Monday, November 1, 2010


I was reading over an article about a woman of color dealing with reactions to her taking care of her children (varying from "his he yours" to complimenting how good a nanny or babysitter she is and asking if she can be hired) or asking a racially diverse family "Where did you adopt [your child]?". To "is zie yours?": mixed feelings here- if the question is "are you really his mother or did you adopt him/is he a step-child?": that's busted, because an adopted/step child can be just as much yours as a "biological" child, and because it's probably at least a bit race based (if they looked the same, no one would assume the kid is adopted). People assuming she's the nanny? Busted. But if people just ask if a kid is the adult's rather than assuming? Not so much. One homophobic person replied demanding to know why it's okay to not assume a person is straight because "What? You think I look butch?!"- busted. Which allows for an excellent way to start my post. The difference between "Is this a "traditional" family or two mommies?" and "You’re one of the most prompt babysitter’s I’ve met.".

The question "Is it a "traditional" family or two mommies?"- is showing tolerance, depending on the tone ( a sarcastic or "two "mommies"?"- not so great) and reaction to "two mommies". The doctor is showing that zie is accepting of same-sex couples having children together and is (hopefully) non-judgemental about the fact that some children are raised by two parents who are not hetero. Not only that- but it makes no assumptions*. It isn't calling the person a lesbian- it's keeping an open mind because you can't tell sexuality by looking at a person. Assuming that everyone you meet is straight  does damage.

The statement "You’re one of the most prompt babysitter’s I’ve met"- is showing intolerance. Or, at least, close-mindedness. And it makes assumptions. It's assuming that an adult who is not close enough to the skin tone/facial structure/hair color or quality of the child cannot be the child's parent, because two people who aren't obviously of the same race couldn't have had a child. It also assumes that she couldn't be related to the child in any way- not even by friendship. That this person who is darker than the child couldn't possibly be a good enough friend of the "white" family to be taking care of the kid.

Next is intent or "what are they really asking". For example, "Is zie yours"- on the surface, tame. But not when the real question is "Is zie your biological child?" (as opposed to adopted/step/kidnapped/whatever the person thinks) and can be followed up with "Where did you get zem?" (because you couldn't be related to a kid with that much darker/lighter hair color/skintone/eyes than you!) or "I mean really yours" (because only biological children are REALLY yours). Obviously, this is pretty messed up for the same reason that assuming the person is the nanny/babysitter is- it's clear that the asker doesn't believe that mutli-racial children exist and doesn't think that a parent who doesn't look "enough like" their child is "really" that child's parent.  But sometimes the question is asked because the person is aware that  they can't exactly tell family dynamics just from meeting people and asking avoids complications that assuming creates- and then it isn't really a bad question.

Next I'll go with entitlement. Take this scenario: Person 1: "That's a really cool bracelet you have. Where did you get it?" Person 2: "Actually, it's a really long story and I'm just not up to telling it right now and I don't really know you well enough, sorry." And person 1 replies in one of these ways: 1. the person says "Oh, alright, if you ever feel comfortable telling me then" and leaves it at that. 2. the person demands to know what the backstory is, pestering the person about it.

If the response is the first: That's good. Person 1 is respecting Person 2's wishes. If the response is the second: VERY BAD. The person clearly feels entitled to this knowledge about Person 2- regardless of how Person 2 feels. (and, if Person 2 relents, it's very possible that zir right to making these decisions will be further attacked by Person 1 saying "I don't get why you didn't just tell me that in the first place") This one really depends on your relationship- but if you have a close enough relationship, you know what questions you are and aren't allowed to ask already.  This guide is pretty much for near strangers. And when you don't know someone well, you have no right to know anything about them that they don't want to tell you

That said, I hope we have a pretty decent grasp on good vs bad questions. Good: Respecting the person, not making busted assumptions, not having an underlying question that you can't ask because it's offensive. Bad: Disrespecting the person, making busted assumptions, having an underlying question that you can't ask because it's offensive. That said...


Ask about anything and everything! Ask about pronouns! Ask about orientation (when relevant) rather than assuming straight! Ask about personal space/contact limitations! Ask about acceptable/unacceptable labels to use for the person!  If you don't know: ASK!

And this goes to people being asked, too. If a question makes you uncomfortable: Ask why it was asked. (and don't make busted assumptions, either!) if a person asks you what your sexuality is- don't assume that they think you "look gay", maybe they just don't want to add into the bustedness of heteronormativity. If someone asks you your pronouns- don't accuse them of saying you look like a [opposite gender], maybe they just realize that you can't tell a person's pronouns by looking at them. (you can guess correctly 90% of the time, but you can't know).

For the world to be a place where privilege no longer hurts people (especially regarding things that aren't visible)- we need to ask. We need to stop assuming things. Don't assume everyone is straight (or even sexual), don't assume that you know someone's gender & pronouns from looking at them, don't assume that they have the same education/views/experiences/abilities/needs as you, don't assume that one aspect of anyone's life/personality necessarily determines how they feel in any other part of their life, don't assume that a person in a wheelchair or with a seeing eye dog or anything else needs your help just because they're in a wheelchair or have a seeing eye dog or anything else and you aren't. Just don't assume!

But we also need to be in a place where questions CAN be asked. I do NOT mean that you have to answer every question- I already made it clear that people 100% have the right to say "I don't want to answer that". But reacting violently because someone doesn't assume something? That's not going to get us anywhere (and, of course, it's mostly privileged people who do it- because privileged people are allowed to get offended when a person asks them something that attacks their privilege and are also allowed to demand answers and get offended when we don't get them).

*okay, well, it does. It assumes a monogamous relationship in which the two partners have binary genders. Baby steps....

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