The butch bridesmaid post I wrote past week has been getting an ungodly amount of traffic, mostly from Google searches. It seems that bunches of straight people are unclear on certain matters of etiquette when it comes to The Gays. This results in much consternation and awkwardness on their part, most of which could be easily avoided. (Note to straight people: if you're nice and well-meaning and not a homophobe, we probably won't think you're being a jerk. Trust us--we've encountered jerks, and they're not you.)
Here's my best advice to straight people in various situations that seem to make everyone feel awkward. Thanks to my excellent BW Facebook fans for lots of these ideas.
Situation A: You know someone's gay and you're curious whether they're dating anyone. You know them well (maybe they're your kid, maybe your gay brother, lesbian sister, whatever).
What not to do: Say, "Do you have any new friends?" I hate it when people refer euphemistically to my partner/DGF as my "friend," especially when it's preceded by an awkward hesitation. Something else not to do: avoid it like the plague. Act as if conversation about their romantic life is totally off-limits, even though you'd talk about it if they were dating someone of the opposite sex.
What to do instead: Ask the question exactly as you would if they were straight, except switching the pronouns where applicable. "So, are you dating anyone these days?" is totally acceptable.
Situation B: You don't understand why your lesbian friend/daughter/sister/whatever is wearing men's clothes.
What not to do: Say any of the following: (1) "But you'd look so cute in something pink/frilly/fitted/from the women's department!" (2) "But you have such a great figure!" (3) "But those clothes are so masculine!"
What to do instead: Respect our choices. We are well aware that we're wearing gender nonconforming clothing. We're not doing it to hide our figure or because we think we're unattractive or because we want attention or because we don't know how to shop for women's clothing. We doing it because we are much, much more comfortable this way. Many of us actually hate standing out, but we wear gender nonconforming clothing anyway because it feels like "us." Wearing girls' stuff often makes us feel like we're in drag. It's awful. If you want to gift us with clothing, please choose something that goes with our style. If you're confused about our style, inquire further (or do not gift us with clothing).
Situation C: You don't understand how a same-sex relationship works (physically, emotionally, whatever).
What not to do: Ask, "But who's the guy?" or "How do you have sex?"
What to do instead: If you're genuinely curious, there's a plethora of info on the Internet about emotional and physical aspects of LGBT relationships. Don't put us on the spot with such heteronormative silliness. JFGI. Once you've actually made an effort to learn, your questions will be thoughtful and that will be obvious and most of us will be happy to chat about them.
Situation D: You call someone "sir," then you realize the person is female.
What not to do: Freak out. Or be awkwardly silent, as if it never happened.
What to do instead: Don't freak out. It's happened to us before, and it will happen again, and when you're butch it comes with the territory. It's fine to say, "I'm sorry," then move on. Chances are, we feel more awkward than you do. (But comping us a drink or a cup of coffee never hurts.)
Situation E: A lesbian couple announces that they're having a baby.
What not to do: Ask, "Where did you get the sperm?" or other details of how the pregnancy came about. That's on par with asking a straight couple, "Was it an accident?" Unless they offer it or you're really freakin' good friends, keep your curiosity to yourself.
What to do instead: Say, "congratulations!" Express joy. Attend the shower. Ask if they have a name picked out. The usual stuff.
Situation F: Two women are out to dinner. At least one of them looks like a lesbian. They're not holding hands or anything, though.
What not to do: Assume that they are on a date.
What to do instead: Make no assumptions. If they indicate they're together or hold hands or something, great--then treat them just like you'd treat a straight couple. But I hate it when I hang out with a female friend and people think we're together just because I look butch.
Situation G: A gay person of your sex compliments what you're wearing.
What not to do: Assume they're hitting on you. Become uncomfortable. Make sure to work in a reference to your own sexual orientation immediately, just to clear up any confusion.
What to do instead: Say thanks.
Situation H: You know someone's gay because a mutual friend or co-worker told you. But then the person himself or herself tells you they're gay.
What not to do: Feign surprise so the person doesn't think they're the subject of gossip. Or worse, say something like, "You don't look gay."
What to do instead: Nod politely or say (calmly) something like, "Cool." Ask about the person's significant other like you'd do if they were straight.
Hope this helps. Straight readers: any other awkward situations you encounter with gay people and don't know how to deal with? Queer readers: any other situations that tend to come up in your lives?
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