Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Insidious homophobia

It is not the overt homophobia that worries me so much. There are laws and widespread public agreement that it is wrong.

It is the little things. While I am not blaming him, a blog mate from the past assumed that the Bone Doctor, Sister's partner, was a bloke. She isn't although when she is in full flight football umpiring, you could be forgiven for thinking she was. Her shape does give her away though, just. Skinny blokes don't have legs like hers. It was a fair enough assumption for someone who had not read too many posts from the past, Sister, the Bone Doctor and their baby.

To the point. Yesterday I changed insurance companies for our household contents. I plucked a figure from the air. I don't know. Some of what we have I would not want replaced. Anyway, while sorting this out over the telephone, I referred to my partner. A wee bit later, the guy at the end of the phone mentioned my partner, she. He, I returned.

They are always apologetic about their assumption, but there are appropriate non gender specific words and phrases to use. I am surprised it is not part of the training for large organisations.

Hmm, thinking. Yes, I will put it out there. Their media monitors will pick it up. Could do better RACV, but you aren't the only org to fail.


  1. well neither of them is too butch either, as the first day of any military training involves a vicious lesson to ... NEVAH! ASSUME!

    Don't assume a woman with a new car has a licence to drive it.
    Don't assume a woman with a licence has a car.
    Don't assume my 2 aunties who have lived in the best part of Braghton for 60 years are rich.
    Don't assume a person with a broadbanded computer even has a job ... and do realise that saying
    "oh but I just assumed ..." does not sound even vaguely intelligent.

    All the signs are out there in the open for anyone to see that society now comprises same-sex couples, many of whom have children.

    At the job interview, the RACV HR manager must have said "you're dumb, you're hired"; and only god knows where your friend has had their head stuck for some long time.


  2. I think I do the backwards thing. When someone says "My partner" I automatically assume they're gay. I figure otherwise they'll say "My wife" "My husband" "My boyfriend" "My girlfriend".

    That's prejudice of me because there are probably non-married heterosexuals who use that term. Even married people might use it.

  3. Martin3:08 am

    I almost always say "he or she" (or alternately "she or he" ) when I'm referring to a person whose sex or gender I don't know. Being 44 I was just raised in a more PC era and believe our language needs to reflect our best intentions rather than our prejudices if possible in order to promote better realities.

    Saying "they", though, or returning "your partner", "your friend" or whatever other signifier may seem appropriate in the circumstances if responding to a sex or gender neutral descriptor just seems, respectively, either too ungrammatical or too unwieldy and uncommunicative as I think "they" needs to continue to convey solely an idea of plurality for the sake of simplicity in English and saying "she or he" (or "he or she") rather than something like "your partner" both generally flows better IMO and allows you to communicate that you are not aware of the said partner's sex or gender giving your communicatee the opportunity to convey that information (if s/he has it and deems it a useful thing to do) which he/she consequently wouldn't otherwise have had.

    I'm must admit that's a bit awkwardly expressed but then so's communication more generally so in the light of that I also think it would probably be best if we lightened up on assuming that the assumptions other people make really amount to such a "hill of beans" in this world. I must be becoming disillusioned with being so PC.

  4. Whislt any kind of corporation should know better, I always like to hit with "no I don't have a girlfriend" when asked the specific question, what the reply, "you must love being single" or similar comes up, I delight in saying, "oh, no I'm not single".

    Usually takes a good thirty seconds for that to sink in. Depends on how intelligent the person you're talking to is of course. Anyone who doesn't figure I'm a fag is somewhat ignorant in my mind, but then again, they haven't made the assumtion which is always good too.

  5. MS, assumptions are dangerous. I hope I don't assume too much.

    Dina, partner is an alert word. It means nothing except the obvious but it should send an alert signal to staff who deal with people over the phone.

    Thanks Martin. Good input. While it can be awkward, these people are trained in formula like responses. I don't expect a corner shop to not make assumptions, but I do expect a large organisation to have it right.

    Mutant, you are screwing with their minds, haha.

  6. Andrew,

    I was thinking of your post this afternoon. I think it's kind of like being Jewish in a Christian world...or any religion that is not Christian.

    How many times in December do I hear someone say "Merry Christmas?" Or "So what did you get for Christmas?" People just make assumptions--assumptions that you live the same life that they live.

    Boys marry girls. And we all worship Jesus.

    I used to get mad...and maybe I still should. Maybe I should want people to be more worldly and open-minded. But now I kind of just say "Thank you" or "Merry Christmas" back to them.

    I think everyone makes assumptions and/or sticks their foot in their mouth. If they are willing to amend things when and if they're corrected...then I think it's fine. If they act like YOU'RE the problem, and you need to change so you fit in better with their little world, then it's not fine.

  7. I'm sorry, Andrew. I had always assumed the bone doctor was a he. I have witnessed first hand the hoops that a woman in a same sex relationship has to go through to have a child, so I made the assumption it was a heterosexual relationship.

  8. Anonymous5:37 pm

    Dina makes an interesting point about assumptions. As a caucasion living in Japan, most Japanese assume I'm American and Christian -I'm neither. It used to drive me crazy but I've gotten used to it over the years. I guess it's the human way to categorise everyone. Vik.

  9. I try as much as I can not to assume anything. I find in my line of work that most often it is made blatantly obvious if the couple is same sex, like the caller has some agenda to push. I don't care either way, so I let it slide.

  10. Unless you're specific up front, it leaves it up to them to make any assumption and if you're dealing with a call-centre, you can picture a whole industrial farm of uni students, etc, who don't exactly live for their jobs. Oh, I'm making one now...

    I'd be up front about it as it saves all sorts of awkwardness later. Admittedly I do refer to my partner as "girlfriend". I'm just glad nobody's bought up de facto, as it's such an awful word.

  11. Of course I understand Dina, but god or someone save us from the phrase 'happy holidays'. I suppose though that christmas has pretty well become just a celebration rather than a religious matter. I certainly participate in it and I am a long way from being a christian. It isn't worth getting mad about, just something to correct people about when they get it wrong. Could I hazard a guess and suggest that there are not too many Jewish people in your town?

    Anja, fair enough. I only mention the Bone Doctor in passing and not usually to her directly, so it is quite understandable. AI from a friend meant that it wasn't so hard for them. I feel for those who go down a harder road.

    Vik, do they not realise you are not American when you speak? Not saying they should. I am a shocker for putting people into boxes.

    Interesting Fenz. I look for an open mind and yet some seem to want to challenge.

    Sorry Rob, I can't accept that. I should not have to point my sexuality out to companies when I call them. Call centres of the worst kind should have the correct questions and responses written down in front of them.

  12. Anonymous8:32 pm

    If a Japanese person is familiar with other varities of English they might realise I'm not American when I open my mouth, but not always. And if they do, they usually think I'm British!! Vik.

  13. Yep Vik, that is what I would have thought. Assumed you were English.