Advertisements

#638: I came out to my coworkers as a lesbian, how do I tell them that the partner I keep mentioning is actually a dude?

Closing comments because, WTF, people? 

LW, your coworkers are not going to care about this that much. It’s gonna be fine.

 

Hi Captain!

I changed careers and started a job in a brand new field about a year ago.  Around the same time, I started dating someone new.  I kept quiet about my new relationship at work for a few reasons:

  • Being new on the job, I didn’t know my coworkers so well, and I wanted to get a better sense of the culture around personal talk at my company.
  • I didn’t have a great sense of whether or not the relationship would be a long-term thing or just a fling.
  • I identify as a lesbian.  I’m dating a guy.  All my coworkers are straight.

A year later, I’m pretty invested in the relationship.  My community has been supportive and wonderful; everyone I hang out with gets that identity, desire, and behavior are separate things.  It feels like I’m back in the closet at work though.  I initially came out to my coworkers as lesbian and haven’t told them I’m dating a guy just yet.  I play the Pronoun Game occasionally, or speak about “one of the people that I’m dating” in vague terms, and I’m tired of it — I’d like to come out and let people know.

My coworkers are warm, kind, respectful humans.  I am sure they have the capacity to understand, but I’m struggling to come up with the best way of explaining the situation.  Do you have any scripts?

Thank you so much!

Cheers,

Complicated Queer

 

 

 

Hi Complicated!

The good news is that your work environment turned out to be a comfortable and supportive one, your coworkers sound generally like cool people, and the thing driving this problem is you wanting to be a bit closer to them by telling them about your life. The second good news is that they probably don’t think about your sexual identity or your romantic life all that much and won’t be phased by anything you tell them. The other good news is that you don’t owe them a narrative of yourself that all makes sense.

If you ever bring your partner by the office, maybe to meet you or pick you up, or in the course of talking to your coworkers say “that person I’ve been dating, heck, after all this time I should just use his name, which is Ned Nickerson, told me I might really like Kieslowski’s Three Colors Trilogy, so we watched the whole thing this weekend…”

Yep, you might get a momentary “Wait, but aren’t you….????” reaction that slips out before your coworker’s filters come up. The screenwriter in me pictures you as Cameron Esposito saying “I was just as surprised as you are, believe me.

See also:

  • No answer at all, just, shrug and move on. Their filter will catch up.
  • Yep, I am. And yet? This works for me.
  • If you’re comfortable with it and if and only if this actually describes you, “Yep, though maybe I’d use the word bisexual if I had to introduce myself now.
  • “Yep, I am, but sometimes that’s a more fluid thing.”
  • “Yep, I am, but I’m glad I made an exception in this case.”

Then don’t get drawn into a long discussion about it. “Have you ever seen those movies? I think Blue is my favorite, Ned really likes White for the dark humor.”

Potential trouble spots:

  • The dude coworker who thinks he has a shot now.
  • The coworker who has 8 million questions and theories about queerness and sexuality.
  • Maybe a conservatively religious coworker who now thinks you are “cured of teh gays” and wants to “celebrate.”

Do you have any of these types around? If so, your answers are “Nope, not you, not ever”, “Wow, I don’t really know the answer to that, but there are a lot of websites out there with info,”/”Your curiosity is really heartening, but I’m not comfortable being your sounding board about that stuff at work,” and “Not how it works!” (+ sticking to work topics only with that one), respectively.

You got this. You’re not lying, you’re not letting anyone down, you’re not failing to conform to someone’s idea of how you should be, you’ve got nothing to apologize for or explain. I predict that this will be a weird 5 minutes or so in your life and then you will get to enjoy the freedom of not having to parse all your statements about this person so much.

Advertisements
70 comments
  1. dynamitochondria said:

    To the LW: We are not our labels, even the ones we put on ourselves. Hearty congratz on finding someone you connect with so well. I think that anyone worth having in your life will be fine with it, and anyone who isn’t, even day-to-day coworkers, can be kept at arm’s length.

  2. Smits said:

    I’m sure that this is going to get deleted but whatever: LW I’m glad you’ve found someone who makes you happy and things are going well, but please remember that calling yourself a lesbian whilst dating men is something which actively hurts actual lesbians who do not date and have zero attraction to men. When straight people hear about someone who dates men claiming to be a lesbian, it makes it that much easier to believe that those of us who are 100% non-negotiably homosexual are just lying or will “grow out of it”. I really urge you to clarify to straight coworkers who ask that you are not, in fact, a lesbian, for the sake of us who are not ever going to find a man to settle down with like straight society desperately wants.

    “Lesbian” is not just a label that people get to stick on themselves because it “feels right”; it means something about who you are and how you live, and violating its meaning whilst claiming the word is oppressive.

    • ‘calling yourself a lesbian whilst dating men is something which actively hurts actual lesbians who do not date and have zero attraction to men. When straight people hear about someone who dates men claiming to be a lesbian, it makes it that much easier to believe that those of us who are 100% non-negotiably homosexual are just lying or will “grow out of it”.’

      You are assigning blame to the wrong person. 100% gold star lesbians and 95.2% lesbians choosing to apply the same label to themselves is only problematic when other people are assholes about sexual orientation to them. This is the problem, not the people who introduce flexibility to labeling by being somewhere other than the end of the spectrum.

      • +1 to this. The problem is not “people are using the label that is most comfortable for them regardless of the common perception of that label,” he problem is that people have more narrow ideas of what any given label means than what would actually reflect reality. Identities are complex. Also, LW has probably heard this same sentiment a zillion times already and weighed it over in her own mind.

      • This. I’m bisexual and I choose that term because I am attracted to both men and women. My sister is lesbian and she chooses that word (reluctantly – because she hates living in a world where we have to label our sexuality) because she is attracted to men and women but she only ever falls for and has relationships with women.

