Who Wears the Pants? How to Respond with Grace & Positivity

two lesbian woman with punk hairstyle embracing, smiling - isolated om whiteOffensive remark? Or opportunity for education?

I recently attended a gathering and overheard some people discussing a relative who had come out as lesbian and married her longterm female partner. The piece of the discussion that caught my attention was,

“What do we call this person? Who wore the suit and who wore the dress at their wedding?  Is one of them called the ‘husband’?”

If the person in question had been present and had either overheard this or been asked this directly, she may have felt offended and upset. But what struck me about this young man’s questions was more his tone: he seemed genuinely confused and honestly curious about the best way to refer to and maybe address his cousin’s new marriage partner.

People who are openly bisexual and marry a same-gender partner sometimes have even more challenges in this area because they are liable to get questions not only from their straight friends and families, but also from their lesbian and gay friends.

Don’t Automatically Assume Malicious Intent

It can be so easy to give in to the urge to indulge in righteous indignation in moments like these. We often choose to hear only the offense, rather than taking the opportunity to address the issue, which may be as simple as genuine ignorance. Sometimes, offense is intended, and that is the issue to be addressed, but be careful about always assuming malicious intent behind seemingly offensive comments. When someone is asking a question out of a genuine lack of understanding, they are hoping for a helpful answer. If what they get instead is blasted for their insensitivity, they are likely to stop asking questions and instead develop a more negative attitude toward the group in question.

I know, it can be hard trying to distinguish between a hateful jab and a clueless poke, especially if you’ve endured malicious remarks previously. Following is a several step process for responding to someone from a more mindful place.

  1. One of the best things you can do is to take a deep breath before answering. This breath offers you the space to quickly assess where you think the person might be coming from. It allows you to act from a rational place,not just react from an emotional one, because a deep breath has a calming effect on your entire system all by itself. This is often challenging, but you can learn to take a breath before responding. This breath can help empower you to choose a response that is healthy and positive.
  2. Remember to focus on the person you’re currently talking to, not all the others who have come before. Respond to who is asking the question rather than to all the hurt you have inside from others whose questions and comments may have sounded similar but came from a different place.
  3. Try to assume ignorance rather than malice if there is any question about this person’s motivations or intent.
  4. Finally, ask the person if they would honestly like to know the answer and if the response is positive and affirmative, then you can take on the challenge of educating them.

We’re More Alike than Different

This is an opportunity to address gender role stereotypes and assumptions, power dynamics, how people of all types negotiate things like household chores and childrearing, etc. Once people realize there’s no real difference between us, that we all face the same challenges in our lives and relationships, we will cease to be perceived as “other.” Education and communication are the keys to eliminating the hate and fear that arises out of ignorance.


About Inara de Luna

Inara de Luna is a bisexual, polyamorous, kinky pagan who is also a Relationship Coach and a Sexuality Educator. She is a Gender, Sexuality & Relationship Diversity Specialist, with training and experience as a Marriage & Family Therapist. Inara is a sex positive activist, a published author, and a national presenter. She prefers to support those whose identities fall outside the mainstream norms. For more information, you can find her online at www.Sex-Positive-Coach.com or on FacebookK/a>.