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Heteronormativity at the dentist

Heteronormativity at the dentist published on 8 Comments on Heteronormativity at the dentist

Following up on my entry earlier this year about sexism on a customer service line, I present the following conversation, which happened between me and the dental hygienist this morning. I was actually finding the poking, scraping and drilling much less annoying than usual, thanks to the hygienist's sense of humor and skills. Then we started talking about mouthwash.

I asked for recommendations of alcohol-free mouthwash. I mentioned that "my fiancee" used mouthwash with alcohol, which I did not like because of its strong odor.

Hygienist: "What kind does he use?"

Me: "I don't know what SHE uses."

Conversation continued with recommendations.

So she automatically assumed that I was engaged to a guy because a) I look like a woman and b) the majority of marriages are between a man and a woman. However, given that spouses are not always 1 man + 1 woman, people should know better than to make that assumption, especially in Vermont, which is on the vanguard of marriage equality in the US. The definition of marriage has changed yet again, people. Get with the program!

P.S. My FIANCE?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? What fiance?

P.P.S. Holy crap, the hygienist was not the only one behind the times. Just out of curiosity, I typed "define marriage" into Google.

Merriam Webster's online dictionary says:

"(1) the state of being united to a person of the opposite sex as husband or wife in a consensual and contractual relationship recognized by law (2) : the state of being united to a person of the same sex in a relationship like that of a traditional marriage"

FAILURE. Just say "the state of being united to a person as a husband or wife…blah blah blah." says something similar:

"1. a. the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc. Antonyms: separation.
b. a similar institution involving partners of the same gender: gay marriage. Antonyms: separation."

FAILURE. It's all the same institution.

Google's first dictionary result has the same problem:

"1. The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife
2. A similar long-term relationship between partners of the same sex"

THREE STRIKES AND YOU'RE OUT. It's not "a similar long-term relationship." It's the same thing!

Not until Wiktionary do we get a more accurate definition, talking about an exclusive union between two or more people. Subdefinitions clarify that, in some jurisdictions, marriage is defined as being between 1 man + 1 woman, while other jurisdictions allow 2 partners of any sex to marry. But the main thing is the exclusive union.

I actually like the Wikipedia entry the best, as it seems to capture the concept and purposes of marriage that have remained stable over time: "Marriage (also called matrimony or wedlock) is a social union or legal contract between people called spouses that creates kinship." Marriage is a grouping of people to create social units. Everything else varies. If you don't like that, you're on the losing side of history.


1. Congrats on your engagement.

2. Isn’t the technically-gender-neutral singular pronoun still the male pronoun? I know in casual speech, people are moving to use the plural pronoun “they” as the singular gender neutral pronoun, but the last I knew (which, admittedly, was 10+ years ago), it wasn’t grammatically correct. If she’d asked, “What type of mouthwash do they use?” would it have been better for being gender-neutral, or worse for being technically grammatically incorrect?

(And because I know my speech nuances don’t always show up in type, I’m not trying to be argumentative or hostile, just genuinely curious on a sociolinguistic level, if that’s a word :-P)

1. Thanks!

2. Grammatical correctness depends on what kind of perspective you have on the language. If you’re a descriptivist, you follow the way language is actually being used by actual current speakers, and, therefore, “they” is grammatically correct. If you’re a prescriptivist, you follow the way that you think language should be used, and, therefore, “they” is grammatically incorrect. The descriptivists always win out, by the way, as language is a constantly changing entity. Some prescriptivist grammarians can make all the stink they want, for example, about people ending sentences with prepositions, but that ship has sailed, my friend…people have been doing it for many years.

In case you can’t tell, I lean toward descriptivism, especially in my old age. :p

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