Sort of. Let me clarify what I mean by a role model – I mean someone who is open about who they are and, by doing so, inspires others to be themselves, or aim higher. A role model doesn’t mean someone who is necessarily the best in their field, who you should emulate. It doesn’t mean they’ve got everything sorted out. It doesn’t mean that everyone should aspire to be like them or compare themselves. The role model I’m describing is a person who says “It’s ok to be who you are. Be authentic, stick to what you believe and you’ll do well.”
I am 1 of 5 out lesbians in my firm of about 4,500 globally. When I say “out”, I mean lesbians known to our LGBT employee network and who declare on our diversity monitoring system. We have two bisexual women (not including me but more on that terrifying prospect later). We know there are people hiding. I absolutely respect that it’s an individual’s choice as to when they come out and how widely they do so but my firm’s statistics seem to be suggesting that lesbian and bisexual women don’t feel comfortable being authentic in the workplace. I don’t know the reasons. Well, in true Eerily Cheerily going against the grain style, I’m EXTREMELY visible. I’m a massive gay. Actually, I’m very short but I’m a massive gay. If I had room on my wall, I’d have a big gay flag to brighten things up a bit in this godawful open plan space.
Am I being a role model by being a massive gay or am I doing it in my own selfish interest? The truth? It’s both. It’s discouraging to see so few senior lesbian women in the corporate world. I therefore view it as being very important for me to be a role model, albeit one who is still climbing the ladder, and someone at whom others can look to realise it’s more than ok to be out and proud in our firm and that it’s not a career limiting move. Our (straight white male) senior management in particular are particularly vocal that they are 100% behind our LGBT employees. I’m reiterating that by living it.
Arguably (I only argue with one other lesbian), I’m Chief Lesbian. I like it. I’m on the firm website, my video interviews are tweeted to thousands of followers, I’m on the LGBT network committee – my sexual orientation is almost my unique selling point from a career perspective. I’m gay, I’m clever, I’m hot. People remember me. I should stick it on my CV as my tagline under my name at the top of the page. Now THAT would be in my own selfish interests. Hire me and you’ll meet all your quotas! With sexual orientation being a protected characteristic under the Equality Act in the UK, I also know that my employers have to tread carefully with people like me. We had a redundancy scare last month but I was quietly confident that such a prominent firm as mine wouldn’t dare face the wrath of the press by booting out a mixed race, bipolar, lesbian widowed by suicide. That doesn’t look good in a broadsheet’s headline.
When I joined my firm, I was in the midst of wedding planning so it was an easy way to come out (you can read about my coming out process in this post). “Yes, we’re both wearing dresses. Yes, our fathers are giving us away. She wants me to go first down the aisle and wait for her…” Loads of people knew I got married thanks to my wedding photos going viral in the firm. However, not everyone knows I’m widowed. People don’t send pictures of a funeral round their colleagues unless they’re fucking weird. I have inadvertently hidden my loss out of inactivity. People just don’t talk about death so word didn’t get round anybody beyond my immediate teams. People talk about birth. Birth of babies, birth of new relationships, birth of married life. Not death.
I don’t want to be known as “the widow”, or “the lesbian widow” at work. I want to be known for my talent and attitude. Being widowed is not everything about me and I know that when people Google me, they’ll be surprised at my history. Unfortunately, headlines about me finding my wife hanging come up higher in search results than my LinkedIn so things won’t stay secret forever…
However, in an online context, I feel it’s essential to be “out” as a lesbian widow. I define myself online as the lesbian widow. Heck it IS in the tagline of the blog at the top of the bloody page. Am I being a role model or am I doing it in my own selfish interest? Again, the answer is both. I won’t say no to a book deal and a TV series (I can get revenge on all the shits who abandoned me and accused me of “driving [my] wife to her death”) and I find writing incredibly enriching. More importantly though, I want to be visible so that others don’t feel alone. In the very early days of grief, lesbian widows can feel completely isolated, thinking nobody else could ever have been in this situation. At least, that’s what I thought. Funnily enough though, later down the line I came across a lesbian also widowed by suicide in the same city as me but I found her because I’m a networking whore at suicide support group and I have excellent gaydar.
Google.co.uk search results for “lesbian widow” are so few that my Eerily Cheerily blog now comes up on the second page despite only starting two months ago. I was lucky that, when I was freshly widowed, I stumbled across a young widow forum and just decided to participate anyway despite lack of statement as to inclusiveness of LGBT widows and widowers. I found myself thoroughly embraced by the widowed community, a novelty having been in a same sex relationship. It’s pretty funny because lesbian widows don’t grieve differently. Ok, there are some spectacularly shit things I’ve had to deal with due to homophobia (in laws, funeral directors etc) but I don’t need to exclusively talk to lesbian widows to figure that stuff out.
Visibility is the key challenge and that’s why I say, yes, we need lesbian widow role models. I’m not campaigning for distinct lesbian widow support services – quite frankly, being surrounded by a bunch of lesbians in any situation is terrifying – but we do need to be visible and almost wear “lesbian widow” as a badge of honour.
I for one am happy to step up to the mark, although I’m conscious it does leave me extremely vulnerable to people I know in real life who’ll, if they read this blog, find out I broke my vibrator due to overuse and nearly threw myself off Niagara Falls (not because of the vibrator). I’m willing to take the risk of being discovered though because there needs to be someone out there saying “this happened to me.” I don’t recommend following my lead when it comes to my alcoholism, or sleeping around (see post here), or dancing around a pole with strippers on Valentine’s (see post here), but I will be painfully honest and authentic with my readers. Life goes on. Happiness returns. Believe it.
Lesbian widows exist. Lesbian widows – you’re not alone. Lesbian widows can be rather entertaining, but that’s not as a result of our sexual orientation or relationship status.
Lesbian widows – come out, come out wherever you are. The internet needs you.
But, I remind myself that I am not just a lesbian widow. I have multiple identities.
PS – Have I said “lesbian widows” enough times in this post to increase my Google ranking?