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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

More Assumption Malfunctions

Several years ago, I was in Nashville with my daughter Maya, visiting colleges. We went to lunch with my aunt and a bunch of her friends who were in their early to mid 60s. 

They were all gushing over how pretty and smart Maya was. (Correctly, I must say). 

And at least two of them said, “Ooh, I want to introduce you to my son!” 

Maya just smiled and didn’t say anything. But I knew what she wanted to say—and afterward she confirmed it:

“Do you also have any daughters?” 

Maya came out as bi in high school. Right from the start it was very important to her that people know that about her, and not assume based on her appearance that she was straight. I remember she sat me and her father down and presented us all with this research she had done to help us get ourselves educated. 

I’m still grateful for that education.

Like many people, I’ve made assumptions about people’s sexual orientation based on how they look to me. I suspect I often go for heterosexual as the default. I usually don’t even know I’ve made an assumption until someone tells me and I find myself feeling surprised.

In a recent workshop, a woman who works in property management and construction raised her hand to share that male contractors and vendors she meets through work routinely ask her what her husband does. 

But she has a wife. 

As far as they’re concerned, she presents as “feminine”—which they conflate with “attracted to men.” 

The participant went on to explain that when they do that, it forces her to make a choice between correcting them—when she might not be interested in sharing personal information—or letting it go and feeling inauthentic and unseen. 

The lesson, of course, is to practice a simple change in our language: say “spouse” or “partner” or “significant other” if you are referring to a couple whose genders you don’t know. Intellectually you know that you can marry someone of your own gender, but our small-talk habits may not have caught up.

A few weeks ago I wrote a similar thing about misgendering someone. The fact is, our society is in the midst of a dramatic shift in acknowledging and including a wider range of gender identities and relationships. 

Everyone should be able to be themselves and not conform to the binaries and homophobia that have been enforced for a century. Adjusting our language accordingly is simply a matter of etiquette. 

P.S. Ever since Maya started dating Olivia, many people have assumed she is a lesbian. Now they are engaged to be married—and Maya is still bi. Assumptions abound.


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