This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog
Why do you expect one of us to be a woman in our gay male relationship?
One of the more unusual things I’ve found since coming out as a gay man is the odd curiosity that some straight people have towards us.
The curiosity in itself is problematic (albeit infinitely more preferable to hate). I’m gay, not an alien from the planet Zog. I many ways the eager curiosity makes me feel far more of a freak than any amount of hate monger speculating about my eternal damnation. But that’s another post :)
It’s exacerbated by the fact that even complete strangers feel they have the right to ask extremely personal questions (but that’s yet another topic about privilege and entitlement. I’m getting quite a to-do list here. It’s good thing I like to hear myself talk :). Or read myself type, I guess).
But no, today I’m rambling about the main question I’m asked over and over to a truly boggling degree. Gender roles. Not only gender roles, but really really really silly ones that make me despair for THEIR relationships (though not nearly so much as I despair for my mental well being talking to them).Which one of you is the man and which one the woman?
This question never fails to bemuse. We’re both gay men. Doesn’t that kind of make it clear that neither of us is the woman?
People never seem to realise how homophobic this question is. It completely invalidates and devalues gay relationships - that the only way a gay relationship can be a “real” relationship is if we somehow mimic straight people. The only way a relationship between 2 men can work is if one of us pretends to be a woman. Yeah, that’s man kinds of offensive and beyond ignorant.
Of course, when I point this out they start to ask more questions because they seem to think I don't understand the question - as opposed to finding the question ludicrousWhich one of you cooks? Cleans?
Honestly, these questions say a lot about their relationships, I think. I once offered a man’s wife my card since I assumed she’d need the services of a divorce lawyer soon (she found it funny even if he didn’t) after he asked these questions. What, the fact your a man means you can’t run a Hoover round the house?
I do most of the cleaning, mainly because Beloved thinks vacuuming the 3 square feet in the dead centre of the room is sufficient. Even when I helpfully point out the places he missed (I’m a helper). He also decides that dusting one shelf on a cabinet constitutes the cabinet itself being dusted. I disagree. Loudly. And at length. But he does tend to hide things I’m using and make it impossible for me to find anything (he calls it tidying up. And yes, I AM reading 4 books at the same time, thank you. Leave them alone!) We both cook - however Beloved needs step by step instructions, a fire extinguisher, a builder and, preferably, a take away menu, phone and credit card. I admire his enthusiasm when it comes to cooking, but I also admire my stomach lining - and would prefer it to stay on the inside of my body.Who Takes out the rubbish/does the gardening/does the DIY?
Again, do hammers fall from your fingers if they detect femininity? Seriously, how silly are these gender roles? It’s not the 1950s any more.
In answer - no-one takes out the rubbish if we can avoid it. Advanced and complex schemes are plotted to avoid having to take out the rubbish at all cost. Beloved once had a complicated 8 part plan that took 4 hours of implementation to avoid emptying the bin (It worked, damn it. Revenge will be mine). Cats have been trained to knock over the pin, little devices to knock it over have been designed, brainwashing has been attempted. There is no lengths we will not stoop to to force the other to empty that damn bin. The only task reviled as much as bin emptying is ironing - which Beloved does because he fears a repeat of the Sparky Waking Up To Find No Wearable Shirts incident.
We both prefer our garden to be as close to nature as possible. Which is a REALLY good excuse to say we both slack and hate gardening. Occasionally we will shackle a passing neighbour kid to the lawnmower and pay them hush money to hide our cruel exploitation. Beloved has recently taken to growing vegetables because what our meals really really need is the addition of a scrubby carrot or 3 cherry tomatoes. I'm not sure whether this counts as gardening so much a religion - since the only way anything grows is through a sheer miracle.
Neither of us does DIY. Oh Beloved tried to do DIY - and I watch and helpfully point out the many many things he’s doing wrong (see? I’m such a helpful soul) while checking the yellow pages for someone to fix what he will inevitably break. I also hide his power tools - a task for which the UN sincerely thanks me.Who buys who flowers?
Included more for wry amusement than anything. Beloved actually bought me flowers once.
Sparky: What am I supposed to do with them?
Beloved: I think you put them in a vase
Sparky: *does so* now what?
Beloved: Now you sit and watch them rot.
So we’ve kind of decided that the flower thing may be beyond us. I did buy him a Venus fly trap once. It was our Killer Plant. And we fed it (which was probably a bad idea) and then we fed it tofu and it became our Cannibal Plant. Then it died (can’t think why). Of course I was inconsolable and could only be comforted by Beloved taking out the rubbish for a week (didn’t work. Damn).Who removes the creepy crawlies from the house?
Like this needs a dedicated role? Generally I do - because Beloved has absolutely no problem sharing his living space with spiders and wonders why I do. I point out that I’d rather not have spider webs festooning the ceiling. He declared that it would be a wonderful artistic statement. I agreed and pointed out it would go very well with blood splattered walls. He said he’d consider this but was busy getting a headstart
In the end, even some of those comments that were meant as jokes (and I think every question has been asked of me at least partially seriously - and this is only the tip of the iceberg) make me despair a little - because it shows how much of a backward view people have on gay relationships - AND on gender roles in general. We insist on trying to force people into little boxes - to such a ridiculous degree that virtually no-one fits in. I am astonished at how many women come to me with these questions without once realising how sexist they seem.
And it irritates me because we’re a gay couple. We don’t have to ape a straight couple to be acceptable or understandable. One of us doesn’t have to pretend to be a woman for our relationship to work or be comprehended (and not even a real woman! Some 1950s Suzy Homemaker that I don’t think has ever existed!) These questions ask us to conform, they say that if we’re gay we should at least mimic heterosexuals as much as possible.
We’re gay. We’re in a gay relationship. We’re happy, ‘normal’ (well... for a given degree of normal. I’ll admit to a level of eccentricity which may be a trifle unusual), very much in love and we don’t have to imitate a ridiculous Ozzie and Harriet life to make our relationship and our lives more acceptable or more palatable.