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A recent study has found gay men subconsciously change what they wear at work to manage their sexual identity at work.

In the study by the University of Cincinatti, many respondents believed that particular colors or patterns on clothing might be interpreted by others at work as being “too gay,” or “not masculine enough.”

The results come from an overall study by Travis Dean Speice where he interviewed men between the ages of 22-52 who identify as gay, analyzing their thoughts on masculinity, femininity, gayness, how they came out and their specific job descriptions, which he says is where a lot of conscious manipulation of identity management happens.


Speaking to the Phys.org, the new sociology doctoral graduate at the University of Cincinnati, said gay men have to change the way they look and act at work to fit the expectations of the workplace and co-workers.

“Although there is no hard, fast rule for general masculinity, there are lots of anxieties related to identity management and self-presentation for gay men in many professional settings,” explained Travis Dean Speice to Phys.org.

“From the initial interview to moving up the ladder at work, if a gay man feels his supervisors don’t agree with a gay population, he may not want to reveal his sexuality to them.

“Instead, he may test the waters with a variety of strategies, including managing the way he dresses, the way he talks and whether or not he decides to disclose his sexuality to the people at work.”

Throughout the study, Speice uncovers a unique subconscious component to his respondents’ strategies for how they manage their identity, including what they wear.

“One man, a social worker, felt proud wearing his burnt orange khakis to work one morning until he had to visit the corrections institute later that day and noticed the inmates staring at him,” says Speice.

“The color of his clothes was significant in his perception of his own masculinity and gay identity, but later became too flamboyant in the face of scrutiny.

“He became insecure and felt that because the color of his pants indicated something about his sexuality, the inmates had suddenly gained a sliver of power over him.”

Speice found that worrying about being “too gay” or “not masculine enough” changes the way gay men feel about presenting their gender and sexuality, especially in the workplace.

“Some men, however, claimed that their choice of clothing had nothing to do with dressing masculine, but instead wore certain items to look professional,” said Speice.

“But I found that when gay men feel pressured to conform to ‘professional’ gender norms, they often use the guise of “professional” as a façade for how hegemonic sexuality operates in their day-to-day lives.”

Communication and language characteristics such as the “gay lisp,” as well as the inflection and speed, pitch and rhythm of speech are all critical strategies that Speice said gay men may have to manage in order to conceal or reveal their sexuality.

“One man who typically uses wild hand gestures rationalized ‘butching up’ his behavior by toning down his gestures in some contexts,” Speice says.

“He felt it was less of a masculine/feminine thing and more of an intimidation issue where he doesn’t always get to be relaxed in his personality at work—there’s a persona that has to change.”

The analysis titled “(Gay) Men at Work: Understanding Gendered and Sexual Identity Management Strategies in the Workplace,” was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association Section on the Sociology of Sexualities in Seattle last week.

Last Updated on Aug 31, 2016

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