My fiancé and I are both femme bi women and every time we are out and about, minding our own business (while shopping, having brunch, going to the gym, etc), someone inevitably asks us if we’re related. Or assumes we are sisters (the brother of a groom at a gay wedding!). Or, worse, mother and daughter (LGBT-friendly hotel!). Just politely saying no doesn’t seem to deter them. “But you look so much alike!”(we don’t really). “You have the same eyes!” (hers are green, mine are blue).We’ve tried not to get defensive, but nothing less than a sharp “she’s my wife!”doesn’t seem to faze them. And even then, they won’t stop marveling at our apparent twinship. What is the best response to politely shut down this line of inquiry? The incestual implications of being mistaken for sisters creeps me out and my partner gets sad when we get taken for mother and daughter because she’s already conscious of our age difference (she’s ten years older than me). I find it hard to believe that actual sisters would get asked about their kinship as often as we do. And in my heterosexual relationships and opposite-sex friendships, I cannot recall ever being asked if we were brother and sister. I would love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!
Dear Un-sisterly Love,
Believe it or not, a boyfriend of mine in HS was often mistaken for my brother, and my sisters and I receive questions about whether or not we are sisters quite frequently. People just seem unendingly fascinated by people who look alike, even remotely. (I do look very much like my sisters; I did not look remotely like the boyfriend except that we are both Irish-American.)
That said, this is different. I’m guessing the reason that you are getting tired of this (and OUCH on the mother-daughter thing) is that people are basically forcing you to come out all the time. Or that this points out over and over again that people cannot even fathom how two women could be family without being sisters, which is alienating as hell. Maybe you don’t feel like bellowing “SHE’S MY WIFE” in the Home Depot.
And it sounds like a lot of people keep pressing the issue –either to justify making you uncomfortable in the first place, or because they are oblivious to your discomfort.
I think a lot of people confuse politeness with allowing people to run roughshod over you, or hiding how offended you are by something, and that is definitely not the case. If you read Miss Manners at all, you’ll know she advocates for some very direct, shocked responses to things people say that are shocking or upsetting.
I think your responses will probably vary depending on where you are, and you should keep them very very short. If you’re in a place where you don’t feel like outing yourselves, you can just say: “No, we aren’t,” and put on your most stern look while they’re oohing and ahhing over how you both have chins and ears and arms and stuff. No response at all to their subsequent babbling but a stern glare is perfectly polite.
If you’re willing to out yourself, saying in an outraged and offended tone: “Pardon ME? She’s my fiancé,” along with the accompanying refusal to engage should shut it down.
A version of this letter first appeared in bitterempire.com on March 5, 2015.