This is not news to anyone who defines themselves with an invisible identity – be it sexual orientation, disability, or a life experience like loss or trauma. You’re going to encounter people on almost a daily basis who make an assumption about you that you feel the need to correct. Or maybe you just want to feel authentic and share who you are and what’s important to you, totally unprovoked. Both of those scenarios are familiar to me.
Today I had my hair cut at a new place. I was priced out of my old salon – just couldn’t afford it anymore as my stylist became a master stylist, and inflation increased salon fees. A new hair stylist is stereotypically someone you’re going to open up to. You’re stuck with them for an hour, and awkward silence is sometimes worse than awkward small talk. So I made small talk with my new potential stylist.
I wanted to share that I had a toddler. Pretty soon that led to a discussion of her genetics – the stylist wanted to know where my daughter got her curls from. I explained that my daughter had two moms, and our sperm donor has his own kids who have super curly hair. I figure her hair comes from his genetics. I say this with confidence, because I’m asked all the time.
The stylist replied, after a moment of pondering, “so your boyfriend or husband… Wait, can you explain that?”
“I have a wife. My kid has two moms. We used a sperm donor to have our kid.”
“Ooh, I see. I was like, ‘how does she have two moms?’ You just assume that a woman is with a man, you know?”
And there it is. I’m totally OK with people making the assumption that I have a male partner. I get it. We’re socialized to make that assumption. What I don’t like is when it’s used as an excuse, rather than as an awareness building exercise… When someone uses the “I just assumed…” line on me as an excuse (it happens a lot), it comes out as almost an accusation on me for being confusing. For having a confusing family arrangement. I’d love it if one day someone said “oh I’m sorry, I assumed…” and then continue with a recognition that they didn’t have to make that assumption, and don’t have to in the future. That it’s ok to use the term “partner” until someone discloses the gender of their partner.
Anyway, I shrugged it off. But then she continued to dig herself into a hole. She asked if I was married (after I referred to my wife multiple times). She said “it must be nice to be able to get married now, right? You can do a lot of things now, actually.”
Ummm, yup, I guess I’m pretty lucky to have almost equal rights here in Canada. Not sure how to respond. And without a response from me, she continued…
“I mean, I can see why people didn’t want you to get married, too, but I guess it doesn’t really matter.”
Oh god. This woman needs so much guidance and information.
To put icing on the cake of subtle prejudice and ignorance, she ended with this comment, as she was holding up the mirror to show me the finished hair cut: “your wife must be really happy that she found you!”
I stared blankly, trying to figure out what reason she had in mind, as someone who has known me for 30 minutes and has never met my wife.
She responded to my blank stare with, “because you’re really pretty! It must be really hard to find someone who looks like you, you know, in the gay scene.”
And there it was. She slapped me with possibly the most offensive lesbian stereotype in existence – the stereotype that all lesbians are butch and/or unattractive by Western beauty ideals. That butch = unattractive. That femmes don’t exist, or are some rare exotic gem that all the butch lesbians must be clamouring over.
Anyway, despite this yucky social experience, I liked the hair cut. And you know what? I think I’ll go back to her, because I’m paying for the haircut, not the conversation, and I think she needs to spend more time talking with me.