‘Coming out’ at work about traumatic bereavement

Those awkward water cooler conversations

A new year, and back to the office. Spare a thought for newbies getting to know their colleagues. Hopefully 2016 won’t bring many of those awkward moments I think of as ‘coming out’ about bereavement.

Coming out is now old hat, but I reckon few straight people realise that it’s an on-going process in the life of most gay men. It’s those little day-by-day interactions. The ordinary questions where the gender implies heterosexuality, confronting you with the choice to say – or not – ‘Actually, it’s he’. Those moments when you suddenly become aware of casually using a gendered pronoun about your partner that reveals your sexual orientation. Or those times when you realise you’re either conforming to or breaking ranks with a stereotype.

When you’ve lost a close relative, there’s a more subtle but similarly awkward process of coming out to ‘new’ people. Ice-breaking conversations turn to that nice young man who was recently widowed – who expects that at 30? – and you find yourself having to decide whether to disclose how close to the bone this may be. Suddenly it’s not so much ice-breaking as staking on thin ice.

In my case, 20 years after my twin sister’s death, I’ve developed a sixth sense. I can usually tell if it’s going to happen. The conversation veers to nieces and nephews… Alarm bells! The logical follow-up question to ‘No, I don’t have any’ is: ‘Oh, do you have any brothers and sisters?’ So it’s a split-second decision. Do I just say no (which in itself is true), or do I volunteer that I once had a twin? Once down that road, where do I stop, when the circumstances of her death were terrible – guaranteed to shake up any polite small talk?

Where does this leave me? With an odd trade-off. I don’t want to become centre of the show, and to change the mood of those ordinary getting-to-know-you water cooler conversations. And yet I don’t want to act in a way that seems to deny my twin ever existed.

As you can imagine – or perhaps know from personal experience – it has to remain a work in progress.

About Ed Green

Writer and editor, Yorkshire bred, now living and working in Central London. This blog charts the writing of my memoir 'Twinned' - life with and without my disabled sister. It features disability issues, cerebral palsy, traumatic death, bereavement, twinless twins, guest posts, and throws in the occasional 'off topic' post.
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