Preaching to the Converted: Coming Out? Who Cares?

By : Ken Kundis
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KenKundisHeadshotRecently 80-something music mogul Clive Davis came out as bisexual in his forthcoming memoir. Anyone who has ever heard him speak or seen him walk probably had a reaction similar to mine: “Bi-sexual? Please, girl.”

And his is only the most recent of a spate of high-profile comings-out that characterize a new phase in our out lives as gay people. That of, yeah-we-know-what-took-you-so-long. This may not be a popular view but Jodie Foster’s recent mannered, torturous ‘coming out’ speech at the Golden Globes was a disappointment. Especially compared to the truly brave comings-out of years passed. Compare the yammering and stammering of Foster’s speech to Ellen Degeneres’ simple declaration from the cover of Time magazine now over fifteen years ago: “Yeah, I’m gay.”

While I never approved of dragging anyone out of the closet, it seems the celebrities that are coming out these days are the ones about which we never had a moment’s doubt and there is something unsatisfying about that.

While I don’t want to diminish their bravery in coming out, such proclamations simply don’t hold the weight they once did. The reasons for this in my mind are all positive ones:  as a people and society it seems we are much more accepting, young people are more liberally minded in general, and more and more people have friends or family members who are out gay people.

But it seems we still care. Column inches are still devoted to it. There is almost a seeming obligation to come out if you’re gay and famous. Americans still get a giggle out of gay people it seems.

As I write this, I happen to be at my company’s headquarters in Bangalore, India. A good friend of mine, an Indian, and I engaged in a conversation I began by wondering aloud what the ‘organization’ thought about having an out, gay American man in their midst. She looked at me as though I had just sprouted a second head.

“I don’t know what the organization thinks (the emphasis was hers), but as a people I can tell you what we think:  It’s none of our business.” And as I thought back on the last 16 months of my employment with this India super-company, I realized I agreed.

Knowing next to nothing of Indian culture before I joined the company, I was substantially trepidatious on how I would be received when that information, pardon the pun, came out. Look, the time of me being willing to hide my sexuality is long gone. I couldn’t pretend if I tried. But similarly, my days of wearing it like a political badge are also in my rear-view. In many ways, that’s the best possible news.

I would like to think that those at Stonewall would have welcomed the day when being gay was a thing, but not the  thing.

As a gay man working in American business, I have long wondered how impeded I have been by the dim views of gay people held by those that run the country (and more specifically the companies for which I’ve worked). Other times, there was no need to wonder. It was right there in front of me. Diversity programs aside, hearts and minds still lag behind in the corner offices of many American companies. Yet here I am working for a company half a world away, in a country that is religiously-connected by definition and history, as well male-driven and patriarchal to say the very least. Some would use the word ‘machismo,’ and you see it all around: In their mass media. In the different attitudes and dress of men and women.  In their religion(s).

And me?  I am just as out here as I ever was.

I talk about my partner and make no attempt to disguise his gender. When I first joined, I’d scan faces (or tones on the phone) for a negative reaction. But one never came.  Turns out, it is a cultural imperative in India that people stay out of one another’s way and focus on what is in front of them. To them, I’m Ken Kundis, the Head of Marketing for their Americas division. If I am thoughtful in my work relationships and do a good job, I will be lauded and promoted. If I don’t, I’ll be terminated. It’s as simple as that.

And as a gay man who has been sniggered about behind my back and surely passed over for opportunity by the straight white men who have managed me in the past, for what more could I possibly ask?

The sad part is that I had to fly 12,000 miles to find it.

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