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QWOC+ Boston is a group that promotes diversity by creating and sustaining safe spaces for LGBT people of color in the Greater Boston area.
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You Are Viewing Carolyn W

First Boi In: On Being a Masculine of Center Woman in Corporate America

Posted By Carolyn W on March 25th, 2011

I’ve heard it said that lesbian femme women come out everyday, in reference to their having to constantly inform people that they are, in fact, lesbians. At this point, the offending party usually states, “You don’t look gay…,” prompting the femme to roll her eyes and retort, “What the hell does gay look like, anyway?” before she walks away.

I humbly submit that Masculine of Center woman have their own version of coming out everyday… at least in my world, I do. And such was the case when I started working at a place I’ll simply refer to as the Company. For the purpose of this blog, think of the Company as your run-of the-mill corporate office. It’s a pretty large corporation with many different people in the office, comprising an employee base of different ethnicities, genders, and communities. But despite the diversity at the Company, I don’t think they ever counted on having a person like me coming in and turning their whole view of gender on its ear.

Now, I’m pretty un-assuming.  Catch me on a regular day, and I will probably have on some jeans, a tee, and sneakers. Nothing at all really gender defining (unless you pay closer attention to how my clothes are being worn ). They have had a business casual dress code at most places where I’ve worked. So, I could usually get away with simple Dockers and a polo shirt. No fuss, no muss. But the day I walked into the Company and was told that we had an “all business, all the time” dress code, I have to be honest: I panicked.

In my mind, it should have been simple. I have never had any problem being very out. But it felt like this was about to be an incredibly defining moment in my own journey as a Masculine Of Center woman. Turns out, this moment would prove significant to the straight female corporate trainer as well, because when I raised my hand to clarify, “So, anytime we wear a dress shirt we must wear a tie as well right?” and the room went silent, she stared at me for a good 2 to 3 mins and finally answered hesitantly, “Yes, the men do, yes.”

The very next day I came back into work and did all the dapper bois proud. Black slacks, white dress shirt with a pink-black-white silk tie. Hair freshly twisted with shades on. And yes I turned many heads. I walked in and saw all the ladies in the office look over to watch me walk down the aisle. I finally got to my group and nobody said a word. And then finally one of the female supervisors said “Ooh I like your tie.” My journey as the first boi in the office had begun.

You never really forget the day you realize that not only are you a stranger in a foreign land, but you are the first of a species that those around you have never witnessed. I had to get used to the stares daily. The interested glances of some and the disdain of others. I had to tow the line between curious women and distrustful men. And I had to do it all while maintaining who I was and making sure to carry myself in such a way as not to fall prey to the pre-conceived notions that people around me had just because I wore a tie instead of a dress.

People around me were scared because they thought that because I wore a tie and had a “masculine” demeanor that I was going to be this super aggressive person that they couldn’t communicate with. I was told that I walked in everyday a bit cocky like I owned the place. That people were unhinged by me because not only did I dress like the guys but I OUT-dressed the guys. And all I was doing was consistently being me.

It has been interesting to watch the change in attitudes since I have been with the company. I understand that part of it is me being ME. Always being the happy, talkative, sometimes act a fool, charismatic person that I am. I had to continue to be me. Keep smiling, keep laughing, keep being the positive person that I am. I don’t think my purpose was ever really to change anyone’s mind. I never felt that I needed to because those that are true and genuine would feel that coming from me. The more they saw the positivity running off of me the more they wanted to understand me.

I see the people whose attitudes have totally changed about me and in a sense MOC women as a whole, who have become so much more open and open to all of the interesting twists that I have brought to their day. The girls who love to talk to me and, yes, still love to flirt with me. The men who no longer feel threatened but have kidnapped me and made me the unwilling boi in their boys club. In good fun as well. There have been losses too. I won’t be a fool and say that I don’t notice the ones who can’t get used to having a person like me around. The women who are too scared to talk to me because of course I’m going to try to pick them up. And who make sure to draw attention to any woman that I talk to more than twice. Yes I notice.

But sometimes, I wonder if I’m getting a pass BECAUSE I am so easy to swallow? Will it really be that much easier for the next MOC woman that walks through those doors? I have no idea. But I’m certain I will never forget my experience as the first boi in.