Appropriate Questions, Wrists Flapping, Focus Only On The Positives
Picture me at a dinner seated at a table for 11. The table consisted of 5 couples and me, the perpetual single. Even at my advanced age I still get pangs of anxiety when I attend events primarily populated with couples. I have previously written about the challenges that “the single” faces both socially and in the workplace.
Several of my dinner mates were long time friends while others were hopefully to become my new friends. A good time was being had by all and suddenly one of my new friends addresses a question to me. “Are you gay?” Pause. Breathe. Breathe Again.
Please note that I was not wearing a dress, makeup, or unmanly shoes. I don’t recall my wrists flapping excessively and I didn’t wear an ascot nor do I own one. Oh well. Pause, Breathe, Deeper Breath, Respond.
My mates and I discussed this harmless question and we didn’t think it was mean spirited. It was a reflection of the openness and kindness that I strive to display when meeting new people. It usually helps newcomers feel comfortable in my company.
We pondered other scenarios. If a woman sat at our table wearing a wig or having her head covered for a religious or medical reason would someone say “are you an orthodox jew?” or “do you have cancer?” Are these questions the same as saying to someone “when did you get that tattoo of a woman’s breast put on your face” or “do you have an eating disorder because you are painfully thin?”
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions but I do know that I did feel somewhat uncomfortable with the question. I don’t fault the questioner but myself for momentarily thinking the motivation was macho or condescending.
When you are gay, you often get this question positioned as an attack to remind you that you are less than normal, or perhaps your contribution is somehow to be discounted. It can take a lifetime to get it in perspective and learn to just let it go. At this event, I know that my conversation was interesting and very amusing. Perhaps the questioner just wanted me to yield the floor so he could speak?
I tell this story to amuse you but more importantly to remind you should always be mindful of the things you say in front of your students, teammates, children, and your employees. When you are in a position of leadership, everyone is always listening.
Say what you like to strangers but try to be compassionate and kind.