A friend of mine is vegan and a teacher, but is not vegan at work. She says that she only has a certain number of… ‘distancing myself from colleagues’ tokens/cookies/units, and that she’d rather use those up on radical educational politics than on being vegan around colleagues.
When it comes to feeling alienated in a mainstream workplace, my being non-monogamous is the least of my worries.
When I contemplate going to work in a bank or office, I know that I will be surrounded by colleagues with a mainstream, heteronormative approach to the world. I know that they will assume me to be straight. I will have to listen to the women talking about their diets and lamenting their fat thighs in the toilets. I will be expected to participate in ‘girl talk’, to share makeup tips and dating details and diet plans and to criticise the women in the magazines that will inevitably be scattered around the coffee room.
I know that some people there will be racist, and xenophobic, and I will say nothing. I will allow casual sexism to wash off my back. It will never be quite enough to note down, record and later report: it will be office banter, just friendliness, social chit-chat that assumes a hundred messed-up norms.
If my non-monogamy is relevant at all, it’ll be so through highlighting mono-normativity as misogynistic. When my colleagues claim that men are only after one thing, or that dates will show affection through overt jealousy, or that I should get married as soon as possible, I will nod and smile, knowing that my coming out to them as poly will not change any of these views, nor their assumptions towards me.
If I am to come out as anything, I would want them to know that I am queer and feminist. Non-monogamy seems like a side issue: it is one facet of my queerness and feminism, but in the workplace, it is not the most important part. I’d want them to know that I want no part of their diet talk or ‘bikini body’ discussions, and that my dating is none of their business, and that they are not to project their views onto it. I would want to be out as queer, knowing that at least in legal word I should be protected for it, and hoping that would shield me from some of the straight-girl talk. If I have a limited number of distancing-myself cookies, I’d rather use them on that than on coming out as poly.
I recommend joining two unions. Join the IWW, the anarchist union, as well as a more mainstream and field-relevant union. Get to know your union rep, get to know your rights, and note down instances of heteronormative bullshit just in case you ever need the records.
Don’t come out as poly. They won’t get it, you’ll distance yourself further and you don’t need another area (and for forty hours a week) where people attack your lifestyle with misinformed questions and silly objections. Do come out as queer and feminist: hopefully you can find an ally at work.
Cultivate a rich and full life outside of work. Defend the boundaries between work and your real life fiercely. Take a notebook to work, and write or draw or daydream when you can. Read this. Tweet. Plan coffee dates with friends for lunchtimes. Get out and go for a walk. Arrive on time, and leave on time: work the hours you are paid for, and no more. Look forward to your evenings: fill them with projects and joy. This is your real life. Work just pays the bills. Start a tumblr to catalogue frustrations at work if you need to. Offload onto friends who understand. Phone in sick occasionally. Don’t let them intimidate you. Stay in contact with your union rep. Keep life as easy for yourself as you can. Good luck.