How Out For Business Challenged Me to Grow as a White, Cisgendered Gay Male
Before I even started business school, I was warmly greeted by Out for Business, the official LGBTQ+ affinity club at the Ross School of Business, at a (virtual) trivia night.
Rarely have I met such a group of passionate, driven, and empathetic individuals. There I met Dustin, Gabe, Will, and Ginamarie. These four became a big part of my support system during my first year in the Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program, and we remain good friends today. My first year was not easy — classes, recruiting, extracurricular activities, COVID — but these folks helped me get through it. Dustin became not only a friend, but also a mentor. He served as vice president of events for OFB, and I joined as his apprentice, eventually trying to fit into his stilettos as this year’s VP of events.
Coming from another graduate program at the University of Michigan (I’m also a student in the Schools of Information and Public Health), with less of a close-knit community, I quickly came to enjoy how much Ross MBAs, particularly queer ones, enjoy socializing and getting to know each other.
One way that OFB facilitates this exchange is through Ross Coming Out Week and its culminating event, OUTx, in which MBA students share their coming-out stories as a way to build compassion and, ideally, acceptance of people who identify as queer. OFB also offers various other events for queer folx to mix ’n’ mingle, like “dine arounds,” happy hours, and the famous “Glitter Bus” where we drink and dance on a bus and in Detroit queer clubs.
Although I came out at 16, events like these still make me nervous around other queer people because I cannot help but wonder: “What do they think about me? Do they even like me?” As a way to reframe my thinking, Gabe offered this advice: “They don’t pay your bills,” so do not pay them any attention. When it came to friendships, Gabe also pushed me to consider who was not in my friend group, particularly people of color and those with different experiences than my own, for my own personal growth.
Part of my own journey of growth has been an understanding of other people’s backgrounds, including ones who may be in the same culture as mine. In this instance, the LGBTQ+ culture, with its multiple subcultures, but also in other cultures as well. I learned this to be called “intersectional identities.” Getting to know people also means getting to know their boundaries. For example, I once used a microaggression against another OFB member without realizing it, and he appropriately called me out for it. I promptly admitted that I was wrong and asked what I could do to make amends.
My friends call me “Hermione” after the Harry Potter character because I am known for shooting up my hand and asking (too many) questions in class. When asking Ginamarie for feedback about navigating classes, she candidly responded that I spoke a lot and needed to give space for others, that I needed to “step up and step back” and learn to read the room. It is a skill I am still learning.
I keep watching how other OFB members show up as their authentic selves. They wear nose rings, colorful outfits, sleeveless shirts, and tattoos. Some men even wear nail polish — GROUNDBREAKING, to me at least. In doing so, they encourage me to do the same. For example, I polished my nails with silver and black glitter. Easy to put on, painstakingly difficult to remove.
Before Ross, I was a stunning bird locked in a beautifully gilded cage, one that I designed to keep me safe as a gay man. Was I myself or what I wanted you for me to be? Was I safe or was I suffocating?
Thanks to my OFB peers and other members of the University of Michigan community, I can see the lies that I told myself and the cage that I built for myself. I can see a door and a way out of the cage; I see that I can grow to be my authentic self and that I can be an example who future students can follow, even if it is only one member — just like Dustin was to me.