Every single LGBT+ person has a secret superpower. The power to hide who they are.
This superpower develops when we grow up in a society surrounded by cis- and hetero-normative and gender-specific expectations. “Hey, Johnny, do you fancy Catherine?” “Why are you playing with dollies, Jamal? You should be playing with toy guns.” “You want to be a stuntman, Rachel? Why not something more ladylike?” “Don’t be silly. Bobtail and Bumpkin are both boys. They can’t be in love.”
We learn to hide who we are, often being left with feelings of shame in the process. Consequently, we only show our whole selves to those who we know we can truly trust. We learn really fast to trust very few people. Almost all of us will have had the experience of coming out to someone who then either rejected us or betrayed our trust. We learn to hide what we think people don’t want to know about and start to split ourselves into our work persona and weekend persona.
Over time, and as we grow, many LGBT+ people find themselves becoming stronger and happier to show up as our true selves. We’re lucky in the UK that gender identity and sexuality are becoming more understood and sometimes protected in law. This helps us to be more open with who we are.
However, our superpower all too often takes over without us noticing. Deep inside we fear judgement, criticism or shaming and have conditioned ourselves to think twice about what we share. There are still parts of our lives that we hold back on Monday morning around the coffee maker. While Mr and Mrs heteronormative are discussing going to the park with their children, we’re trying to work out which parts of our weekend are rated Universal, suitable for all, and which need a Content Warning before we can even start.
And so many parts of our lives need explaining. Non-LGBT+ people will never quite understand why so many of us prefer Gran Canaria to Lanzarote, or prefer Manchester to Liverpool for a city break. Of course, everyone considers money and location when changing career. However, non-LGBT+ people will never fully understand the additional considerations we need to make about things like access to healthcare, LGBT+ friendly spaces, or availability of LGBT+ clubs and societies. These are only a few examples of the things that are just as important to us when weighing up the options.
All of this means that all too often, we split ourselves, living the corporate life in a cis/heteronormative workplace, and being out and proud outside. Colleagues may know the name of our significant other, or recognise our gender identity, but we don’t somehow still don’t feel that we can be fully in the room.
There are many problems with being allowing our superpower to split ourselves like this. For a start, we find ourselves stressed, trying to remember who knows what, and working out which parts of a story we can tell without shocking the pearl clutchers in the room. This can be exhausting.
More importantly, and surprisingly, what I’ve found out through coaching LGBT+ and kinky people is we also miss opportunities to see the resources we have throughout our lives.
In my own corporate life, I enhanced my leadership and managerial skills through BDSM play. While dominating people in the bedroom, I learned skills like how to use body language or eye contact. In addition, I learned how to understand the difference between ordering, persuading and asking, as well as the effect each had on the people I was working with. I became a more effective leader by recognising that and letting my skills cross areas of my life. I could never have shared this with my line managers and mentors.
My clients have noticed these crossovers, too. One noticed that they were able to self-promote on social media and dating apps, but not when trying to network for business. Others have been able to market their businesses, but not themselves. I’ve had clients consider how their business skills of conflict management can improve their relationships.
Others have recognised procrastination throughout their home and work lives. We’ve worked together to discover what parts of their whole story were driving this behaviour and how to overcome them. Sometimes, procrastination came because of tiredness from a weekend spent on the scene. At other times, it was due to avoiding negative results of doing hard things.
Another major theme in discussions with my clients has been the impact of non-monogamous relationships on their work lives. For example, I’ve had clients who find it hard to move jobs as they’ve got multiple partners in a particular city, so it’s not as easy as moving a nuclear family. Other clients found that their needs for relaxation and stress relief were met by different members of their extended families, but that this caused time pressures. Another of my clients is a senior manager who is trying to understand the trust issues he has with his life partner and work colleagues, and why this is so different from the trust he feels for his play partner.
To have these discussions, my clients recognised the need to be fully open about their whole lives. They were less stressed from having to hide, and more effective in finding solutions to their challenges.
I’m often asked whether I’m a life, executive, or business coach. My answer is all of them. My clients have lives, jobs and (sometimes) businesses. What they all have is the need to put their whole lives on the table without judgement and totally confidentially. Then, they’re able to find patterns that recur throughout their lives. They can identify the resources and skills they have in one area that will help in another.
Even if you don’t have a coach, it’s important to be open with yourself about the challenges you’re facing. It’s too easy to pretend that everything is ok. We tell ourselves that stress is just part of our job and that our procrastination. That we will feel able to make the important decision tomorrow. That the colleague’s poor behaviour reflects their personality, not anything that we are doing. That our life goal will just pop into view without any conscious work. That we can live split lives quite happily.
If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, feel free to head over to my website, www.englishleathermaster.com and download my free e-book, Mastering Life. I wrote it to help LGBT+ and kinky people live more fulfilled and successful lives. Or you can book a complimentary Experience Coaching session with me. In this confidential and judgement-free space, you will start to make changes to your life and work.
You do have a choice. You can stop splitting your life and start noticing where you have patterns, skills, resources and overlaps between the different areas of your life. I assure you that you’ll become more self-aware, confident, effective, successful, and happier. It’s time to turn off that superpower and live more wholly.
Matthew Bennett is an accredited Coach and Hypnotherapist. He has had a varied career that spans education, management, assessment writing, consulting, product development, sales and marketing in the UK and across Asia. His business, English Leather Master Coaching, offers professional life, executive and business coaching for LGBT+ and kinky people in a totally confidential space. His clients have ranged from students to CEOs who have brought challenges from finding balance in life to working effectively with investors.