LGBTQ+ rights

Manning up: Being a queer male in a masculinized industry

Michael Roy Brosas
Manning up: Being a queer male in a masculinized industry
'We must reshape our understanding of what masculinity is and how it's affecting our status quo'

A few years ago, during my internship as an engineering student, I learned from my co-mentee that my mentors were asking around about my sexual orientation behind my back. They were hypothesizing because I don’t present myself as traditionally masculine. Being closeted at the workplace, their curiosity caused a level of defensiveness that followed me around for the rest of my stay with the company. Since then, a part of me has been wondering how my queerness could have affected our work dynamics, or any work dynamics I’ll be having in the future. 

Fast forward to my job right after college; I worked in a construction firm where homophobic slurs got thrown around casually. I would often hear “bakla kasi” as an explanation for a negative attitude or impression of a colleague, as if being perceivably gay immediately means being those negative stereotypes. These remarks often came from male co-workers, which were almost always followed by roars of laughter of agreement. These experiences, although relatively minor, were my subtle inauguration to the hegemonic masculinity in my chosen field, which is Mechanical Engineering.

Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, these experiences aren’t uncommon in masculinized industries. They are usually male-dominated workplaces, where power is inequitably distributed in favor of heterosexual men. In these offices masculine traits, such as aggression, competitiveness, assertiveness, dominance, and independence, to name a few, are given utmost value. While writing this, I asked fellow queer males who are likewise working in fields that are masculinized about their experiences. Following their wishes, their names were omitted to avoid possible discrimination in their respective occupations.

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One, a supervisor in a construction site, said that while he isn’t hiding his identity, he’s careful not to be halata (obvious) among other employees and laborers. According to him, he needs to show firmness, since he is in a managerial position, unconsciously fearing the disrespect that comes with the negative views on homosexuality. At one point, he recalls, his sexual orientation had caused conflict with a colleague. He did not elaborate, but he did say that his company had a safeguard against gender-based discrimination which helped him resolve the issue, a privilege that is only accessible to a few.

Unlike the first one, the next person I conversed with is explicitly closeted. Although it isn’t affecting his tasks negatively, he says that there is discomfort in hiding a part of himself. He fears that he may be found out, and his co-workers would treat him differently. He works in real estate as a Right of Way Negotiator. Similar concerns were echoed by another person when asked about his working relationship from his past job. He raises that he doesn’t want to disclose his identity because it is much easier that way.

Among the people I talked to, only one was out and proud about his sexuality at work. He says that his co-workers are generally respectful of who he is, but there is an evident lack of understanding about gender-related topics. “Sometimes, they treat being gay as being weak,” he shared. According to him, there were moments when people were so uncomfortable about gender labels that they used euphemisms such as the infamous limp wrist.

In most of the conversations I had, both recently and in the past, disclosing non-heterosexual identity in masculinized workplaces puts people at a disadvantage. This is particularly true for gay men. It may be attributed to the fact that in most of these industries, masculinity is equated to capability and authority. And with gayness stereotypically and falsely assumed to be less masculine, being open about their identity is an especially difficult choice for queer men.

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In his research “Characteristics of “Masculinized” Industries: Gay Men as a Provocative Exception to Male Privilege and Gendered Rules,” Joshua C. Collins wrote, “Being openly gay or being perceived as gay could be emasculating. This is one way in which masculinized industries attribute often-unrecognized privilege to heterosexuals — because heterosexual men need not be concerned with these kinds of issues and feel free to interact with others without the fear or experience of prejudice based on sexual orientation.” Unlike, their heterosexual peers, queer men must conceal their identity as protection against issues that may arise because of their sexuality. This is the path of least resistance in a workspace where non-masculine traits are still ostracized. 

However, incidents of gender-based discriminations and the preference for masculinity aren’t isolated in male-dominated industries. According to a written report by a coalition of organizations submitted to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review last 2017, on the LGBTQ+ situation in the country, aside from limited opportunities, queer individuals face discrimination in employment. Take for example what happened to Bunny Cadag, who was allegedly barred from office work by a fast-food chain because they aren’t masculine presenting. They were asked to dress according to their assigned sex at birth, which is male. On multiple instances, according to the same report, trans people are forced to comply with human resource policies concerning prescribed gender expressions. Similarly, a gay teacher was also terminated from a private school simply because of a photo of him dressed up as a bride in a non-school and personal event.

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With the lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in the country, incidents like these will prevail. Likewise, the lack of understanding on gender-related topics will not be overcome, and it will continue to disempower people from the LGBTQ+ community, especially those who aren’t masculine-presenting. There must be an administrative solution that prohibits both direct and indirect discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Legislation like the SOGIE Equality Bill must be passed to protect all persons from all forms of prejudice. Similarly, there must be a measure to fill in the gap of information on matters concerning sexuality.

We must reshape our understanding of what masculinity is and how it’s affecting our status quo. Through this, we won’t be limiting opportunity and progress to a portion of the population, while disenfranchising another. We, especially our government, must provide equal chances to everyone no matter how they present themselves.  There must be a conscious effort to better the workplace and society in general – so everyone can live a life with dignity and respect. – Rappler.com

Michael Roy Brosas, 24, is a licensed Mechanical Engineer from Bicol. He writes about the different experiences and struggles that come with being young and queer.