        The people who are going to use the LW as an example of why queerness isn’t that queer or is wrong or whatever, are going to use whatever ammo they can to fuel their insipid arguments. Like misogynists who use clothing as an argument about why women are wrong and cause attacks on themselves. It’s not actually about the clothing, or the orientation, or the label. It’s playground, sandbox stuff – someone is doing something that I don’t like and don’t approve of, and I’m going to use a lot of nonsense and misdirection to express my tantrum about that.

        The LW is not, never the problem. Her choice of label isn’t inherently problematic now that she’s seeing a guy. Treating her like she is part of a ‘problem’ is playing into the assholes’ hands.

    • Eleanor said:

      I disagree, lesbian is absolutely a label people get to stick on themselves because “it feels right”, as is any other label. I can see where you’re coming from but people will continue to be jerks and claim to have “the magical lesbian curing peen” regardless of the label LW chooses to apply to herself. Telling LW she cannot use the label she identifies with because it gives people an excuse to behave terribly is completely unfair as it makes her responsible for the behaviour of complete strangers. She is responsible for nobody’s actions but her own.

    • Puck said:

      Yeah, that’s not OK. Identity policing from either side of the fence is fucked up as all hell.

      Just because someone is a 5 on the Kinsey Scale rather than a 6 doesn’t mean they’re somehow less qualified to claim the label that best works for them.

    • wordiest said:

      That sounds a bit like blaming the letter writer for other people’s bigotry and ignorance. None of the reactions you mention would be the letter writer’s fault; they would be the fault of the person doing the wrong thing or making the wrong assumption. Trying to appear like some perfect model X is a common pressure many people within a minority group feel, because ignorant people will sometimes generalize from the very small number of people they know to everyone in that group. But it’s wrong to have to push your life into a box to look like a model X, and it’s giving into bigotry. I think it’s better if we let people express themselves in the vast array of ways that are actually true to them, and put pressure on people who overgeneralize to stop doing that. The letter writer doesn’t speak for nor represent all lesbians and should not have to.

      And I don’t think it’s nice to say “actual lesbians” as if it doesn’t include the letter writer. The word is not that rigidly defined. While I understand having a personal preference for rigid definitions, the actual world doesn’t work that way. I personally do prefer more rigid definitions. I personally would prefer if vastly more people identified as bisexual, rather than identifying by their primary attraction when they have a very small quantity of attraction to people of some gender and a large attraction to people of the other gender. Of course, if everyone did that, then a huge percentage of the population would self-identify as bisexual, and it would be very difficult to know which of them are primarily attracted to which genders, which isn’t exactly a problem, but might make the term less useful. Not that any of that matters, because my personal preferences don’t dictate reality. And besides, I am regularly hurt by people who think too rigidly, since I am blind, but have some vision and crippled, but have some ability to walk, and this apparently outright offends some people to the point they feel they have a right to say mean things to me when I’m out in public. I still think it’s their fault and the right solution is not to stab my eyes out or stop using disability devices I desperately need. So, acceptance that reality is not as clean-cut and clear as simple labels does seem to be the necessary better solution. So, educate the ignorant, and don’t take it out on the people who end up in weird edge cases.

    • Tabitha said:

      This comment raises all sorts of hackles.

      I am a bisexual woman who has, to date, only had relationships with men. I haven’t even ever kissed another woman. This does not change the fact of my sexuality. Attitudes like yours have kept me from being comfortable engaging with the LGBT community. It sucks when people spout bullshit just because they know one lesbian who dated a guy but Caroline is right, the blame lies with them, not the LW.

      No one should have to meet a minimum standard of queerness before they are allowed a specific label. It’s bad enough when heterosexual people police us without doing it to ourselves.

      • I’ve had the opposite experience, as a person who faces significant pushback in the LGBT community – not from straight people, WITHIN the community – because I refuse to identify as lesbian even though my significant relationships have both been with women (though my attractions are by no means exclusive to them). It’s gotten to the point where I’m actually wary of anyone who isn’t attracted to multiple genders because I can’t actually rely on LG people being any nicer about my identification than heteros.

        • JenniferP said:

          Unfortunately you are paying that pushback forward to the LW.

      • boutet said:

        Also a bisexual woman who has only had (physical) relationships with men! I never fell for a woman who also fell for me so I never had the opportunity to pursue a relationship with a woman. And I’m also very hesitant to engage with the community or even to come out to most people. I’ve had enough of the “you’re just saying that to be cool/sexy/whatever” reaction to last me several lifetimes.
        I have had more crushes on women than on men, but I’ve only had the crush returned by men, so the numbers of dating partners don’t really tell a very true story of me. I agree, there should be no minimum standard of queerness.

    • Grand Mouse said:

      I’m gay, and I had a significant relationship with someone of the “opposite” gender. I don’t identify as bi, because attraction to other genders is not a significant part of my identity. I find it odd that one “opposite-gender” relationship (or two or three) can negate your sexuality. “You’re really straight” is part of homophobia, so is placing a heavy amount of emphasis on those relationships- considering them more real than others. You’re straight and have a relationship with your same gender? You’re confused, it was just a phase or a fling. You’re gay and have a “opposite” gender relationship? Well now you’re just really straight

      When I was in that relationship, it was exhausting to always be questioned. No one believed that my attraction was genuine, and my ex still doesn’t believe it. I doubted my sexuality a lot and felt like I was an imposter or a traitor for calling myself gay and having this relationship.

    • Mary said:

      This basically means you ‘re defining lesbian as “does not have sex with /is not attracted to men” rather than “has sex with / is attracted to women”. Of all the words that you’d think would be defined by how someone relates to women, “lesbian” ought to be up there.

      I don’t think “lesbian” has never meant “exclusively attracted to women”. If you meet people who do, maybe encourage them to think a little more critically?

