No, I am not gay…

There is an odd phenomenon I have stumbled upon in the last half year.  I have been working on my gender neutral language and found that it is having an unusual effect.  I started referring to my “girlfriend” as my “partner.”  I have been doing this for about 6-8 months, but within the past few I have been asked some form of the following question, “You are gay?”  I typically respond with “No, I am not gay.  I am just using gender neutral language.”  This happened to me multiple times at ACPA in Boston and quite a bit at my new job.

I guess it is good to know that people understand that “partner” is terminology that is more associated with the LGBT community and it seems to be catching on.  However, I was not expecting the response I have been receiving from individuals.  It is a good thing that people are asking me the question.  I guess I just wish that there was not an automatic association with the LGBT community.

Courtesy of Mark from http://www.slapupsidethehead.com

I suppose I perpetuate the stereotype of a gay male.  I wear pastel colors.  I work in student affairs.  I live in San Francisco.  I put pomade in my hair.  (This is sarcasm btw)

I thought the point of gender neutral language was to eliminate the association with a binary society; getting away from the “you either are or you are not.”  It seems that gender neutral language is still caught up in the binary game, but swings the pendulum to the LGBT end.  I hope in time that the gender neutral language word “partner” will eliminate the binary structure of gender and relationships altogether.  Only time will tell, but we need to start ourselves by not jumping to conclusions when we hear certain words.  Automatically associating a word with a particular idea only strengthens the binary ideals.

I know that this has happened to me frequently, but I am curious if it has happened to others?  Have we accidentally stereotyped “partner” to mean a same-sex relationship?

Until next time…

-Justin

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About Justin Sipes

Learner Input Strategic Achiever Analytical
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2 Responses to No, I am not gay…

  1. Anna L says:

    Alright…I’ve been percolating on this for a bit and wanted to add to the conversation. To your question: I think this has happened to me. But, frankly, I don’t know because people aren’t often bold enough to ask if I’m gay. I completely agree with the commentary that gender neutral language is supposed to eliminate the binary. However, I think a simpler way to explain it is as inclusive language. To me, making the world a better place sometimes means including more people to create a more equitable community. I’ve been working to use gender neutral language for about 2 years now, and I’m always working on it.
    Frankly, I think it is sort of upfront to ask someone if they are gay. You don’t know if they are okay with revealing that information about themselves. Some people couldn’t care less and are happy to share-which is great. It’s just one of those things that makes me cringe a little bit when people do ask.
    On the positive side, I’ve noticed more media sources using the word “partner” instead of husband/wife/spouse (because you have to be married to be a “spouse” and you might not be able to be married etc). So, baby steps!

  2. jusip001 says:

    Thanks for the post Anna!

    I think the environment of the times I have been asked made the individuals feel comfortable enough to ask me. I also agree with the comment about the overall promotion of more inclusive language in media and the general public. However, I become concerned that partner, in the minds of some, is automatically equated to a same-sex relationship.

    Thanks for the comments. We definitely still have a lot of work to do in this area!!

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