First of all, I love this:
Ever since the California court struck down Proposition 8, I keep seeing all kinds of questions regarding marital equality, such as this one in the Washington Post’s Carolyn Hax column:
Arlington, VA: I work as a peer mentor at a small nonprofit. Which doesn’t make me any kind of licensed counselor, but it does mean that people let their guard down and I hear some things from them that they’d never say in polite company.
Because of the rather virulent homophobia of one person I help, and the likely homophobia of many others, I have chosen not to keep a photo of my partner on my desk. This saddens me, but so it goes.
But lately with all this Prop 8 stuff in the news, I keep thinking about what would/should happen should she and I ever be able to get legally married, which I think I might like to do. What would I do about my ring? Put it on after work, when I get home? Wear it and tell them point blank my wife’s name is Susan? Wear it and wave away any questions about my personal life?
Carolyn Hax: As someone in a listening profession, you probably want to wave away questions about your personal life anyway, sexual orientation notwithstanding. You aren’t friends; their sharing of their personal stuff is a business transaction.
Regardless of your profession, I would say to share (or not share) as much information about your personal life as you would if you were hetero. You wouldn’t say, “I’m married to a man, and his name is John”–you’d just refer to “my husband,” or say, “John and I ….” And, because of your profession, I would advise setting that orientation-neutral bar very, very high–say and display little to nothing about your life outside of work.
This situation is more sticky, and Arlington felt the need to explain:
Arlington again: I’m not quite a social worker, but yes, people do reveal some very personal stuff, and I think Carolyn’s spot on with the neutrality point. That’s something we have to carefully cultivate, and why I asked.
I wouldn’t volunteer information about my life or relationship, so I was wondering about how to deal with someone seeing a ring and asking questions like “What’s your husband’s name?” when a person who might really not like “My wife’s name is Susan” is someone I am supposed to be serving.
If I weren’t in a listening profession, I could say “My wife’s name is Susan” and give someone who went “Whoa” or “Uh… oh… Sorry, but um, I feel kind of uneasy around you now, sorrysorrysorry!” the Glower of Doom. In the profession I am in, “My wife’s name is Susan” could poison the trust someone has for me, if that person is prejudiced and didn’t realize I’m gay.
So the question was, in essence, “Wear it and hope that never happens, or leave it at home?”
Carolyn Hax: There are ways to deflect, if you’d like to do that: “Oh, we’re not here to talk about me,” or some such.
But I would argue for a simple statement of fact, after which you move on: “Her name is Susan. So, have you tried those strategies we talked about last time?”
There may be all kinds of political noise surrounding gay marriage, but that doesn’t change the fact that gay couples have been mainstream so long in so many places that they’re almost whateverstream at this point. Going far out of your way to conceal your marital reality–hiding the ring, deflecting questions, etc.–would almost be a disservice to the people you’re counseling.
Yes, they may have these deeply held and rarely spoken prejudices, but that doesn’t change the fact of who you are, and the fact of who so many people are who play supporting roles in their lives. The surgeon, the tailor, the guy leading the training seminars on the new computer system, anybody, right? So, show them you aren’t judging them based on who you married, and indicate by example that they’re welcome to do the same.
Someone else cued that s/he has never been asked for a spouse’s name even though s/he is wearing a wedding ring. Now that I think of it, I too, have never been asked for my husband’s name, at least not since I met him and loved ones were the ones doing the asking. It may very well be a non-issue.
What do you all think? To tell or not to tell?