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gender neutrality
April 25, 2005 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Suppose you are talking to someone (an acquaintance, a workmate, a person at a party) who you are pretty sure is gay. This person is talking about someone s/he is dating and is being completely gender neutral. What is the appropriate response? Do you maintain gender neutrality with your questions and comments (which can get awkward and feel silly)? Do you make a comment that includes the phrase "he or she" to indicate that you're aware that it may be either and that you're nonjudgmental (but potentially putting this person on the spot to pick a gender and out him/herself)? Do you pick the likely gender and continue the conversation blithely the way most people do in assumed-heterosexual conversations (again with the potential outing)? For the purposes of this exercise, assume no one else is in earshot.
posted by xo to Human Relations (51 answers total)
 
I'd stick with "they," to be safe.

I often then try to work in mention of my (male) friend's ex-boyfriend or something, which often makes me feel all dorkily "Hi! Look how cool I am! I'm gay POSITIVE!!!" but as long as I'm aware of its potential to sound self-congratulatory, I'm generally able to keep the tone light enough to sound both non-annoying and non-homophobic.

At least, I hope so.

In any event, that sequence has often led to conversational partners switching to an actual gendered pronoun, so I figure it's working. The goal is basically to let the other person know you're cool with the gay, without actually bringing it up in reference to them, so that they can then decide how open they want to be. Which means that if they continue to hedge, you need to stop pressing.
posted by occhiblu at 3:04 PM on April 25, 2005


Maintain gender neutral pronouns, but if you want to end the charade and let them know you're cool with people who have teh gay, use the phrase "he or she". As occhiclu said, it will probably lead to them revealing the gender of the person in question.

If they're already self-conscious about being (probably) gay, you pretending to blithely assume their heterosexuality will make it dern near impossible for them to correct you/come out to you.
posted by Specklet at 3:10 PM on April 25, 2005


Another thing: If they *aren't* gay, they're probably also self-conscious about people always thinking they are. So, again, don't turn yourself into a rainbow-flag-waving Babs-quoting PFLAG float after you've dropped one or two subtle hints. If the gender-neutrality continues, it means that either you made an incorrect assumption about their sexuality or that they simply don't feel comfortable opening up any further about it. Either way, drop it.
posted by occhiblu at 3:22 PM on April 25, 2005


If this person is uncomfortable talking about their partner and identifying their sexuality, he or she shouldn't have brought it up.
I would carry on using gender-neutral terms for as long as possible without it getting silly. If this person seems intent on having a lengthy discussion of their partner and still isn't giving any hints as to the gender, it's fair game to make an assumation.
If at all unsure, assume heterosexual (though it depends a little on the circumstances).
posted by Count Ziggurat at 3:25 PM on April 25, 2005


My question would be: does the gender of the person really matter to you at all?

I'd continue with the gender-neutral pronouns (though I admit this can result in some truly absurd linguistic calisthenics) unless and until the person you're speaking to chooses to assign a gender to whoever they're talking about. It's their choice to decide whether to come out to you or not... forcing the issue by forcing them to choose one pronoun or the other, IMHO, is not exactly rude, but perhaps not precisely the most polite thing to do.

I'd then find a way, at some other time, to indicate that you don't give a flying whozit about what gender anyone is, or indicate your non-caring about teh_ghey. That then lets the person in question know (if indeed they are gay) that they don't have to play the pronoun game if they don't want to, without putting them on the spot in the middle of a conversation by offering them a binary he/she choice.

As occhiblu pointed out above, the person in question may not be gay at all-- could be a (stereotypically) feminine-acting male, or a (again, stereotypically) masculine-acting female. In which case, they'd be used to the assumptions being made about their sexuality, and often (sadly, I've been guilty of doing this) even jokes about "Oh yeah, your girlfriend, right. What's his name?" Using gender-neutral pronouns allows the listener to think whatever they want to, while preserving a certain amount of dignity, privacy, what-have-you.

There's a remote chance, too, that the person in question can't properly be addressed in terms of a binary gender system, in which case 'they' is the closest English pronoun (in common usage) available.

