The following conversation, from a time back before I grew so wary, is one small example of why coming out at work can be so problematic.
10pm. My night shift starts. I attend a birth as second midwife. The woman is having her second baby. Baby is born, tumbling quickly into the hands of the other midwife. Other midwife leaves for home. Baby breastfeeds. Mother rests. All is well.
Midnight. The night is getting busy. Birth rooms are in demand. I need to move the woman and her baby to a shared, postnatal room. Packing up her things, taking the walk down the corridor, she is shaken out of her post-birth haze. The questions begin.
How old are you?
You look so young!
Well, it’s early in the night. Here’s your bed, bathroom just there….(etc etc. I’m holding her baby while she organises her things)
So, what does your husband do?
(hm, straight to me having a husband, curious)
Uh, I don’t have a husband. My partner is a woman.
You’re A Lesbian!!!
(looks deeply shocked, snatches baby back from me as though I might be contagious)
You don’t look like a lesbian! You look quite feminine!
(now looking kind of angry, as though I should look more like a lesbian, you know, to give people fair warning)
Urh. (Oh dear, mistake)
Did you have a bad relationship with your father?
(gotta give the woman credit, she didn’t hold back. considered lying, but didn’t seem worth it now and was actually a bit curious to see where all of this might go)
Non-existent, don’t really have a father.
Ah, well, there you go then. That would explain it.
(had I been quicker off the mark, I would have asked if all straight women have bad relationships with their mothers, but sadly I missed that boat)
Hmm, I don’t know about that.
You know, I think more and more women are becoming lesbians.
It’s because they’re smart.
The government will have to legislate against it.
I think they’ve got that covered.
(was realising that my further involvement in this conversation was largely unnecessary)
No, I’m serious. If they don’t, no one will be getting married and having babies.
I think I hear a buzzer going. Better go check that.
(holy crap, it’s still only 1am, six and a half more hours of this conversation to go)