Have you ever had that moment when what you intend to say isn’t what you actually said when it comes out? Words have a funny way of revealing deeper beliefs and thoughts than we intend. Take jokes or stereotypes, for example. They can be meant as light-hearted statements, but can cause a lot of hurt. Before saying something, make sure you understand the full weight of your words. Once they are spoken, you’ll never be able to take them back. All too often, what you intend to say isn’t what you actually said.
Unfortunately, when it comes to gay and lesbian relationships, society still has a long way to go with this. Everyday couples of two women and two men are asked questions or are on the receiving end of statements that carry double meanings, and are better left unsaid. Remember that relationships, and what happens within them, are between the two people who are with each other. They aren’t about you. If you aren’t part of their union, it’s none of your business what goes on or to make sense of it. Plus, today’s society and culture isn’t exclusively heteronormative anymore.
Yet, for some reason, stereotypes still swirl over the heads of those who don’t fit the traditional concept of relationships and marriage. Labels and gender role boxes are enforced to help others feel more comfortable. Following are some of the most common phrases same sex couples hear on a daily basis.
“You two look like sisters!”
This is one of my personal favorites, and one my wife and I get regularly. The most recent instance was when we were getting our morning coffee in the Starbucks drive-thru the other day. My wife took a deep breath. “No,” she replied, “just wives.” She then leaned back in her seat slightly and looked forward, her smile gone. That poor barista. By the look on her face, she was digesting what my wife had said. Trying to make the best of the awkward situation it now was, I conjured my automatic clever, yet polite, retort from the passenger seat. “We get that all the time, though!”
What isn’t understood about this statement is that what the barista intended to say isn’t what she actually said. See, when you ask if two girls are sisters, not only are you impressing your personal understanding of gender identity on them, you are also revealing your naive, under-informed belief that relationships are supposed to be strictly between a man and a woman. In doing so, you’re admitting you see the world through the lens of heteronormativity.
This really is the last thing that people sleeping together want to hear. It’s super awkward, and none of your business anyway. Would you walk up to a married male and female couple and say they look like brother and sister?
“Who is the guy in the relationship?”
Other ways of asking this include: Who is the X and who is the Y? Who is more masculine and who is the girly girl? Who is the husband and who is the wife? Any way it’s packaged, what you’re intending to say isn’t what you actually said. When you ask a lesbian couple this — or a gay couple who the “housewife” is in their relationship — you are showing you believe there’s only ever two options. That relationships, again, should follow the traditional model. Hello, gender roles!
But here’s the thing. A lesbian couple has two women, and a gay couple has two men. And…that’s it. With a lesbian couple, neither is the man. With a gay couple, neither is the woman.
I mean…that’s kind of the whole point.
“You just haven’t found the right man yet.”
Mmkay. Let’s unpack this, because it sends a very interesting message. Correct me if I’m wrong, but what you’re actually saying is you think that sex with a man (for a lesbian) or sex with a woman (for a gay man) could change everything? That all I have to do is find this imaginary Mr. or Mrs. Perfect, and after sleeping with them, I’ll…what? See the error of my ways? Suddenly become straight? Hate to disappoint you, but that’s not how it works. No, it wasn’t our supposed history of bad relationships either. It’s not a choice. It’s who we are.
This statement is most often vocalized from parents who are either disappointed or ashamed of their children, or hopeful grandparents wanting grandchildren. But that doesn’t make it any less insulting or hurtful. The concept of “the one” is pretty idealistic in this day and age, and should stay encapsulated in Disney movies where they first originated. We all choose what partners we date and marry in life. We all love who we love.
I know other single women and men who haven’t met their soulmate yet. It’s highly doubtful they will suddenly become gay out of impatience.
“How will you have children of your own?”
What do you mean by “of your own?” That gay and lesbian couples cannot have families? That children can only result from male and female unions the “old-fashioned way?” Because that’s what you’re actually saying when you ask this. Was that what you intended?
Last time I checked, there are other ways of growing your family. IVF, surrogacy, and adoption are all great options. Heterosexual couples use these methods as well. As do single parents.
“Do you like being gay?”
This question often provokes a head tilt to the side and eyebrow furror as I process what’s actually being asked. Do I like being gay? It’s very interesting and intriguing. Though, it begs a follow up question: do you like being straight?
In all reality, I think it’s safe to say that everyone is comfortable with who they are. Just sayin’.
“You’re too pretty to be a lesbian.”
Right away, this implies the belief that all lesbians are ugly. That they all look the same or, at least, a certain way. Is there a standard somewhere that describes how lesbians are supposed to look? No. Let’s rephrase the statement and turn it back around. Do all straight men and women look the same? No. Everyone is their own individual, who comes from all walks of life. All shapes, sizes and colors, too. Physical characteristics have nothing to do with sexual orientation.
On a deeper level, this statement is an insult disguised as a compliment. It’s also offensive. Even if that’s not what you intended to say, that’s what you actually said.
“I can turn you straight.”
No, no, and no. Sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with being “turned” one way or the other. This isn’t like Edward and Bella in Twilight. Although it would be cool, gay and lesbian couples are not vampires. On that same note, a heterosexual individual implying they have the power to turn someone one way or the other — what does that say about them? Remeber, what you intend to say isn’t always what ou actually said.
There is no magic switch that you can flip on and off to alter their sexual orientation. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, sexuality is much more fluid than you think. Not something that can fall neatly into organized boxes or concepts. It’s complicated and intricate.
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About the Author
Rachel Robertson is a published journalist, book editor, certified Publishing Specialist, and aspiring novelist. She graduated from Central Washington University (CWU) in March 2011, having found her writing voice within the Creative Nonfiction genre and grew to work as a freelance book editor for small presses all across the United States.
In June 2018, she embarked on an internship with Virginia Frank and came on board with Adoption Choices Inc., Not for Profit 501(c)(3), in December 2018. Between her mutual passion with adoption and surrogacy, and her own personal history with adoption, Rachel is excited to research and share topics each week that will spread awareness and better serve the faithful patrons of Adoption Choices Inc.
When Rachel isn’t haunting her local Starbucks or Barnes and Noble, she’s avidly pouring over her Writer’s Digest subscription or cozying up with a cup of tea and book. She currently resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her beloved wife and Border Collie.
“14 Things You Should NEVER Say to a Lesbian.” PinkNews, 12 July 2017, www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/07/12/14-things-you-should-never-say-to-a-lesbian/.
“18 Things Lesbians Never Want to Hear.” HelloGiggles, hellogiggles.com/lifestyle/18-things-lesbians-never-want-hear/.
Burdo, Kae. “9 Things You Should Never Say To Queer Couples.” Bustle, Bustle, 12 June 2019, www.bustle.com/articles/151284-9-things-you-should-never-say-to-queer-couples.
pride_site. “5 Things You Should NEVER Say to Lesbian Couples.” OUT, 29 Apr. 2019, www.pride.com/lovesex/2019/4/29/5-things-you-should-never-say-lesbian-couples#media-gallery-media-1.