One day, Deity-of-your-choice willing, it won't matter a double flying whozit what gender someone's dating, as it'll all be viewed the same anyway.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:26 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]


i say "they" in response, but it's rare that people are that vague around me. : >

I'd try to put them at ease more than anything else--you only play that game when you think it might get you in trouble otherwise (esp at work) or if you're talking to someone you don't really trust or both.
posted by amberglow at 3:28 PM on April 25, 2005


yeah, we need a gender-neutral pronoun, and "they" is really the best we've got at this point... Though I think slipping in a "he or she" would be fine; they can always stick to the avoidance language if they find it preferable and you can allow it to be clear that either way is cool with you. Makes just as much sense to do that if people you assume are straight talk about a partner without noting the gender, too.

Also, I'd recommend against making assumptions about someone you are "pretty sure" is gay, because you can actually be wrong about that :).
posted by mdn at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2005


Bah, damn preview...
Count Ziggurat >>> If at all unsure, assume heterosexual (though it depends a little on the circumstances).

I would disagree with this. Let's say that the person in question (we'll assume female, just for the hell of it) is gay, and she's trying to figure out how [hip|cool|open-minded|whatever] you are. If you jump to the heterosexually-appropriate gender pronoun, it's reasonable for her to assume that you're not terribly open-minded, as you're making the choice for her. At that point she either has to play along, quite possibly thinking that you're not open-minded, or she's forced to correct you, risking an unpleasant response, or (depending on the circumstances) possible repercussions in the future.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 3:33 PM on April 25, 2005


In situations like this, I'll tend towards being as rude as I can without upsetting feelings (Although I do tend to upset feelings. It's a fine line). Ask them what their partners name is. If they fluff over the issue, then you know they aren't comfortable discussing their sexuality. If they tell you, then you've got a name to attach to the conversation. I also think that knowing the name of someones partner (God, I hate that term) lover is a lot more important than knowing their sex.
posted by seanyboy at 3:37 PM on April 25, 2005


So, don't say "When are you meeting them?", say ...

You: "when are you meeting... I'm sorry, I don't know your partners name."
Them: It's Jo.
You (None the wiser): When are you meeting Jo?
posted by seanyboy at 3:40 PM on April 25, 2005


I'm assuming that you are wanting to let this person know that it's not necessary to hide his/her homosexuality from you? You could always ask what the date's name is. Of course, if it's Pat or Chris, that might not clear things up much. :)

I've done the same thing as occhiblu by casually mentioning "my roommate Stephanie and her girlfriend" or "my friend Steve and his boyfriend". (e.g. "what did you do last weekend?" "I went to the movies with my roommate and her girlfriend. blah blah blah.") It lets the person know that you have gay friends, and that they can drop the gender neutral thing, if they want to.
posted by luneray at 3:44 PM on April 25, 2005


I had a similar situation once with a new friend who seemed to be avoiding mentioning her sweetie's gender. I tried clumsily testing her by referring to "your boyfriend" once, but when she continued to use the term "sweetie", I adopted the use of her term for that, and subsequent conversations until finally I casually asked if she carried a picture of her sweetie. I reasoned if she wanted to remain in the closet, she could always lie and say she didn't have one with her. But by then she was comfortable enough to show me the picture of the two of them playing with their dogs, so I told her she had super cute dogs and that we should all get together socially sometime. She was much more at ease after that, and I'd say that's when our friendship really began.
posted by Soliloquy at 3:50 PM on April 25, 2005


just be simple...they say "so then we went..."

stop them and go ...wait "he or she?" if they answer "he/she" then say "oh ok, sorry, what were you saying? You went where?"

i dunno thats what I do. who cares right?
posted by freudianslipper at 3:57 PM on April 25, 2005


Asking them is bound to be better than a load of awkward pussyfooting.

"Metafilter....Maintain gender neutral pronouns"
posted by fire&wings at 4:04 PM on April 25, 2005


freudianslipper, that's assuming they want to talk about it. if they're playing the pronoun game, then they want (as we all do) to talk about their [girlfriend|boyfriend|lover|partner|spouse], without the risk of an unpleasant reaction.

Let people choose when and how they want to come out to you. You don't get to force them.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 4:04 PM on April 25, 2005


I would disagree with this. Let's say that the person in question (we'll assume female, just for the hell of it) is gay, and she's trying to figure out how [hip|cool|open-minded|whatever] you are. If you jump to the heterosexually-appropriate gender pronoun, it's reasonable for her to assume that you're not terribly open-minded, as you're making the choice for her.

