Discrimination, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Orientation

Today I Passed as Straight

Today, I passed as straight.

That’s a weird thing to write, because in fact I passed for straight for most of my life, either because I hadn’t thought yet about not being straight, or later because I *had* thought about it and just couldn’t face what it might mean for my life.

Today I was getting a pedicure, and to be completely honest, it’s not the first time I’ve let the women in that particular salon think my spouse is a pastor in town who happens to be a man.

We were talking about dogs, and I said we used to have a Golden Retriever, and the young woman doing my pedicure, who had figured out we are a blended family, asked, “Was it yours or his?”

As queer as it gets.
As queer as it gets.

Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to not have it be a thing, being queer is a thing. It’s a truism of coming out that some of us don’t “look” queer, and that means we have to come out more often, because otherwise no one will know.* I’m that gay, that lesbian, that queer. Just last week, I asked my hairdresser to queer me up, but I still look like somebody’s mom, which is to say a person whose sexual orientation is not of particular interest to people, especially those younger than I am, whether they are gay or straight. This is true even in the gayest looking item of clothing I own (a $4.99 black thermal hoodie from the clearance rack at Old Navy).

Our 10-year-old is filling a notebook with jokes, which reminded us of this one:

A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says ‘I cannot do the surgery because this is my son’. How is this possible?

The surgeon is his mother. 

My spouse is my wife, and the Golden Retriever was hers.

Usually I can find a way to avoid the pronouns, but sometimes, and this was one of them, the pronouns will get you. And I’m sitting there with my pants folded up to my knees and one foot in soapy water and the other foot in the hands of a stranger with sharp tools, and I’ve got nowhere to hide.

“Was it yours or his?”

“His,” I said, and even though we joke about how we are the Ward and June Cleaver of gay couples, and I’m June, I felt bad about it.

Most of my life has been lived with the benefit of massive privilege: white, raised reasonably well-off, well-educated, American, Protestant and, until I came out, straight-in-the-eyes-of-the-world and quite honestly in mine, too, for the majority of that time. Even before I came out to myself, when I was telling *myself* a story about my life, I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe.

I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe. 

Today I couldn’t do that, and I’ll admit that the law passed in Indiana is on my mind. People I know are sharing articles and op-eds they think are smart, saying the real trouble is about liberal intolerance toward religion, or that marriage equality is okay with them but people should have the freedom to associate with who they like. I would ask them to consider that the effect of such a law is more than the specific and localized legal impact. It says to people, even in places where it is not the law, that gay people – and particularly married gay people – are an acceptable group to despise and avoid.

It gives permission to “other” people, which is a dangerous thing.

I would like to ask my straight friends to consider how they would feel about going into a restaurant, a barber shop, a clothing store, a yarn store (God forbid!) or a ball park and being refused service. I would like to ask my straight friends to imagine not feeling safe to answer the kind of passing question your dental hygienist or nail technician might ask.

Then think about me. Picture me and my family, going to the kinds of places your family goes, and not being safe because our kid has a mom and a step-mom. I am asking you to personalize this and picture us when you wonder if this law really hurts anyone.

That’s why I didn’t correct the young woman doing my pedicure this morning. That’s why today I passed as straight.

*See this great cartoon at Everyday Feminism.

41 thoughts on “Today I Passed as Straight”

  1. I love you Martha, and will work so you, and my daughters, never have to worry about how to answer this. And I will boycott Indiana until they figure it out.

  2. Until no one cares, because it doesn’t matter, I will worry about my son, my sisters, my nieces, and my cousin, and lament my deceased uncles.

  3. Amen – beautifully written. And I can so empathize. So yes, imagine us. And don’t tell us it’s not discrimination. And don’t tell us it’s not personal. It is. And it is.

    1. It certainly is. And what’s also hard is the people who would consider themselves supportive but wish we would just be quiet about it and not mention these moments.

  4. As an African American woman who grew up in the 50’s . I understand your pain and sometime still experience it.

    1. Thank you for commenting. Whatever sense of superiority or needless fear makes people treat us as “other” is hurtful and often frightening.

  5. This law is a travesty to all people. Here in this great country in the year 2015 -to think that people are so blinded by their fear and prejudices that they want to cloak this painful , mean-spirited law in religion , is sickening. Count me in to fight it.

  6. Martha – We are all inspired with your words. I LOVE reading Reflectionary!!! You are doing such a good thing with your life!!!

    Love – Kitty

    Katharine C. Kersey, Ed.D. University Professor of Early Childhood Education

    “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.” – Nelson Mandela


  7. Yes! Yes, a thousand times This. I’ve been out and proud since I was 21 and live in a city where gay folks are generally accepted, and I’ve done this too. Especially since I got married last year and now wear a wedding ring, I have to choose to come out frequently when people make assumptions about my spouse. Every time, I wonder “is this safe?”, and I’m ashamed to say that sometimes I pass.

