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Allyship & Equity

Hiding Behind Masculinity

stock.adobe.com / Viviana, Marharyta

A Mask for “Masc”

Coming out is a unique experience for many in the LGBTQ+ community. Navigating this situation can be very stressful, depending on the factors they must deal with, such as culture, family, friends, and work. For me, it’s been a journey that I could best describe as peeling off a mask and putting a part of that mask back to feel a sense of safety and protection.

As a gay man who grew up in a conservative part of the Philippines, masculinity was a mask that I wore to conform. Putting on this mask allowed me to blend in and hide while I figured out who I was. Not to mention, I wanted to be normal, or at least the normal that society, religion, and media led me to believe, where I would marry a woman and have kids. It felt unnatural—being extremely self-aware of how I acted and talked to make sure I showed masculinity—but it got me through life in the Philippines, especially given the stories of queer people being bullied and harmed in my town and school. Even though it was an act that took a lot of effort, I kept the mask on because I already had a few instances when someone would try to “out” me, and I wasn’t going to let that happen as I was not ready for the consequences.

Today, many LGBTQ+ students are still experiencing these challenges. According to the 2021 National School Climate Survey, 81.8% of LGBTQ+ students surveyed in the United States reported feeling unsafe in school because of at least one of their actual or perceived personal characteristics, and 83.1% experienced in-person harassment or assault.

June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Pride Month. Pride Month is celebrated annually in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots, and works to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) Americans.

After finishing high school in the Philippines, my journey continued in America after my dad petitioned our whole family to live in Chicago. Moving to a big city was a culture shock for me; it was my first time seeing brick buildings, more paved roads than I’ve ever seen in my life, and a different way of living and communicating.

With all those factors for me to maneuver, this move also served as a catalyst for my self-discovery.

Moving to Chicago and realizing how much more accepting the community was with gay people and gay relationships, I thought it was time that I peel off a part of my mask. However, that was easier said than done. I spent my first few years in the States trying to assimilate, becoming more comfortable with communicating in English while, at the same time, I was working and going to college to get my degree. During this time, I would hear jokes and discriminatory comments targeted toward queer people at work and in school.

My first few years in Chicago allowed me the opportunity to connect with other queer folks. However, I still had to keep my “mask for masc” on when I was at work to protect myself. Many LGBTQ+ people in the workforce are still facing similar obstacles. Millions of these workers are especially impacted in states without statutory protections against sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in employment. A 2021 report by the Williams Institute at the University of California found that 46% of LGBTQ+ workers reported unfair treatment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity—including being passed over for a job, harassed at work, denied a promotion or raise, excluded from company events, denied additional hours, or fired.

Even with the masking I did at work, I was still grateful because at least there are more opportunities for me to be part of the LGBTQ+ community in a city like Chicago. While my time spent in a more open and inclusive community helped me to grow, it also revealed a truth that I had to find ways to manage; even within the LGBTQ+ community, there was discrimination among members. This part of my experience provides more context behind this column’s title, Mask for Masc, which is a play on words for the term “masc4masc.” This term is used by gay men who consider themselves more masculine—and prefer to be around similar gay men. Some may even look down on other gay men who are less so. As I became more comfortable expressing myself authentically, I learned that even within my community, there were still biases. Masculinity was still the perceived norm for men, even in this alternative and supposedly open and welcoming segment of the community. Once again, I had to find a way to be comfortable expressing myself authentically as a gay man and not feel the need to constantly “mask” myself under cover of false masculinity.

My ideal world is one where queer people feel comfortable enough to show up authentically and not be judged negatively or excluded for it, especially by those in their own community.

Fast forward to where I am now; showing up authentically at work and in my personal life has become much more important. One of my top priorities in deciding which company to work for has been the freedom from having to put on a “mask for masc.” I highly value the sense of psychological safety I get from not worrying about being mistreated or discriminated against. I’ve been truly blessed to have a family that loves and supports me for who I am, coworkers and leaders who appreciate my perspective, and a workplace that encourages authenticity. At this point in my life, I can finally say that I’ve been able to take my mask off, and I’m proud of who I’ve become. ◆

Director of People and Culture | 

Andy Santos is the Director of People and Culture for SpotHero and a member of IPMI’s Allyship & Equity Advisory Group.

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