That's silly, and personally, I'm not sure I'd want to be friends with someone who judges people by testing them like that. It's a fact that it's statistically more likely that any arbitrray given person is straight rather than gay, and it's far more reasonable for her to assume that you're playing the odds and making a guess rather than assuming that you're not open-minded.
posted by juv3nal at 4:37 PM on April 25, 2005


Just a thought: I've never heard a straight person playing the pronoun polka in reference to their own significant other. YMMV.

If it was me, I'd ask the sweetie's name, and stick with that.
posted by raedyn at 4:52 PM on April 25, 2005


The situation reminds of that old Saturday Night Live skit about "Pat".
posted by Dag Maggot at 5:16 PM on April 25, 2005 [1 favorite]


That's silly, and personally, I'm not sure I'd want to be friends with someone who judges people by testing them like that.

No, it's not silly, and I'm guessing you're not friends with any gay people (or, conversely, that you've spent so much time in Chelsea/West Hollywood that you've forgotten what the straight world is like). One of my best friends spent weeks testing the waters before she let me know that she was a lesbian (which I'd figured out long before), and the fact that I respected her need to test and wait counted heavily in my favor. She wasn't much fonder of people who made assumptions based on her appearance and fondness for women's sports than she was of bigots. Like dirtynumbangelboy said, Let people choose when and how they want to come out to you. You don't get to force them.
posted by languagehat at 5:37 PM on April 25, 2005


I have dated folks of both genders, and I occasionally will say gender-neutral pronouns even when talking about an opposite-sex SO, just because I hate it when strangers make the default assumption that I am straight. I mean, I can't control what other people think, but I'm still enough of an activist to attempt a little subtle consciousness-raising when I can.
posted by matildaben at 5:43 PM on April 25, 2005


To clarify, there are gender neutral pronouns, although they are not widely used. Ze is used for he/she and hir can be used for his/her. There is a fairly significant transgender population at my school and so people often just use ze and hir to not cause offense or confusion.
I'm actually not sure what to use for him/her (as in the object form of the pronoun) but I'm sure it exists.
posted by ohio at 5:56 PM on April 25, 2005


In the past, I've justed asked, "Are you gay"?

I've found that people, when asked matter-of-factly and without any implied criticism, tend to feel free to answer honestly.

I did this the first night I met one guy -- we've been good friends for the five or so years since.
posted by orthogonality at 6:15 PM on April 25, 2005


If they're using gender-neutral pronouns, it may be they simply don't want to tell you. It really isn't your business, y'know. Go with the gender-neutral "they" until they volunteer more specific details.

As for appearing "gay-positive", I gotta say, there's nothing I hate more than when people bring up their gay friends or neighbors or coworkers or family members or that gay couple they saw in the museum the other day when they find out or suspect I'm gay. Sometimes it's in the "Oh, you're gay and they're gay" context, sometimes it's in the self-congratulatory context, but whatever it is it's annoying. So I wouldn't use that method.

I dunno, I feel like the best way to show you don't care if they're gay is to actually not care if they're gay and not make an issue of it by attempting to bring homosexuality up in the conversation to out them.

If you really must know, use orthogonality's method.
posted by schroedinger at 6:39 PM on April 25, 2005


Yes, what orthogonality said. Being direct can be surprisingly refreshing. Why not end the guessing game before it begins?
posted by jca at 6:43 PM on April 25, 2005


No, it's not silly, and I'm guessing you're not friends with any gay people (or, conversely, that you've spent so much time in Chelsea/West Hollywood that you've forgotten what the straight world is like).

See? That's a guess, and it just happens that neither is true. But I don't conclude that you're close-minded because you guessed wrong. Nor do I think you're making my choice for me.

One of my best friends spent weeks testing the waters before she let me know that she was a lesbian (which I'd figured out long before)

I fully respect that someone would want to feel comfortable before outing themselves. But by the time their partner becomes a central topic of discussion, that bridge should already have been crossed.

I'm not against testing in general; all your dealings when you meet someone new are in some sense tests, but to draw the same conclusions dirtynumbangelboy suggests is just so far off the mark. What if I suspect you're gay but out of deference to your decision to not explicitly say so, refer to your partner as a hetero one? What if I simply misheard a gender specific pronoun in place of a gender neutral one?