    1. Courtney, it’s weird how the ring does that! It provides unwanted cover and creates unintended confusion. Nothing is uncomplicated.

  8. Martha, thank you for your honesty. I can’t imagine the feeling of “passing as straight” when that is not your identity. I remember the feeling of having to come out as a pastor or pastor in training to people in my family who were against women in ministry. There was fear of being rejected as a person by people I love. I share this only to say I know a very little bit about the pain you must go through. Again thanks for your honesty. And for your bravery. I will continue to try to understand and advocate as best as I can.

  9. Ah, Martha, this makes me think about how many assumptions we make about people all through the day, in what is supposed to be idle conversation…thank you. Blessings.

  10. It’s so difficult, sometimes, to know which way to go – to pass or come out.

    Does our server at the restaurant need to know we’re a couple?

    The people cutting our hair?

    The desk clerk at the hotel?

    My wife Mary and I often get asked whether we’re sisters. Mary almost always corrects people. I pick and choose.

    Really, it’s a thing most people don’t need to know. But on the other hand, visibility helps change hearts and minds.

    Blessings to you, Martha, as you walk the balance beam.

    1. Thanks, Cindi. We’re still relatively new at this, and I’ll confess that what might have felt like no big deal where I used to live feels more tenuous where I live now.

      1. At a church last week, someone told me “it’s so nice that you brought your mom. ”

        I told him she was my wife.

  11. This was beautifully written and illustrated in such a way to put the reader into your shoes. I don’t understand the idea that anyone believes “it’s a choice.” Why is anyone identified through their sexual orientation? I don’t get it. I don’t understand the need for anyone to even *have* to get it. I don’t understand why it matter WHO someone chooses to love. I’m not a lesbian. I’ve never even remotely considered for an iota of a second the thought of homosexuality for me. I do, however, have friends that are and I wouldn’t **for a second** discount them and treat them differently because of whom they choose to love. I hate the idea of people using a book as a way to push their beliefs as though they are right and anyone who disagrees is wrong. “Hate the sin, not the sinner,” is a mantra I’m so used to hearing that it makes me have a physical reaction. I’d really like to throat-punch the next person that says that to me about anyone living their life their way. With all that is going on in this world, the idea that we can’t just let people love each other freely just reiterates (to me) what a sad state we truly are in. Maybe some people need to do social experiments such as wearing a “fat suit” so that they can truly see how so many in society are demonizing people because of who they love.

  12. This post reminds me of a time ago when I was honored to sit by your side with both of our feet in soapy water at the best place on earth. There were many days we spent there talking about the changes ahead — and what we hoped for and wanted most. That’s the picture in my mind. Love to you.

  13. Thank you Martha. To write it must be in many ways ‘reliving’ it. While it’s not the same, my husband and son were turned away from a restaurant a couple of years ago, because of their colour. That behaviour is not new for us. Some things just go on and on….but I’m optimistic that eventually the prejudices and idiocies will be gone.

  14. Thank you for sharing your article. I came out in the Panhandle Texas in 1984, and there’s not been a week that has gone by since then that I have not come out in some way or another. I now live in Indiana with my spouse of 17 years! There are times when I feel safe, there are times when I don’t, and there are times that I come out anyway. I’ve not met one Hoosier who looks at me with disgust, despair, or a lack of hospitality! The good people of Indiana are not behind this law, it is their legislators who are pandering to the Tea Party and the religious right. We live in a world where it still matters who you are. We live in a world where not everyone is safe all the time! we live in a time where people are forced to be closeted because their basic civil rights protecting jobs, housing, health care, or even service at their local pizzeria is in question. It’s not just Indiana! It is pervasive, and bigotry exist even in the nooks and crannies of the most liberal places. Until all of is are Visible, none of us are safe! We must stand with each other, and forget the rhetoric of hate that divides us. We must act with the grace of Jesus on the cross, resurrected, for all of us.

  15. I have done the same on more than one occasion when a man has been in my home to repair something and has mentioned my “husband” to me. I have done it because I’ve been afraid. And then I feel ashamed because I’ve used my passing privilege instead of speaking for so many who cannot “pass.” And why should any of us have to? Why can’t the truth of our God-made selves be enough? *But it is.* And every time I remind myself of that, I feel just a little braver.

    Thank you for sharing your story. <3

  16. Much ado about nothing. I thought the whole thing was to accept people for who they are, not for their sextant preference. Then whats the big deal about people not “recognizing” that you are gay? Are you just looking for atrention, or what?????

  17. I am in Canada, and straight, so have not been following any of this, but I am horrified by any law being passed that makes it ok to discriminate.

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