Lack of Safety Net for LGBT Couples Causes Stress
The “straight safety net” involves both hetero-normative assumptions and heterosexual privilege (defined below). These create often-unacknowledged stress for queer couples.
Following are three different scenarios from my sessions with queer couples that exemplify some of these common stressors.
Yvonne & Angela: How homophobia ruined our romantic vacation
After I asked a lesbian couple why they hadn’t taken a vacation together in five years, this is what they told me:
Yvonne: I took her on what was advertised as a “gay-friendly destination” but as it turned out, we were the only queer couple in sight! Consequently, she was really paranoid in public and wouldn’t hold my hand on the beach, or she would become really uncomfortable if I suggested a restaurant that looked slightly romantic. She’s a butch woman, so people were staring at her anyway because they couldn’t quite place her on the gender spectrum. It pretty much killed the romance factor out in public, and unfortunately it translated into the bedroom as well. She just couldn’t make that transition when we were alone. It was as if she didn’t take a breath until we got home. Needless to say, we haven’t been on an overseas vacation since!
Angela: I think on some level I just didn’t feel safe. I didn’t speak the language or know the people. They stared at me all the time. I think they couldn’t figure out if I was a guy or a girl. It might sound ridiculous, but I was expecting to be attacked at any moment. Consequently, my guard was up at all times.
This couple had to deal with a whole set of stressors that a heterosexual couple would probably never need to consider when planning their holiday (like having to find a “heterosexual-friendly destination”). Much of the travel industry is geared toward the romantic getaway, but those getaways are mostly aimed at heterosexual couples. This omission of queer couples is part of what is termed “heteronormative assumptions.”
[Heteronormative assumptions] refer to automatic unconscious beliefs and expectations that reinforce heterosexuality and heterosexual relationship as the ideal norm. Thus, heteronormative assumptions create a society where only heterosexual relationships are visible (McGeorge and Carlson, 2011).
Although the travel industry has become savvy to a whole previously untapped market and there are now ads for gay-friendly destinations on every queer travel site, the truth is that this can also be a marketing ploy. As Yvonne and her girlfriend found when they got to their “gay-friendly” destination, the locals hadn’t been informed!
Gloria & Maria: A pregnant lesbian couple’s first birthing class together
Gloria: I was so uncomfortable that we were the only queer couple in the room! On top of that the trainer had us do an experiential where she asked the fathers to go on one side and the mothers on the other. She at least corrected herself when she saw me standing there awkward and alone. I felt so humiliated!
The rest of this session was spent processing Maria’s feelings about the class and her ambivalence toward attending more classes. Although Gloria was sympathetic to Maria’s dilemma, she was also clear that she wanted Maria’s support at the birth and needed to know that Maria had the knowledge to provide it. In the end, despite the stress the first class had caused, they did go back for another class and found to their delight that there was a new trainer who was much more GLBTQ savvy and aware.