Updated: Nov 4
During our family cycle ride yesterday (an admirable 14 miles around the city), it started to rain so we took refuge at a family pub, to treat the boys to a fish finger sarnie and ourselves to a well-earned fizzy beer. We weren't planning on stopping half way round, but Richard decided his "boobies hurt" (don't ask - we have had a chat about boobs and he hasn't quite got the hang of the human anatomy yet) and Lyall was already "starving" after the first few hundred yards, so it seemed like a good idea to stop and refresh.
So, bikes locked up, helmets under arm and masks on, we entered the familiar-looking pub. You know the kind; bleeping claw games, nostalgic local pics in frames, red patterned carpets, brass table numbers and meagre little ketchup sachets. We approached the 'Wait here' desk, complete with a communal hand sanitiser and laminated COVID19 warning posters. Let's be honest; a barrage of laminated rules and a crusty hand sanitiser is never the best start to a family pub lunch.
The bar manager wandered over to us from behind the bar. He was sporting one of those ironic, upside down acrylic chin-shields which funnelled upwards out a good few inches from his mouth and stopped beneath his nose - sneeze catchers Tom affectionately calls them.
"You'll need to do the NHS app please fella." requested the bar manager - counting our heads silently with nods.
"No probs" I replied, "I have the app right here". In a secret panic, on my phone I quickly, but reluctantly searched for and downloaded the NHS app which thankfully only took a few seconds. I scanned the track 'n' trace code and smiled at Tom, who was shaking his head at the inefficiency of the whole process.
"With yous being four lads I'll have to get you to fill this form in for him (pointing at Tom with a chewed biro) and the boys too." added the bar manager.
"Oh. Why's that then?"
"Cos the code only works for one family." said the (now very presumptuous and rude) man.
"We are one family, mate" I replied, with a sarcastic emphasis on the 'mate', of course. "This is my boyfriend and these are our sons."
I mean, yes Tom and I are two men but we literally walked in each holding a boys' hand and then stood together like a family unit, in a pub that serves £2.99 kids' meals. It really couldn't have been much clearer.
"Oh, right." "Well, in that case.." said the bar manager, sentence unfinished, leaving us wondering in this case what will happen next.
"Come on, whatever." Tom interrupted, ignoring the confused looking bar manager and ushering us into the 'restaurant' room, away from the awkward situation.
"It's been a while since I've heard homophobia like that."
"Was that homophobic?" I asked Tom.
"Well, he invalidated our family right in front of the boys without apologising for his mistake."
In fact, the subtle homophobia we'd experienced had gone right over my head. My impression was the chap was just a little flustered because we'd not quite fit the regular 'household' mould. But, thinking about it, a quick apology would have completely rectified the situation.
Never-the-less, the fish finger sandwiches were "to die for", as Richard very enthusiastically put it and our beers were cold and fizzy. So absolutely no complaints in that department.
Anyway, this got me thinking more widely about coming out.
For me, after twenty years as an out gay man and after coming out literally thousands of times, situations which require coming out as gay really don't worry me. It used to make me very nervous, but nowadays it just feels like a rudimentary inconvenience, like giving my date of birth or postcode. With the rare exception I've had so many impassive, unbothered responses to my coming out it just isn't an issue any more. But people who recently identified as LGBTQ or people who are questioning their sexual identity don't find it nearly as easy.
This afternoon I was chatting on an online LGBTQ parenting forum (yes, Tom I have also been doing loads of very important work today before you rush downstairs to tell me to do something productive). Anyway, a lovely, newly-out, bisexual dad on there mentioned his discomfort about the need to come out as bisexual in the office he's worked in for yonks. Quite understandably.
But why would he be worried about coming out in the (generally) tolerant Britain we find ourselves in, in 2020?
Well. It's not necessarily about finding the actual words to come out, or the strength to muster, in front of a team of nosey colleagues, a restaurant manager, travel agent or headteacher, the words to say. No - we LGBTQ people worry about the proverbial can of worms we're about to open when we say the words, "I'm bisexual", "I'm gay", "I'm lesbian" or "I'm pansexual, actually".
Sexual orientation is still largely misunderstood. And, in the current political climate, narrow-minded people are rife and confident. Can of worms I say? Yes - what I mean are the unwanted thoughts, whispers, comments and questions about our sexual orientation or relationships that follow a coming out.
Whether you kiss girls, boys or both has literally nothing to do with an end-of-year financial report, a pub manager or anybody else but us, does it? So (back to the lovely bi chap from the forum) why should we bother coming out at work?
Well, in my (moderately experienced) opinion - I don't think people should feel obliged to come out at work.
Employers should assume a proportion of their workforce are LGBTQ and ensure their managerial approach fits all.
It's actually quite easy to include LGBTQ and straight folk equally at work and it starts with inclusive language. For instance, 'other half', 'partner' and 'spouse' are all accepted by LGBTQ people as a nice way to describe their loved one. 'Wife' or 'husband' are presumptuous and will catch even the most seasoned 'come-outer' like myself by surprise and prompt a panic outing. 'Guys', 'ladies', 'lads' or 'fellas' is likely to exclude trans or non-gender conforming people, so we tend to prefer 'folks', or 'everyone' instead. Also, sexist or macho office banter can upset LGBTQ people - it's always a good idea to encourage the team to steer away from anything that might make an LGBTQ person feel uncomfortable. Yes, we all love Fawlty Towers and Open All Hours, but let's be honest, that kind of humour doesn't belong at work, or in the present.
By making these insignificant, inclusive gestures, LGBTQ people are much less likely to panic or feel pressured into coming out unnecessarily at irrelevant times, and will generally feel more accepted (and coincidentally much happier to come out) as a result.
For more information or help with coming out, visit switchboard.lgbt/help