My favorite Freudian slip occurred when I’d been at Oracle for about a year. I was not officially “out” at Oracle, although I certainly could have been had I been so inclined. The high tech industry was a business leader in recognizing that there are a lot of very bright gays out there and that what they’re screwing after they’ve put in their richly productive twelve hour days doesn’t really matter. It could be sheep, for all Oracle cared. Oracle was also one of the very first companies to offer same-sex domestic partner spousal benefits. Oracle had an enormous gay population and many participated in the affinity group Oracle Lambda, which was very aggressive to the point of leaning on HR to let them plaster the campus with information booths, posters, and sections of the Names Project AIDS quilts during Gay Pride Week. They also had très gai lunches on and off campus on alternate Wednesdays, and their own company email group. I had been there several years before I decided that it was hypocritical of me not to add my name to the email group list even though I never went to the lunches because they conflicted with the San Mateo Farmers’ Market and I do have my priorities.
In the beginning, though, I kept a low profile, partly because that’s just my nature and partly because the cubicle opposite mine was occupied by one of the previous year’s college graduate hires, a hockey jock named Dave who lacked some social skills and who shortly before I started work at Oracle was the subject of a complaint to HR about his loud and continual homophobic commentary and offensive language. HR had convinced him that his choice was to continue this behavior or to remain an Oracle employee, so after I had been there a couple of weeks, he had delicately quizzed me about my marital status and current girlfriends. My answers to these questions left open the very real possibility that I was gay, and so for a couple of months there were continual subtle digs, none of which by itself being sufficient or unambiguous enough to make an issue of.
Then, one Sunday, the Purchasing and Inventory teams had a paintball war in the Santa Cruz hills. I participated in this event to show that I was a team player and also to get to know more of the developers, who were my primary source of information. Besides, I had read about this silly sport and thought it might be fun to try it. You could bring a non-Oracle friend, so I brought my then boyfriend, who was an all-round jock and who absolutely no one would identify as queer. Bob was quite an aggressive player and was the only player on either side who captured the enemy’s flag twice. Unfortunately, his aggression exposed him to enemy fire, and he got shot a lot. When you get shot, you have to go to the communal “jail” and wait for a few minutes before you get to be a new man. While you’re in jail, you naturally talk about how you got there. “Whaddya in for?” Bob reported to me that most of the guys in jail from the other team had one thing in common, they had been shot by “that gray-haired guy”. (I was, in fact, older than many of their parents.)
Well hey, I’m from Texas. I may be old, slow, and going deaf and blind, but if I can see it, I can shoot it…even with a paintball gun. The weapons training I had in the Army was merely finishing school; I grew up with guns and was a teenager before I could outshoot my mother…and looking back at it, she may have let me win. In any case, I was picking the other team members off like jackrabbits before they finally realized that their primary objective was to shoot that gray-haired guy first and then get on with their game. I got a lot of recognition for my marksmanship in the subsequent weeks at the office, but there were more immediate results.
My demonstrating this manly ability turned homophobic Dave’s head around so quickly and completely that by the end of the day he was literally hanging around me like a friendly puppy, the insolent sneer having been transmogrified into worshipful admiration. This behavior continued at the office, and I would not have been surprised to have received an invitation to go out shooting fags with him.
The purpose of this long digression is to explain why it might have taken a little while for a general feeling to develop at Oracle that Louis just had to be gay even though he didn’t make an issue of it. What really helped them come to this understanding, of course, was my having to fend off all those European single women who couldn’t help notice my wit, charm, kindness, and, in the gym, ripped abs. Not to mention the marksmanship.
But one evening I was working late and a Project Manager for one of the products I dealt with dropped by my cube to help me download a version of some development software that would limp along well enough for me to at least start writing the documentation. George was twenty-some years younger than I, brilliant, quite a jock, and a kind and decent gentleman. He was sitting at a keyboard connected to a Unix machine and wanted to type the command to move to my home directory. Instead of typing “home mgray/” he accidentally typed “homo mgray/” and actually blushed as he was correcting it. Luckily, that command was nearly his last required action, and he left moments later. After about a minute I had my Treppenwitz (the rejoinder you thought of too late to utter when it would have been appropriate), so I emailed him a message telling him that that was the first time I had ever seen a Freudian slip.