The Icing on the Cupcake

from [redacted]
to  a-[redacted],
date  Fri, Dec 19, 2008 at 2:00 PM
subject  vexing comments during "investigation"

Hi A-,
I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me regarding the investigation as to whether J- has harassed and discriminated against me. However, I am left deeply shaken by the suggestions that I have made derogatory comments about sexual orientation in the work place or anywhere.

I am quite disturbed to know that I have been accused of saying anything derogatory about drag or drag performers. Having been bashed myself, I would never do such a thing. Moreover, I am frankly disturbed by the apparent confusion between drag and homosexuality. Gay is an orientation; drag is a way of dressing usually as an avocation (as opposed to transvestism, which is of course different from transsexualism, which is of course different from transgender); these are not coextensive categories; they are completely orthogonal. I have never done drag. And, if I had, that would not mean that I am gay or even male. I have no desire to do drag nor event planning as a career. In fact, I have no career aspirations which relate particularly my orientation and gender. Such stereotypes are offensive and ultimately hurtful to me. Moreover, I find the very term "queen" offensive when applied to anyone other than female heads of state and tolerate it only as a reclaimed self-appellation.

The suggestion that I said "put [the cupcake] in your mouth and swallow" and thereby made a comment regarding sexual orientation is shocking and actually makes me angry. I didn't say it, and I do not see anything particularly gay about cupcakes, nor can I personally find anything sexual about telling someone to eat an actual physical, present and topical cupcake. I am again surprised by the apparent lumping of perceived freaks implicit in this allegation. Orientation and fetishism, too, are orthogonal categories, and I am not a feederist. Moreover, while there is at least one sex act that is necessarily heterosexual, I cannot conceive of any that are exclusively homosexual. The whole thing would be more outrageous to me if it made any sense whatsoever. I am deeply disturbed by your insistence that this comment could be homosexual or sexual, and am frankly appalled by the apparent linking of swallowing to being gay.

I do not make sexual comments. Such is completely contrary to my very quite and reserved nature. Interpretation of this alleged comment in anyway (homo)sexual only furthers my disquiet about this work environment. It makes me feel as my actions and words are being interpreted as somehow gay and moreover that being gay equates with being a deviant, predatory sexual harasser. While I do not understand how such a comment could be sexual, I do appreciated that that comment, if sexual, would be sexual harassment. I am deeply offended and hurt by this. It makes me extremely uncomfortable.

Now that my shock has dissipated some, these alleged comments did bring to mind some rather recent events. The only cupcakes (previously we had danishes) the staff has had were with big frosting turkeys on them, from J- the Friday before Thanksgiving. I assure you that the cupcakes, frosting and turkeys were not at all (homo)sexual. I did not eat the cupcake with the staff. J- gave me one before anyone else came in that day, and I told the staff to go get one from the staff room as they came in. The only person I remember saying anything about not wanting to eat it is C-. She complained of the frosting being fattening and disgusting. I reminded her that it is no polite to complain about gifts and to either "to just smile and eat it or throw it away discretely."

Again this was in November, a month after J- 
would have outed me to the entire staff. Since that time, I noticed that the staff felt much freer in certain respects but not in anyway that was offensive or derogatory. I remember inquiries about Prop 8 and the protests. My response was an ambiguous "I'm against marriage in any form". I have always been diligent so that my personal life would not be a topic at work which could then be overheard by kids; even though it's Berkeley, CA, and many of the parents are gay, it can still be a can of worms. 

As for the reference to drag, the only situation that I recall was also from November. I don't recall who brought it up but certainly not me, but someone brought up a silly formula for giving yourself a pseudonym when there were no students and the staff was chatting. The formula was ones first pet's name and first street one lived on. I had heard the formula before but I heard it as a formula for arriving at a stripper name, though it was I believe presented yielding noms de drag in November. Not particularly offended but wanting to point out the silliness, I believe I offered that mine would be "Edward 1000 North". And, the only other references to people's names I remember was J- inquiring about the nationality of B- after an info call. She said he sounded African. I told her the name seemed Semitic, probably Ethiopic, but I wasn't sure which language as I have not studied them much. She went on to tell me what kind of people North Africans are: very friendly and happy but greedy. She told me that when she was a social worker -- who knew -- the African refugee families she worked with always complained of having nothing when they had enough. One mom complained that the family had only one laptop and that poor [I don't remember the name] doesn't have one. She confided the she didn't even have a laptop at the time. The only other reference to anyone's name that I recall was, upon reading the last name Gross or Grossman from a list of VIPs I believe, whom she wanted me to call in order to make appointments for her, I said "that's a rather unfortunately name." All of this is beside the point, however.

