While you’re reading this Saturday morning, I’ll be at the hospital tending to my beloved.
In fact, I’m writing it right now sitting in a hospital hallway, watching the clock forget to move. Side note: holy shit, nothing puts life in perspective quite like a loved one on the operating table, does it?
Now first, don’t worry— he’s okay, everything’s all right, this visit was planned in advance. There’s no emergency.
We’ve both been pondering how to answer the inevitable awkward questions he’s sure to get asked. [Update: You could do what Nick does, which is to just TELL THE INTERNET EVERYTHING right up front!! I admire my husband’s policy of radical transparency, and it’s true, it does make a lot of what I’m about to say irrelevant. BUT that level of radical taking-off-your-clothes-for-the-world might not be the right move for you, so you should keep reading anyway.]
Since Nick is transgender, he has to deal with more awkward questions than most people do. It’s a bit shocking, actually, the things people have the audacity to ask. But I know that everyone has to deal with awkward questions at some point in their lives.
Some questions are just downright rude, but people ask them anyway.
“Are you pregnant?” Always a winner.
“Did you give birth to all those kids?” or even worse, “Which ones are really yours?”
“Where are you from?” Answer: “Ohio.” “No I mean, like, originally…where was your, um. family from?”
“When are you two getting married?” or the dreaded, “When are you going to have kids?”
“So who’s watching your kids while you [do things men do all day without being asked this]?”
“When are you having another baby?” –particularly gutting for anyone who’s struggling with infertility or miscarriages.
“How much did it cost?”
“Can I touch your belly?”
“How much do you weigh?”
“Boy or girl?”
Then there are questions that are perfectly innocuous in their intent, but can touch on spots that are unsuspectingly tender.
We all have spots in our lives where our history is complicated, and we don’t necessarily want to open up a tender personal narrative in a casual conversation.
“How old are your kids?”
“Where do you live?”
“What do you do?”
“Where do your parents live?”
“How are you doing?”
For me, like many global nomads, the simplest icebreaker question is the toughest one to answer:
“So where are you from?”
I never know how to answer.
Ummmm, should I say I’m from Tokyo, where I can’t live without a visa? From Indianapolis, where I was born but never really lived? From Portland, which feels like my heart? For a long time, I used to just say “From Chicago,” which is hilarious because I only lived there a couple years.
Let me propose something radical.
No one is entitled to hear your whole story unless you want to share it.
We have this strange idea that if someone asks us a question, it’s our moral obligation to answer it, no matter what uncomfortable territory that might take us into.
I’m not suggesting you lie, in spite of my Chicago fib.
But I am suggesting that you only need to share parts of you with the world that you WANT to share. No one has a right to peek into your private heart, just like they don’t have a right to peek into your clothes.
But usually in the moment, we’re too caught off guard to come up with a witty, elegant, kind-but-clear brilliant boundary-setting answer.
Which is why we’re going to come up with one right now. Then you can just whip it out of your back pocket (or your bra) whenever you need it.
Here are some of my favorite ways to handle awkward questions:
“It’s complicated.” Smile. Beat. Change the subject.
“Oh, you know, families come together all sorts of ways.”
“It’s a long story. Maybe I’ll tell you over a bottle of wine sometime.”
“I think that’s more of a second-date sort of conversation.”
“I never kiss and tell.”
“Pretty sure I signed an NDA on that one.”
And if you want to really let someone down gently, you can do a little ninja move by smiling and saying,
“Oh, it’s too embarrassing to tell you.”
Of course, these answers will only work if you’re dealing with a well-intentioned human who can take a hint.
If someone is persistent, you’ll need to get more direct.
“That’s a little personal, isn’t it?”
“Definitely a not-safe-for-work topic for me. Let’s try another.”
“I’m going to keep some parts of my life private, but thanks for asking.”
“That story isn’t for public consumption.”
“I’m going to go get myself another tea now.” and exit.
Do these seem scandalous? They’re NOT!! They’re perfectly polite ways to steer someone away from a topic they don’t need to get into. What’s scandalous is the assumption that your personal life is open for public discussion.
You are allowed to draw a cloak of privacy around yourself. No one else has a right to your story, your heart, your tender and intimate parts.
Your life is for you to live. Not for you to explain to the people around you.
So go live it, dearheart.