It's just as egregious to ascribe to me that I'm "making the choice for her" as it is for me to ascribe a sexual orientation to her.

Like dirtynumbangelboy said, Let people choose when and how they want to come out to you. You don't get to force them.

The sentiment I was expressing has nothing to do with forcing people to come out at all. If I guess wrong, and you don't want to talk about it, *don't correct me.* Simple as that.
posted by juv3nal at 6:53 PM on April 25, 2005


My advice: change the subject.
posted by kindall at 6:54 PM on April 25, 2005


I fully respect that someone would want to feel comfortable before outing themselves. But by the time their partner becomes a central topic of discussion, that bridge should already have been crossed.

I fully agree with this. I can't imagine listening to a gender-neutral discussion of someone's love/sex life without eventually yawning on purpose or asking for clarity just so I don't feel like it's irrelevant whether or not I'm actually listening.
posted by bingo at 7:35 PM on April 25, 2005


To clarify, there are gender neutral pronouns, although they are not widely used. Ze is used for he/she and hir can be used for his/her. There is a fairly significant transgender population at my school and so people often just use ze and hir to not cause offense or confusion.

What? Sorry, but I don't believe that these are real words.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 8:49 PM on April 25, 2005


ohio - how is 'hir' pronounced to differentiate it from 'her'?

(croutonsupafreak - I've seen these words used online in gender discussions before)
posted by Space Kitty at 11:52 PM on April 25, 2005


Real words? English doesn't have language police. Words that people use and others understand are real. How do you think new words happen?

Given how hard it is to talk about one's life without talking about one's signficant other, and how hard it can be to reveal any sexuality other than heterosexuality, I think it's unfair to say gender has to come into any discussion of the person's SO. Why does it matter what their gender is? Just keep saying they. Yeah the grammar can get tough but it's the polite thing to do.

Asking the person's name is also totally acceptable, because even if it doesn't solve the gender bind, at least you have an easy way to refer to the person.
posted by mai at 11:58 PM on April 25, 2005


I'd like to second (third?) the direct approach.

"Excuse my asking, but are you gay?" Has always worked fine for me.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:22 AM on April 26, 2005


I appreciate the idea of the gender-neutral pronouns, but there is currently a very small slice of the population that knows what those words are supposed to mean. As a result, using those words in most contexts will just cause more confusion.
posted by raedyn at 7:17 AM on April 26, 2005


juv3nal: Fair points, and I appreciate your making them in a polite and reasonable manner.

Real words? English doesn't have language police. Words that people use and others understand are real.

Very true, but the "words" in question are understood by no one outside a tiny group of gender activists (or whatever the proper term is), and will never be understood outside that circle, so they are not words except in the sense that those cute terms used only by your immediate family are words. The gender-neutral pronouns in English are they and their; if you're such a grammar snob you can't bear to use them with a singular referent, despite centuries of such use by the best writers, that's your problem. That and the fact that nobody knows what you're talking about.
posted by languagehat at 7:26 AM on April 26, 2005


The sentiment I was expressing has nothing to do with forcing people to come out at all. If I guess wrong, and you don't want to talk about it, *don't correct me.* Simple as that.

Except it's not that simple. When you do that--or flat out ask "Are you gay?" (which, unless you're good friends with the person in question, is unconscionably rude)--you are offering a binary choice: correct you, or lie. In other words, come out, or lie.

Why is it any of your business if the person you're talking to is gay or not? Where do you get off deciding that someone else has to conform to your idea of how they should be referring to their partner?

Seriously. It's not your choice to make.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:39 AM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]


So, I'm bisexual--or, maybe I'm just a slut. I've dated men, women, transexuals; a pretty good cross-section of genders available.

I, personally, play the pronoun game for a while when talking about male partners, trying to figure out how they view the matter. It's not about testing them. It's about the fact that the topic came up (they asked what I did this weekend, etc.), and I'm now answering honestly. However, in every situation, I really wish that I could just come out and say what I mean. But, I've gotten burned in the past, and so I either play the game for a while, or I wait until they drop some hint that they're cool with it.

