Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Straight enough

One of the things that's hard for me is how very straight my class is. Most of my classmates are in serious relationships, and I think universally ones with opposite-gendered folks. It is weird.

I have mentioned before, but it bears repeating. I went to art school. Not one of those places on earth where a relationship with the opposite gender matters. At all. I think there my class was about 50% straight or in an opposite-gendered relationship. On a particularly straight day at least.

So it is weird, so very weird to me to spend so much time hearing from women friends about husbands and boyfriends and zero girlfriends. So weird.

I grew up in this tiny little town, population quite literally 50% practicing Catholic, very close to no out gay people. The guy who ran a beauty parlor and built a lovely house with his (male) partner? It mysteriously burned down just weeks after completion and nobody could figure out how that happened. Not a very safe place to be gay, even when totally quiet about it, if not in the closet. I haven't heard of any mysterious deaths but that part of the story Brokeback Mountain rang true to me as something that could happen, not just fiction. (sidenote: I read the short story and loved it so much I refuse to see the film lest it get ruined).

For me, art school was such a welcome safe haven. I was FREEEEEE! I could be as indecisively gendered as I wanted. I could be as indecisively straight as I wanted. I figured out that I am bi in that safe space, and I got used to the idea of finding my female life mate (when I say bi, what I mean in reference to me, is that I lean about 75% female, 25% male in the attraction realm).

And then this weird thing happened. I met the love of my life, and we got married, and we look very straight from the outside.

While we were at the ER this past weekend, the spouse went back to be inspected immediately and I changed and fed the baby (one car so it was a family trip). Once she was happily cooing away about 20 minutes later, a nurse turned up and asked if I would like to go back to be with my husband. What a series of presumptions! As an equal rights person, I am not a fan of the terms husband or wife. They have baggage and it bugs me to use them to describe the relationship we have, so we don't. We intentionally choose spouse or to use first names when talking about each other. And presuming that because we have children in tow we are married? Whoa leap of judgement there.

It reminded me of a few other ER trips I've participated in over the years. Once I fell and sprained my ankle and a transgender friend drove me to the ER. She was recently transitioned so it was obvious to anybody that she wasn't born in a she body. I went by myself to be inspected, and maybe an hour later, a (male) nurse stopped by to ask if I "wanted my...friend... to come back to wait with" me. Of course I said yes. I was lonely and in lots of pain and bored with the 2 old magazines in my reach (hint to medical providers: put reading materials within reach of immobile ER patients). I think I even said that it would be really nice if she could come back.

Nobody ever invited her back or talked to her at all, even after that very chilly suggestion that she be invited back. I sat alone for a couple of hours, so did she.

I was also reminded of doing chart review at my hospital internship, looking for medication errors that might have made a person sicker (and there were only one or two avoidable ones in the 300+ charts I reviewed). I read the chart of a guy dying of AIDS and every doc note I looked at talked about his friend Bob (no that wasn't the real name). His friend. His friend brought him to the ER and his friend was there all night and at the care conference and has power of attorney and is to be consulted about all care decisions. His friend. Not his spouse, not his partner, his friend. I hate that language too. It is so inadequate to describe a loving partner relationship like I imagine those guys had. It is so awful that we choose to describe unmarried couples as "friends" and it's one reason it irks me when people my age wait for ages to get married. If one dies before the wedding, the other MIGHT get mentioned in the obituary as a "special friend" and it breaks my heart to see that because it doesn't do justice to the relationship.

When you love someone, and you intend to spend your life with them, I say get married or acknowledge the relationship with some ceremony or other. Don't wait until you can afford a big wedding. Don't wait until you feel financially stable (this might be never). Don't wait until the state says you're legal.

So what I'm getting at is that we as a world need to recognize and acknowledge that families come in different shapes. You're a family if you are two people waiting for a baby with many fur babies of whatever gender (or plant babies like we started with). You're a family if you are two ladies or two gentlemen. You're a family if you have children or if you don't or if you adopt some. You're a family starting when the two adults commit to love and relationship for life. We may need new language for this, but it's about time.

There's complexities around being bi that I don't actually care about discussing as the rest of the internet has it covered with debunking myths. Just know that it is real in my life, I am not confused or experimenting with being straight or any of that nonsense. You love the person you love, whether they match your gender or are opposite it and whether they started out that gender or not. I'm still working out how to explain this to the girls and how to parent knowing that the odds are reasonable and certainly more than zero that one of them turns out also not so straight.

