LGBT people confront widespread hatred, yet each year take new strides towards equality. What’s the secret?
“Straight allies” – a concept every lawyer needs to understand.
As an LGBT person, you face a stark reality – there aren’t many of us. It might not seem like it, but we’re a tiny minority. And it’s a myth we recruit straight people to be gay – we would, but it’s impossible.
“Straight allies” are the folks who aren’t LGBT but – because they’re caring, patient, loving, open-minded and plain decent – they help LGBT people persevere in the struggle for equal rights.
What’s this got to do with lawyers?
You need some allies, too – allies who aren’t lawyers. It’s key to your survival.
Look around – all you see, probably, is lawyers – lawyers and more lawyers. That’s because you spend 90% of your waking hours at a law firm, where that’s all there is to see.
At some point in your day, or your week, or maybe your month, you’re going to have to see someone who isn’t a lawyer. And that person is going to have to put up with you. It may be your spouse, your romantic interest, your buddy from college or a member of your family.
That’s your non-lawyer ally. And you know deep in your heart it’s not a fun job. Whoever he is, he’s putting up with a lot – helping you keep it together.
One of my clients complained to me that he regrets coming back from work every night and grumping at his wife. I reminded him she might not be savoring the experience either. But it went further than that. The following week she blew up at him and gave him an earful of what being a non-lawyer ally is like.
Based on that earful – and other earfuls like it – here are a few tips for getting along with your non-lawyer allies:
Just because you hate your job, don’t assume she never wants to talk about hers.
Being a lawyer sucks, and your ally hears about it all the time. She’s probably committed to memory every detail of what you hate about your job. If she’s your life partner, she watches you get up every morning looking like you’re marching off for a root canal – then stands back and observes while you storm back at night and either stare into space for hours, or snap and grump and pace like a foul-tempered guard dog.
She’s done a lot of listening, and a lot of empathizing. She’s tried problem-solving, and realized it doesn’t work. And she’s tried absorbing. She’s learned to tolerate being in the room with someone who’s frustrated and angry and scared and sad.
How about her?
When my client’s wife blew up at him, she reminded him all she ever heard him say about her was that she loved her job – like it was an accusation. And yes, she did love her job, as a creative advertising professional. But her work could be trying, too, and she had good days and bad days just like anyone else. Sometimes she wished she could come home and find a supportive someone to blow off a little steam with, or bounce an idea off. Instead, she sat waiting – bored and tense and filled with dread – until he stormed in. Then she listened to him grump.
Just because you’re living your life on hold, waiting for the end, doesn’t mean she never wants to have fun.
You might be committed to a life of suffering right now. Most lawyers are. Maybe you’re counting down to the exact moment when you’ll have that all-important one year at the firm on your resume so you can flee, or you’re senior enough to call a headhunter about an in-house position, or you’ve paid down your loans to a major milestone, or whatever event occurs in the future that will permit you to live like a human being again. You’re hunkered down, holding your breath, waiting for something awful to end.
That’s fine. But she wants to go out for dinner once in a while – or see a movie.
Life goes on in the outside, non-law world. People work from nine to five, and then they lead active, healthy private lives that include friends and cultural events and time spent relaxing.
Just because you’ve decided to say farewell to all that, and pretend it doesn’t exist, doesn’t mean she’s on-board.
A relationship is about positive shared experience. That’s basically all a relationship is – time spent together. If there are good times, you grow closer, and more committed to the partnership. If you have bad times, or simply don’t see one another, the partnership frays.
You can’t take your non-lawyer allies for granted.
I don’t have any easy answer to the question, how am I supposed to spend time with my non-lawyer ally when I never leave the office? But there is an unavoidable reality here: if you ignore your non-lawyer allies, they will eventually give up on you.
That means you stop hearing from friends. Even your family members might stop calling, once they’ve realized they get voicemail and their calls aren’t being returned.
It’s toughest for a spouse or life-partner. Dating a lawyer can feel like a long-distance relationship – all the disadvantages of commitment, with none of its pleasures. Why make the sacrifice to be faithful to someone when they’re never around? You end up doubly alone.
If this column achieves nothing else, let it be an alarm bell that reminds you there are people in your life from the world outside law. They might mean a lot to you, and you might be taking them for granted. They can be your allies, and help you survive this. They “get it” – as much as any non-lawyer can – and they may reach out a hand to help. But they’re also suffering, thanks to your decision to pursue law – and it’s only decent on your part to acknowledge that they’re making sacrifices, too.
If they’re going to stick around, and be there for you, you’re going to have to acknowledge their help, and also be there for them sometimes. Fair’s fair.
Otherwise you could find yourself living a life filled with lawyers, and nothing but lawyers.
No one wants that.
This piece is part of a series of columns presented by The People’s Therapist in cooperation with AboveTheLaw.com. My thanks to ATL for their help and support.
This series will go on hiatus for the summer of 2011 so TPT can work on a book. It will return to weekly publication in September.
If you enjoy these columns, and are wondering how to pass the long, hot summer – please check out The People’s Therapist’s first book.