My favorite "hint" is a direct question of whether or not I'm gay said in a non-accusing tone. Just something simple like, "So, are you gay?" Just say it like you mean it, and everything's fine.

Second best is that they catch on, and use a male pronoun, or ask my boyfriend's name, or something similar. Tone here is super important. Don't say it like you're challenging him. Likewise, don't say it like you've figured out his little secret. What you're doing is telling him that you know, but in a way that is seamless to the conversation. Something like, "So, what'd he say?" Note the lack of emphasis. Your friend can choose whether or not to pick it up himself.

I actually disagree with schroedinger... if you feel that you want to drop the fact that you have gay friends as a way to make him feel safer about coming out, I'd go for it. As long as it's a one-time-only thing. So help me God, if you start trying to set him up with every gay man you know, bringing him the gay newspaper, clippings about gay people from the straight paper, asking activist PR questions, telling him about upcoming pride events, or any of the irritating shit that straight people do to make themselves seem gay-friendly, you are guaranteed to alienate him. That said, current events like, "Holy shit, John, did you hear that Massachussets passed a gay marriage law thismorning," might be appreciated.

The best way that you can be gay-friendly is a) being his friend, and b) squelching homophobia when you're out in the world (but, don't squelch it at work in a way that's going to out him).
posted by Netzapper at 8:16 AM on April 26, 2005


Netzapper, the stuff you talked about is why I'd be sensitive (maybe I'm just hypersensitive) to throwing that stuff around. If you can work in a story about your gay friend normally, as part of a regular conversation, that's fine. Y'know, basically, pretend the guy is a heterosexual and then see if the subject of your gay second-cousin-twice-removed would come up. But all too often it's "Oh, you're gay?" then five minutes later, out of the blue, "My friend's son is gay." That's fantastic for him. But it had nothing to do with the rising price of gas, which is what we were talking about before you decided to make that announcement.

Anyway, I reiterate: I'm with dirtynumbingangelboy. None of yo' beeswax. They'll come out if they want to.

Would you try to trick a heterosexual friend into stating they were heterosexual? Or ask their partner's name to verify the gender? No, because that would be stupid and weird. It's honestly not that important, so don't treat it like it is.
posted by schroedinger at 8:27 AM on April 26, 2005


> This person is talking about someone s/he is dating and is being completely gender
> neutral. What is the appropriate response?

Um. Um-hm. Is that so. You don't say. Really! And how did you feel about that?
posted by jfuller at 8:45 AM on April 26, 2005


I've never heard a straight person playing the pronoun polka in reference to their own significant other.

this has happened to me - i tend to use the word partner (sorry, seanyboy) because we are not married and don't intend to ever be so (and i'm tired of people pushing "wife" down my throat). also, while her (my partner's) name is paulina, i tend to call her pauli. so while i wasn't intentionaly playing pronoun polka, people have come to the wrong conclusion. not a problem, of course, but evidence that people can misinterpret.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:01 AM on April 26, 2005


I'm gay and use the "avoid gendered terms" thing at work. Just last week, I was asked if my partner was female. I said yes, and the conversation continued on.

I do this not to stay in the closet, but because I work in a conservative county in a profession where I have to deal with children. I don't think it is appropriate to splash my personal life all over the workplace (nor is it for straights), although I really don't care who knows (as long as it doesn't lead to the local Christian Fascists picketing my library).

Either asking directly or dropping hints that you understand the avoiding gendered terms game can mean I'm gay or bi is fine with me. Either will lead to me switching to "normal" pronouns and using her name. If I cared about people making incorrect assumptions, I'd be more direct.

I did live in a place in the 80's where straight people used "partner". It was jarring.
posted by QIbHom at 9:11 AM on April 26, 2005


dnab: Why are you so bothered by people wanting to know? I would say my curiosity about someone's sexuality is somewhere around the same level as my curiosity about what neighborhood they live in or where they grew up. It's another piece of the puzzle that makes a person. To me it seems like people asking my ethnicity, which is indeterminate. I hate it when strangers ask out of the blue, but if someone I know a bit asks, I just assume they're nonjudgementally curious. I don't mean this to say I think you're wrong; I just don't understand.

Would you try to trick a heterosexual friend into stating they were heterosexual? Or ask their partner's name to verify the gender? No, because that would be stupid and weird.

