‘Work is about belonging’: a history of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace | books

tHistorian Margot Canaday argues in her groundbreaking new book, Queer Career: sexuality and work in modern America. “LGBT people are one of the largest minorities in the workforce, but the least studied,” Canaday said while speaking to the Guardian about her book.

According to her book, straight historians tend to ignore the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace, and LGBT researchers have focused on other aspects of societal life, assuming that workplaces were uninteresting, because they were not places where LGBTQ+ people were able to reveal themselves. real identities. “There was an assumption that the workplace was an upright place that was incomprehensible to historians,” Canady told me.

Canada’s belief is that conventional wisdom is wrong—in fact, the history of queer identities in the workplace is far more complex and fascinating than previously assumed. “I think work for all of us—whether kinky or straight—is about belonging and identity,” said Canady. “But there are also unique things about work for gay people. For example, it was a way for gay people to find other gay people. Or for gender non-conforming people, there was a way that work emphasized that wasn’t available anywhere else.”

Working on her intuition, as well as her desire to write a queer history of women that didn’t marginalize women, Canada worked to interview LGBTQ-identified people who had been involved in the workforce since the 1950s. All in all, I’ve interviewed over 150 people over the years. These interviews were personally fulfilling for Canaday, as a lesbian who faced a particular amount of discrimination that made her way into the workforce, as well as a solid foundation that guided her Queer Career search.

“One of the great gifts of working on this project,” she said, “was that I got to write oral history accounts.” “I didn’t expect to do so much. They really took on a life of their own. I had to stop myself at one point – I felt like I could do that for the rest of my life. I enjoyed them so much and in the end they shaped the story the book tells in a big way.”

The result of Canada’s Work is an interesting counter-history to the usual stories we tell about the history of the workplace in America since the 1950s, as well as an insightful book on the struggles American workers currently face, whether gay or straight. .

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Margot Canady’s Book, Queer Career. Photo: Princeton

Canaday begins in the 1950s and 1960s, noting that these years are generally seen as a “golden age” for workers as a strong economy that rebounded from World War II provided plentiful jobs, fair wages, and widespread potential for advancement. However, Canada finds that this was not the case for LGBTQ individuals. Many of them were overwhelmed with the stress and anxiety of understanding who should focus enough on education and career. Others have had to stick around for survival by using LGBTQ+ networks to knock down “friendly” employers, or figuring out how to navigate job interviews by providing just enough information to beat potential bosses but without revealing too much. Ultimately, many gay people of this period were content to spend their productive years in a dead-end job that had the virtues of feeling reasonably secure and being largely left alone.

As Canady explained, it was these qualities that made gay individuals attractive to employers, who could offer them unequal pay and not have to worry about satisfying their career prospects. She said: “In the 1950s and 1960s, gay workers could have lower wages, would stay in jobs where they felt safe, and would tolerate work that other people wouldn’t. And they offer all the things that come with being perceived as unsociable. Family — things we now associate with flexible work.”

One of the central points of Queer Career is that the vulnerability faced by LGBTQ+ workers has been a leader in employment in general. As the US economy moves in a more neo-capitalist direction, with job security eroding and the immigrant workforce integrating, argues Canada, too much of the LGBTQ+ community has become something that is now more widely felt by straight individuals around the world. Economie. As she wrote, “A once peripheral position has become the center, and we should perhaps think of gay workers less as outliers than as harbingers of pivotal shifts in labor relations during the second half of the twentieth century.”

“What’s different about the queer experience is that the subtlety that we associate with a secondary job market also applies to people who are in the primary,” she said. “People in corporate jobs, people all the way up in the class structure — they all felt this. That’s why I think [the] The queer workforce is a harbinger of the economy we’re all getting. It’s very much like the workplace we all had from the ’70s on.”

This vulnerability is something Canada has felt. In the book’s introduction, she makes the risky choice of telling her own story of being a young job-seeker in the early 1990s: she learns to “get out gay” on her resume after giving up one job for being gay, and she confronts the fact that in many sectors Her career options will be greatly curtailed by her eccentricity. This personal element makes Queer Career a very personal project, a fact confirmed by Canada’s connections via her many interviews.

“There are probably 10 to 15 interviews I did for the book that I never stopped to think about,” she said. “There was a couple in Manhattan, ladies in their 90s, and there were moments of connection that went far beyond the interview. It’s a strange thing to put a recorder on in front of people and have a moment of connection that’s so profound.”

Telling the story of how gay rights came to the workplace–and proving that this story is relevant to everyone who works–Queer Career is a compelling blend of tireless scholarship and honest first-person oral history. It’s also part of an ongoing story—as the book’s epilogue reminds us, nearly half of gay workers are still out of a job. And with anti-LGBT legislation on the rise across much of the country, LGBTQ workers — especially those who identify as trans — have many reasons to remain fearful.

“I think anomalous precision is on everyone’s mind in a way it wasn’t 10 years ago,” Canady said. People have a stronger sense of it now and more interest in it. I also think awareness of queer vulnerability is increasing. The most popular narrative was gay affluence, but I think that’s a very particular look at just one part of society.”

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