This article is part of a content series on diversity, equity, and inclusion for Campaign Asia-Pacific and Greater China’s Women to Watch, created in partnership with EssenceMediacom.
Being a gay man in Australian media land: What’s it like?
What’s it like being gay in the media industry and rising through the ranks? I didn’t have any gay role models in the industry to learn from when I started, and I’m not sure I do now. Statistically, most of you reading this aren’t a part of the LGBTQI+ community. Whilst I hope it’s interesting and even enlightening, I’m writing this for the newcomers and juniors who are a part of the LGBTQI+ community — this is for you lovers.
Firstly, I have to say that this is only my experience as a gay man in Australia and in many ways, I have a privileged life. I’m a white cis-male (already we know this is likely to see me favoured in certain areas) and I have a family that has been nothing but supportive of my sexuality. Australia is also more tolerant than some other countries. Same-sex marriage is legal here and we have many laws to protect us (although it’s a continuous fight against right-wing movements to undermine these). You may be reading this from a place where it’s very different, so whilst I hope you can feel some similarities with your own experiences, I know that yours can and will differ largely in some areas.
You may start out unsure of how much you need to “closet” yourself.
On starting my first job in media in 2006, I wasn’t sure how to present, and found myself altering the way I spoke to sound more heterosexual. I had a boyfriend at the time who I was strategically vague about, referring only to him as my “partner,” and never acknowledging his gender unless there was no other way to answer a question.
Even as I hid who I was with words, I knew deep down that the natural way I talk was a dead giveaway that I was a friend of Dorothy. I could see it in people’s eyes. They knew what I meant by “partner” and were probably wondering why I wasn’t just being upfront. For some of us, the hangover of hiding who we are in our teens carries well into adulthood in certain environments. The fear and feeling of being negatively judged or dismissed is all too easy to recall.
You’ll quickly realise that whilst most won’t understand the depths of your identity, they are welcoming, and you can wear your queerness with pride among colleagues.
I soon realised that media is one of the blessed industries where it is safer to be a gay person than in many others. I quickly learned to proudly take my partner (husband these days — subtle brag there) to events, I speak proudly of our home and holidays, and I have made many friends in the industry.
You’ll still feel like a bit of an outsider in some ways.
You’ll go to sports events where you may have no interest in anything other than the platters and beveraginos. You’ll go to karaoke competitions where you may not bring your real (and best) dance moves (trust me, many aren’t ready for them). You’ll find yourself at tables with far more senior people, all of whom are straight, whom you may feel you have zero in common with. You may not be “one of the boys,” and whilst you may connect with some females more, you probably won’t be “one of the girls” either, unless of course you choose to identify in that way (and I can’t comment on what that is like).
It can feel strange at times, like an outsider or in-betweener of the masses. It has taken me time to be comfortable knowing that I don’t need to fit into certain social boxes to be content. Rather, being content in my own skin and having different life experiences is more important.
You’ll realise that some people really have no idea they’re still saying offensive things.
I’ve had bosses say things like “Wow, you look extra gay today,” whereby I’ve felt my choice in clothes or style has been a punchline. I’m usually equipped with a witty comeback like “when I start taking fashion advice from you, I’ll know we’ve entered the 9th circle of hell.” However, micro-aggressions like this towards LGBTQI+ people still exist in the fringes of agency life, even when the intent is not necessarily to offend, but rather to amuse.
The fact is it’s not for them to decide if and how we receive offence. I’ve become better at calling people out, point blank, as being offensive. What has been refreshing is that when they’re told, they are usually disappointed in their actions and happy to learn from what I have to say. You’ll encounter the rare client who still reeks of embedded homophobia.
One of the great things about media is that we work across many industries and meet people from all walks of life. The vast majority are nothing short of inclusive and delightful. On a rare occasion, you may still encounter some who will say just as much with a look as they would if they were calling you a slur. If this happens, it’s dependent on how it makes you feel. I know the agencies I’ve worked with would always stand up for me and call out bad behaviour if it was something I wanted to escalate.
You may still encounter sexual harassment, down to the most micro-level.
Being gay is a weird thing. Women at clubs think they can grab your ass like you’re there just for their entertainment, but if the roles were reversed and I was grabbing random women’s derrieres, there would be outrage (and rightly so).
I’ve had females even in my own team tell me at parties the things they wanted to do sexually to my husband and I — as if the fact that I’m not attracted to them makes it safe and acceptable to say such things. Sexual abuse, whether verbal, psychological or physical, is never okay. If you encounter it, you should speak to your leader or People & Development department.
You’ll have a voice that a majority in your industry do not possess.
You have the voice of a minority, and the power to educate and influence. In media and communications, we’re tasked with understanding human behaviour. Being a member of a minority means you can represent your community in your workplace and make things better. Join your DE&I councils, show the agency that it takes more than rainbow cupcakes to be an ally, and talk about your story in a way that you’re comfortable with.
You’ll learn that not only is your sexuality not a barrier, but it can be an indirect contributor to your success.
Since I couldn’t see anyone like me in a leadership position when I started out, I had no one to demonstrate that my sexuality wouldn’t be a barrier to me rising up in my career. I soon learned that with hard work comes reward and realised that the barrier did not exist.
However, the reality is that my sexuality is both inconsequential and essential to how my career has progressed. I’ve been lucky to work with employers and for agencies who have judged me on my output and potential alone, being objective about my ability to conquer the tasks on hand. Upon first thought, this has nothing to do with my sexuality.
Thinking deeper though, being a gay man has in many ways led me to be a better leader – one who gives people the benefit of the doubt, tries to lead with empathy at all times, feels the need to work harder for subconscious fear of being dismissed, and who encourages everyone to bring their true selves to work to build a positive culture.
We do exist.
Hopefully if you hadn’t seen a gay man in a leadership role, I’ve managed to change that. Statistically again, there aren’t as many of us as there are non-queer leaders, but we’re here and just as hardworking, intelligent and full of potential. Our attire is just generally coordinated better.