Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I just had a washing machine repair person over to the house.

Since Chris and I moved into our new house, our washing machine has given us a number of problems. Only five years old, it produces a noticeable grinding sound when it goes into the spin cycle, and, recently, the grinding is accompanied by an annoying knocking, especially when it first begins to pick up speed. In addition, our white loads often come out dirtier than they went in because of dark brown streaking, which, lately, resulted in repeated washing and wasted detergent, fabric softener, and water. Chris and I are so fed up with these challenges that we've sworn to replace it, but we wanted to get a professional opinion first, to determine if we could save money by repairing the problems, or if we had to buy a mew machine after all.

Strike one against the repair person was that he asked whether he should remove his shoes before I led him to the location of the washing machine upstairs. I don't care who you are, your shoes should always come off in someone else's house, clean or not. Don't ask if you should keep them on. Automatically take them off. I would never think to walk around someone else's house with outdoor shoes on my feet. There must be an etiquette rule about that somewhere, perhaps unspoken but unmistakable nonetheless. I don't appreciate being put in the position of saying, "Oh, yeah, go ahead, keep your shoes on. I'm sure they're clean." It's my house. Show some respect and take your shoes off.

Strike two against the repair person was that he was one of those annoying people who anticipate what someone else is going to tell them. He listened to the first few words I said, then he went on to finish what he thought I was about to say while I was still talking, failing to give me the chance to explain the exact nature of the problem. And, when I corrected what he'd said, he kept repeating, "Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh" over and over, to the extent that I doubt he heard a single detail. Sometimes, people, especially service people, need to shut up and listen to what the customer tells them. Don't anticipate, don't talk over, and don't acknowledge something when you've been given nothing yet to acknowledge.

Once the repair person fully heard what I said, he crouched in front of the washing machine, opened the door, and manually spun the drum around. Right away he heard the grinding sound, which he told me had to do with the bearing in the machine, and which he went on to explain would cost almost as much to repair as buying a new machine. He also confirmed that, because the bearing is broken, the grease from inside it is leaking into the drum and flying onto our clothes during the spin cycle, soiling them. In other words, Chris and I need to buy another washing machine, which we pretty much knew was the case anyway. Good to have that confirmed, even though it cost us $94.45 for the assessment.

At the point when I began to ask questions about whether a top loading washing machine was preferable to a front loading, from the perspective of better washing capacity, fewer problems, and longevity, the repair person asked me what I wanted to replace it with. I said we'd talked about finding a machine by the same manufacturer, that roughly matched our existing dryer, which we've had no problems with, and was top loading, since we've never had bad experiences with top loading machines. Strike three was when he made an unfortunate assumption. He asked if my wife and I were set on buying the same brand, because, he advised, there are more durable brands on the market.

It's a small thing, I understand, making the assumption that I'm straight and that I have a wife. In fact, I recognize a compliment in there, in the sense that I'm so sure I look gay that everyone can tell I am, which I've written about ad nauseum in my blog, and which I've made very clear I don't want to appear to be. I should rejoice that a straight man thought I was straight too, proving that I make incorrect assumptions myself when it comes to what people think about me.

But, from my perspective, there's something else at work here. I don't want people to make incorrect assumptions about my sexual orientation. I don't want them to fail to acknowledge that there are alternate couples and living arrangements out there. And I don't want them to take away from what I've shared with the most special person in my life for the past seventeen years by making the assumption that he's a she.

The thought that ran through my head the minute I heard the "wife" word was, Do I correct him and tell him that I don't have a wife, I have a husband? Do I put the energy into telling him that I'm gay? Do I risk embarrassing him for making a mistake, and, perhaps more to the point, do I risk embarrassing myself by making too fine a point of his mistake, or, worse, by provoking a possible reaction that tells me he doesn't accept gay relationships and two men living together? Did I really want to potentially bring that down on myself, just because I wanted to correct him, because I wanted him to know gay relationships are everywhere, and he can't go through life failing to acknowledge people's various living arrangements.

Perhaps I'm as angry at myself for letting this bother me as much as it has, as I am at him for making the wrong assumption. The words he used in his question were innocent enough, and I shouldn't be upset that a straight man pigeon-holed me in the same slot as most other males in our culture. After all, in some of my posts, I've squawked about not wanting to look gay, and not wanting people to make the assumption that I'm gay. And I'm even working on another post where I complain about wanting to fit in with everyone else, and not wanting to attract attention to myself just because I might look different, and wanting to be like every straight man. So why get upset at the poor washing machine repair person because he's made the mistake of thinking I'm straight?

If I take a close look at my reaction, I see what really irks me about today's encounter. Yes, I'd love to be straight as long as we continue to live in a straight world, but I'm not. I will never be straight. So, that being the case, I want the respectful acknowledgement that I'm gay, that I have a gay relationship with another man, and that that gay relationship is as legitimate as straight relationships are between men and women.

And all of that won't happen unless people's eyes are opened, and they are forced to see what two women or two men share. If eyes don't get opened, gay relationships continue to exist in shadow, unacknowledged, and our society goes on thinking they are an anomaly, unimportant, and not worth recognizing.

Oh, by the way, I chose not to say anything to the repair person about being gay. I'm sure I'll never see him again anyway (although a part of me is upset with myself for not using the opportunity presented to me to do a little teaching about the realities of the world we live in today).

And what would I have preferred the repair person to say rather than "wife?" "Partner" works just fine, thank-you. I find that partner can be used in both opposite and same sex relationships, and there's nothing wrong with the term. In fact, since I've had to work with a number of service providers over the past several months, many of them routinely used the word partner to refer to a person's significant other. I always appreciated the implied acknowledgement that I may not have a wife, but that I may still have someone significant in my life whom I love very much.


  1. Oh dear. I feel your pain, Rick, when it comes to service providers in your home. The shoes on/off thing drives me nuts because there are a lot of people out there who never give a second thought to traipsing through your house in their outdoor shoes. I'm pretty adamant about telling people to remove their footwear if they don't do it automatically. I've learned, however, that this is quite a Canadian custom. Our American son-in-law, and other American friends, find it odd that people "up here" don't keep their shoes on in the house. Hmmm.

    Back to the real issue. Joe Washing Machine Fixer made an unfortunate assumption and you felt yourself reacting. Normal. I've had similar experiences. Like the repair guy who assumed I had blonde roots and knew absolutely nothing about the inner workings of a natural gas furnace. Actually, I don't, but I wasn't about to let him know that! I knew enough to tell him what was wrong and what parts needed to be replaced. Or the Shaw cable guy who spent two hours in my house trying to get my internet working when I told him as soon as he got there that I was pretty sure it was the modem. He tried everything and was in practically every room in the house until he finally went out to his truck to get a new modem - which, by the way, was the problem. Just like I said.

    Dozens of repair guys have told me outright that they wanted to talk to my husband before they did any work. It happened so many times that I started responding "what husband?" Interesting expressions result, let me tell you.

    I do get your point, Rick. People make assumptions. It happens all the time. I guess our job is to check our own hearts before we react.

    You did good today, my friend!

  2. Thanks for the great comment, Wendy. I appreciate the time you took to write it. And thanks for the encouragement regarding my response. I'm sure you could tell from my post that I was frustrated. I love when I'm so impassioned about something that writing about it seems effortless. That's how writing this one was. Note for the future: Write about something I feel strongly about. That will keep my mind off the process of writing and more on expressing what I need to say.
    Thanks again.