Q: I started working as a police officer just last year. When I was first hired, pretty much everyone asked me why I'm not married. Then came the gay jokes. I've tried to let it go since I'm still a rookie, but it seems like they know I'm gay and want to push me out the door. How would you handle this?
A: As a law enforcement officer yourself, you may know that the workplace you're describing pretty much fits the description of "hostile" and your treatment verges on harassment. It may even be sexual harassment, depending on various factors such as whether your harassers know you're gay. Often, people think that sexual harassment happens only to women, but that's not the case. In fact, it was only recently that same-sex sexual harassment became widely accepted as real. The law now extends its protections to all of us, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
However your workplace mistreatment might eventually be categorized, there are things you can do about it. Start by talking informally and off the record to a supervisor or ombudsman (someone you think is generally supportive) to decide whether to file an official complaint. At the same time, do your best to make sure you have communicated that the "jokes" offend you or make you uncomfortable. This communication can be in person, by letter or through e-mail. In addition, keep a diary of what's going on, including dates, times, places and what exactly has been said and done and by whom. Also keep track of what you have done in response.
If all else fails, make an official report to the department and/ or contact an LGBT rights group or an attorney specializing in employment law to find out your options. But be careful: Lesbians and gay men can be fired at will simply because of their sexual orientation. And until Congress enacts the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that will remain the case.
Q: I'm a lesbian who's had breast cancer. I've been dating a little but am uncomfortable about my body and not sure when to discuss the various health issues and the marks they've left. Before we have sex—or after?
A: Starting to date and then going to bed with someone new can raise all kinds of anxieties; add into the mix feeling self-conscious about scars and/ or the loss of body parts and I can understand why you might feel uncomfortable. Your question is part and parcel of one of the most common dating concerns: When do you talk about the "skeletons" in your closet? The answer is slowly. As the relationship deepens, offer up the basic facts of your medical history and be open to any questions. Not surprisingly, that's why many of us with body image concerns (full disclosure: I have a testicular prosthesis) choose to wait to have sex until we're comfortable enough with a new partner to discuss these issues. Still, steel yourself for the possibility of rejection. Once, after I told a new boyfriend that I had had testicular cancer, he thanked me for being honest and sent me on my way, saying: "I just buried my partner who died from cancer. I can't go down that path again."
The last word: Don't forget that each of us is the composite of our experiences (surgery included), and these make our beauty unique.
This is Steven Petrow's last Queeries column in the Indy. You can always find him online at www.gaymanners.com.