I have never discussed my orientation with J-, nor have I made allusions to it, nor have I made derogatory or otherwise sexual comments. Even if I had, I am not the source of the ignorant stereotypes which lead to the conclusion that I am gay and the explicit belief that I am better suited for a different job. And I am disturbed to think that people interpret my actions or words as an employee as being homosexual in nature. And, I am at a loss for how any of that would be relevant in any case. One would not be interested in whether a racial minority failed to appear white in the context of concerns about racism. I am deeply disturbed by the implicit relevance of all of this, by the apparent underlying belief that if I presented myself as gay in someway that I invited the abuse.

As for whether or not J-'s comments actually referred to sexual orientation, I will point out that these were reported not by me but by K-. Because of all the recent quits, I was talking to K- about the work environment for the staff in general and K- asked for specific examples. She fell silent when I repeated those comments. She apologized to me for the terrible situation I was in and eventually told me she would get back to me to tell me what my options are. She called back to tell me that after she "stopped hyperventilating", she realized that she was compelled to report. I did not tell her that I was gay or that found those comments derogatory and disrespectful toward gay people.The former can be inferred by a number of factors including the very fact of my mentioning it as a problem, and the latter is obvious. However, as a Berkeley trained linguist, I would be happy to explicate the obviousness of these.

She prefaced the October 20th staff meeting with "We have not have not had a staff meeting since Corey became OM. This is like his second coming out" and laughed as an nonsophisticate reciting a joke. She had obviously put much effort in to it and was very pleased with it. It was the second time she had said it. She also said it just moments earlier in my office while she, I and the consultant were discussing the meeting. "Coming out" refers to one of two things. It refers to the formal event, formerly more frequently celebrated by the affluent, marking the transition between youth and womanhood. It also refers to the transition of those of the queer community when they begin telling others that they are queer. The "second" of "second coming out" presupposes a first coming out. Given the reference of "coming out", this comment implies that I am either a woman or queer or both. The "his" of "his second coming out" prevents the implication that I am a woman, and thus the entire phrase implies that I am queer. I trust that her words match her pictures as she is a L- employee, so I am completely confident that this is precisely what she intended.

Now what made this comment especially alarming to me was not simply that she would have outed me to the staff, making it a potential workplace topic, but rather that my orientation was linked to my job.

As for the "you guys seem to like [event planning as a career]" after weeks of suggesting that I was dissatisfied with my job and insisting that she would help me find a new one and that event planning is perfect for me, the  use of "you guys" presupposes the existence of a group of people different from the speaker. The predicate "like event [planning as a career]" would identify as coextensive those who like event planning as a career and the different group. "Seem" is an evidential. Evidentials relate to the source or evidence for an assertion. Here, "seem" hedges not the coextensiveness of the two groups of people but rather the assertability of the coextensiveness. It asserts that the embedded proposition did not arrive by direct observation but rather indirectly, from appearance, hearsay or belief. The use of "you" to me asserts the proposition was made of me and presupposes that I am part of the different group. Since I am confident that I do not appear outwardly to be an event planner or a person who likes event planning as a career, and since the comment was uttered just after I said "if there is an event you need me to plan, I will and I'll do a good job" and over "but I personally would never want to do event planning for a career", I must conclude that the assertion was arrived indirectly. Since I am confident that I belong to no other group which has a potentially known or believed affinity for event planning, I must conclude that the group referenced by "you guys" is gay men and the proposition itself is a rather direct statement of a stereotype of gay men. While I cannot say that I have encountered this specific stereotype previously, I am not one to fault bigots for relying on obscure stereotypes. Moreover, it does seem consistent with other more frequent stereotypes about gay men. Furthermore, simple internet searches of "l- event planner", "clinician event planner", "manager event planner", "red-headed event planner", "hat-wearing event planner", "linguist event planner", "educated event planner", "terrorized event planner" or "straight event planner" yield no matches, "gay event planner", "queer event planner", "fairy event planner", "flaming event planner", "faggy event planner", "faggot event planner" each yield numerous matches. Now, again, what made this comment particularly alarming was not simply that she made an offensive comment, but rather that she was made in the context of her insisting that I was not happy with my job and offering to help me find a new one. She told me that she was formerly a career counselor -- who knew.

