I tend to use gender-neutral language to avoid being heteronormative, most people assume this is code for “I’m GAY everybody!” They will then use incorrect pronouns when referring to my partner. While I am totally fine with their assumptions I wonder if I should correct them as a) it feels dishonest to continue as if their assumption were true, and b) perhaps being open as a GLBT ally would be more effective at challenging heteronormativity.
What do you think? Should I “out” myself as straight?
Dear Affirming Ally,
I am curious as to why you avoid being heteronormative if you are heterosexual (note – I am not conflating heterosexual with heteronormative). Is avoiding gender-specific language when speaking about your partner your way of avoiding heterosexual privilege? I understand your concerns in that respect, but I also think there are far more damaging ways to exploit your heterosexual privilege than referring to your partner casually with the pronouns s/he prefers. More damaging examples of heterosexual privilege could be: excluding queer coworkers or neighbors, staying quiet on political issues that might upset your voting grandmother, or keeping quiet when someone spouts some transphobic bullshit.
I am all about straight allies who fight for queer civil rights, for queer inclusion in the political process, and against police brutality and bigotry directed at queers. However, there’s something about your question that makes me wince and I’m having trouble putting my finger on it. It could be because this practice seems to trumpet: “I AM AN ALLY!” If it is, what would be wrong with that? You could use people’s confusion to explain why you avoid gender-specific pronouns, and how this is problematic for people because it either forces them to out themselves or it assumes heterosexuality as the norm.
So I’m going to get over myself, stop wincing, and just answer your question in straightforward fashion: as with any outing, I think it depends on context.Someone you’re making conversation with in line at the grocery store?Probably not. Your coworkers? Probably, yes.
This letter first appeared in bitterempire.com on April 2, 2015.