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

THere too little attention has been paid to queer people in the workplace, argues historian Margot Canaday in her fascinating new book Queer Career: Sexuality and Work in Modern America. “Queer people are one of the largest, but least studied groups,” Canaday said while speaking to the Guardian about his book.

According to his book, straight historians tend to ignore the experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the workplace and queer researchers focus on other aspects of public life, assuming that workplaces were not interesting, because they were not places where LGBTQ+ could express their feelings. real information. “There was a feeling that the work site was a straight line that didn’t reveal the historians,” Canaday told me.

Canaday’s belief is that conventional wisdom is wrong – in fact, the history of queer identity in the workplace has been far more complex and fascinating than previously thought. “I think all of us — hard work or straight — are about having a personality and an identity,” Canaday said. But there are also unique things about work for queer people. For example, it was how homosexuals found other people. Or for gender non-conforming people, there is an effective way to ensure that it is not found anywhere else. ”

Dealing with her feelings, as well as a desire to write a dramatic history that did not denigrate women, Canaday set to work interviewing famous people who had participated in the work since the early 1960s. 1950. In total he interviewed more than 150 people over the years. Both of these conversations were exciting for Canaday, as a lesbian who faced discrimination in the workplace, as well as a solid foundation that guided her research into Queer Careers.

He said: “One of the great gifts of working on this project is that I was able to do oral history. I didn’t expect to do so much. They really made a living. I went I had to stop at one point – it felt like I could do this for the rest of my life. I really enjoyed them and in the end they really affected the story the book was telling.”

The result of Canaday’s work is a fascinating history of the common stories we’ve told about the history of the American workplace since the 1950s, as well as a book about the challenges facing American workers today. , either weird or straight. .

Margot Canaday’s book, Queer Career. Image: Princeton

Canaday begins with the 1950s and 1960s, noting that these years are often considered a “golden age” for workers where the strong economic growth from the second world war led to many opportunities. of jobs, fair wages and many opportunities for advancement. However, Canaday discovers that this was not the case with noble people. Many were too caught up in the stress and anxiety of figuring out who they were to focus enough on their studies and work. Some had to survive by using LGBTQ+ networks to catch “friendly” employers, or find a way to navigate job interviews by providing enough information to bring down potential owners but not reveal too much. In the end, many queer people at this time were satisfied that for many years they were in the last job that had the virtues of feeling safe and left them alone.

As Canaday explained, it was these qualities that made good people attractive to employers, who could pay them unequal wages and not have to worry about satisfying their job opportunities. He said: “In the 50s and 60s, good workers could be paid less, they would stay in jobs where they felt safe, they would endure work that others would not do.” And they offer all the things that come with being considered non-family – things we now associate with flexible work. “

One of the main points of Queer Career is that the insecurity of LGBTQ+ workers has been a problem in the workplace in general. As America’s economy continues on a neo-capitalist path, with the erosion of job security and the proliferation of foreign workers, argues Canaday, the majority of the LGBTQ+ worker has become an object. which is now widely understood by straight people across the country. the economy. As he writes, “What was once heresy has somehow become institutionalized, and perhaps we should think of elite workers more as external than as an indicator of changes growth in industrial relations in the second half of the 20th century.”

“What’s different about the amazing experience is that the behavior we associate with the secondary labor market is also true for people entering primary school,” he said. “People who work in organizations, and individuals up in a team structure – they’ve all heard this. That’s why I think [the] the queer workforce is a reflection of the economy we all experience. It looks like the workplace we all get from the 70s onwards. ”

This weakness is something that Canaday has felt. In the book’s introduction, he makes a risky choice to tell his story of being a young job seeker in the early 1990s: he learns to “de-gay” his career after he quit at work for being a troublemaker, and he is faced with the fact that in many fields his career options will be severely limited by his insanity. This personal element makes Queer Career an individual project, a fact that was proven by Canaday’s connections made through his many interviews.

He said: “There are probably 10 to 15 interviews I’ve done for the book that I haven’t stopped thinking about. “There was a couple in Manhattan, women in their 90s, and there was a moment of conversation that went beyond conversation. It’s a strange thing when you put a recorder in front of people and you have a powerful moment of deep connection.”

Telling the story of how queer rights came to be in the workplace – and making the case that this story is relevant to everyone working – Queer Career is a compelling combination of empirical research and personal oral history. the first from the heart. It’s also part of an ongoing story – as the book’s conclusion reminds us, as half of the elite workers are still out of their jobs. And with anti-LGBTQ+ legislation on the rise in much of the country, queer workers — especially those who identify as transgender — have more reason to be fearful.

Canaday said: “I think there’s a lot of insecurity on everyone’s mind in a way that wasn’t the case 10 years ago.” “People have a high opinion of it now and a great interest in it. I also think that awareness of queer precarity is increasing. The most common story has been the affluence of gay people, but I think that’s a unique view of one part of society.

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