The absolute worst way to come out at work...
I met Scooter at a convention for work in San Diego. He worked for my company’s biggest business partner, even though I didn’t work on that side of the business, nor did he work on ours.
Scooter looked like a Jewish Steve Urkel in the body of a gym rat, with glasses and kinky hair cropped short in a military cut. His demeanor was stuffy, almost formal.
I chatted with him in his booth, as I had several other friends working in that division, and for me one of the highlights of the convention was bonding with other young professionals who shared my passion, interest, and profession.
But Scooter seemed to lack any interest in networking whatsoever. Even when I introduced him to a mutual business partner, he seemed more put out than appreciative. However, when a casual conversation made it clear we were both familiar with Hillcrest, San Diego’s gay part of town, did I finally garner any attention. Suddenly, I was on his radar, but not for any reason that had to do with industry work or business niceties.
When the convention began to close for the day, he suggested I join him for dinner at an expensive steakhouse. His coworker and mutual friend Duane joined us.
It was just the three of us, but that didn’t deter Scooter from ordering more than any of us could eat. He was bringing out the royal treatment, on the company’s dime, for what I could only assume was an attempt to impress me. As usual, I was slow to comprehend. At this point, I’d just been out of the closet for a year, and I still wasn’t accustomed to people hitting on me.
Besides, I was engaged in conversation with Duane for most of dinner as we caught up, geeked out, and talked shop. Scooter offered little to the dinner conversation. He didn’t seem interested to discuss the convention, product trends, or anything else that qualified as both work and hobby.
I am the first one to admit I have no game. I blame this mostly on my inability to lie. My friends know not to try on jeans in front of me unless they want the honest truth, which I’m likely to give even if unsolicited.
Scooter had even less game. His attempts felt like political pandering peppered with highlights from Neil Strauss’ The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.
After dinner, the three of us went our separate ways, but Scooter and I ran into each other later that night at a work-related party. We were both drinking, and I was catching up with friends I only saw once a year.
Scooter seemed reluctant to integrate into a mixed crowd and was preoccupied with getting to the gay part of town. He wanted me to go with him, but I said it was too early. I eventually conceded, only because I had no intention of paying for a cab on my own. (Plus, I had never been out in Hillcrest before and was curious to check it out.)
When we got to the bar, we ran into another buddy, who we hung out with for most of the night. And we got progressively more drunk, to the point that Scooter was no longer subtle with his advances.
By the end of the night, I was alcohol impaired enough to go back to his hotel room where I spent the night. We fooled around, but we didn’t even make out.
I had just had my tonsils out two months earlier, after suffering through three cases of strep throat the year prior. Since I was technically still healing, I had no intention of putting my mouth near anything that may contain a contagion.
Nevertheless, Scooter commented that he wished he could have had me for a full week. He didn’t elaborate, but I can only assume after seven days, we’d have worked our way up to locking lips.
Over the next year, I included Scooter in emails to my other friends at his company. We often discussed announcements or industry trends, but he was the only one who would never reply. I finally dropped him from the group emails.
Occasionally, we would email through my personal account. Each time he would ask if I was out at work yet, or out to my family. I’d only opened up to three or four friends by this point, so coming out in a massive effort to family or colleagues was the furthest thing from my mind.
I remember calling him once or twice just to catch up, and the only time he returned a call was when he was in a car service on his way to a family member’s funeral.
Before long, it was convention season again. A couple weeks before, I dropped an email to see when he’d arrive in San Diego. We exchanged several emails about our arrival dates, our hotels, our schedules, what parties we were hitting, etc. I commented that his hotel had the better pool, so I may hang there the day before the convention. He said feel free, but he’d likely be busy setting up.
I explained that I’d be catching up with an old friend that day, and I planned to come out to him. I thought Scooter would be impressed, but all he wanted to know was if I was out at work yet. I said no, that I was not quite there yet, especially when I had a rocky relationship with some of my colleagues, and I preferred to keep my personal life to myself.
On the Thursday night of the convention, I attended an event that Scooter’s company sponsored. He had helped plan it. When I finally ran into him, I introduced him to a handsome buddy I’d brought with me. He blew us off, and seemed to give me a cold shoulder for the rest of the night. The longest sentence out of his mouth was, “One of us better be going home with him tonight.” I replied that my friend wasn’t like that, but I’m sure he’d appreciate the compliment.
After the event, my friend had to get home, but I met a few dozen work-related friends at a rooftop hotel bar for drinks. The atmosphere was festive and fun, and I had a great time catching up with folks I didn’t see often.
Drink after drink, Scooter seemed to avoid me more and more. I tried to engage him in conversation and get him to join in the group photos, but he was acting standoffish.