No, that would be because straight people don't hide it. I understand that's because it is "normal" to be straight & people aren't going to be assholes about it, but that comparison doesn't make a lot of sense.

posted by dame at 9:29 AM on April 26, 2005


schroedinger: Yeah, I'll buy that. A random blurting is about the silliest thing straight people do. I actually tend to respond with, "Good for him," and go back to talking about new microchips. But, there's a difference between "My friend's son is gay," and, "OH! I ate there once with my friend and his boyfriend. The food was fantastic, but I paid $7 for a fuckin' bottle of Heineken."

However, coloring this whole conversation is the fact that I live in Philadelphia, and live very openly. If a sexuality-related topic comes up, I'm honestly somewhat looking for an excuse to come out. I don't like hiding it; but, like I said, I've been burned in the past, and so I generally look for some indication that they're cool with it.

On a related note, I was issued a pretty non-function gaydar (I can only suspect it's because I sometimes gum it up with girl juices). So, when I'm trying to figure out if somebody's gay, I generally just drop names of clubs, tell the story about the rubgy team at the Westbury, or complain about my last boyfriend. (It's easier with guys who find my attractive. There's nothing like flirtatious eye contact to fix a gap in communication.)

Or, you know, I just ask.

dame: I can't answer for dnab, and I'm not trying to put words in his mouth.

But, often, amongst non-activists, there's a desire for it simply to be another random thing. The problem is that many straight people, once they find out you're gay, have a strong tendency to think of that as your defining characteristic.

This thread can be read two ways: 1) that the original poster just wants to figure out how to make his friend more comfortable, or 2) wants to figure out how he can "be in on the secret". I've given him the benefit of the doubt, and assumed (1).

But, the fact of the matter is that I, and many, many people I know are fucking sick of being queer first-and-foremost. I happen to suck dick... it makes literally no difference outside of certain portions of my social life. I don't give two shits about the "gay community" and its various machinations; it irritates me when people describe my as "my bisexual friend Aubrey"; it pisses me off when my straight friends point out guys to me (usually females do this); and for God's sakes, I'm an overweight, hairy programmer, I do not want to accompany you and your girlfriends to the day spa.

I'm not saying you're like that. But, there's a strong tendency in America to, once you know what "label" a person fits, to treat them as such.
posted by Netzapper at 9:45 AM on April 26, 2005


See, even if hetero weren't the norm I still wouldn't ask. I'm with Netzapper--I long for a society where people don't have to "come out" and people don't act like the gender of the person you're schtupping is a big grand deal.

My point in the "would you ask them if they were straight" question is that if you're truly "gay-positive" and you truly don't care the gender of who they're fucking and you're truly not interested in turning them into your token gay pal who you get to bring up in conversations as proof of how tolerant you are, then you'd treat it as a non-issue just as you would treat it as if the person were hetero.

I apologize xo, at this point I've gone off into rant mode and don't mean to imply you want your friend to be your HomoPet--just be aware that when you're inquiring about the situation it can come off that way.
posted by schroedinger at 11:04 AM on April 26, 2005


But schroedinger, aren't you curious about other things in people's lives? Especially when they differ from what most people do? It seems to me that declaring something off-limits for curiosity is making it a big deal. I mean there is a way of not caring in a judgemental way but still being interested. Like, I don't care if people live in Bushwick or Fort Greene or Sunset Park, but I still want to know. Just to know.
posted by dame at 11:14 AM on April 26, 2005


Ok i'm going to ammend my statement. If this person is someone whom you care for, a good friend, someone you can trust, you get the idea. Be direct, stop beating around the bush. Ask and move on, this isn't a big deal.

Otherwise, if they are just casual acquaintances and there is no foundation of long term friendship or anything go ahead and play the game. But in this case I feel if you talk to this person everyday and the subject keeps popping up, that can be rather annoying for both parties.

