Week in review: adoption, halloween, and when questions as derailing vs respecting

November 1 2013 | arielmstallings
In random staff gossip, here's Megan's Steampunk Princess Bubblegum halloween costume. This in no way relates to this post.
In random staff gossip, here's Megan's Steampunk Princess Bubblegum halloween costume. This in no way relates to this post.
My goodness, what an interesting week on the Empire. I continue to be completely flabbergasted by Offbeat Families' performance, post shut-down. Another old post went viral this week, and the site has made more advertising revenue this month than it ever did when we were actively publishing it. Insane! Offbeat Home & Life is beginning its first ever "patronized" month — I just wrote about that over here and I think it's a pretty important post for Homies to read. As for Offbeat Bride? Eh, it was halloween week, which is always a good time over there… especially since I took some time to post some of our older favorites over on Facebook so it got to be a walk down memory lane.

But now, what of YOU GUYS? What of some of our favorite moments in Offbeat Empire witticisms? Let's look at some of this week's noteworthy comments…

Offbeat Home

Our post about adoption was a surprisingly popular hit this week. Homies were like, "What, you want me to look at posts about halloween parties and pumpkins and — NO ACTUALLY WE WANT TO TALK ABOUT HERITAGE AND RACE AND IDENTITY." The entire thread of comments is great, but Caitlin had one of our favorite stories:

It's amazing what people will say/ask when you don't look like your parents! I'm an adopted kid who is hella scandinavian. I look a lot like my white forever mom, but my sister (also adopted) identifies as latina, so we get some strange looks and comments!

I still remember one time when I was in elementary school and my sister was in preschool, this old woman came up to us at the grocery store and sneered at us. She said "Look at them! Those girls can't be sisters!" My mom looked her dead in the eye and said "Different fathers."

And that's when I knew my mom was a bad ass.

There was also The Great Raisin Debate of 2013.

Offbeat Bride

Comments were really super crazy quiet this week, which was interesting since it was Halloween week, which is always bloated with all the awesomeness we've saved all year to share in an explosion of seasonal goodness. Maybe everyone was too busy pinning to comment?

Offbeat Empire

On Stephanie's post about how vendors can better serve their gender-ambiguous clients, J made a great comment that continues a theme that's been ongoing in Empire comments recently:

Sometimes (always?) it can suck to *have* to be an advocate. But I think the more often you are as open as you can be, the more pain you might be sparing someone else.

My example is in family planning- do I want to share my journey with everyone? Not especially, but the people I do speak to about it don't always know what people in my position are going through in terms of medical procedures. I'd rather just tell people up front and matter of factly to spread awareness and hopefully make people understand my situation in a positive way that asking 'when are you having kids' is not the best way to phrase that question unless you're prepared to hear the answer.

This is something I've been seeing come up more and more frequently, where "…Just ask!" has become "Fuck you, sometimes I get sick of answering your fucking questions! It's not my job to educate you!" The issue came up over here on Offbeat Home & Life, and when I was editing Stephanie's post, I knew it would come up again.

I love that culturally we're moving to a place where we're working to be sensitive to how questions feel, but I do get worried sometimes when I feel a cultural shift toward making it increasingly difficult for curious to people to learn about each other. Questions need to be respectful, but I hope we can always keep asking each other things.

As Jane said on Offbeat Home:

I'm not saying that people can't get frustrated by questions (feelings are feelings, of course) but that questions are fair game and it's probably healthiest in terms of long term happiness to adapt to them.
  1. I try to feel out "just ask" situations by listening closely to how the other person talks about their situation. Most people give subtle but clear clues as to how much they feel like talking about something. If they bring it up casually / often, it's probably OK to ask. If they don't mention it, keep your mouth shut unless you really need to know.

    I'm comfortable talking about my miscarriage, and want friends who may be experiencing one to know they can talk to me, so I'll mention it when we're bitching about doctors offices or surgery or any other time it's relevant.
    Conversely, I am really tired of talking about the well-known company I used to work for, and tend to clam up whenever it comes up. When people do ask, I usually have a default answer that keeps them from asking too many more questions.

    Moral of the story: don't be a douche, try to get a sense of how someone feels about a sensitive topic before pelting them with questions.

  2. My experience is that the "it's not my job to educate you" bit comes up a lot when people from privileged positions ask marginalized or oppressed folks to educate them about their oppression. I've felt it and I've said it, but I've rarely heard it said in response to just any question.

    • Absolutely, but our commenters have used the "educate yourself!" concept when discussing lifestyles like polyamory. Where's the line for what counts as "oppressed"?

