As a subfield, organizational communication has been relatively slow to engage with queer theory. However, a robust literature on queer organizational scholarship has emerged over the past decade, since the 2010s, in both organizational communication and the allied field of critical management studies. Adopting a queer theoretical lens to the study of organizational communication entails queering one’s understandings of organizational life by questioning what is considered to be normal and taken for granted. Engaging with queer theory in organizational communication also implies exposing and critiquing heteronormativity in organizations, viewing difference as a constitutive feature of organizing, adopting an anti-categorical approach to difference, and understanding identity as fluid and performative. To date, organizational scholars have mobilized queer theory to queer how gender and sexuality are conceptualized in organizational research, queer dominant understandings of leadership, queer the notion of diversity management, queer the “closet” metaphor and understandings of how individuals negotiate the disclosure of nonnormative identities at work, and queer organizational research methods. Moving forward, organizational scholars can continue to advance queer scholarship by mobilizing queer theory to highlight queer voices in empirical research, interrogating whiteness in queer organizational scholarship by centering queer of color subjectivities, and continuing to queer organizational research and queer theory by subjecting both to critical interrogation.
Jamie McDonald and Sean C. Kenney
Elizabeth K. Eger, Morgan L. Litrenta, Sierra R. Kane, and Lace D. Senegal
LGBTQ+ people face unique organizational communication dilemmas at work. In the United States, LGBTQ+ workers communicate their gender, sexuality, and other intersecting identities and experiences through complex interactions with coworkers, supervisors, customers, publics, organizations, and institutions. They also utilize specific communication strategies to navigate exclusionary policies and practices and organize for intersectional justice. Five central research themes for LGBTQ+ workers in the current literature include (a) workplace discrimination, (b) disclosure at work, (c) navigating interpersonal relationships at work, (d) inclusive and exclusive policies, and (e) intersectional work experiences and organizing. First, the lived experiences of discrimination, exclusion, and violence in organizations, including from coworkers, managers, and customers, present a plethora of challenges from organizational entry to exit. LGBTQ+ workers face high levels of unemployment and underemployment and experience frequent microaggressions. Queer, trans, and intersex workers also experience prevalent workplace discrimination, uncertainty, and systemic barriers when attempting to use fluctuating national and state laws for workplace protections. Second, such discrimination creates unique risks that LGBTQ+ workers must navigate when it comes to disclosing their identities at work. The complexities of workplace disclosure of LGBTQ+ identities and experiences become apparent through closeting, passing, and outing communication. These three communication strategies for queer, trans, and intersex survival are often read as secretive or deceptive by heterosexual or cisgender coworkers and managers. Closeting communication may also involve concealing information about personal and family relationships at work and other identity intersections. Third, LGBTQ+ people must navigate workplace relationships, particularly with heterosexual and/or cisgender coworkers and managers and in organizations that assume cisheteronormativity. Fourth, policies structure LGBTQ+ workers’ lives, including both the positive impacts of inclusive policies and discrimination and violence via exclusionary policies. Fifth and finally, intersectionality is crucial to theorize when examining LGBTQ+ workers’ communication. It is not enough to just investigate sexuality or gender identity, as they are interwoven with race, class, disability, religion, nationality, age, and more. Important exemplars also showcase how intersectional organizing can create transformative and empowering experiences for LGBTQ+ people. By centering LGBTQ+ workers, this article examines their unique and complex organizational communication needs and proposes future research.
The discourse of coming out has historically served as an effective vehicle to build and sustain the LGBTQ movement in the United States. It has also been utilized as an empowering resource that enables queer people to establish a queer identity organized around self-awareness and self-expression. However, queer of color critique and transnational queer theory argue that the prevalent discourse of coming out is built on a particular kind of queer experience and geography, which is usually from the standpoint of White, middle-class men of urban U.S. citizenship and is rarely derived from the experience of queer people of color and non-Western queer subjects. Taking an intersectional perspective, Snorton interrogates the racialization of the closet and proposes a sexual politics of ignorance—opposed to the disclosure imperative in coming out discourse—as a tactic of ungovernability. Centering the experience of Russian American immigrants who are queer-identified, Fisher proposes a fluid and productive relationship between the “closeted” and the “out” sexuality that resists any fixed categorization. Focusing on the masking tactic deployed by local queer activists, Martin theorizes the model of xianshen, a local identity politics in Taiwan that questions the very conditions of visibility in dominant coming out discourse. As a decolonial response to the transnational circulation of coming out discourse, Chou delineates a “coming home” approach that emphasizes familial piety and harmony by reining in and concealing queer desires. Being cautious against the nationalist impulse in Chou’s works, Huang and Brouwer propose a “coming with” model to capture the struggles among Chinese queers to disidentify with the family institution. These alternative paradigms serve as epistemic tools that aim to revise understanding of queer resistance and queer relationality and help people to go beyond the imagination of coming out for a livable queer future.