I've waited a little while before asking coworkers, once I established a friendship with them. For me it's a way of telling them that I care for them and not about their sexual orientation. If they aren't ready to say or they are weird about it just say it doesn't matter and move on. If they are it will probably be a relief for both of you.

just my two cents.
posted by freudianslipper at 11:30 AM on April 26, 2005


I'd care if someone lived Bushwick or Fort Greene or Sunset Park 'cause I might live near them or know a nice park in the area. But no matter how curious I am, I figure what someone does in the bedroom is their business to share if they wish. It's like asking about their medical history or salary. You may be curious, but it's polite to not pry unless they volunteer the information.
posted by schroedinger at 11:52 AM on April 26, 2005 [1 favorite]


dame: I don't think anybody's saying it's off limits. I do, however, think that people are making the very valid point that if you're not comfortable enough with it to ask, that there's the chance that it will come off badly.

I don't know more than one or two queer folks who are totally in the closet. They do exist, and it makes me sad. But most people, if they're willing to go out in public with their partner, are comfortable enough with their own sexuality to answer honestly if asked.

The less of a big deal you make the question, the less of a big deal it is. I've had this sort of exchange many, many times (on both ends of it):

A: "So, I'm out with my significant other at Olive Garden the other day. I know, I know, we live in Philly, there're a zillion good mom-and-pop Italian places. But, my SO likes it."
B: "Wait. Your SO. Boy or girl?"
A: "Uhh... boy."
B: "Well, you can always get him back by making him go with you to Blockbuster's instead of TLA."
A: "Haha. That's true. He hates corporate chains, but there's something about the breadsticks at Olive Garden."
B: "I guess. Have you ever tried the Taqueria at 9th and Washington? I used to live around the corner from there, and..."

And the conversation continues. This is radically different from what often happens:

A: "Blahblahblah... significant other... blahblah Olive Garden."
B: "Wait, are you gay?"
A: "Uh, yeah."
B: "That's cool. I have a bunch of gay friends. In fact, I think my brother's gay. It must be really hard being gay in the city."
A: "Um, actually it's pretty easy. I mean, you just sort of do your thing, and nobody really minds."
B: "I suppose. But, I hear about all sorts of shit in the news. Hey, what do you think about the proposed Constitutional Ammendment?"
A: "I'm gonna go get some more punch."

If the question is asked for clarification, it's one thing. If the question is asked so that you can talk about gayness for a while, it's a completely different animal.
posted by Netzapper at 12:02 PM on April 26, 2005


I see. For you, schroedinger, who you choose to date is on par with how much you make. To me it seems more public than that, like ethnicity or where you grew up, or whatever. For others, like Netzapper it's okay to ask as long as it isn't a thing. Makes sense. Thanks for answering.
posted by dame at 12:56 PM on April 26, 2005


Why is it any of your business if the person you're talking to is gay or not?


Because they're talking to me. About their partner.
If they're fine with me not understanding what they're talking about then you're right it's no business of mine, but in that case, why talk at all? I mean say you tell a story "my friend and I went and saw this new movie the other day..." If your friend happens to be a plush toy, maybe you're afraid of ridicule and choose not to say so. That's fine. It isn't any business of mine, but I'm not going to have a very accurate understanding of what actually happened.

Where do you get off deciding that someone else has to conform to your idea of how they should be referring to their partner?
Seriously. It's not your choice to make.


They can refer to their partner however they like, but if it's a conversation where their partner is the topic I'd like to know so I can decide how I want to refer to their partner. Just because when I make a guess you can choose to correct or not correct me doesn't make it binary. You can correct me using a gender indeterminate pronoun if you like.
posted by juv3nal at 1:36 PM on April 26, 2005


dame: I'm not bothered by people wanting to know, per se. I'm bothered by people thinking they have a right to know.

juv3nal: Sorry, but you're wrong. It is their choice. Putting them in a position where you are forcing them to lie or to correct you, which risks some very unpleasant consequences, is boorish, at best. Sure, you'd like to know. But don't you think, for just a moment, that if someone is referring to their significant other ina certain way, then they have a reason for doing so?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:16 AM on April 27, 2005


Thanks everybody for the helpful discussion. I don't want to mark any answers as 'best', since what was helpful to me may not be helpful to later readers of the thread. In the end, the comments that helped me the most were the ones that pointed out that my discomfort with the pronoun situation is really nothing compared to my conversation partners' potential discomfort with coming out before they are ready, so I really should honor their privacy by playing along with the pronoun thing till they're comfortable enough to be direct about it.
posted by xo at 6:49 PM on April 27, 2005


*applauds xo*
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 7:24 AM on April 30, 2005


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