Dear Scott: Is it Rude to Ask if My Coworker is Gay?


Scott Bright, Advice Columnist

Dear Scott,

So I have been working at my current place of employment for around five years now. I won’t say the name but the official dress code is the inconspicuous blue polo shirt and khakis. I’m friends with almost all of my coworkers and we regularly go out to wine and dine after work (thankfully, all of us are girls).  When we go out, we often talk about our personal lives, romantic or otherwise.  Recently I’ve noticed that one of my coworkers, whom I don’t know very well, hasn’t necessarily tried to divulge any details about their romantic or sexual partners, even when everyone else has.

It’s become almost an open secret but most of us at work assume that this person is gay.  They never comment on any of the guys we talk about, nor do they say anything about our waitress.  While we wouldn’t have an issue with her if she was gay, we really don’t know how to approach the subject with her.  My question is: is it rude to ask my coworker if they are gay?  I don’t want to come off as impolite or politically incorrect. 

From: Socially Clueless


Dear Socially Clueless,

While I had to turn off my “Yikes Meter” while reading this, I will honor your question with an answer.  Thankfully, I have plenty of energy to perform the emotional labor of explaining why everything you just wrote me is problematic to the queer community.

Let me lay down a rule of thumb for you before we dive into this: when wondering if approaching somebody about a certain topic even remotely feels like it could be rude, it more than likely is.  For instance, is it rude to ask if someone has gained weight?  Absolutely. Talking about anyone’s body without their consent is not only rude but mean in general.

I want to break down your intro paragraph.  First, you (presumably) work in a retail store.  You go out regularly with (what I assume to be) a consistent group of coworkers.  You also often seem to discuss very personal subjects.  I have to ask, has every person in this group made clear the boundaries of discussion?  Are you aware of the comfort level of this coworker when discussing these topics?  Not everybody is comfortable disclosing their romantic or sexual lives with the people they work with. This might be the case with your coworker.

You said you do not know this person very well; this might be for a reason.  People are allowed to retain privacy in their lives. This includes sexual, romantic, or any other detail.  Perhaps your coworker doesn’t feel safe or comfortable revealing certain aspects of themselves.  This could be for so many reasons: your work environment doesn’t promote safe and open spaces for people to be “out,” your coworkers (yourself included) might not provide a space for somebody to be open about who they are, or, you know, they might just not want to talk to people about those aspects of their lives.  Or it could be some combination of any of these.  The point is that there might be some attitudes or environments that make this coworker feel unsafe, unwelcome, or uncomfortable and that doesn’t necessitate a sharing mood.

I notice that a common theme when your group of co-workers goes out to eat and drink is that you commonly bring up incredibly personal topics.  Have you considered that your coworker simply wants to hang out with her coworkers after work and eat with some familiar and friendly faces?  Perhaps respecting this person’s privacy would be the best path to walk.  I would recommend practicing conscientious conversation. Become aware of the topic you are discussing and how others are responding to it, particularly your coworker. If they aren’t engaging or are visibly uncomfortable, try shifting the conversation towards more neutral topics.

Lastly, I have to address the whole reason you wrote to me. It is undeniably inconsiderate and rude to ask any person about their sexual preference. It doesn’t matter if they are a close friend, a relative, or a co-worker; if they wanted you to know, you’d know. I promise you it’s much less stress in your life to not worry about people’s sexualities.