We both left the rooftop at the same time. When he went to his room, I asked if I could use the bathroom. He said sure, but quickly followed it with how he had to get to bed. When I came out of the bathroom, he was standing by the open door, waiting for me to leave.
I assumed I must have said or done something to prompt his strange behavior, so I apologized if I had, just in case. Then, in a awkward teen moment of drunken impulse, I said that I didn’t have the courage to do this last year, and I know it’s a little late, but…
I gave him a kiss.
And since I no longer had an open would from a tonsillectomy, I didn’t even worry about catching anything. Then I gave him a hug, and left.
When I got into work the following Monday, one of my two bosses wanted to speak with me. When I took a seat in his office, he warned me that the conversation wasn’t going to be pleasant. My heart dropped unexpectedly.
He asked if I knew Scooter. I confirmed I did. He said that Scooter mentioned to his boss that this closeted guy made unwelcome advances towards him during the convention. Scooter caveated this disclosure with an uncertainty to say anything, but felt it was the right thing to do. Scooter’s boss told my boss’s boss, who told his boss (the president of my company) and both of my bosses.
I was dumbstruck. If there was ever a way to come out in the workplace, this was not it. Boss #1 was as parental and professional as he could be. I explained to him that I had met Scooter the year before at the convention, how he treated me to a pricey meal at his company’s expense, how he repeatedly hit on me all night, and drunk, I spent the night in his hotel room. We hooked up, but did not have intercourse.
We didn’t even have oral sex, or even make out. All we did was jerk off. We didn’t even cuddle because there was a wet spot between us. We kept in touch over the next year, although I did most of the communicating. We emailed several times leading up to the con, discussing where we were staying, when we got in, etc. We texted the first few days of the con trying to sync up. In all methods of communication, Scooter repeatedly asked if I had come out at work yet, and I repeatedly said I had no intention of doing it anytime soon. I just wasn’t ready for that.
I showed my boss the text messages. I printed the emails of our conversation. I told him how I used the bathroom in his hotel room, and how I gave him a hug and a kiss, since I didn’t when we hooked up the previous year. If that’s what he was responding to, why was that worth mentioning to his boss? Scooter didn’t work on our business; I didn’t work with his company at all. It was a hotel on a weekend night of a convention that I wasn’t even attending for work, just for fun.
I walked my boss through how hard it had been coming out, how I repeatedly met crazy people. I couldn’t get through the story without breaking down in tears. I felt humiliated and tormented, and I had to relive this unnecessary anguish four more times that day.
I started with the president of our company, and went through every dirty detail with him, showing him the emails and recounting the sexual conduct in Scooter’s hotel room the year before.
Then I met with my bosses’ boss, and I walked through every dirty detail again, showing him the emails and recounting the sexual conduct from the year before.
Then I met with Boss #2, and walked through every dirty detail with her, showing her the emails and recounting the sexual conduct from the year before.
Then I did it all again. And each time, I broke down in tears. Thankfully, each time, the superior or colleague could not have been more understanding and supportive.
Not a single person actually believed Scooter’s story. I had worked with these people for close to ten years; they knew from personal experience that I was the unlikeliest person in the office to be a sexual predator. (Hell, at this point I was still a virgin for God's sake.)
They all acknowledged the incident had nothing to do with work. They had heard of Scooter’s political – even confrontational – activism, so they had no doubt the entire maneuver was orchestrated to out me at work. Most suspected Scooter was just jealous of the friend I had brought to the party.
They advised me not to contact him again, but I felt so wrongly victimized, I emailed an apology, stating that I was sorry if I overstepped my bounds or made him uncomfortable in any way. However, I was disappointed that he couldn’t have addressed these issues with me directly, instead of going through business channels.
Scooter replied almost immediately, denying the action, and trying to blame unnamed colleagues of his who observed me engaging in “compromising positions.” Considering he was the only gay attendee I knew at the convention, and the only two gay friends I had in the city had never been on those sort of terms with me, it was obvious his entire defense was a fabrication.
Scooter would have made Machiavelli proud.
While the matter was forgotten at the office within days, the emotional damage lasted several months. I stopped coming out to both friends and strangers, fearing that others would find a way to use this information against me.
To be outed by friends is the most feared action for a closeted gay man, and it has sent more than a few people to suicide. You never know what the level of shame is for the closeted person or how courageously they may be struggling internally.
As of 2013, 41% of LGBT individuals remain closeted at work.
It’s often because of people like Scooter that so many gays are afraid to come out, or worse, embrace who they are.
And honestly, it’s hard to blame them. Faux sexual harassment is NOT the way you want to come out at work.