If you’re queer and you have a corporate job, I think you’ll know what I mean when I say the widespread corporate enthusiasm to get involved in LGBTQIA+ culture is a double edged sword. While it enables the community and our causes to get mainstream visibility, unfortunately it doesn’t always pan out that way, and you may end up feeling like the point of contact for all things LGBT- the Token Queer.
I think I’ve been a Token…something for the entirety of my corporate career; the Token Feminist, the Token Millenial/Gen Z kid, and of course, the infamous Token Queer. My experience with this has usually translated into innocent, occasionally tonedeaf questions from my cishet colleagues who just wanted to be good allies.
“Can I use this word?”
“Do you think this is offensive? I need a feminist perspective.”
“Do you think gay people will like this?”
Usually the answers to these questions were simple enough, but it didn’t take long for me to feel a bit tired of being every straight colleague’s directory on feminist and queer discourse. Their questions were always straightforward enough for them to have straightforward answers on Google. Personally, I don’t really mind it, but I understand how annoying it can become to have to feministify everyone’s language for this year’s June exclusive Pride Month product/campaign/service/press release.
I’ve made this specific instance a focal point of my article because I think it’s a low stakes, tangible example of the point I’m trying to make. This kind of interaction is one of the many instances a queer person will encounter in the workplace where they’re made to bear an undue amount of responsibility for things that are simply above their paygrade- raising awarenesss on how workplace policies can be made better, campaigning for large scale change and inclusivity, having to speak for an entire community of people on what’s offensive and what isn’t; the list is endless. There’s nothing wrong with any of this, but ideally, it shouldn’t have to be done. Everyone deserves a workplace that provides them with equal opportunities and strong policies that protect their rights as employees. These are things some people don’t have to fight for.
Corporations and even individuals placing the burden on marginalized communities to educate the masses is not only unfair, but also a bit offensive in my opinion. Why must a person- who already has to face systemic oppression and microaggressions in several facets of their day-to-day life, also have to teach the rest of the world how to treat people like human beings? It’s not fair, and it shouldn’t be one person’s responsibility to change cultural conversations and entire corporate ecosystems. It’s unsustainable, and- I can’t say it enough, unfair.
Honestly, I don’t believe one can avoid these environments. I could be idealistic and tell you to sail off into the sunset and leave the city life behind, but the sunset won’t pay your bills. The most important thing one can do to maintain their peace of mind is respectfully set boundaries. This may not be groundbreaking advice, but it’s true- especially for young people just starting their careers. You don’t have to be anyone’s dictionary for politically correct language, and you especially don’t have to answer any questions that make you feel uncomfortable. Familiarize yourself with workplace appropriate ways of saying no. It’s okay to say no.
A better way for me to stay involved with the causes I care about has been to contribute a portion of my monthly income to fundraisers; when I’m not able to contribute monetarily, I try to share links to the fundraisers. I try to focus on fundraisers for individuals requesting community aid, because for me it's the best way to make sure my contribution will actually help someone. It’s been healthier for me to direct my energy towards the things I care about more privately, and it’s allowed me to do what I can without feeling guilty about not doing more. And if you do want to involve yourself in conversations about queer inclusive policy and educate people on inclusive language at work, go for it! Everything counts!
Some active fundraisers you could contribute to:
Help Hana get gender affirming care and housing: https://www.ketto.org/fundraiser/help-hana-get-gender-affirming-care-and-housing?utm_medium=nativeShare&utm_content=4345362&shby=1&utm_source=internal&utm_campaign=help-hana-get-gender-affirming-care-and-housing
Help a Dalit queer person get away from their abusive home: https://milaap.org/fundraisers/support-dee-1-1?co=true
Help a trans man cover their day to day expenses as they recover from complications after starting testosterone: https://www.instagram.com/p/CbRkrHHrtSP/?utm_medium=copy_link
Jay is a 23 year old student, music producer and ex advertising professional based in Mumbai, India. She’s off to college later this year and is spending her time off till then reading, drawing and occasionally writing.
During her 7 year stint in the advertising industry, she worked as a Creative Producer for major TV networks and digital agencies, directing short form video content. She also worked with MTV Beats in 2020 to write and produce music for MTV Beats Love Duet, India’s first queer album to be broadcast on a mainstream music channel.