      • soukup said:

        +1

      • MK said:

        Historically speaking, you are completely right. “lesbian” means “from the island of Lesbos”; Lesbos was the country of origin of the ancient Greek poetess Sapho, whose legacy incloudes a considerable number of love poems to women. Because the Lesbian Sapho was the most prominent female figure of expressed homoerotic feelings, “lesbian” became a term that alluded to female homosexuality. Sapho, however, from what we can tell was actually bisexual: she wrote love poems to women, but also to men, was married (perhaps more than once) and there is even speculation that she commited suicide because a young man she was infatuted with rejected her.

        I realise that what was true in ancient Greece doesn’t necessarily mean anything for today’s people, but the term “lesbian” was not coined to mean “not attracted to men”.

    • Yeah, I agree strongly with your comment. The point of a label is that you’re supposed to be able to acquire meaningful information about the person in question from it. If I labeled myself as a vegan, but the actual meaning was that I was a vegan-who-eats-milk-and-honey-and-cheese, I still wouldn’t actually be a vegan, I’d be a vegetarian who’s making life a pain for both vegetarians and vegans by muddying the definition of a vegan. I similarly don’t label myself Pakistani or Iranian or Sri Lankan even though I could pass for someone from those countries. I also don’t label myself lesbian, because the technical definition for a person who is exclusively attracted to women is “lesbian”, and I am strongly, but not exclusively attracted to women. A label that is obviously belied by the person’s demonstrated identity is an incorrect label, definitionally. I’m also really tired of having people leverage people like LW against people like me – the pressure I feel from gay people to identify exclusively as gay (because I’m bisexual and in a same-sex relationship) is really heavy and hard to deal with, and I’m fucking tired of it.

      • H.Regalis said:

        I’m with you on the point of labels. We need labels; we need to be able to organize, classify, and make generalizations in order to function. I don’t think it’s possible to take literally everything you ever encounter in your entire life on a case-by-case basis. To me that seems neither possible nor desirable, for a variety of reasons.

        That said, I disgree that it’s LW’s duty to call herself bi instead of lesbian because homophobic people are going to use that for ammo. Homophobic people are going to be homophobic, period. LW can call herself whatever she likes and that’s not going to stop their hatred. That’s like saying, “Oh, if only young black men didn’t wear baggy pants and hoodies, then the cops wouldn’t fatally shoot them all the time.” The blame is being assigned to the wrong source.

        • I don’t think it’s LW’s duty to identify as bi (I highly specifically didn’t recommend an identity for LW because I have no idea what would fit her) because homophobes. My hackles are being raised because it’s exactly this kind of wishy-washy “oh I’m totally a [monosexual label] despite [multisexual attractions/relationships]” that fucks me over WITHIN the LGBT+ community. Within, not outside. As in, most of the pressure to “just be gay, you’re with a woman* aren’t you” that I receive comes from within the community; my gay friends stumble over my bisexuality way harder than my ohsoverystraight family. I’m fucking tired of the LG community’s leaders telling me I should identify as lesbian in some shitty “female solidarity” move, because they “rounded up” to lesbian (despite being exclusively married to men in some cases – hello, Andrea Dworkin) and hey, if they can, why can’t I? etc, etc.

          *spoiler: spouse is genderqueer, currently goes by she and he pronouns interchangeably, and her identity is among the many many reasons I identify as bi and would never call myself a lesbian, even if I decide to go with calling myself pansexual or polysexual in the future for whatever reason.

        • soukup said:

          ***I don’t think it’s possible to take literally everything you ever encounter in your entire life on a case-by-case basis. To me that seems neither possible nor desirable, for a variety of reasons.***

          Hi. My name is Soukup, and I make it my business to treat every single person I encounter like the unique individual that they are. I listen and I try to understand what I’m hearing without making assumptions about what else seems likely. This is not a thing that I do perfectly; sometimes I am tired or hungry or something and I miss out on something someone says and then I don’t get the chance to learn a thing about that person. But making the effort is the single thing that makes social interaction worth my while. If I sorted people into categories and decided how to treat each person based on what categories they were in, I would never get to know anyone in an intimate way, I would never be able to have any real connections with anyone, and I would end up making all sorts of horrible social missteps all over the place and freqently hurting people’s feelings because I wasn’t bothered with paying attention to who I’m dealing with.

          Possible…90% of the time. Desirable…100% of the time. People are so cool and so different from each other and getting to know each of them is worth it.

        • I guess my comment got eaten somehow; I left it a while ago…

          I don’t think LW should identify as bi or pan or whatever. I am not interested or affected by the ideas of homophobes or hets in general; I am pointing to the fact that I have received significant INTRAcommunity pressure to identify as gay despite not being gay, and people like LW are used as an example of why I should be somehow lesbian in solidarity, as opposed to because it is the actual name for the actual attractions I feel. It’s a pressure really common to bi people whose attractions are primarily same-sex, and this kind of weird (mis)labeling is exactly why the community tears itself apart trying to shit on bisexuals/pansexuals/other multi-attraction orientations.

      • Mary said:

        >>the technical definition for a person who is exclusively attracted to women is “lesbian”

        really. is there a manual.

        • soukup said:

          I never got a manual. Also, what’s this toaster oven I keep hearing about?

      • soukup said:

        ***If I labeled myself as a vegan, but the actual meaning was that I was a vegan-who-eats-milk-and-honey-and-cheese,***

        You’d be a vegan who defines that term in a highly unusual way, and everyone to whom you explained it would have a brief moment of contemplation before shrugging their shoulders and getting on with things because it’s your word about yourself so you get to define it how you want. And this would be a source of some social awkwardness for you and would require lots of explanation sometimes, but whatever, if it matters enough to you to go for it, that’s your decision.

        See, my point is: it’s a word about you. So when you’re using it to talk about yourself, you get to decide how you want to define it.

        I am sorry that you are getting pressured by losers to do your identity in a way that doesn’t work for you. I know what a pain that can be. *coughCOUGH*

        /catty

      • joek said:

        Even if the primary function of the word ‘lesbian’ was to give other people “meaningful information about the person in question” — which I am not necessarily convinced of — I don’t think that telling OP that her describing herself as bisexual would do that is either a) helpful, or b) necessarily accurate.

