I was networking and got into a fantastic conversation with a bisexual woman. We began talking about all of the things people say to her when they hear she is bisexual. She was mentioning when she came out as bisexual years ago, that she heard a handful of the same phrases over and over. These phrases included:
- you’re just experimenting
- you’re too afraid to come out as gay
- you’ll eventually grow out of it
- you realize it’s just a phase, right?
So why is society so hellbent on labeling people? Why can’t someone who is bisexual, be bi and left alone? Why can’t someone who is gay, be gay and left alone? Why can’t someone who is transgender, be trans and left alone? I’m not sure the answers to those questions but I do know that in a business setting saying any one of these phrases is bad news.
While talking with this woman she was explaining that when people hear she is bisexual, it invites unwanted generalizations and people feel it is somehow okay to voice them to her. As a business owner or professional trying to work with the LGBT community, stating any of the phrases noted above is just going to get you in trouble. You can swap out bisexual for L, G or T with those phrases and it is equally as bad.
Try on some new shoes
Put yourself in the shoes of someone you are close to who is LGBT. Picture that person clearly in your mind. Now that you have a visual – consider saying to them “you’ll eventually grow out of it.” Can you imagine how much that would hurt the person you said that to? It’s the same if you were saying it to someone you just met. Many LGBT people reading this may be able to recall a time where someone close to them said one of these phrases. For example, I can remember when I came out to my mom – she was convinced it was just a phase. That was many years ago and she now absolutely loves my wife but at the time to her she thought it was a phase.
Remember this – if someone is coming out to you, it is not something to be taken lightly. If you remember, in the blog post “But You Don’t Look Gay…,” we talked about if someone comes out to you and your response is “but you don’t look gay” you are immediately diminishing what the person may have originally thought about you. This is very much the same case with these expressions as well. You may not think what you are saying has an impact on someone you are networking with, but you just really need to put yourself in their shoes for a moment and think what your reaction would be.
If you are an ally reading this, it is almost as ridiculous as someone finding out you are married to the opposite sex and their reaction being “you’re just experimenting.” Sounds silly, doesn’t it? The point I make over and over on this blog is to really just see things from a different perspective and think of how you would react. If you are networking and trying to do business with the LGBT community just pause and think first. Ask yourself “is this an appropriate question to ask anyone?” If the answer is no, think to yourself why would this be any more appropriate directed at someone LGBT? Odds are, it’s not! If whatever is prompting you to be beaming with curiosity enough for you to ask an inappropriate question – stop yourself. Come back to this blog and if I haven’t already covered the topic – e-mail me and I will write about it just for you!