(Gay) Men at Work: Corporate Discourses and the Normalisation of Gay Male Identities
Drawing upon pro-feminist and poststructuralist feminist research which has scrutinised masculinities and men's practices within organisations, together with insights from gay and lesbian studies, we present the findings of a qualitative study of the work lives of ten openly gay men employed within a British National Health Services Trust. We suggest that, in the contemporary context, questions of gay and lesbian identities are being addressed by organisations with a greater sense of urgency, yet this presents a troubling paradox. Global changes have increased the range of ways in which gay men and lesbians can self-identify. Global in that the changing shape of family forms, intimacy and sexuality have precipitated transformations of everyday life as experienced at the micro level. Simultaneously, a view gaining currency within industry is that the exclusion of gay men and lesbians may hinder economic expediency. Thus, discourses of diversity have proliferated rapidly within corporations in the Western world, which profess to offer organisational inclusion to these individuals. On the surface, for gay men and lesbians this might seem appealing, but as this paper goes on to argue, gay and lesbian workers do not have unfettered access to an infinite array of professional, gendered and sexual identity options at work. Using the men's portraits of work life, we contend that gay male workers seeking to self-identify and be identified by co-workers as 'professional', entails engineering a gendered self that corresponds to the heterosexual based, hegemonic masculine ideals that have permeated discourses of professionalism. In the end, even against a corporate landscape that promotes diversity and inclusion for gay and lesbian workers, the nature of the inclusionary embrace for gay men carries with it a gendered straitjacket. We conclude that sustaining a sense of professional identity among the men is constrained by the (hetero)normalising forces that remain normatively heterosexual.
Keywords: Gay men, Masculinities, Professionalism, Normalisation, Sexuality, Identities
Mr Nicholas Rumens
Lecturer in Human Resource Management, Business School, Southampton Institute
Lecturer in Organizational Analysis, Department of Management, Keele University