Pride Month gives me a chance to talk about my experiences as both a business owner and a lesbian, and to share the interesting places where those two identities intersect.
My first thought might surprise you: When it comes to business relationships, being a lesbian in a (straight) male-dominated industry has some advantages. I like the fact that I can touch a straight man on the arm and not feel like I have to pull my hand back when someone walks in the room. I also like the fact that I can travel with these men, go to bars with them and have late-night meetings with them with no tension. Their wives and girlfriends trust me, because frankly, attraction with no chance of sex is liberating for all involved.
Because I’m one of the guys but not one of the guys, straight men confide in me more than they do with their male friends. My “in-between” status with straight women works the same way. When he’s released from the pressures of being a “guy’s guy,” a straight man will be remarkably honest. When she’s released from the pressures of competing for men’s attention, a straight woman will be remarkably vulnerable.
That’s the positive side. Now the flip side.
Today, anyone I’m scheduled to meet with can easily find out I’m gay ahead of time. Google me, and you’ll discover that I made the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal’s “Business of Pride” list in 2019. That I founded Minnesotans for Equality 2012. And that I partnered with former Minnesota Viking Chris Kluwe to help defeat the bigoted Minnesota bill outlawing same-sex marriage in Minnesota that year.
But back in the day — and even today with people who don’t do their homework — my sexual identity can emerge unexpectedly. I don’t draw attention to it, because that can sound like a disclaimer or trigger warning. (Starting a conversation with “just so you know, I’m a lesbian” flies in the face of everything my community stands for.) My policy is to just be myself: If someone mentions their spouse and kids, then so do I.
But then, unlike a straight person, I have to wait for their reaction.
If the other person clams up when they hear me say “my wife,” then I know we might not be a good fit. When we have a moment alone, I’ll say, “Am I imagining things, or did you have a physical reaction when I mentioned my wife? Maybe I misread you, but that’s who I am, and it’s way too early in our relationship to have a problem. Do you want to talk about it?”
Sometimes the person will deny that they have issues, then ghost me. Other times, I’ll complete the puzzle with some research of my own. When you’re gay, it’s easy to sniff out homophobia online, both in terms of what people do and don’t post. If I see it, I’ll usually nip it in the bud. It’s emerged later in a handful of cases, and I’ve had to end the relationship.
I’ve also dealt with guys claiming that I’m “not really a lesbian,” or that he can “flip” me. I used to dismiss these comments in a joking way and let these men off the hook with a smile. Now I call bullshit and tell them it’s not funny, it’s offensive. The irony of dealing with the “I can flip you” guys is that more often than not, I flip them — not their sexuality (‘cuz that’s just stupid), but their understanding. Two of my straight male clients probably never thought they’d read vows at a lesbian wedding. But they read mine, and we’re all better off for the experience.
Being a lesbian in business has given me a fascinating glimpse into human nature: the good, the bad and the ugly. I’m grateful that on some occasions it has created more freedom for me and my business partners. Overall, things have gotten better in the last 12 years. But I still have to deal with people’s judgments on who I am and how I love. So do millions of others. And that’s as wrong today as it ever was.
As for my hopes for the future, I could talk about policies and politics, but I’d rather go back to a moment from 2018. The Super Bowl came to Minneapolis, and my wife Pam and I went to Justin Timberlake’s album release party at Paisley Park with a client and his girlfriend. At one point, the four of us snuggled up on a long couch, held hands and put our heads on each other’s shoulders. We weren’t four separate people. We were one chain of continuous love.
If we could all experience that feeling a little more often, it would do far more than words ever could.
Love (who you want to love),