Glowing like the Holy Grail amongst a dumpster of worn chalices, an article titled, “Why Gay Men Make the Best Bosses” (courtesy of Danielle Sacks of Details magazine), laid in my RSS feed. “Finally,” I told myself, “an article I can boast about. It’s about time gay men get some recognition for something that has nothing to do with Civil Rights, entertainment, or design.” However, after some heavy reflection, I realize that this article only illuminates a small portion of the dark reality in which all men continue to experience, but let’s start with the light.
For the very first time in my life, I witnessed someone take all of the lessons learned about a notably frightening process—coming out—and translate them into something that arguably gives gay men an edge in corporate management. Let me elaborate.
Speaking from personal experience, there are a number of lessons you learn in America through being a gay man. As Sacks quotes in her Details article, “Gay people are constantly having to dodge and weave and assess how and where they’re going as they grow up.” To clear things up, I don’t believe that this is something specific to gay men—all men dodge, weave, and assess as we navigate the “perilous” (as Michael Kimmel would say) world of manhood. At some point, we’ve all monitored the things we say, the way we walk, the topics of conversation we raise. We want to feel like men. As men, this is hard. As gay men, by default, we break the ultimate guy code (i.e. “You’re not a man unless you want to bang every girl you see, if you want to bang men … you can’t even sit with us”).
What I’m trying to say is this: being a man comes with the extremely heavy burden of always having to prove your manliness; being a gay man comes with the heavier burden of proving your manliness when much of the unenlightened world considers you less of a man by default.
What Sacks is really saying is that it takes a lot of skill as a gay man to make it through institutions of extremely hegemonic masculinity. Take high school, for example, where guys can beat you up just because they suspect you of being gay. That’s rough for anyone. But when you actually are gay, the world is a warzone that calls for three life-saving skills: “adaptability, intuitive communications, and creative problem solving.”
Gay men adapt to the environment they are in. Behavior that exposes one’s non-hetero sexuality is often times dangerous in places that fit the most normative representations of masculinity. Generally speaking, you can use your intuition to gauge the amount of hostility you would face for outing yourself. Gauging and adapting to one’s environment for reasons such as physical safety is crucial for gay men, and it takes a lot of work to prepare for.
So how do these traits—adaptability, gauging one’s environment, etc. from experiencing life as a gay man and through the process of coming out—translate to the corporate management?
Sacks argues “the reflection and candidness required for coming out mean that by the time they get to the workplace, gay men are often secure in their identity and don’t feel the need to abuse people in order to boost their ego.” Coming out is extremely difficult, but I can attest that once it’s done, it’s a lot easier to be yourself. So Sacks is right in that sense … to some degree. However, there are certainly gay men who do abuse power for whatever possibly non-gay-related reason, and there are certainly straight men who are confident in their identities not to abuse people.
If gay men, through coming out and simply experiencing life as a gay man, develop traits that presumably make them nicer bosses (i.e. we don’t feel the need to abuse people at work), but straight men may also hold the same traits through being secure in their identities, what is Sacks really saying? That you gay men are more likely to be nicer, more understanding, and less abusive than their straight counterparts?
Sacks quotes, “Your typical hetero male is programmed as a boy that there are two emotions: angry and tired … These are gross limitations that restrict our ability to be great managers.” The strength of the argument that gay men make better bosses depends almost solely on the presumption that most men (most of which are straight) have only two emotions—angry and tired. Well that is simply untrue. But does Sacks still have a point—are gay men more likely to have more emotions, including compassion, which create more positive leadership?
She concludes, “if your new boss happens to be gay, chances are you’ll be happier and more fulfilled in your job.”
At this point I’m cautious of this whole argument. I’m stuck between feeling proud that gay men are considered good—not necessarily better—bosses, and feeling somewhat stereotyped and commodified: “Tiiiiiiiiight, new gay boss is going to be soooo nice to me because he’s naturally understanding.”
Let’s zoom out and examine what this says about all men. If gay men make better bosses because of empathetic traits they develop through experience as a gay man and coming out, then who are they better bosses for and why? One man mentioned that “working for a gay boss taught him that emotionally honest doesn’t equate to weak in the workplace.” Sure, a gay man can teach anyone a thing or two about emotional honesty, but the bigger question is why do men think that emotional honesty equates to weakness in the first place?
If this article holds any truth, if the stats hold true (that “gay male bosses produce 35 to 60 percent higher levels of employee engagement, satisfaction, and morale than straight bosses), then how proud can anyone be that “gay men make the best bosses”? So many men are suffering because there’s a stark need for emotional honesty and understanding in a workplace where many bosses would simply tell us: “get back out there and grow a pair.”
I think the argument holds some truth. Gay men in fact do do a lot of self-examination, monitoring, and reflection—especially as they’re coming out——but these aren’t traits specific to us. Perhaps Sacks is saying that gay male bosses are simply more likely to have these traits. Assuming that gay men are more compassionate isn’t a terribly farfetched stereotype, but it still is one. And what kind of gay male boss is does one have to be to gain the title of best kind of boss—one simultaneously “tough as nails” and compassionate, i.e. an understanding alpha male?
I am thrilled to see connections being made surrounding gay men and the workplace, especially if arguments support our having an edge in management. But I am even more saddened to realize there is apparently such a stark need for compassion and understanding amongst men in the workplace.
The question I leave asking myself is this: What is it that gay men especially add to the workplace that deem them “better bosses” that the rest of the work world needs to catch up on, and what does this say about masculinity in sum?
—Photo credit: Victor1558/Flickr