During a flight I took while traveling back from a conference I sat next to a woman who had a service dog. As an animal lover I had to refrain from wanting to encourage the dog up on my lap so I could cuddle with her. Service dogs almost always have tags that say, “Ask to Pet Me” or something to that effect, so I had to keep myself in check. I started talking with the woman I ended up learning the dog’s name, where they were traveling to, where they were coming from, etc. (And even got some puppy love.)
But after we departed I began to think about more about her and her dog. It is human nature to be curious and upon reflection I became curious to know what her disability was that required her to have a service dog. Now that I am processing it, I couldn’t imagine myself saying, “So, what’s your disability?” There are many kinds of disabilities and I usually classify them as visible or invisible disabilities, she fell into the latter. What I am realizing now is that anyone could find himself or herself in a similar situation with wondering whether or not someone is LGBT.
I further wonder how I would react if someone said to me on a plane “So, are you a lesbian?” Part of me would like to proclaim I would be okay with it, but the other part of me is saying that I would be caught off guard and am uncertain to what my reaction would be. This is coming from me, a professional lesbian, who teaches these things for a living. If I am uncertain, imagine how the average every day LGBT person would react. I like to be the one who dispenses wisdom to you but in this case I don’t have an absolute right way to go about this. What I can say is point blank saying, “are you a lesbian?” to anyone probably wouldn’t get you far. But if you are developing a relationship, even if it is with a stranger on a plane, you could easily say, “So, do you have a partner or spouse?” in conversation, as long as it fits the conversation. If someone asked me that, I would be totally fine responding.
Based on this recent example you can see how poor communication in any context, not just LGBT, can really be the kiss of death. Now imagine yourself or an employee saying something inappropriate to someone, that seemed innocent at the time – where would that leave the person on the receiving end of that question or comment? Probably not feeling too good. So the moral of the story here is to choose your words wisely and really take a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to see how you might react if you were asked a similar question.