Before I went to China, I'd told my girl that I might have to represent her as a guy when over there. She was okay with that, but I said I felt like it was a deception of some way. "You're there for professional reasons," she said, "do what you have to do". I'm out with nearly everyone I work with. They're all cool with it.... but travelling overseas means I have to think about local cultures.
When you meet someone in China, they always end up asking if you have a partner. It's one of those things. Or rather, whether you have a boyfriend or husband. I have neither, but I also know that being gay isn't so well accepted over there. Of course there are gay people, but they're quiet about it, because society isn't so accepting. So when I'm asked that question, I either answer "yes, I do have a partner" or "I'm getting married at the end of the year". For many conversations, that's sufficient. For others, they then want to know "what does he do for a living" and so on. Then you build this whole conversation around "him" and it occurs to me that using that male pronoun for my girl just doesn't seem right. Gender says so much. And yet, it also really doesn't.
Either way, talking about "him" reminded me of my past and just didn't feel right.
I went to dinner with one woman who talked of her marriage. She said that until she met her husband she never imagined she could be this happy with someone. She thought that though there were good relationships out there, she wasn't destined to have one. That's exactly how I felt, and I agreed with her, and we were both silent for a while, happily thinking of the people that we love back at home.
She broke the silence, "so he's wonderful then, your boyfriend? What makes him different to your ex?" For starters, the fact that she is not a he! But I had to continue the deception at this point. I hate deception of all kinds, and hate to be deceived, so I felt so guilty after this conversation, which was in fact a beautiful conversation... if only we could get around the gender issue.
I know there are a lot of gay and lesbian people that never come out, and I think that's sad. It's for their own reasons, so I'm not judging, but I know how happy I felt after I did. And since then, I've seen friends come out, and they seem so much more at peace with their lives once they do. Two weeks in China was another reminder to me about the importance of this... but also how the pronouns "he" or "she" seem to say so much.
A blog post I recently read said we need a gender neutral term. For males, females, transgendered people. Perhaps. I'm not sure where I stand on that issue so much as wishing I could talk of my "girlfriend" as freely as others talk of their "boyfriend" - in all cultures, and all settings.
This week, in dealing with the medical profession, I've been pleased with how accepting they were of my female partner. "My partner, can she go to work?" I asked. And rather than clarifying, like most people do ("do you mean he or do you actually mean she?") the nurse simply said, "Oh yes, she'll be okay" and talked about her. "What's his name?" another nurse asked. "It's actually a she," I said. "I'm sorry," the nurse replied. "I shouldn't presume". I don't have any issues with people presuming - let's face it, gay people are the minority, so for me, as long as it's accepted, I'm fine.
A co-worker in China guessed, which surprised me. We talked of my upcoming wedding and she asked me if it was legal. "For what?" I inquired. "For two women to marry?" I had to explain it wasn't. Later a guy asked me if I had a boyfriend. I turned to her and asked her if I should tell them. "No," she said, and told the guy that I did indeed have a boyfriend. She told me it just wouldn't be accepted.
So there's a lesson to us all... not just about coming out but about being upfront. As for me, I can't say I won't do it again, overseas, but here, from now on, I'll have no toying around the partner word.