04 May 2010

Why 89: The Career Closet [2 of 7*]

In 1999, I wanted to expand my writing opportunities and thus applied for an editorial position in a corporate office in Makati. This office was supposed to be global in its scope, with sister companies in more progressive countries in Asia. They published numerous trade magazines for different industries, hence the need for writers and editors. I emailed them my application and they sent me a telegram (yes, a telegram!) stating that I should report to their office for an exam and an interview, so I did.

Back then, I looked different from what I look like now. During those days, I was just in my mid to late twenties, and I was used to dressing up for corporate work. The previous full-time job I had prior to that application was for a film company which was ensconced in the middle of Ortigas business district, so regardless of the nature of our company, we office workers had to dress up "corporately." Dressing up, back then, meant wearing slacks, a blouse or girly-cut polo, and nice shoes (no sneakers, no boots). It also meant maintaining my long, shiny hair (like those you see in shampoo commercials - yes, my hair naturally falls like that) and putting on some make-up. Yes, make-up, just the basics for me, though -- lipstick (mad about matte ones from Revlon), some eye shadow and basic light foundation (Clinique worked for my oily skin). In short, I looked like your average office girl in corporate attire. Average straight girl, I should say, for no one would immediately assume--based on how I looked--that I was a lesbian.

On the day of my interview, I dressed
up and went to the Makati office promptly. I tackled a very simple and usual HR-crafted exam tailor-fit to the nature of the company. It was relatively easy enough, and I was confident about my performance. Next came the interview.

A man who looked like he was in his forties entered the small conference room where they conducted the interviews. He had with him a folde
r. He was wearing a men's shirt and tie, no coat. His eyes looked beady and he had a mustache. He began asking me about my qualifications as a writer, and my experiences as an editor, among other things, as he looked at my application papers in the folder, along with my CV. I could sense that the interview was going well, as he was just letting the questions flow while smiling, and letting me answer casually. The air was not tense; he was relaxed, and I was working that Revlon-highlighted smile of mine. I guess it worked.

Until he asked the question.

"So," he began, "may boyfriend ka na ba?"

Did I say he looked like he was in his forties? With this question, he looked like he morphed and looked like he was past 50 all of a sudden -- a certified Dirty Old Man. The malicious glint in his beady eyes gave him away. Hm, what to say, what to say. Remember this was 1999, before Facebook, Google, Youtube and everything else where you could easily type "lesbian" in the search boxes and gazillions of information would flood your screen in an instant, educating you easily and conveniently. And of course, the phrase "equal opportunity employer" didn't exist in the annals of Philippine companies.

It was a tricky question. Never in my work history had I been asked that during an interview. It was tricky because things could be swayed depending on my answer. If you think that this is already blas
é , well, think again. If you think Ricky Martin finally admitting he was gay was not a feat, you are mistaken. It was a struggle. If he did that in 2003, where would he be now, right? If Ellen Degeneres immediately came out before her sitcom life began in the 1990s, where would she be now? Well, I guess it's quite different for these people, so let's stick with people with less stellar job titles -- people like you and me.

If I said "Yes, I already have a boyfriend" to Mr. Interviewer, what do you think would happen? I guess he would have laid off my case and stopped staring below my chin, and he probably would have said "We'll call you" or something to let me know the result of my application. Fair enough.

If I said "No, I don't have a boyfriend" then the follow-up question would be trickier. "Why? How come?" By this moment, his beady eyes would have squinted more, and he would sport a more crooked smile, and wait with eager anticipation as to how a pretty made-up girl like me would be loveless. Hm, tricky. Unless I wanted some advances from Mr. DOM there, I better answer it right.

So I guess the advocate in me won. My inner Gloria Steinem said, "No... I don't have a boyfriend... because I don't like men."

He was amused with my answer, and closed the folder with my application papers to look at me closely. He laughed as if I told a joke a la David Letterman. "Ha-ha! You don't like men?"

"Yes... sir... I like women... because I'm a lesbian."

Pregnant pause. I guess, like Ellen's sitcom audience, they struggled whether they heard it right. Whoa, did she say lesbian? Or Libran? Lebanese? Whatever.

Slowly, after about ten seconds, he spoke. "Oh..."

And that was when the advocate in me just took over. Inner Gloria Steinem now had a "polite" mini-attitude. "Yes, sir. I'm a lesbian. Is that going to be a problem here?"

Yes, I watch too many Hollywood films. Gave me the courage to say what I said. And now, it was my turn to look at him closely, for his response.

He started fidgeting with his tie, and then the folder, and then his mustache. "Well, uh, no, not an, um issue here. In fact, there are a lot of gays working here already! It's okay, ha-ha. Of course, they just have to... behave properly of course..."

"What do you mean, sir?" I forgot to say I penciled my brow during those times, too. Made me look more mataray whenever I raise one brow.

"Well of course it's okay to be like that and all, but of course you have to be behaved. It's not like you can, you know, go around and just, walk
around the office and, um, not behave..."

What the hell was the man talking about???

"What do you mean, sir?" the brow two notches higher.

He nervously fixed his tie. "Well, arhm, I mean they of course can't just, you know, display themselves in front of everyone, or start being... gay in front of everybody and all that... and..."

The man was sinking. Should I throw
him a life vest? That was when I sensed that I wasn't going to be called back. So I just let inner Gloria Steinem prattle on. "Oh come on now, sir. Of course we won't just jump each other on the tables and start kissing in front of everybody. We have manners." Punctuated with a wide grin. Revlon was working it, girl!

