What My Boss Doesn’t Know

I work in hospitality. I’m the front desk guy you meet when you check in to your independently owned accommodation after midnight. The night owl behind a desk, giving you a key and instructions that you don’t listen to because you’re exhausted. I point you in the direction of the elevator so you can finally sleep.

I love my job. Many individual parts of it kind of suck, and the pay isn’t anything to write home about. But, I really like the property I work for, my co-workers, and my bosses. Seriously – I like my bosses. The assistant and general managers are genuinely nice guys. They keep us in the loop about things that are happening, and listen to suggestions from us. It’s honestly the only job I have ever had in which I felt like my boss thought my ideas could be helpful – and that includes the time I worked in a business of only 3 people.

One of the reasons I like this job is that I’m able to be out about a lot of my personal life. I came out about being queer in my job interview by mentioning knowing more about the major strip of gay bars nearby than the pubs in the immediate area. People considering me for a job generally find out I’m trans during background checks, and that did happen but didn’t create any trouble for me at all. It turns out, I’m FAR from the only queer person working there – the company is full of us, especially on the front end.

I’m completely out about be poly with my coworkers and bosses. Sometimes coming out about this goes better than others, since we DO have a diverse staff from lots of different backgrounds. Being bi has never been a problem, and being trans has gotten occasional rude questions, but being poly has definitely lead to the most interesting discussions. Interestingly, eventually everyone has come around about it – the workplace has an accepting atmosphere and if people judge, they keep it to themselves. My bosses never even blinked an eye about my big family – and have tried to give me the same courtesy about time off to see them as they would any employee with other family needs.

With all of this, the one thing I don’t feel like I can tell my general manager is that I’m autistic. Although I actually think that in many ways my autistic traits are part of what makes me good at my job, I haven’t told him and I don’t intend to. I feel confident in being out about so many other personal areas of my life but the stigma of autism is too frightening to me. I know that people think autism means incompetence. I have seen people’s stereotypes overwhelm their ability to accurately judge people’s work, and I don’t want that to happen to me.

I realize that I am incredibly privileged to be able to hide this from my boss. The fact that my difference is not totally apparent in all circumstances is lucky for me. A lot of this is because of the nature of the job; it highlights some of my strengths and the things I struggle with are less of a problem here than in some other jobs. But I’m aware that not everyone is able to be perceived as neurotypical in the workplace, and it frustrates me that someone else may not be able to do this job due to pure ableism, not an inability to do the work well.

There are ways in which my autistic traits help me in this job, like my detailed attention to rules and policies. I like rules and structure, am comfortable enforcing clear rules, and will follow policies myself. I also have been here long enough to know what happens when we start getting sloppy about rules. My impulse to problem solve has lead me to increase efficiency and customer service by streamlining some of our most frequent tasks. For example, I started writing out public transit directions to the most commonly requested locations and printing clear directions for people instead of giving them verbally (verbal directions confuse EVERYONE). I shared these files with my co-workers so we could be consistent and prompt about the directions we give. This lead to my boss asking me to write these directions up for a bunch of locations and he printed small cards that have been a big hit with our guests.

My boss certainly has remarked on some not-great things that are aspects of my autism. He has said I “sound like a robot” when under stress, which is such a stereotype I would have laughed if I there wasn’t a line of guests for me to assist. I struggled with a co-worker last year and a major part of our struggle was my impatience in dealing reasonably with the ways in which she was not at all like me, such as her long rambling answers to questions that required succinct scripted responses and her struggles with the computer system. This co-worker was excellent at creating a friendly fun atmosphere, but I was impatient with her because our strengths and weaknesses were the polar opposite of each other. But everyone has things they can work on in their jobs, and I don’t think mine are any more significant than anyone else’s.

Ableism prevents me from talking to my boss about this aspect of myself, because I don’t want him to see me through the nasty light-it-up-blue-tinted lens of stigma created by “awareness” campaigns about autism. I believe he would try to be understanding, but the way our culture talks about autistic people makes it incredibly hard for me to be honest about this at work. Being out about autism has mostly really helped me in my social and family life, especially with my parents, but this area of my life is one in which I don’t feel safe coming out, and that’s too bad.

Neurodiverse people should have access to a wide variety of jobs, and stigma shouldn’t keep us out of jobs we can do well. I shouldn’t have to be able to hide my autism to keep a job I enjoy, and workplaces should be more open to hiring people who are different. They might be surprised to find out that lots of people are capable of a lot more than they expect. I love working with co-workers who are from places all over the world and who have lots of different family structures. I’d love to work with a more ability-diverse staff as well.

