Being Gay in Public Relations
Jamie Gillingham // April 12, 2013
I didn’t know anything about PR when I first started. There’s probably a journalist or two who’ll say I don’t know anything now, either. The whole thing was a gamble really, and despite a great curriculum, I didn’t really learn what PR was until my first co-op. I snagged an internship at a PR agency focusing on the lifestyle industry. I learned a lot of things from that experience: how to talk to journalists, how to produce a great event, how to fit 12 bottles of shampoo into a box meant for six. But the moment that remains most prevalent in my mind came a couple days in over coffee with a colleague.
‘I’m so excited you’re here,’ she said. ‘Now I finally have someone to go shopping with!’
I hadn’t told her I was gay, and it wasn’t the first time someone took the liberty of assuming so or boiling me down to a shopping companion. I didn’t care, though. I am gay after all. But it was that instance – her trope – that got me thinking more deeply about the role that gender has to play in a hyper-feminized industry like public relations.
The first time I said I was gay out loud, I was sitting in a pitch-black dorm room, surrounded by empty Mr. Noodle packages and heaps of dirty laundry, chatting with my roommate and friend. The conversation started after a series of petty arguments had made it obvious something was wrong. Like any good pal, he wondered what was bothering me and with some coaxing, I eventually blurted out ‘I’m gay.’ I think my exact words were ‘Gay, gay, every day.’ (Pop culture references were and continue to be somewhat of a defence mechanism for me.) He sat up. I, maybe he, turned on the light. And I left the room to splash water on my face or get some air, whatever it is people do in situations like those. The whole thing was all very “Come on, Mr. Frodo, I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you!”
I definitely expected the first time I said I was gay out loud to be a little more revelatory than it was. But for that disappointment I blame ‘Intervention’ marathons. They made it look so easy. Addicts admitted their problem, went to commercial break and came back with a new life and a puppy named Jack. So why couldn’t coming to terms with my sexuality be that simple? I know it isn’t an addiction or even a problem, but it is something I had to overcome. I wanted admittance to be the end, not the beginning. And I wanted the puppy, too. I wanted to say it out loud and be comfortable with it, with myself.
I eventually realized thinking this way was naive at best. I wouldn’t be happy personally or professionally until I found somewhere I would be accepted no matter the sex of my better half. And that didn’t happen until I admitted that I hated what I was studying, the place where I was living, the guy I was secretly dating and that I was secretly dating him. It didn’t happen until I skipped provinces and found myself at door of the Mount’s PR program.
I’m not sure why I chose PR. Maybe it was the Mount, maybe it’s some sort of safe haven, opening its doors to twenty-something gay guys with the promise of acceptance. (It sort of is.) Or maybe it was the PR program, specifically. Maybe the books are doused in some kind of pheromone; a sort of gay-nip. Or maybe my colleague was more prophetic than she thought, maybe there’s something inherently attractive about the life of a PR practitioner to gay men everywhere.
Six months ago, when I was knee-deep in my first co-op and packing shampoo like it was my job, (because it was) I thought it was the fact that I worked in the lifestyle industry. I found myself thinking, it makes sense that most guys here are gay, straight ones aren’t interested in free moisturizer. I used the same trope my colleague did when she declared her enthusiasm for the outfits she’d surely purchase using my expert gay advice. I was clinging to a stereotype that I’d spent the three years since coming out trying to negate. Gay men aren’t inherently interested in fashion, beauty, glitter, bright things, Madonna, or public relations. I think all men are interested in those things. But I think it’s primarily the gay ones who have the courage to talk about it.
What is it exactly about being a gay man that says it’s ‘okay’ to pursue traditionally ‘feminine’ professions? Who knows? On different occasions I’ve had discussions with other gay men who have said it’s because we’re more creative, or at least let it flow more freely. That we’re better communicators, more social, that we’ve been exempted from having to live up to the expectations of straight men, leaving us free to explore alternative careers.