I’ve had two encounters relating to this. One business and one personal. I had a revelation when it occurred the second time – it is my responsibility as the LGBT person to guide the direction of the discussion, awkwardness and all. Let me share the two examples.
Example #1: The business setting
I was having a conversation with a colleague of mine who I’ve been working alongside for close to a year. I respect her as a colleague, a very smart woman, and really efficient at what she does. We were talking about her son’s upcoming Bat Mitzvah and the tremendous amount of preparation that goes into throwing such a celebration.
While on the phone we were talking about our families and she point blank said “Did you have your children?” I answered and we ended up talking quite a bit. At the end of the conversation she apologized for being so blunt. I said something to the effect of it not being a big deal, I know you well enough to not mind the question. Since I know her well and I know her to be a straight shooter in general, this situation is unique especially since we were talking about families and it was a natural transition.
Had this been at a networking event and someone I don’t know walked up to me and directly asked me this, I would have said something to the effect of – I don’t feel comfortable with you asking me this. It is entirely situational and certainly depends on the comfort level of who you are asking. So my advice remains the same – you should avoid asking this in general with the caveat that if the conversation flows naturally and the opportunity presents itself, it might be okay. Might.
Example #2: The personal setting
This is a perfect lead into the second example which is in a personal setting. This is a business blog. I am here to educate the straight person and/or ally on how to market and communicate effectively to their desired LGBT customer. However, it was a recent experience that made me realize the vast majority of communications advise I provide crosses out of the business world and into life in general.
I was one of three moms standing at the bus stop last week. Mom #1, is someone I speak to quite a bit and we are slowly building a friendship. Mom #2, I barely talk to. So the three of us are talking about birthdays and realize we all have at least one ‘summer baby’. Mom #1 begins to reenact how she felt being pregnant in August. We all got an early morning laugh at the visuals. As we were walking back to our homes it was just Mom #1 and I. Based on my responses to her entertaining pregnancy performance I had clearly answered a question she’s had since the day she found out I had a wife – ‘who gave birth?’
It’s a two way street here
As the LGBT person, the (rare in my town) lesbian mom – it is really on me to not create an awkward situation that doesn’t need to be. I have many examples of LGBT people flying off the handle because of a perceived violation of personal space or inquiries. Hence, my ability to write about it frequently on this blog. But it is up to each individual person to make the best decision for them on how they are going to handle a situation.
Situations like this require trust, patience and understanding from both parties. To the ally reading this – be conscious of what you are asking of an LGBT person you are working with (or have a personal relationship with). To the LGBT person reading this – understand that in some cases you may be the only LGBT person that this person knows. Be nice to them. They are inquisitive, they want to learn more, they want to understand. So grant them that opportunity. Remember though – this is an individual experience, not a one size fits all approach. Many LGBT people will not think the way I do on this and that is okay. Respect their wishes.
Don’t forget to read How Intimate is too Intimate in a Business Setting by clicking here.