“Disclosure”: What (and When) to Tell Employers and Lovers About Disability and Queerness.
A few months ago, I watched the documentary Disclosure on Netflix with my partner, who has recently begun identifying as transmasculine and nonbinary. The film documents instances of media representation, positive and negative, of trans and gender nonconforming people, and discusses the real-life repercussions of these portrayals on the lives of trans people. While I am a cisgender person, I had to pause the film at least once to observe the aptness of the title and the connection between the different uses of the concept of “disclosure”.
Two relevant contexts for “disclosure” came to mind. A person in my communities (the LGBT community and the disability community) may struggle with when to “disclose”:
- their gender identity or transition status, and/or
- their disability or chronic illness
These points of disclosure are especially relevant, in varying degrees, to sexual/romantic relationships and to employment opportunities.
Disclosure of Disability for Job Opportunities
I currently live and work in a place where (I’d like to think) I’ll rarely be denied a job opportunity for being gay/MOC (masculine-of-center, in terms of gender presentation). I cannot speak to strategies for trans folks, as I am not trans. But I do struggle with when to alert potential employers of my physical disability. Opinions on this are mixed in disability spaces but my personal approach has been to avoid disclosure in the application process and figure that, because my mild spastic diplegic cerebral palsy is visible, employers will know regardless if I make it as far as an interview.
The complicated part comes when I don’t get chosen for a position, and I wonder if an AB (able-bodied) employer’s assumptions about my physical abilities cost me an opportunity for advancement. The same, of course, could be wondered about employers who may be tacitly homophobic.
My advice in this situation would be to acknowledge that you are not a mind-reader. While it may be comforting to assume that the reason you didn’t get a job was an employer’s bigotry, being angry at them about it will not change the outcome. There are many factors that go into hiring decisions, and many of them are out of your control and have nothing to do with you personally. You didn’t choose your disability or your orientation, but you also can’t control the actions of others or the larger environment facing job-seekers.
Focus on the aspects of the hiring process you can control: apply for jobs you are qualified to do, tailor your resumé, write standout cover letters, and make sure you are spending all this time applying to jobs that you would enjoy doing. Nothing is worse than hitting “Apply ”and hearing the little voice in your head go, Be careful what you wish for!
Disclosure of Disability to Romantic Prospects and Lovers
Similar to disclosure to employers, I figure that my disability will be apparent to people I meet in person for any purpose, including as potential romantic interests. But, especially in the age of Tinder and online dating, there are often several opportunities before an initial meeting to reveal (or not) that you have a disability. I have been in a monogamous relationship for the past three years, so forgive me if the landscape has changed. Having dated both binary genders and more, I have had mixed experiences regarding responses to my disability from potential lovers. The people who have come to matter most to me note that it rarely crosses their minds, which creates its own set of complications I may get into in another post.
Ideally, some reference to my disability would come up casually in conversation prior to a first meeting. My partner came along in person at a time that would have otherwise been prime for me to pursue casual relationships, but even the few hookups I did briefly pursue saw my disability as a non-issue. Perhaps notably, these were all with women and nonbinary people.
If I recall correctly, I did tend to choose profile pictures that showed me sitting down or otherwise obscured my crutches. Often, during the “talking” stage before meeting someone in person, I would mention that I have a disability and therefore prefer a certain kind of setting or activity for a date, or don’t like to/can’t take part in certain sexual activities. If the person was sufficiently open-minded and compatible to be worth my time, they certainly wouldn’t write me off for having a simple preference. Plus, my candidness often allowed for a casual dialogue about my abilities, likes, and dislikes. I’ve never met a person for a date or hookup without disclosing at least that I use mobility aids, but if you prefer to give folks the benefit of the doubt on the fly, more power to you.
Have you ever had an experience with disclosure of disability or orientation that you suspect (or know) cost you a potential career opportunity or romantic prospect? How do you navigate disclosure? Are your lovers and employers accepting and accommodating? Email me or mention @editwithoutego on Twitter.