        We must assume that the OP identifies as a lesbian for a reason, rather than it just being an arbitrary choice. The most obvious reason, we presume, is that she feels it most accurately describes her. If the existence of a boyfriend had drastically changed her range of attractions to the point where she no longer felt it was an accurate label, presumably she would have begun to identify as bisexual or straight or whatever else she thought was a better fit. Since she hasn’t, we must presume she doesn’t think they would be.

        The assertion that “the techical definition for a person who is exclusively attracted to women is “lesbian”” is actually meaningless — to make the argument you are making, you’d have to say that the word lesbian exclusively means women who are solely attracted to women, which is neither true in common use (as the OP, for example, attests), nor is it the definition one finds in the OED (“A woman who is sexually attracted to women.”, note how it makes no reference at all to whether said woman is attracted to men), nor even wikipedia (” a female who experiences romantic love or sexual attraction to other females.”, “self-identified lesbians may have sex with men”).

        As for your analogy with vegetarians, perhaps a better analogy would be the existence of a significant number of vegetarians who occassionally eat fish (who nonetheless identify as vegetarian) or vegans willing to eat honey if it is served to them (I don’t know how widespread this is, but there are definitely vegans who do this).

        “the pressure I feel from gay people to identify exclusively as gay (because I’m bisexual and in a same-sex relationship) is really heavy and hard to deal with, and I’m fucking tired of it.”

        Maybe so, and maybe you should extend to the OP the courtesy of not pressuring her to conform to your definitions of sexuality. Continuing the trope of suggesting that people are ‘really gay’ or ‘really bisexual’ is precisely what allows people to suggest that you are really a lesbian (and your own leveraging of your experiences against OP is hugely ironic in this context).

      • Dr Sarah said:

        Well, I was a vegetarian for fourteen years, and during that time I did occasionally eat fish in circumstances where I felt it just wouldn’t be very appropriate to ask a hostess to research/prepare a totally new recipe just for me. I don’t feel that made it inaccurate for me to identify myself as a vegetarian, because normally that’s what I was. So if a woman who is normally attracted to women finds herself attracted to a man instead, I don’t think that would automatically negate her personal identity as a lesbian.

        But, beyond that… Vegetarian/vegan describe your *actions* in the area of eating. (Or your inactions – it always seemed sort of bizarre to me to have a label for something I *didn’t* do, to be defined by an *absence* of something in my life. But that’s by-the-by.) Labels about sexuality describe your *feelings*, your inner reactions. You can choose never to sleep with women in your life, and still be a lesbian if that’s where your attraction lies. So the analogy seems to me not quite to work here.

        • winter said:

          Word to the last paragraph. Even though I’m also okay with people using a lable to describe themselves if it isn’t based on their feelings. Because that’s still their choice, and not mine.

        • H.Regalis said:

          That’s a good point, about being related to actions vs. feelings. The lesbian/vegan/Sri Lankan comparison is a false equivalence.

      • winter said:

        So instead of supporting LW against the people, who are also shitty to you, you go against the LW? That doesn’t make any sense.

      • vass said:

        I used to be a vegan. For seven years. And I knew other people who were vegan but observed various different degrees of strictness, or were vegan for different reasons.

        In my case, I did not eat meat, eggs, dairy, honey, gelatin, food colourings made from insects, or food made with meat stock or fried in animal fats. I did not wear leather or wool. But I did eat food made with refined sugar without trying to verify if the sugar was refined using animal bones, and I ate food that was listed as “may contain traces,” i.e. was processed on the same line as foods containing animal products. Some vegans are stricter than that, some laxer.

        Some other vegans I knew did not eat meat, dairy, or eggs, but did sometimes eat honey or red food colouring. One woman who for health reasons ate no dairy or eggs, but did eat small amounts of fish some of the time but no other meats.

        You know what people do not want to know when they’re asking what food you can have at dinner? “Well, I don’t eat any dairy or eggs or meat, but I do sometimes eat small amounts of fish…” They just want to know what category of their recipe software or website they should search under, or which batch of airplane food to order your meal from. They don’t need to know if it’s an ethical conviction or a religious observance or a health thing or which specific aspect of animal farming you object to. They don’t want your life story.

        It’s annoying when someone gives other people an incorrect understanding of what your dietary needs are. And it’s frustrating for the cook if they went to the trouble of keeping someone’s meal perfectly free of animal products and then found out that person didn’t really care that much. It is an etiquette problem, yes. (And I ate a lot of undressed salads or plates of french fries rather than put people out, or because people did not understand what it meant.)

        But if someone says “I would like a vegan meal,” they’re asking for a meal made without meat or eggs or dairy or other animal ingredients. They’re not making a binding contract to only eat vegan foods in the future. They’re just asking for an animal product free meal. And if someone says “I am a lesbian,” they are just saying “I identify primarily as a woman who dates women.”

      • It’s nice to see you here, macavitykitsune.

        I would go ahead and call this hypothetical “vegan” a vegetarian without particularly caring if that makes me an asshole or loser (cough cough), but I would accept the 90/10 lesbian as a lesbian because one of those things is not like the other.

        Contrary to other commenters here, though, I do think there’s a certain point where non-straight people can appropriate terms like “gay” and “lesbian”. It’s similar to how I wouldn’t call myself Native American just because I have a bit of Cherokee on both sides, because 95 percent of my ancestry is Anglo-Saxon and Celtic.

        I’m curious as to how many of these 90/10 gay people are the same gay people who insist that I can’t be bi* because I’m 90/10 straight, as if that 10 percent of physical attraction hasn’t taken up 90 percent of my mental energy vis-à-vis my sexual orientation due to the extremely homophobic world in which we live.

