Except for me, the election workers behind the table have worked there for years. They know almost everybody who comes in to vote. They talk about the voters’ kids and grandkids and all the little events that mark a life. They comment on people’s names, on what they’re wearing, on where they live and who their neighbors are. Most of the people coming in the door probably look forward to this friendly small-town ritual.
The voting booths are very close to the table where we sit. The curtains are flimsy, and sometimes I’m sure the people voting can hear their own vital statistics being tossed around the table.
Two young men come in and announce their names. They have the same last name. “Oh, are you brothers?” one of the women coos.
“No, we’re married.” They grit their teeth. Their cheeks are flushed. They escape behind the curtains. Fortunately, no more vital statistics are exchanged at our table. Except for the cooing speaker, we’re all gritting our own teeth – because the exact same thing happened last November. Same two guys, same question, same answer.
It’s hard to stand up against something like that when you know that the woman, no matter how culturally insensitive, means well. I’ve only been behind that table for a year or so. But last year I didn’t say anything, and this year I’m even more furious.
I have two gay female friends who always get asked, when they stay together on vacation, whether they’re sisters. This also makes me furious.
What’s wrong with all this? It’s the automatic assumption that everybody is heterosexual. With my two gay friends, the hetero-normative world is creating a context where they will fit in. When a man and a woman come in with the same last name, the hetero-normative world assumes they’re married, not brother and sister.
And so I worked up my courage, waited until there were no voters in the room, and told my fellow workers I hoped that next November, when those same two came in, we would not once again ask if they were brothers. They were very embarrassed, I said. It was difficult for them – especially since it had gone down the same way less than six months ago. Everyone remembered, except perhaps the well-meaning woman.
But to her credit, she took responsibility, said right away it was her fault, and that she shouldn’t have said that.
You have to admire those two guys for continuing to vote. I hope they come back. But now I’m worried we’ll all be told how wonderful it is that they are married, as they’re in behind the flimsy curtains.