Can we please just stop with the presumption that everyone is straight and married, or should be both of those?

EDITED to add: if this isn't your experience at all, go play this game. It's just so... exactly right. http://jayisgames.com/games/a-closed-world/


  1. Very beautifully stated. I fear that I am part of the problem. I KNOW that I am part of the problem, because I am not "out" to my family about my own bisexual orientation. I am fully aware that so many people's views can be changed by "knowing" someone that isn't straight, and yet I am too chicken shit to be open about who I am. Though my family have never been anything other than loving, I fear refection and condemnation. I hope that someday I can overcome my fears, and be part of the solution and not part of the problem.

    1. I totally get this. It's wicked hard to be out to family. I'm mostly not out to my family and it's mostly going to stay that way, in large part because trying to explain takes too long. Maybe someday there's courage enough for the both of us.

  2. This is a very thought-provoking post. I agree 100% that the definition of family is far broader than is generally accepted and often self-defined. I think that neutral language can be difficult to use despite best intentions and minds that are more open than they may appear. I personally dislike the words "spouse" and "partner" but understand how they could be preferred by couples wanting to avoid "husband" and "wife." As humans, we love to identify, label and classify. I think we naturally gravitate to specific language vs more generic language even though the times and attitudes have changed.

    1. Yeah, I think here's another case where we really need new and better language because the old stuff is too hard to modify and the new stuff is inadequate too. I just hope we find new labels that work out all right.

  3. "Indecisively gendered" <-- I totally love this term.

    Growing up in the rural midwest, I was really pretty ignorant to the fact that anything other than WASPy-heterosexual relationships even existed. My parents are very open, loving people - but we just weren't exposed to much of ANYTHING where I grew up. Someone who kissed a girl was probably drunk at a bachelorette party in college and nobody thought more deeply into it.

    Somehow, throughout my 20s, I came to the realization that I actually LIKED drunkenly kissing girls, and that it was so much more than a drunken ploy to get a frat boy to buy my drinks. I've "experimented" (which I think is an odd word for discovering your sexuality, but whatever) with various forms of sexual encounters over the years - 2 girls, 2 guys 1 girl, 2 girls 1 guy - and ultimately I'm sort of the status quo and married to my husband and having my 2.0 kids. It works for me (and us), and my husband is well aware that I probably lean 50% girl 50% guy in my sexual preferences. At this point in our lives, the girl thing is pretty much just a good "sexy time" talk when we're in bed, but I wonder sometimes if heterosexual monogamy will always be our status quo or not?

    Also, I've honestly never thought about the fact that it's entirely possible that my daughter won't be strait. Funny to think of it all coming full circle. :)

    1. I didn't think much about the girls turning out non-straight either until hearing all the "but gay couples have gay children!" rhetoric and thinking about my cousins (who have 2 moms plus a step-mom and are male) who are perfectly straight. Then I thought... well... duh. There's no predicting the ordinary straightness of wee ones, so I should prepare myself if possible now.

  4. This just isn't a thing in my social circles, and I sometimes forget, given how quickly the country as a whole is progressing on gay marriage, that not the case everywhere. Sometimes I actually wish people would just jump to "husband," with me and not tentatively ask, "Your partner?" or something else when I reference him in conversation. I guess it's easier to feel that way in a state where gay marriage is legal and "husband" and "wife" isn't necessarily an opposite-sex term. Although methinks it may be the case that gay marriage is happening in your state. ;) Now transgender issues--that's a whole other story.

    1. I always think it's interesting that we need to know the exact nature of the relationship (married legally, living together but not married, married in a church but not legal, some other peculiar arrangement). Some of my family live in an area where everyone's significant other gets called a boyfriend or girlfriend because it's just easier than fussing about the nuances all the time and maybe getting them wrong and making someone mad (so if you are married, husband and boyfriend are both used interchangeably to mean the same dude). It's my personal project to not ask about relationship status because it doesn't matter most of the time. If you want to share, fine. If you don't and just call your significant other by first name so I can't tell the relationship's official status, fine. For me that's a decent way to avoid treading on toes and treating some relationships differently.

      And you are absolutely right that transgender issues are very distinct and seldom talked about openly. I hope we all keep thinking about it a little bit even if we don't talk much about it yet.

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