        Hey, there’s a question: if I’m 90/10 straight physically but I’m forced (for survival reasons) to engage with the world as if I were 90/10 gay, then do I get to call myself gay? I’m going to say no, that would be disrespectful. I am not an island, and I think it’s ethical to think about how my labels could affect other people. I do not accept that as victim blaming. As someone who has been on the receiving end of both rape and interpersonal abuse, anyone who wants to argue victim-blaming with me can exit stage left.

        *this is a bit of label-flexibility on my part, because “pansexual” is a more accurate term for my orientation as well as being a more pleasing word aesthetically, but there are too many homophobes with a vague knowledge of Greek prefixes in the world and I’d rather not be mistaken for an animal fucker or worse, thanks.

    • SunshineandLollipops said:

      People who are to blame for homophobia: homophobes.

    • argent said:

      I’ve been attracted to people who have later identified as a different gender. I’m also a non-binary person who almost exclusively presents as female. This comment is coming off as really seriously transphobic to me, depending on a rigid gender binary to determine who is a “real” lesbian.

    • vass said:

      No, Smits, LW is not hurting lesbians. You’re hurting lesbians who’ve been part of a community for a long time and feel like they have to discard an identity or community because they meet someone who changes the rules for them, or their partner’s gender identity changes, or their understanding of their own gender identity changes.

      LW is not responsible for how straight people treat lesbians. You sound like one of those people who think people who sometimes eat meat shouldn’t tick the vegetarian meal at conferences or airlines, because someone will get the wrong idea and give the vegans pork fat because it didn’t matter to that particular vegetarian. But the truth is, how we eat, and who we love or sleep with, is more complicated than can be summed up in one word, and the bottom line is still “try to treat people as they would like to be treated, with respect and dignity.”

      I identify as genderqueer. I also identify as a lesbian. I’ve identified as a lesbian longer than I’ve identified as genderqueer, and you do not get to kick me out of the clubhouse. You cannot have my toaster oven back.

    • soukup said:

      Okay wow, I am a lesbian in (what I think will be) a very long-term relationship with a dude, and I am here to tell you that you are being really freaking rude and uncool.

      When people give me funny looks or say “but I thought you were gay” — know what I say? “Yeah, I am. The majority of people I’m attracted to are women, and I’m a woman, and that’s how I define that word.” And you know what? When I’m using that word to talk about myself, I get to define it in whatever way I choose. If my friend wants to call herself a dom even though I’ve only seen her in relationships where she was the sub? If my other friend wants to call himself bisexual even though he’s been celibate for twenty years? I don’t question it, because those are their words about themselves, and we get to pick what words we use to talk about ourselves, and we get to decide what those words mean to us, we get to choose how we identify.

      Honestly, the things you say above remind me an awful lot of those creepy sanctity-of-marriage bigots. I mean, we all know that if some people say they’re married, they’re married, period, right? Whether they’re two women or three dudes or a woman and her two ace genderfluid BFFs. And the key thing here is that the reason why we all understand and acknowledge that those people are married is because they say so, and they are the authority on this, they get to decide what the word “married” means to them because they are the ones who are doing it. How is this any different? I am a lesbian because I say so, and I freaking know what I’m talking about.

      I get the place you’re in, Smits, I really do. I was there myself a while ago. No one would listen to me when I said “no but really, I actually mean it,” and a lot of people were really dismissive and it was extremely shitty. That still angers me, and I still do not speak to those shitheads who weren’t willing to respect that I was the authority on my own sexuality.

      But you know what? Those assholes who were all “you’ll grow out of it” and “you need to find Jesus” and “you haven’t met the right man”? Those assholes were never going to treat me with respect or honour my perspective. For a while I thought what you still seem to believe: I thought that those assholes just didn’t believe that there were “real” lesbians out there; I thought that if they could just meet one or two, or if I could somehow prove it to them, they’d suddenly turn into respectful, courteous folks who got it. Simply put, I believed that these people were just skeptical that a woman could ever really have no interest in men. But the truth is that there was a deeper problem at work. These people were unable to entertain the idea that real lesbians existed and that I was one…because they thought they knew everything there was to know about human sexuality and about how people could feel, and they thought that they by extension knew more about my sexuality than I did. The real problem was that these people were so sure of themselves that it was like talking to a wall; there was nothing I could have said to convince them. And if I had said that I liked women-mostly-except-this-one-dude? They would have been just as certain that I was wrong — no more and no less. When people don’t even think you’re the authority on your own life, you can’t convince them that the sky’s blue.

      I would also like to suggest that you, ironically, are kind of behaving in a similar way to these people I’m speaking of. Aren’t you telling the LW (and by extension, me) that you know more about our identities and sexualities than we do? Aren’t you telling us that we’re doing this deeply personal thing “wrong”? I know I feel just as insulted by what you’re saying as I do by people who told me that I just needed some good dick.

      There are two more salient points which I would like to make here:

      1) Sometimes people use the phrase “going through a phase” in a dismissive way, as if a thing you’re feeling now is somehow less real because it might someday (or does eventually) change. And I think that this is ridiculous. I spent ten years dating women and never had the slightest interest in dating a man in all that time. I don’t need to tell you (do I? Maybe I do) that these were real relationships and real connections: the sex was sexy, the feelings were strong and serious and intense, the cuddles were cuddly. And if I wake up tomorrow and feel like I want to date only dudes for the foreseeable future? That doesn’t make any of the f/f stuff less real!

      2) What the hell is a woman? Or a man? What the fucking hell are we even still doing with these quaint old labels from the fifties still kicking around when such a huge number of us are FTM or nonbinary or transfemme or genderfluid or genderfuck? In fact, lots of us have some other label which we feel so much more strongly about than any of our gender-related stuff — I’ve heard many folks from the kinky crowd, for example, say that they care far less about what gender role they or their partner want to play, so long as the kinky aspect of things works out well (“I’m a lesbian, but if I had to choose between topping a dude and subbing to a lady, I’d take the dude and top any day”). So maybe we can stop freaking out about the labels so much? Or, at least, maybe we can agree that each person can decide for themself how much importance they want to place on these terms? For you, right now, it sounds like that means “a lot,” but seriously, not everyone is you and not everyone shares your priorities, and it doesn’t somehow cheapen or weaken your assertion that you don’t want to date any men ever to have some people who do.