      • Given I've been asked by people who hardly know my poly friends about their sleeping arrangements, I can sympathize with that, though. It was asked without ill-intent, but there is a tendency to treat poly people's personal and love lives as public property. And what about religion? Is that a lifestyle? Does that throw religious oppression (particularly when we aren't talking about the government or openly hateful things, but just overly personal or repetitive questions or things that could easily Googled) into question?

  3. There are so many moments when I don't ask questions because I'm worried I shouldn't. But sometimes I just wish I could ask something that is probably none of my business but that I wish I knew so I could understand. I get that it sucks being the one being asked a ton of questions. Thank goodness for the internet (and the Offbeat Empire) where I can sometimes get the answers I'm looking for without feeling like a jerk for wanting to know.

    And that is a totally badass mom.

  4. Husband finished chemo. He also got a new job that pays substantially more than his crappy one now. AND my comment is one of the comments of the week on OBE? This wins best week ever!

  5. About asking sensitive questions, I sometime miss the childhood ability to ask ignorant (and therefore sometimes really rude) questions. As an adult, I tend not to ask. I know from being asked horrible questions that they do harm my opinion of the asker. A question that reveals a friend's secret racism can hurt our relationship.

    On the other hand, as kids, we learned so much by asking.

    When I was a little girl, I often ended up answering questions about my minority religion. Because kids fearlessly ask anything, I had a chance to correct misinformed stereotype-based assumptions – sometimes busting really horrific racist notions. On the other side, I learned a lot from kids of other races and minority groups by asking questions that would be wildly inappropriate now.

    It's a tough call.

  6. This is something I've been seeing come up more and more frequently, where "…Just ask!" has become "Fuck you, sometimes I get sick of answering your fucking questions!"

    Yeah I was thinking this same thing… In this last week I read posts where I was told not to ask about ethnic background but that I should ask about gender identification. Previously it was explained that I can ask about tattoos and polyamory … maybe.

    And I gotta tell you, for a shy person like myself, the message I internalize is "be safe: don't ask". But then I remember that there's no way to sum up how to deal with any delicate social situation in 1000 words.

    These posts are like reading "Miss Manners" for the offbeat set — well-intentioned, earnest advice that should never be interpreted as definite rules on how to behave in every situation because in the end you're on your own in that split second when you're trying to decide what to say next.

    Kellbot said it best: "Don't be a douche."

    • TOTALLY should not be interpreted as definite rules. I said it in another comment, but all of this is just my experience so far in my own life — and that's it. I'm fully aware that I could be wrong, or that this might not be the best advice — it's just what I have based on my experiences so far.

  7. My semi-reliably-successful formula has been "If you're up to it, I would really appreciate a pointer in the right direction so I can do my own reading — are there authors you'd recommend, or key vocabulary terms I might want to be aware of as I begin learning about $thing? Thank you!"

    Makes it clear that I am not expecting anyone to educate me, and that I am aware of my own ignorance and respect their expertise on their own $whatever, but also gets me what I want, which is resources, even if that's only "words to plug into google."

    • I will admit I'm solidly on the "fuck you" side of the fence, but I LOVE THIS!!! This is what folks want to hear. Meaning, this is what I would fucking love to hear. It's showing up in a big way to support me, but it also feels totally curious and awesome.

      I'm wondering as I write this whether there's any difference between asking personally directed questions: yo, what's your ethnicity? yo, I heard you had a miscarriage? yo, what's your tattoo say? Versus broadly directed questions: yo, I've been thinking about mixed-race families a lot and wondering if you had any good books I should read? yo, I'm sorry about your experience with conception. are you reading anything good that I can get into, too? yo, that tattoo is awesome, what inspired it?

      • I bet that a big part of the success of my formula is that it makes it clear that I am not looking at the person I am asking as "my personal universal representative of $identity" — speaking for myself, for example, I do not want to answer questions about What It Is Like To Be a Woman In Technology, or What Do Humanistic Jews Believe, or What Does It Mean to Be An Abuse Survivor.

        My experience as a woman in technology or a humanistic Jew or an abuse survivor is not what anyone else's has been. All of these identities are way bigger than just me, and making me into the absolute arbiter of knowledge on this stuff is terrifying.

        And for me, I tend to get angry and contemptuous if I think someone is trying to use me as a shortcut; if I am going to become their get-out-of-jail free card ("I have a black friend and I asked them, they're not offended!"), I want nothing to do with the whole conversation. I know exactly the ways in which it will go wrong. If they're asking for a roadmap to the long route to knowledge? I am willing to trust their good intentions a little more.

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