Andy Bossley, a 29-year-old Texan, is living the dream in New York City. He’s out and proud, lives with his loving partner Anthony, and works as the senior manager for global marketing campaigns for IBM, a role that netted him a spot on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list this year.
While hard work and success has always been in his blood — he spent his entire youth training and competing as one of the nation’s top elite gymnasts — Bossley hasn’t always been so open and comfortable with his sexual identity. Despite knowing he was gay at a young age, he kept this part of himself hidden for most of his life, bypassing countless opportunities to come out because he felt the risks were just too high.
“I always felt like that was one of the barriers for me, or one of the walls I always felt like I had to traverse on my own journey. You just wonder what everyone’s going to say or think, especially if you’ve been relatively successful in your life and your career and love. And you find yourself at a moment where you’re like, ‘I’m not happy and I don’t really like where I am or who I identify as.’ Then you have all these expectations that you’re afraid you’re going to let down.”
But Bossley eventually took the leap and came out while studying abroad in Paris during college, and fortunately, he was met with acceptance and support from his loved ones. Now that he’s been out for many years and has gained confidence in his identity as a gay man, he’s come to understand his struggle as a defining experience that actually makes him a better and more compassionate marketer.
Read on to learn about Bossley’s struggles to come out as gay, how he finally got the courage to live his truth, and how it’s helped him in his career.
Profiles in Pride: Can you tell us about your journey of coming out?
Andy Bossley: Something that was a huge part of my childhood was gymnastics. I was an elite level gymnast, and I grew up working out six days a week, four to five hours a day. And I ended up getting to sixth in the nation. I absolutely thought for most of my childhood, and even into my adult life, that I’d be attempting to go the Olympics. I’d competed at Junior Olympics, the national championships, tons of things. It was a huge part of my existence. In hindsight, some of the things that people said during that experience have had massive effects on me later in life.
My gymnastics coach was immensely homophobic. And that had an immense impact on me and shaped my feeling about who I was, and whether I felt comfortable coming out while I was still in that world, certainly while I still interacted with him and the rest of my teammates.
When I was 18, for a number of reasons I quit gymnastics and attended the University of Texas at Austin.
PIP: What was it like once you got to college?
AB: I allowed peoples’ expectations and caring what people thought of me to dictate whether or not I felt comfortable or not with who I was. It’s amazing how that can happen, how there were these three guys, my dorm roommates, I didn’t even know or care to be friends with, but I cared what they thought, and I cared enough to let it set me back. And because I’m from Austin, I ended up hanging out with my same high school friends, so I never even left my same group.
So it just perpetuated. Once you don’t make that leap of faith, it slowly becomes day after day, week after week, harder and harder to make that decision. I found myself two years later at UT still in the closet. I was just devastated by that; I still hadn’t been able to do it.
Realizing this, I decided to move abroad to Paris for a year. And 100% that decision was made so that I could come out.
PIP: Were you able to come out once you moved to Paris?
AB: No! Can you believe it? And I didn’t know a single person when I moved.
Looking back, it was just who I was. Because I was a gymnast, I had such pressure on me of who I thought I was supposed to be. I thought I was supposed to be this Olympian. I didn’t want to disappoint my family; my dad’s parents were religious, and I was so worried about what they would think when I came out, whether they’d accept me.
I always knew my parents would accept me. I didn’t think it would be easy, but I knew they would. My mother, growing up, would ask me things every once in a while. She’d open the door for me growing up. And I knew exactly what she was doing; my mother always knew. She respected me enough to let me have my own journey and come out in my own time.
PIP: What gave you the courage to finally come out?
AB: I finally got to the point in Paris where I was like, I have botched this experience! I’m going to be moving back to America in four months, and I will not have accomplished the one reason I came here.
I was on a road trip in the UK with my friend Kenzie. We were at a bar in London overlooking the Thames, and I don’t know what made me feel comfortable at that moment or what she must have said, but I just said, “You know, I’m gay.” That was really the first person I had fully verbalized that I was gay.
The next month, I took a trip to Istanbul with Claire, someone I met studying abroad who quickly became one of my best friends. I remind myself of her advice a lot of times, especially when I meet young people who are trying to accept themselves. Claire and I were in a bunk bed in a hostel in Istanbul. And she goes, “You know, when you go back home and you come out to your family and friends, drop whoever doesn’t accept you. I’m your family now. Your friends are your family now. So if you don’t have family because they didn’t accept you, get rid of them, and we will be your family.”
And that was the first time I’d ever gotten to the point I think in my life where I had accepted myself to the point where I was willing to lose everything else to fully accept myself.
PIP: That’s amazing. So I know you’ve been very successful in the business world. What has it been like being gay in the workplace, and how do you balance that as part of your identity?
AB: Yeah, you know, I have been so lucky in my career thus far and have received a number of accolades, which are just so humbling.
I will never forget right after graduating from undergrad, I was talking to a friend’s dad who was a very successful businessperson in his own right. I was struggling to find a job. He made this comment, and I don’t think he had any malicious intent about this. But he said, “If you change your voice or the way you talk, you might do better in interviews.”
What he was saying was, if you didn’t sound gay, you might come across with more authority or you might be respected differently in the interview by the recruiter or hiring manager or whatever. My response to him was, “I do not want to work for someone that I feel like I have to change my voice for.”
It can be a little leap of faith every time I do mention it to someone that I don’t know well that I have a boyfriend, that I live with whose name is Anthony. You realize at that moment that you are a minority, especially in the workforce. And that you just hope that you work in a place where people understand how to compartmentalize who you are personally with the business value and merit that you bring to the team.
PIP: That makes sense that it can be a challenge in some situations. Can you talk about how being gay has been a positive or benefit in the workplace for you?
AB: Absolutely. There are a couple things. So this year, I was recognized on Forbes 30 Under 30 for marketing and advertising. I was shocked and thrilled. So first off, I got that because of the role that I hold at IBM and the impact that I bring to that organization. But also in the interview, I was very, very open with my sexuality. I felt that it was really important to recognize business people that are also LGBT on lists like that. I think a lot of times, people forget we’re a minority too, and that we deal with just as many challenges as other groups that feel marginalized. So that Forbes 30 Under 30 list, I am positive that it was a factor of me making the list that I was LGBT.
And I believe that going through the hardship and difficulty of coming out and living authentically and having it not just be a given that you can live your life who you are does give me a certain empathy and ability to see the world through a different lens, through other peoples’ eyes, that I probably wouldn’t have if I hadn’t gone through my coming out experience and had difficulties accepting who I am. In marketing, this can be essential to finding the most compelling way to communicate to your audience.
PIP: It sounds like IBM has been a really supportive environment for you.
AB: Yes, IBM has built a culture of inclusiveness that I’ve never seen at another company. During Pride, developing the eight-bar IBM logo in rainbow. And communication after communication when out IBM executives would tell their story, and those would go out company wide.
I just feel like it’s an open forum; there’s an open dialogue happening at IBM about LGBT rights and our place in the workforce and our place at IBM and how they value our voice. I do feel like that’s so important to recognize, because not every company is like that. It’s such a part of the culture.
This article was originally published from Profiles in Pride. You can find the original article here.
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