The general notion of coming out is a fallacy in that we frequently discuss it in terms of a one-time event, when in reality it’s a never-ending exercise of self-exposure.
I came out for the first time at age 21 over the phone to my parents drunk off four Natty Lights, but most recently I came out at age 29 while riding the Long Island Railroad and talking to a work colleague. As a gender conformed lesbian I have to come out every time I form more than an acquaintance level relationship with someone. While over time the process has become increasingly easier, the initial led up still provokes a slight lump to form in my throat and brings about a moment of unease before I can draw the words out. I admit I do love examining the face people make the moment my words register in their ears. I can see their brains reconfiguring all the assumptions they previously held about me while trying to maintain their facial composure. This generally ends up looking like a surprised smile mixed with holding in a sneeze. Throughout the past eight years I’ve outted myself to at least a few hundred people, and I calculated that at least 95% of them have made at least one careless yet frustrating statement in the moments afterwards. Id like to preface the list below by noting I do not believe the phrases and questions people say come from a place of malice, nevertheless if I never hear them again it won’t be soon enough.
1. Are you a vegetarian?
I know this particular question seems outdated and even laughable, but someone (my colleague on the LIRR) asked me this question just last week. After a casual mention of my wife and our upcoming weekend plans my colleague paused our conversation and then after another full 30 seconds of silence she asked me with complete sincerity if I was also a vegetarian. As if vegetarian is a sexual identify add on. If this were the case, I imagine women saying things like, Im heterosexual Gluten Free or I’m bisexual non-diary. When asked this invasive culinary query, I typically just answer the question (no, I’m not), but next time I am going to say, “why do you ask?” because I don’t think people are fully aware that they are even putting these two incongruent ideas together. Sorry to report, but my food preference does not correlate with my sexual preference. I couldn’t locate the origin of this stereotype, but perhaps it stems from the caricature we all hold of Birkenstock wearing, Diva cup using, cat loving, organic lesbians. A better question for someone to pose after learning a person in their life identifies as a lesbian would be “so, are you a social work?” because the correlation here is scientifically significant (While not technically a social worker, I work as a behavior analyst with individuals on the autism spectrum and my wife is the principal of a charter school; tomato, tomahto). Please, don’t ask me about my eating habits.
2. Which one of you is the man?
This question also appears grossly outdated, but I continue to hear it. People must sense that asking this isn’t decent, however, because it doesn’t normally crop up until after a few drinks have been ingested and inhibitions are lowered. To be clear, the answer to which one of you is the man is obviously no one. The fact that neither one of us is the man is the exact thing I like most about a lesbian. People sometimes add specificity to this question and say things like who will be more like a dad? Or if someone feels particularly bold they will ask who is the man in bed? To reiterate, no men occupy our bed, which again is my favorite part of being a lesbian. Not to brag, but having neither of us be the man in our bedroom is likely why lesbians are 86% more likely to reach orgasm during sex compared to the 65% of our heterosexual female counterparts reaching orgasm during sex, according to a 2017 article by Frederick, et al. In regards to dads, aren’t we bored of the typical male-female household responsibilities breakdown? I know husbands who love to cook and wives who religiously watch football. My wife knowing the name of multiple types of tools (the only one I know is dyke and I continue to find it hilarious to patiently wait for her to say can you bring me the dyke, so I walk over to her and say TA DA. I hope this never gets old) doesn’t make her the man, it makes her a smart lady who can fix a few things. And just because I can kill bugs and spiders as needed doesn’t make me the man, it means I’m heartless and don’t care about squishing tiny creatures. We don’t need a dad in our home to raise kind, brave, intelligent children.
3. Will you guys get pregnant at the same time?
To start, lets stop making assumptions about women and family planning. People who ask this are never particularly close to me, and I don’t appreciate the expectation that I must want children (although I do). Please stop asking me (and all women) about how and if they plan on reproducing. If I want to talk to you about the personal decisions surrounding my body and family, I will bring it up. To the point of this question specifically, however, no we will not get pregnant at the same time. I cannot believe the sheer number of people who have asked me this, as it seems insane.
Well-meaning, knowledgeable, informed humans ask me this question with no hint of humor in their tone. Evolutionarily speaking, no other animal on the planet has two pregnant parents simultaneously. Being pregnant seems like having a second job you can’t ever clock out from. As pregnancy progresses and your body morphs I assume you need help completing every day tasks like tying your shoes, or at least someone to rub your sore parts. The seemingly nice thing about being pregnant and having a loving partner is that someone is around to do annoying tasks for you. Who will drive to the store to pick up Dilly Bars when the two of us are both 7.5 months pregnant? What if we go to labor at the same time? Why would anyone want two-post partum women living together, trying to take care of each other and trying to meet the needs of two brand new babies? I know it’s been done, but it’s atypical and frankly seems like an asinine idea to me. Aside from being a stupid question, it’s a deeply personal one that you shouldn’t ask me.
4. “That’s so cute!”
This is most common reaction I get from good-hearted people on the first mention of my wife or my gayness, and honestly it’s the phrase that irks me most. I appreciate people’s eagerness to accept me, but this expression always makes me uncomfortable because I know this wouldn’t be the response if I had a male romantic partner. When I dated men no one ever commented on my relationship as being so cute. During the process of planning our wedding, this phrase echoed around me everywhere, usually in the context of it’s so cute you guys are getting married. Getting married isn’t a cute activity we’ve decided to dabble in. Marriage for us is a privilege and a commitment we wanted to make to each other in front of the people we love most. As a human who only recently has gained the right to marriage, it’s not something I take lightly. I find the word cute in this context disrespectful. The candy bar at our reception, my wife’s only substantial request, was undoubtedly cute but marriage isn’t. This type of language devalues my relationship and infantilizes it in the process.
I believe people mean well, but I think people can do better. Before you comment or ask a question check in to see if it’s something you would say to your straight friend. And if any of the above statements pop into your brain, keep them there. I don’t want to hear it.