    • blairbending said:

      Also, it is possible for queer people to do things that are harmful to other queer people, particularly when they perpetuate oppressive shit which is done by cishet people. See: gay men and lesbians who are biphobic.

  3. LW: I have a similar thing sometimes. I’m asexual and married. Different from you b/c I’m not out to anyone except some family and at church, but I definitely feel you. It’s a weird thing to navigate. Jedi hugs and solidarity!

  4. Just Plain Neddy said:

    I think maybe LW is working this up to be a bigger deal than it probably is with cool people. I identify as a lesbian and dated women exclusively up until early 2010 at the age of 29 when I met a dude and we got together and are now married. Mentioning my new boyfriend caused a few double takes but people got used to it really quickly. When asked about it my go to response is “I identify as gay rather than bi because it’s not a 50-50 thing. About 90% of the people I find attractive are women. There was always a chance that someone in that 10% would show up though and that’s what happened.” Human sexuality is a wonderful, weird thing and doesn’t do what you expect.

    • lirr said:

      I want to second this as a good way to explain stuff! I’m in sort of the opposite position as Neddy, so I tend to describe myself as “mostly straight” and then if I feel like elaborating, I’ll add something like “Almost all of the people I’m attracted to are male-identifying, but sometimes I have crushes on people with other gender identities.” Most people understand this explanation and don’t make a big deal out of it. Good luck with whatever you decide to say LW, I am optimistic that your office buddies will be chill with it!

    • Weezy said:

      I respect your right to identify however you want, and I’m happy that you found a wonderful person to share your life with! But I would just like to point out that bisexuality is very rarely 50-50. Sometimes it’s 70-30, hell, even 95-5 one way or the other.

      • llamathatducks said:

        +1. I identify as bi even though “straight” would adequately describe like 80-90% of my life. But “straight” erases what feels like a substantial part of my history/identity/possible future. And while I don’t want to dictate any one person’s self-identification, I really, really wish that “bisexual” were a more widely used label.

        • +2. My attraction split is 80-15-5% (women, non-binary people, men) and I’m still bi, because bisexual means “attracted to two/more genders”, which accurately describes my orientation, and also Words Mean Things.

        • Referencing the awkwardeer upthread who said something like lesbian should be defined by ones relationship to women rather by one’s (lack of) relationship to men, I don’t use the word “bisexual” to describe myself because I feel like it prioritizes cis (usually) het in my sexlife. My attraction to women & AFABs vs cis dudes is like 97% to 3%, why would I think about them when choosing a shorthand label to refer to myself. “Polysexual” makes more sense to me with that high percentage rather than bisexual or even pansexual, because I’m attracted to people who identify as a gender other than male or female. “Bisexual” to me also just seems to reify the gender binary.

          • FYI, bisexuality is defined as attraction to one’s own and other genders (same and different = two = bi). Others define it as attraction to two/more genders. I identify as bisexual and I’m non-binary; I’m dating another person who identifies as bisexual who is also non-binary. Identify how you want for whatever preference you have, but please don’t spread false information about bisexuality in the process. we get shat on enough. .

          • Jack said:

            Bisexual only reinforces the gender binary if you let it, though. I am regularly told that I must be transphobic if I call myself bi, almost always by monosexual people, despite being trans and married to a genderfluid person, and that kind of pernicious bisexual erasure just makes me more determined to continue identifying as bisexual.

          • wordiest said:

            I’d like to reply to Jack, but it won’t let me nest that far. As a nongender person, I fully support the use of the label “bisexual” as one of the few commonly used labels for sexual orientation that doesn’t exclude me. All the bisexuals I know use it to mean attracted to both people of their own gender and people of genders other than theirs. It’s actually labels like “gay” or “lesbian” that seem to most exclude me and somewhat “straight”/”heterosexual” too. I don’t want to attack those labels either. But I find it very weird that “bisexual” as one of the ver few labels that actually takes me into consideration gets commonly criticized for not including non-gender binary people, while the labels that actually do exclude me are pretty much never criticized where I tend to see conversation, which makes me think it often isn’t about genderqueer folk so much as it is about some issue people have with “bisexual”. Personally, I feel that we don’t have perfect labels, but we’re making a lot of progress at being more thoughtful and inclusive, so I’d rather not take away labels that work for many people at this point in time. That doesn’t mean somebody who prefers a label other than “bisexual” should use “bisexual” – I’d rather people use the labels they personally are comfortable with. I just get so uncomfortable seeing the label that many of my friends identify with and that does me no harm often attacked theoretically on the behalf of people like me. And yet rarely is that conversation then used to discuss how genderqueer people are left out of other labels or what should be done about that.

          • winter said:

            @wordiest Yeah, it’s almost like people have such a problem with bisexuals, they use any explanation to be able to attack them… (I too am in the “I understand it as both the same and different genders” camp and I’m nonbinary)

          • brilliantanonymousnickname said:

            “AFABs vs cis dudes” – THAT is a transphobic way to categorise people.

            Someone who really thinks in terms of “AFABS vs cis dudes” should maybe not be dating any AFAB trans people.

            I don’t like being rude and am really trying not to be ruder than necessary, but there is a very creepy undercurrent in some LGBT spaces around “AFABS and women” that you should probably be aware of before you make comments like the above.

            Trans men: You deserve, and can find, partners who are really into men, and don’t consider you different from cis men.

            Non-binary people: You deserve, and can find, partners who don’t lump you in with a binary gender.

