Through our Lens: My Story - Chris Greig-Bonnier
I knew from an early age I was “different.” At a young age you don’t really think about being different, but as you grow up you become aware of social norms and societal expectations. At this point you begin to understand what it means to be different…and it is scary.
My solution to this was to take a large part of myself and bury it, hide it away. I expended a lot of time and energy in self-managing, thinking about what I said, to whom I was speaking, what I was watching, the music I listened to, the way I acted, the company I kept. You are constantly viewing yourself through the eyes of others, worrying that you’ll be “discovered” or “caught out” by one inadvertent slip.
You become so used to self-managing that it becomes second nature, but it is an exhausting and painful slog day-in-day-out. The fear which caused me to self-manage became overwhelming and I lived my life by assumptions that people would ostracise me, hate me, laugh at me if they understood who I truly was. That pressure converts into self-loathing, and bargaining. I remember vividly pleading with God to make me normal, to make me straight. He never did, and never could have.
I consider myself lucky that I was able to leave behind my small town and move into a big city. I saw so many people who were out and proud, and I was jealous. I was so deep into my own lie that I didn’t see a way back from it. That was almost more painful - you can clearly see how easy it could be, but you don’t want to disappoint everyone who has bought into the you they’ve seen. It seemed so unfair. There was a freedom to start to live as myself little by little but always with an eye to making sure that no-one who mattered knew. In the end that wasn’t enough and I took the leap of faith and came out.
I felt free. It was euphoric to be able to open up and be myself. There was pain, in so many people telling you they knew, or suspected, or were waiting for you to say. Why didn’t you tell me! I’ve wasted so much time. I often wonder if that reaction is helpful - we build ourselves up so much for the “big reveal” that it feels stolen with comments like these. But nevertheless, it was the outcome I needed and a weight was lifted. The first person I told was my best friend (it was a drunken confession). He stood up, crossed the room and said “I need to give you a big hug, right now.” I cried and it gave me the strength to continue my coming out journey.
Moving from university to work was a shock. Working in what was a macho and traditional environment pushed me right back into worry, anxiety and fear. Would people take me seriously, would they respect me, would they judge me and I’d be found different…and wanting? I created a character for myself and pushed my ability and knowledge, making sure that they didn’t think about me as a person but me as a talent. Again it was exhausting, and I was becoming a depressed shadow of myself. I remember they day I broke down to a colleague in confidence. She was amazing. She didn’t know what to say, but she hugged me, listened, and told me it was OK. That experience helped me slowly come out…all over again.
From that point on, I vowed never to step back into a lie ever again. Whenever I interviewed for a job I would slip my sexuality into the conversation and watch for the reaction, making sure I wouldn’t be in a place where I couldn’t be valued and respected for being me. That journey brought me to Serco. At this point, with the prevalence of D&I I had a new worry, about being a posterchild for LGBT+ issues, as networks were forming and discussions developing. I was not pushed and I remember one conversation where a senior executive I worked for said to me: "I wouldn’t want to assume you’d be involved just because you’re gay." That conversation validated that he saw me as a person in its broadest sense.
My lens was fear, my lens was pain. I know I am lucky that I have shed that lens, but I’ve only been able to do it thanks to the people who have supported me, in large and small ways. Even today, the fear of being different hasn’t fully left me, but it lessens every day, and here at Serco I do not have that fear.
Colleagues and our business thrive because of our inclusive approach to our talented and diverse workforce. We are constantly looking to improve our ways of working in order to make Serco an even better place to work for everybody.