"Ahaha, oh, uh yes of course, yes, yes... uh..."
By this time, he no longer could look at me squarely. He could not meet my gaze, nor did he dip his gaze down my chin to see my attitude-filled front. His neck was tense, so tense that he looked like he was just in a wrestling match and he got hit badly on the shoulders or something. He was so stiff.

"So... is that it, sir?" "Uh, ah yes yes, uh, thank you, okay thank you. well let you know the results of your application and, uh, yes, we'll call you."

Of course they never called me back.

Sure, you could easily say that maybe I wasn't really qualified or maybe I failed in my exam. Maybe it wasn't because I was a lesbian. But I had other friends who had similar qualifications, and they were easily accepted. Straight friends, I should say.

Okay, how about this: I had a friend who was working as a freelance writer like me. She put me in touch with two geeky guys who were running their own small company, and they needed someone with filmmaking background to do some videos for them. Now this friend of mine knew that I was a lesbian, and she was even friends with my ex-girlfriend. But this was also back in the late 1990s, and this friend of mine had the tendency to just be needlessly talkative -- in short, taklesa.

When I first met the dudes, they were the easygoing types, part bohemian, part geek, and all straight. Our ages were a bit close, so it was easy and fun to talk to them. My friend sat with us during that first meeting, and the two dudes were just hyped about meeting me, simply because this common friend of ours hyped my credentials to them (I just won two Palancas the previous year, so of course others pointed that out a lot). After our initial meeting, it looked like the dudes were ready for a more detailed and task-building meeting, so we scheduled another one soon after that first meeting. I left them there with my friend as I went ahead.

During the second meeting, our common friend was not there, and only one of the dudes sat with me. But something was up. He didn't look me straight
in the eye whenever he talked, a stark contrast to his initial demeanor during the first meeting. And unlike the first meeting, he wasn't as glib, and he wasn't as bubbly and lively when he spoke. It was like the dude-ness in him died. I was wondering why the sudden coldness. And what made me wonder more was the fact that his statements all sounded so blank, so general, so inconclusive, with that unmistakable "don't-call-us-we'll-call-you" tone. We ended the meeting without anything concrete reached, and I immediately left because I felt I was really unwelcome in their shop.

I decided to go back to our common friend and fish for updates. It could just be that the project was swiped off from under me, simply put. Happens often in the media industry; I was used to it. But when I talked to my friend and asked if the dudes got a new person to do their videos, she said they did not.

This got me thinking more about the strange behavior of Dude 1. And then my taklesa friend handed me the answer. Excitedly, she said, "O di ba I told you those two guys are nice! Mabait, and easy to deal with! I told them nga na oy, you like Libay? She's good, she's talented! You should tap her! It's weird, 'no. Lesbian iyon, pero hindi halata, di ba? Hahahaha!"

I guess I have to tell this friend of mine a few tips about outing other people unnecessarily, especially when in the process of outing others, their potential work opportunities would be affected. But as I outlined my mini-gender sensitivity lecture for her in my head, I merely retreated and decided to just brush this whole thing off. Including my friendship with her.

It's funny how a seemingly simple detail about a person coul
d affect the outcome of a job interview or a job prospect. I remember watching Brandon Lee's life story on TV once, and he painstakingly concealed during auditions that he was Bruce Lee's son, but somebody had scribbled that very definition of him at the back of his head shot photo, and he was so disappointed when he saw that.

Of course he was highly considered for the role, but he didn't want to get roles that way, using that one "small" bit of information about him. Of course it's different if a potential employer would discover that his potential employee had a criminal record, spent time in jail, did drugs in the past or what have you. But it seems like being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender could also affect job prospects for us in the community just by being who we are, by being ourselves.

Of course, that was 1999, you would say. We're already in 2010, so things are better now, with equal opportunity call centers having unisex bathrooms employing transgender women or men who carry on with their preferred gender identities and all that. Sure, that happens, too, but what about in other fields? Lesbian dentists can't come out for fear that the parents of her kid patients would react vehemently, lawyers couldn't out themselves because of the very patriarchal nature of law as practiced here in the country, and all that. Try talking to more butchy-looking lesbians or girly-looking gays out there and they'll tell you some sob stories. Yes, it's 2010, but the career closet is still very much real for those of us who want to be happy in earning a decent living -- if it meant locking ourselves inside that closet from 8am to 5pm from Monday to Friday.

This is why we in the community need a bill like the proposed Anti-Discrimination Bill filed in congress eons ago. This bill enumerates that no employer could discriminate against anybody who is or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. It's time to smash that career closet, and by voting for Ang Ladlad partylist -- who will champion the ADB -- you will help make a positive step towards that change, eradicating that career closet once and for all.

Vote 89.


*Why 89: 2 of 7 is the second of a seven-part series of creative nonfiction narratives I am writing as a countdown to the upcoming May 10 elections in support of my partylist, Ang Ladlad.

Part 1 of 7 -
The Benefit(s) of Recognition

All photos by libay linsangan cantor: (1) Ondoy days at Pan de Americana Marikina Oct2008, (2) rainy Makati June2009 (3) signs at the Baguio Pride March June2009; (4-5) Comic Shop at Universal Studios LA April2010; (6) home rainbow Marikina 2008; (7) Coke lip at Universal Studios LA April2010; (8) Ang Ladlad contingent at the 2008 LGBT Pride March Malate.

Feel free to repost and comment. Thanks for reading.

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