Assumptions and Equality
I hope you’re all well and living in the ‘now’ while exercising, meditating, brain-training, and eating in moderation, after my last post! Thanks so much for those who took the time to read, share, and comment on the last blog. This is my longest blog yet (and they won’t get any longer than this!) so grab and cuppa and get comfortable!
I’d like to talk about the impact that being gay has had on my MS experience. While I realise some people approach this in the ‘what does it matter’ fashion, while others may dismiss it by stating ‘I don’t need to know what you do in private’! I’m really grateful for the opportunity and platform to talk about it.
It is undeniable that there has always been the assumption that everyone is heterosexual until they declare otherwise. I encounter this on a daily basis. If I talk about my ‘partner’ I am often met with a question such as, ‘Oh what’s her name’ or ‘what does she do?’. We’ve even been met by alarm at hotel check-in when the receptionist has realised we booked a king-sized bed and not two singles, even though that was what we requested, “Are you sure you didn’t mean a twin bed- like 2 separate beds?!”. Basically, when you’re gay you don’t just ‘come out’ once (actually not that dissimilar to having a chronic illness that can be mainly invisible). I was once told by someone that I should have specified that my ‘partner’ was my ‘boyfriend’ to make it clear. This person was embarrassed that they’d made a booking for my partner and I using ‘Mr and Mrs’ because, admittedly, my partner has a name that could also be used for a woman, and they thought a two ‘Mr’s’ booking in for an anniversary dinner wasn’t an option! To take their advice and describe my partner of over 10 years as my ‘boyfriend’ would be an insult to the relationship - this isn’t High School!
When I was initially diagnosed, and my partner came to those first half dozen appointments, we were often met with ‘is that your brother’ or ‘your friend can come through to the testing area too’. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that he could possibly be my partner of over 10 years. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that he was my rock through it all, through the tears and fears, and through when we couldn’t look at each other for a good month after my diagnosis without one of us crying. Even at MS information nights and education programs we were often met with confusion around my +1, particularly from other participants rather than those running the sessions. It was a conversation ender for some people unfortunately, and I was going to these information nights for help, not judgement.
I’ve also found that a lot of the online content out here in this digital world also assumes that the reader is heterosexual. While I’ve learnt to overlook this over the years, I find it interesting that the authors of so much content don’t consider that their reader may be something other than straight. Language can be very powerful. What’s the answer to this? That’s a difficult one. One simple solution is for authors to think about who their content may reach, and not simply assume it. Always using inclusive language that caters to as many people as possible (yes, we are people too!) is another obvious way to address this pet hate of mine.
The argument that ‘we don’t need to know about your private life’ is an interesting (and dismissive) one that suggests gay people only have intimate relationships, and not meaningful, loving ones. To me, acknowledging that I’m in a long-term relationship with another man isn’t exposing my private life, it is just sharing ‘my life’! I don’t feel that society has evolved enough for us to comfortably hold hands in public without fear of being verbally or physically attacked. If we did hold hands in public, as most heterosexual couples do, yes it would send an instant and obvious picture to people as to our relationship status, but I worry that we’d be met with comments like the ones friends have endured like, “I’m fine with gay people but you don’t have to flaunt it”, yet if you look around the streets, holding hands in the ‘norm’ with the majority of couples.
The current debate around Marriage Equality is also worth considering, and is one that I’m very passionate about. The fact I could introduce my partner as my ‘husband’ takes away the awkward questions and conversations that usually follow a ‘partner’ mention. The protection it provides me from a medical point of view is also vital and necessary. While there is some protection in a ‘registered relationship’ scenario (“Would you like to register a relationship with me doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as “Will you marry me? Does it?), this is not the same protection as what marriage would provide. Now that I have MS I realise the importance of protection under the law for my partner and I more than ever, and it has become more of a necessity rather than just wanting/deserving the choice. It reminded my of a really moving story that came to light from the U.S a few years ago, as told through the documentary ‘Bridegroom’. There is more info here for those interested http://bridegroommovie.com/ that outlines how important legal protection, in the form of marriage, really is for gay and lesbians.
So while we're waiting for Marriage Equality (take a seat it might be a while, especially following the rejection of a Coalition free vote last night!) what's the answer in the meantime? I spoke to a good friend last night and ran my latest blog by her for her thoughts, and it inspired the addition of this paragraph. She asked me, "I totally understand why you don't want people to assume if your partner is your brother or friend, but how do people get around that?". Such a fair question that I'm so glad she asked yet hadn’t really occurred to me. After a moment of reflection, I answered that "I think it's the fact the people assume, which makes it awkward to then correct them. I think the answer is people inviting an answer rather than assuming one". This could be done many different ways including:
So who's this with you today?
So how do you fit into the picture here?
I'm Samuel's Neurologist, how do you know him?
Just a few ideas, but basically I think it's quite easy to ask rather than assume without making a big deal out of it. Of course there's another alternative solution, let us marry!
This blog feels a little disjointed, perhaps because the language that’s used in resources and content and the issue of Marriage Equality initially seemed to me like two completely different ones. Although I hadn’t planned to introduce the Marriage Equality debate into this blog, it’s occurred to me as I write, that each issue is influenced by the other. The language used by authors, the medical profession, and the general public, will naturally need to change when the law changes to allow two people to marry regardless of their genders. That norm of heterosexuality will ultimately be challenged, and it will require consideration by everyone, because when the term ‘husband’ or ‘wife’ is used to describe your other half, it really communicates the significance and status of that relationship. To me, and in many medical and legal situations, a registered relationship or civil union just doesn’t cut it.
I certainly see this change as a positive one, and a step forward in addressing the assumptions that are often made by authors, medical professionals, and the general public, usually without any particular intent to offend or ostracise, but made nevertheless. I look forward to the day I can introduce my +1 as my ‘husband’, tick the ‘husband’ box on an admission form instead of the ‘other’ box, and just move on with my conversations without needing to explain myself and my true love.