In addition it is usually better to inform people as a group, I've had situations where I've trusted a couple of people and been 'outed' by one of them, which wasn't a great situation. – Jesterscup Aug 29 '17 at 16:49
  • So 'not mentioning it again' has not worked for you in the past? Then I suppose I should edit the answer a little, and make it more of a 'Don't be the first to start a conversation about this again, unless other people are behaving inappropriately towards you about it' – Tinkeringbell Aug 29 '17 at 18:37
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"Coming out" at work is usually a delicate issue. As you mentioned, reactions can range from acceptance to dangerous...

Given that that's the case I would recommend taking your time and getting to know your coworkers a bit first. Over the course of a few conversations you're likely to get a sense about who's who and how they're likely to react.

You're likely to identify like minded or at least somewhat open minded people pretty quickly. Consider opening up to these, more friendly, people first. Likewise you're likely to identify those that are likely to be rather uncomfortable... These people you may want to hold off with, till you "have to" tell them.

In either case I find that people tend to respond better when they already know me as a co-worker and friend. Even those that are uncomfortable tend to be a bit less likely to react badly once there's already something of an established relationship.

I've struggled with this sort of question in my last couple of jobs... Working in a potentially hostile environment sucks. When I was working in construction it was pretty obvious that coming out wasn't an option, if I wanted to keep my job. Now I work for a religious non-profit where I've found a few really good friends, but it's still a delicate situation, I've had to learn to navigate the crap line of being open with some and closeted with others.

I applaud your activism, I try to make it out to march as well. Hopefully this kind of activism will lead to a future where we won't have to worry about this kind of thing, but unfortunately many places and people haven't turned the corner yet.

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I think the difficulty with such topics is that you cannot and will not ever have a perfect way to say anything that controls for all reactions others may have. There may even be nothing more you can do that would reduce the frequency of negative responses, if in fact you are already good at navigating social situations.

I operate in a way I call "ripping the band aid off" about difficult topics or topics I have any angst about having them come up at times I didn't choose. So I prefer to decide when to share certain things and to do it proactively when I feel ready to handle any reaction. So you could opt to find a way to mention it before you are asked. Then you avoid ever being in a position to feel like you have to talk about it when you weren't planning to. I find this helps me to be able to then already know that I might have a reaction that I don't love and am in a good place to weather it and have answers ready.

Since you will never stop people from being jerks about things they don't accept or understand, the best you can do is to be ready for them. That is the only thing I can see as any change you can make that might make navigating it easier. That said, I am of course assuming you already are handling it as well as it can be handled once you are talking about it. I am not imagining a way in which you could be saying it poorly. I think likely this is more about other people's prejudices than how you say it.

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How do you bring these things up and avoid discomfort?

You don't.

The biggest reason topics like sex, sexuality, gender identity, etc aren't typically part of professional conversations is the effective impossibility to avoid offending people. If you bring them up, someone is inevitably going to be uncomfortable, and some will be downright hostile.

You can either bring them up anyway, recognizing their potential to offend others and possibly cause you trouble later, or put much more effort into keeping your professional and personal lives separate. HR would probably very much prefer that you do the latter.

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