Stop That PDA PDQ
Should gay couples be held to a different set of social rules?
I am a 22-year-old lesbian in a committed relationship with my girlfriend of two years. My family is accepting and supportive in every way, but my mother and I have a slight disagreement concerning whether or not it is appropriate for my girlfriend and me to have public displays of affection. Her opinion is that for us to hold hands, put arms around waists, or occasionally hug in public will be perceived as making a political statement. But I do not view our PDA as anything out of the ordinary for any couple. And while I am aware that people might misconstrue them as our own little pride parade, I ultimately feel that I am not responsible for catering to them. My mother is also concerned that we are inviting trouble, perhaps even physical trouble, by making it apparent that we are together. Usually this disagreement doesn't go farther than agreeing to disagree (boy, that was redundant), but occasionally it does turn into a frustrating butting of heads. Would you be so kind as to weigh in on the matter?
Prudie's opinion about the ongoing head-butting is that anybody's PDA (hetero and gay) should be within the bounds of restraint. Handholding in public is fine, necking is not. (For everyone.) A spontaneous expression of love—a brief one—is fine if it's not for effect and there would be no consequences … for example, if you're in an environment known to be homophobic, you would be asking for trouble. If you know someone who might be discomfited by seeing two girls display physicality, skip it. As the erudite Roger Rosenblatt has written, "If you find yourself making accommodations, that does not make you a hotel." In this case, it just makes you thoughtful.
I've been reading your column for a long time but never thought I'd write you. I am hoping you can settle something for me. My sister, "Sharon," married into a well-off family. Her in-laws, "Fred and Sue," have very strict ideas about male vs. female roles. Fred is especially happy that Sharon has given him two grandsons to carry on the family name. He is fond of his other four granddaughters, but it's clear the grandsons are what he values most. He is so happy about the grandsons that he's given Sharon an extra, very expensive piece of jewelry—far more valuable than anything she or her sisters-in-law had received before. (Fred and Sue have given each daughter or daughter-in-law jewelry after each grandchild.) Sharon would be especially irritated whenever Fred said to her, "I sure hope that's a boy in there" whenever she was pregnant. Sharon said over and over that it didn't matter if it's a boy or girl … however, she accepted this "bonus" piece of jewelry and wears it frequently. I say if she really feels that you should value your kids equally, then you wouldn't accept such a gift. Gifts are symbolic, and Fred is saying, "I value my grandsons over my granddaughters." I think Sharon should have politely refused the gift, saying it wouldn't be fair to her two daughters; that wearing it would condone his belief that boys are better than girls. What do you think?
—Confused and Not Bejeweled
Prudie agrees with your signature: You are confused. "Fred" may think whatever he wants, and "Sharon" does not condone his feeling that boys are superior by wearing the jewelry. A big rock, let's say, is neither fair nor unfair to her daughters. The "extra" gift was his wish. Following your thinking, no woman should accept any piece of jewelry if she does not approve of the reason it was given. Were this the case, women would have many fewer baubles, and jewelry stores would be in tough shape. It is actually quite easy to dissociate a piece of jewelry from the donor. Don't ask Prudie how she knows this.
I have a small service dog. The need she fills is medical and personal. Because she is cute and friendly, she attracts a lot of interest. When people ask what she does for me, I try to divert them with, "Oh, she takes dictation." (I am a writer and carry a laptop and notebooks, so it's appropriate.) Some people smile—they get that I'm not going to say. Others, though, go on and on, often loudly, demanding to know. I've used: "I'd rather not say," but some people refuse to take no for an answer. Should I just yell: "Mind your f--- business"? (I suspect your answer will be no.) Then there are the ones who say: "I want to take my dog everywhere with me, too," and demand to know how they can get a license. And, frankly, it's like having a handicapped parking pass—it's not for convenience. Help me before I bite!
Prudie will offer you the benefit of her own experience being on the wrong end of a personal question. The woman's response to a question Prudie had no business asking was, "We could talk about it … another time." Anybody who keeps at it after that deserves nothing further. You do not owe anyone an answer about anything. As for people "demanding" an answer—who are these people, government interrogators? Why people are reticent to throw the burden back on the person who asked the none-of-your business question is a bit of a mystery. (And speaking of service dogs, Prudie's favorite organization is Canine Companions for Independence.)
I would appreciate some sound advice. I am a skinny lass (always have been considered 20 pounds underweight by no fault of my own) and am not proud of it. I was mercilessly teased for years about being an apparent anorexic. My larger co-worker, who knows this, thinks it's flattering to bestow upon me "compliments" such as "Oh, gosh—eat a Twinkie already, would you!?" whenever I mention trying to eat well. After several back-handed compliments like this, I finally told her today that I wished she would not say such things to me. After I stopped talking to her, she asked if I was angry with her and then apologized, saying that she thought she was complimenting me. In the past, this co-worker has stated that once she loses some weight herself, she wants to be a "healthy" weight—not a bag of bones. I'm left to wonder, how the heck is this Twinkie business a compliment? I'm at a loss about how to handle this woman. Her abrasive "joking" is starting to burn my britches. Please advise.
The Twinkie business isn't a compliment, it's a needle. And you are far too sensitive. You've already asked her to knock off the skinny talk, and if she can't do it, ignore the digs. If you're feeling snarky, try putting a package of Twinkies on your desk. Sometimes the unspoken is very powerful.
Photograph of Prudie by Allan Penn.