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What to Do When Someone Makes an Assumption About Your Orientation

What is the best way to politely inform strangers.

By
Adam Lowe,

What is the best way to politely inform strangers (say, on an airplane) or new acquaintances that you are gay, etc., when they make assumptions about your personal life? For example, assumptions about girlfriends. I've learned to dodge the question and try to change the subject or just directly correct the person. It’s often tricky and depends on the situation. Sometimes I get the impression that people feel I am being rude when I correct their assumptions about me. Generally it’s not an issue I run into (frequently) which makes it that much more awkward when the situation arises.

Thanks,
Shawn

How to Correct Someone About Your Sexual Preference

First of all Shawn, thanks so much for listening to the show and taking the time to write in with your question.   Now, a few suggestions for dealing with strangers who ask questions about girlfriends.  It's a doubly tough situation, because you must face the hazard of potential homophobia as well as the uncomfortable situation of having to correct someone.  I suggest trying an approach where you don’t have to correct someone in a way that could seem pedantic.  This can be easier in situations where you have a boyfriend or partner, as then you can just answer with something that's true (for example, if your seatmate asks what your girlfriend does for a living, you could say something like, "Oh, I have a boyfriend and he's an astrophysicist").  If you are single, you could say something like, "I'm single at the moment; my boyfriend and I broke up a few months ago."  This approach might give you the opportunity to gently redirect your seatmate to the right track, without making it seem like you are correcting him or her.  In terms of the issue of homophobia and intolerance, I wish we had a good solution for that!

Assumptions Can Cause Uncomfortable Situations

Shawn also noted that his own experiences have made him more aware about making assumptions about other people. In addition to sexual orientation, we often make subtle or overt assumptions about race, religion, age, relationship status, and a host of other categories.  It is a good idea to run a filter through your head to see if your comments or questions might put someone in an uncomfortable position.  Ask yourself if you would feel comfortable saying the same thing to a very diverse audience of people (containing Ethiopian lesbian rabbis, octogenarian Muslim lion-tamers, etc.), and if your answer is no, then you might want to rethink what you were about to say.  If you would feel comfortable saying it to anyone, then you are probably in good shape to proceed.  
 

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