Researcher Travis Dean Speice at the University of Cincinnati looked closely at the various strategies gay men use to manage both their gendered and sexual identities in the workplace. Gay men often feel they have to change certain distinct gestures and body language behaviours in order to avoid potential negative consequences from co-workers.
“From the initial interview to moving up the ladder at work, if a gay man feels his supervisors don’t agree with a gay population, he may not want to reveal his sexuality to them. Instead, he may test the waters with a variety of strategies, including managing the way he dresses, the way he talks and whether or not he decides to disclose his sexuality to the people at work.”
Gay men at work develop strategies for avoiding scrutiny using a concept he calls “hegemonic sexuality” – a tool he uses to understand how gay men are positioned hierarchically within society – where some men are labeled “too gay,” while others are more acceptable. Speice says his respondents refer to the label “too gay” as various speech patterns, body language and clothing choices they feel do not fit into an idealized form of hegemonic masculinity, or other commonly known masculine behaviors. Instead, these characteristics often follow common stereotypes of gay men. Men then have the choice to perform masculinity and gayness in any number of ways, with some men attempting to perform a more traditional masculine version of themselves at work.
“One man, a social worker, felt proud wearing his burnt orange khakis to work one morning until he had to visit the corrections institute later that day and noticed the inmates staring at him. The color of his clothes was significant in his perception of his own masculinity and gay identity, but later became too flamboyant in the face of scrutiny. He became insecure and felt that because the color of his pants indicated something about his sexuality, the inmates had suddenly gained a sliver of power over him.”