In any case, I want to point out that I am not a political person by any means, and I personally care little about political correctness. I believe that a person's intent is what matters. If politics were the issue, I would have brought these and other incidents, such as J-'s impersonation of Big Gay Al (eg "Thuper, thankth for athking" ) and other characters from Southpark to the attention of HR. Actually, if that were the issue, I would probably not work for a company that had had anything to do with Dr Laura or Don Imus (cf ). However, many of J-'s comments struck me simply as ignorant and immature rather than threatening. Neither am I particularly sensitive. If I were, I would have reported on her comments about my assumed musical preferences, me as a decorator, dressing well,.... I would have reported that, when I finally did have to plan an event for the center, she thanked and gave me a star service fanatic card for being a "great event planner" rather than an "OM who was doing his job". Such things are potentially ambiguous and, importantly, did not pose a threat to my job. And, the threat has remained even though she did finally make me official OM despite her stereotypes. However, she explained that she likes to take the best advantage her employees skills, that my skills at event planning and show, my ability to step in and take over sessions and testings serve her best with me in this position for the time being. She said "you might still end up working for research and development or being an event planner" but for now that it spares her from having to hire a "qualified" OM and from having to lay off one of the clinical staff. And, she had already told me that based on her experience in hiring that it would be hard for me to go back to clinical work if I became OM back in September when she insisted that I was not happy with my job and that I should give her my resume so that she can help me find one that better match her stereotypes about what people like me should be doing.

I am still struck by the question why I didn't go forward with this previously. The fact of the matter is that I never intended to go forward with this at all. I was scared for my job and hoped things would get better. I sought advice from K- when it became clear that the flagrant disrespect was not particular to me but to the rest of the staff as well and that it would hurt the center. I had tried on numerous occasions to address the issue with J-. While I did not approach the hot button of the gay comments per se, I tried to make very clear that I was very happy with my job, did not foresee myself doing anything else, and had no desire to do event planning or intention to work do research for the company. It got me no where and lead to more questioning about my commitments, badgering and accusations of violating ad hoc rules.

I by no means intend to criticize you or your investigation. I appreciate your taking my concerns seriously. This has all been very stressful, and I went from seeking advice on Wednesday to hearing offensive and hurtful allegations about me today. I was concerned for the health of the center and for my coworkers, and in trying to explicate the situation I shared that I felt like it was decided based on my education, student status and my assumed sexual orientation and associated stereotypes of what such people should or like to do that I am not a good fit for and am not truly interested in my job, and that J- had just made very clear that staff is expendable and that those who are not here for the right reason should leave. Getting the same message, all of our regular clinicians quit after experiencing themselves various disrespectful behavior for sometime. They did not quit because they their heart is no longer in it; they quit because they could not tolerate it anymore. That was my concern. You told me to discuss such management issues with J- or L-, but I was also told not to discuss the issues with anyone so it seems the issue I brought forward must be ignored for now. I did not intend to make a complaint, and I tried to tell A- that I was concerned about being treated differently as a result. She insisted that retaliation is not tolerated, but I could not help but think that neither is to be the behavior that lead to the investigation; it did happen nonetheless. And, now I'm being called a drag performer basher and a sexual harasser and such claims are actually being taken seriously and deemed relevant. Yet another reason not to go forward.

Yours sincerely,

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