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  • Writer's picturePreeti Bonthron

Jodie Buck: Hiding my identity to conform and the toll it took

Recent research by MyGWork focusing on the experiences of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary people in the workplace and wider society discovered that three-quarters of LGBTQ+ women and non-binary professionals are reluctant to fully come out.

Over 70% of them experience discrimination at work, with figures rising when intersectionality is taken into consideration. Marginalised and ethnic minority groups suffer the most.

Just 9% of women in the LGBTQ community plus non binary people hold leadership roles, and only 3% are CEOs/founders. It’s no surprise, given the challenges and lack of representation.

Back in the day in a small village in South Wales

I grew up in a rural village in South Wales, where there is very little diversity. I never faced any homophobia or hate in my teenage years, probably because I never officially came out.

Despite the lack of diversity in terms of representation, I had a very fortunate upbringing with my sexuality. My parents have always been very accepting, though my mother was upset she couldn’t have grandkids – I’ve since taught her she can!

At the age of 16, I moved to Reading to play football, where the diversity spectrum was completely different. Suddenly I was surrounded by like-minded teammates within the LGBT community and it became my ‘safe space’ to be open about who I was and my values.

Having this support and this safe space to be my most authentic self led me to realise just how much of myself I had suppressed living ‘back home’ in Wales.

Fast forward a few years and I moved away from playing sport and into my professional career. I spent some time working in a very male dominant sport industry where the fear of negative reactions led me to hide who I was.

It was just easier, or so I thought.

The term code-switching was originally coined within the framework of race, to explain how and why people of colour would modify their speech, appearance, behavior and expression to be more accepted and to increase their chances of fair treatment, quality service, and employment opportunities

We do not present ourselves in the exact same way in every situation. We present degrees of ourselves at work, in public, at social occasions, events, with friends and family and with strangers.

Some degree of code-switching happens within the context of any interaction. However, code-switching becomes a problem when done to conform to a standard of appropriate behaviour set up for no other reason than the comfort of one group to the exclusion of others.

For the LGBTQIA+ community, code switching often means avoiding bringing up their sexuality around heterosexual people to avoid conversations which might make them feel uncomfortable.

Early on, I would actively avoid any conversations around relationships, past and present. I made sure that my attire and aesthetic would never raise any questions about my sexuality. I pretended I was single, even though I was in a long term relationship and missed out on bringing my partner to events.

Because I was ‘in the closet’, people around me would quite often make subtle jokes such as ‘that’s gay’, ‘don’t be so gay’. Although I didn’t find these offensive personally, it probably validated my option to not be open and instead, I dug a deeper hole for myself.

This ‘code switching’ between my personal and professional life spanned over 5 years.

By the end I felt like I had mastered it and accepted it as my reality, but my anxiety remained the same regardless.

All of it takes a toll and it took moving to an inclusive organisation and environment before I fully understood this.

When I met Leila, CEO of DIAL Global, I was a freelance videographer hired to film DIAL Global’s first event. Despite knowing the nature of the organisation - diverse and inclusive - I still chose to stay closeted. As always, stressing over the right thing to wear, I happened to wear a necklace which was a small symbol of who I am.

The first thing that Leila commented on was that necklace and in a strange way, for me that gesture was an acknowledgement of my sexuality and showed me that DIAL as an organisation accepted me.

My anxiety immediately dropped and I felt like I could focus on my job completely.

It shouldn't surprise me that a tiny gesture can sometimes be all it takes for someone to feel seen and accepted.

As I got more involved at DIAL, listening to other people’s stories and learning about the importance of being my authentic self, I unconsciously started to break through the confines that I had created.

I started introducing myself and being very open about my relationship and even started to dress in a way that made me comfortable with myself. I became so much happier and proud of who I was – it was a huge weight off my shoulders which I didn’t even realize I was carrying for so long.

As a result of not overthinking about myself, I now feel like I can focus better, bring more ideas to the table, build relationships and generally perform much better.

This confidence now extends to the rest of my life.

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the last few years is how to ‘come out’ to people.

I say this because coming out isn’t just a one time thing, but has the potential of happening with every new acquaintance or interaction, whether socially or at work.

It’s a very personal experience and no one has the right to dictate when, how and if, but in recent years, there has been a push for organisations and individuals to be more authentic and inclusive.

For the LGBTQIA+ community, this has sometimes meant having the platform and the space to share our truth and our lives more openly, not just with our friends and family, but also with our workplace.

Why is this important?

The pride movement is full of brave gestures from people of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies who walked before us.

Whether it was the first pride march in the UK in 1972 following the Stonewall riots in 1969, the campaigning that led to the the WHO declassifying homosexuality as a mental illness in 1992 or allowing gay couples to adopt in 2002 or even the law that finally, in 2013 gave gay couples the right to marry, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Equality for the LGBTQIA+ community isn’t global equality, and the privileges and freedom that we have in the UK do not extend to the rest of the world. In many countries, homosexuality is still a crime which may be punishable by death.

No two people have had the same personal journey, but I know what it’s like to feel that sense of uncertainty, the anxiety and the smokescreen that I tried to create in sharp contrast to the support I’ve had from a community and people that understood my journey.

If we consider our workplace to be one of our communities, then by speaking about my experience and in a way ‘coming out’ I open up the floor for others to ask questions, share their own experiences, voice their concerns and live their own truths without judgement.

As we share our stories and our experiences, whether about sexuality, religion, gender, ethnicity or any topic, these become opportunities to understand each other, build stronger relationships and find common ground.

Jodie Buck is Head of Creative at DIAL Global. A proud member of the LGBTQIA+ community who hid her sexuality for many years, Jodie's passion for D&I is driven by her desire for people to be their whole self at work and beyond. Jodie grew up on a farm, which is where her love for the outdoors comes from - when she is not at work you can find her farming, wild swimming or camping!

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