  5. LW, I dealt with a similar set of emotions when telling people I was getting divorced. Just tell them – I promise you will feel better and more genuine when it is off your back. And people are so much cooler than we tend to think. Good luck!

  6. Chiaro said:

    A classmate of mine used to identify as a lesbian and then started seeing guys. It was confusing for her in the beginning but eventually no more questions were asked. Whatever you identify with now, I wouldn’t worry too much about ‘having’ to explain yourself to others. I’m bisexual and I’ve received many questions I find rude, I don’t feel responsible explaining it to others. Sometimes I will because I feel their interest is genuine and not invasive and other times I just see it as my dating life is my personal business and tell them that. Share as much as you’re comfortable with and share it when you feel like it. My classmate called it a sort of second coming out. In any case all the best with your relationship and new situation!

    • blackcat said:

      Yes, I have seen this sort of thing happen quite a few times in my adulthood (with 6 or so people) in a variety of directions (Lesbian now dating men, Straight-fem-cis woman now genderqueer and dating 2 women). People get over it, though none of those folks have launched into an extended conversation about how they now identify (except for 2 very close friends). YMMV, LW, but if you bring up your male partner causally, people will be sort of confused, may ask a stupid question, but then go with the flow. *This is what I recommend in a work environment.* Pitching it as “I now have a male partner but still identify as a lesbian” will likely bring out WAY more questions. Personally, I don’t think that’s a great idea for a workplace. Your friends? Sure.

      As an aside, the only time I have seen a friend face more than a confused shrug when presenting a partner of an unexpected gender was one friend of mine who exclusively dated women/identified as a lesbian until age 23 told her friends that we were NOT ALLOWED to tell her new male partner that she “used to date women.” We were also not to every discuss *medical condition* that means this friend is almost certainly infertile (this is an ongoing issue, so most conversations previously had included “How are you doing? Is the new treatment for X working?” and she had said she appreciated being checked on). That felt (and still feels) as though she wants us to be dishonest for her. It’s not like I make a habit of bringing up friend’s exes in conversations with new partners, but being around her new guy feels like aiding her in deceiving him. I’m cool with her dating a guy. I am not cool with helping her convince this guy that a) she can have bio children and b) she never dated women. So as long as you don’t pull some shit like that, I’m SURE things will go fine for you!

      I say this as someone who is 90% attracted to women and married to a man. I dated 2 men, 1 woman, and 1 trans woman before meeting and dating my now husband. At the time he and I got together, I was pretty firm in identifying as bi or pan sexual. Over last 8 (yikes! 8!) years, I’ve become a lot less firm in that. It just doesn’t come up much. The only time that I talked about it with people other than my husband in the past few years was when I was teaching high school and was a faculty advisor to the GSA. Then how I identify–or don’t, now, as the case may be–was something I discussed at length with young people. In part to demonstrate that while some folks–such as the gay man who was the other faculty advisor–are 100% attracted to one gender their entire life, there are many of us for whom the path is less clear. Labels are problematic for those of us in the middle, in no small part about all of the rhetoric about being gay being *not a choice* and that is why gay folks deserve rights. That public discourse really erases those of us who *can* choose to date as though we were straight, but still firmly believe that our partnerships with either gender deserve the same protections and recognition from the government.

  7. DisorderedMess said:

    LW, you could always go the DAR route!

    http://www.darcomic.com/

    Obviously your identity is yours to choose and define as you wish, but you might find queer to be a good fit for you.

    • boutet said:

      Ha, DAR was my first thought on reading this letter. Sexuality is weird and wonderful! Labels can’t hold it all in cohesion all the time 🙂

  8. Excellent advice! If your coworkers are genuinely cool and accepting, then they aren’t going to even bat an eyelash. And if they aren’t, then it’s the usual scripts for dealing with typical annoying judgmental fuckes whose opinions mean fucke all.

  9. Jae said:

    With the risk that it sounds stupid – why do you need a script? Why not just stop the neutral-gender-game and say “he” instead once in a while. People will get it I wager.

    One of my doctors kept saying “my partner” for the first few visits when we talked during acupuncture, and then she suddenly let drop “my wife” which made me smile. Apparently I had reached a point where she trusted me enough to let me know she’s lesbian. If you try that, I am sure most of your coworkers will actually think it a nice change rather than question your sexual identity. Or you could use any of the Captain’s scripts to answer the “huh?” question.

    • Jinian said:

      You don’t think the terminology shift could have been because they got married? 🙂

    • SW said:

      Please don’t assume your doctor is a lesbian because she’s married to a woman. I mean, she may well be! But she could equally well be bisexual or pansexual or really any sexuality which encompasses her attraction to a woman.

  10. Hey LW, a bit of workmanlike advice, if you will, that might make you feel more comfortable.

    It seems like your anxiety centers more around the awkwardness of making this information public, rather than around the suspicion that your co-workers will be pickletits* about your disclosure. Since there probably will be at least a couple of folks who do a double-take which might cause you to feel a little awkward or anxious, I think the best way to mediate that is to tell people one or two at a time. Maybe pick the co-worker you’re closest with and bring it up with them casually. Drop the phrase “my boyfriend” in conversation with another couple of co-workers at lunch. Let the ol’ company gossip mill spread some of the disclosure for you. You can process any reactions or field any questions on a much smaller scale this way than if you bring it up the first time as everyone is filing out of a department meeting.That way, when you DO have a situation like a work-lunch or another company-wide event and mention is made of your fella, you won’t be dealing with one collective company double-take, which could definitely feel awkward.

    *Thank you, Chris Kluwe.

  11. BookLady said:

    Why “workmanlike” advice? Why not “workplace advice” or just “advice” generally?

    • BookLady said:

      …this was supposed to be a response to wee_ramekin, but it looks like I’ve put it in the wrong place, whoops.

      • Because “workmanlike” is an adjective that means “done with the skill expected of a good worker or performer but usually not in very exciting or impressive way”. The word conveys a distinct feeling.