What My Boss Doesn’t Know

7 thoughts on “What My Boss Doesn’t Know

  1. 1

    The following is an observation is in no way a reproach, criticism or judgement. I fully support people coming out or staying in the closet about whichever part of their lives they choose to. I will never lay the burden of changing society as a whole on the shoulders of an individual from a minority.
    End of caveat.

    I have seen people’s stereotypes overwhelm their ability to accurately judge people’s work, and I don’t want that to happen to me.

    That’s sadly how stereotypes thrive and survive. People don’t get so see Autism as a spectrum, but only the extreme where people cannot hide that aspect of themselves.
    You saw it with gay men: The very femme and flamboyant ones were very visible and shaped everyone’s idea about gay men while they thought my gay BFF was my boyfriend (we confused the shit out of people. Their problem).

    It’s also why I don’t talk about having had mental health issues and having received treatment openly. I don’t want to be labelled the “cr*zy b*tch”, I don’t want to be dismissed as “that’s your issue speaking” (especially not since being constantly dismissed for emotions was what heavily contributed to my mental health problems).

    It means that people’s perception of mental illness, or autism, or being gay isn’t shaped by there being a huge variety of autistic/mentally ill/gay people and they are your neighbour colleague, sports club mate, friend, fellow kindergarten parent and also those who don’t stand a chance to be in a closet about those aspects.

    It’s also why diverse representation matters.

    1. 1.1

      Oh, I totally agree with you that representation is the path to decreasing stigma. But I also think that representation is often most successful when started by people with some amount of power. While I do have the privilege of my autism being non-obvious in my work environment, I am a low-wage hourly worker in a service industry. I’m also trans – a huge barrier to good employment. I’m still a few years away from a college degree, in my 30’s. I’m not in a position where I can risk my job for this right now. Maybe I would if I were single, but I’m married and helping to support my spouse while they’re finishing school too.

      I very well might discuss this with my boss once I have my degree. But for now the kind of visibility I can have, and the place I can make a difference, is here on this blog. Here I can say what I can’t say there, and maybe that contributes to visibility a bit. Maybe someone who reads this will consider their own bias and be willing to hire someone autistic in a service job in part because they saw that a blogger they like could do a service job well.

      1. Oh I totally agree. As I said, I don’t think any single person “owes” their group a sacrifice. Sure, I wish for people to be visible, and the more power you have otherwise, the easier it is, but it’s still a very private decision.
        I think, I hope, that there’s a tipping point: When enough people have come out as XXX it becomes much safer for everyone and then there’s a serious avalanche.
        Good luck with the degree. I got mine at 36.

  2. 2

    I’m a 59-year-old lesbian who has been out all her life, even through 10 years of military service–back in the days when that would get you a dishonorable discharge. I’ve always been very conscientious about being out, and I know that people like me have helped change our country.

    That said, I also have Asperger’s, though I didn’t know it until pretty late in life. I have to say, despite my long devotion to outed-ness, that I would never, ever be out about autism. I have told only my wife and a few very close, long-term friends whom I knew I could trust.

    In some respects, perhaps my being out about autism could have helped. Perhaps it would have helped bosses understand. Perhaps it would have helped fellow employees understand. Because I am not the easiest person to understand, and because people do tend to leap to conclusions rather quickly, letting others know about my autism might have been a nice shortcut toward peace-and-brotherhood.

    But here is what I am sure of: being out about Asperger’s would have painted me, irreversibly, with bizarre impressions gleaned from news stories. Suddenly I would no longer be the trustworthy, honest, caring, smart person with a crazy laugh whom everyone thought they knew: I would be disconnected, eccentric, unemotional, unbalanced, perhaps even murderous. Having been bullied from a young age, I know the power that false impressions wield.

    Another danger is ordinary folks turning into professional shrinks before your eyes, saying that since you don’t “look like” the typical picture of an autistic person with which they are familiar, there has to be something strange going on and your words should not be taken at face value.

    To my mind, the irreversible and negative nature of telling others about your autism more than outweighs any possible advantages. You have only one life that it would be a shame to waste on martyrdom. Beyond helping your spouse or your closest friends understand you better, I see no value whatever in coming out about autism.

    1. 2.1

      Thank you for sharing your story.

      In my case, sharing this part of myself has been advantageous for me in some areas of my life. I am open about it with my family of origin and it has improved my relationship with my parents. I am also open about it with my partners, poly family, most of my friends, and people who know me through blogging since obviously I talk about it a lot here.

      I think everyone has to make our own decisions about how out we want to be, or can be, about things like autism and other neurodiversity issues, and obviously not everyone can make this decision – for many people it is a highly visible thing.

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