        A lot of the (great) advice given assures the LW that it’s really not important what her co-workers think of her gender identity or choice of partner. My advice to speaks more to the actual mundane mechanics of how the LW might frame her discussion to co-workers; more to the kind of boring nuts-and-bolts of the conversations she might have. Not very exciting or impressive advice, but still (I hope) useful. Workmanlike, even ^_^.

    • unlurking said:

      The word “workmanlike” was likely chosen as a way to focus on the “how-to” itself; that if it is the emotion and the anxiety that is contributing to make this seem to be a gigantic and therefore daunting and potentially insurmountable issue, then one way to approach it is to focus on step-by-step tasks, breaking them down into smaller & smaller tasks as needed, until they become manageable, and then working through them one by one. That’s an approach that often works really well for me, when I’m emotionally stuck on not knowing what to do next, it’s often because I’m defining the problem as something gigantic and especially emotional for me, which can make me freeze up. We could start calling it workpersonlike and get that to catch!

  12. +1 for the Nancy Drew reference. That is all.

  13. elsiekate said:

    heh. LW, i was a lesbian for 24 years, no interest in men whatsoever, out at work, and then one morning i developed a crush on a guy. no one could have been more surprised than i was. so i had the experience of coming out as bi to co-workers who had long ago accepted that i was a lesbian (to say nothing of my parents and family–i almost had the classic “but what will we tell our friends in PFLAG?” conversation). i did come out as bi–initially i thought that it might just be a temporary thing–a reaction to my divorce from my second wife, but after those feelings lasted for a while,i had to admit that even if it might be just the one, it was real, and identifying as a lesbian sort of felt disrespectful to my partner–it made me feel like i was saying that what we had wasn’t real–that i wasn’t taking it seriously or that i had cast him as something temporary.

    when i come out now, i just say that i date men and women–who cares about the proportions? but for those people to whom you are already out? i predict most of them won’t care. honestly, i think i got flak from two people, neither of them co-workers, of all the people i had to reorient to my new orientation. (i don’t think of the PFLAG discussion as having been flak–it was mostly pretty funny.) i favor the suggestion above of just slipping a few pronouns into your conversations, and if people ask a followup question saying something about having been surprised but deciding to go with it.

    i wish you all the luck in the world with your relationship and with your co-workers!

    • BWChicago said:

      Agreed. Labels stopped working for me in college, so I typically say “I date everyone, uh, I mean all kindsa people.” But others are more than happy to shoehorn me into whatever box they like best, that’s persistent.

  14. Light said:

    White was my preference- Julie Delphy + really dark humor = great movie.

  15. Alexis said:

    I love the second script here! I feel like it can really apply to any time you need to let your coworkers know about something that shouldn’t be a big deal, but that some of them might decide to be nosy/theorizing/very curious about. I have a situation like that which I’ve been wondering how to navigate, and now I have some ideas. Thank you Captain!

  16. Taiga said:

    The coworker who has 8 million questions and theories about queerness and sexuality… I would expect that. But the only person qualified to identify you is you. If someone tells you you’re actually straight/bi/pan/sometermIveneverheardof when you identify as lesbian, then that someone is wrong. I know you know that because it’s not what you asked, I just thought it may be helpful to hear affirmation.

  17. Anna Sthetic said:

    I am sad that so much of the conversation has revolved around identity politics and policing rather than actual support for the LW.

    LW: I was very much in the same boat when I got my current job. If it helps any as a reassurance, people cared a lot less than I was expecting them to. I found that rather than just changing the subject back to work stuff it helped to have a picture of him on my phone so I could use ‘LOOK AT THOSE EYES THEY ARE SO BLUE’ as a distraction tool which still invited my colleagues to talk and ask about my life in a way that didn’t revolve around my sexual identity.

    (Obviously don’t talk about his blue eyes if they are another colour though. :p)

  18. MamaCheshire said:

    OK, here we go again with this, so I’m going to break out my usual rant about The Ratio.

    I am bi. (The preferred way of expressing this that both Spouse and I use is “queer-identified bisexual”.) In terms of who I am attracted to, there is no really consistent pattern. In terms of my actual sexual and relationship history, about 80% of my partners have been cisgender men who are either straight or bi.

    My BFF is “Kinsey 5, mostly lesbian with occasional exceptions”. In terms of who she is attracted to, it is usually women. In terms of relationship history, she’s dated about as many men as women, including someone who came out as a trans man AFTER they broke up. (And she found herself in LW’s situation after moving to a new city with a long-term girlfriend, being very involved in the local lesbian community, that relationship breaking up very very messily, and then she started dating a guy. Her mostly-straight coworkers were NOT the ones who had the problem with it; her lesbian-community friends were furious with her and she lost a lot of those friendships, which sucks.)

    Looking around my circle of friends, this is pretty much what I see. Most but not quite all of the bi-identified folks ended up opposite-gender partnered (or, if poly, with an opposite-gender primary partner). The “mostly gay with occasional exceptions” have ended up all over the map, including a couple of situations in which what started out appearing as a same-gender partnership changed because one of the partners came out as trans, with all the attendant “So I want to identify as a lesbian, and you now identify as male, and WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT MAKE ME if I stay with you, but I don’t wanna leave…” issues to work through.

    Why? Well, let’s consider something here. LGBT-folk are still a minority of the population most places. So as someone who is equally interested in men and women, if I find ten different people attractive, five might be men and five might be women. In a group that is LGBT-friendly but not focused, perhaps four of the men and one of the women might return my interest. My BFF, out of ten people, might be attracted to eight women and two men, and both of the men and two of the women might return her interest. (And of course people might be disinterested for reasons other than incompatible sexual orientations, but that’s at least a starting point to work from.) This doesn’t make ANYONE “less real” in their identity, it reflects the realities of the populations they are in. The last time I slept with a woman was in 2000; doesn’t mean I’m straight.

%d bloggers like this: