Ms. Behavior®: Stuck in the Middle

Dear Ms. Behavior:

After a night of partying with my friend, Omar, he drunkenly confessed that he repeatedly has stepped out on his boyfriend, Justin. Omar was not bragging. He said he feels terrible for betraying Justin, and wants to have a monogamous relationship. He also swore me to secrecy before he told me.

The problem is that Justin is my close friend. So, I don’t know if I should keep Omar’s secret, or if I should honor my stronger friendship with Justin by telling him.

I’ve seen Justin and Omar a couple of times since that night. Omar hasn’t mentioned it again, even when we’ve been alone, which makes me wonder if he was so drunk, he doesn’t remember telling me.

Overall, they seem happy together, so I don’t know if I just should try to forget what I know and move on, or if I should say something that will wake Justin out of his blissful ignorance. I hate the thought of being responsible for a big blowup between them.

What should I do?

—Stuck In The Middle

Dear Stuck In The Middle:

You’re in a tough spot. If you tell Justin what you know, and it causes his happy world to collapse, you may feel responsible, and Justin and Omar both may blame you. On the other hand, if you don’t tell Justin, and he finds out that you knew about Omar’s diddling around behind his back, he probably will feel betrayed and angry.

Talk to Omar, and see if he remembers telling you. If not, he has bigger problems than cheating on his boyfriend. Either way, let him know that you’re not comfortable with carrying his dirty secret, and that you haven’t decided whether to tell Justin. Omar’s response may give you an idea of what he intends to do in the future.

Because you were suckered into promising to keep Omar’s confidence before his disclosure, you may end up deciding to wait and see how it plays out. If it seems that Omar is truly remorseful and capable of changing his behavior, you may decide that telling Justin about Omar’s drunken confession just may hurt Justin unnecessarily.

You seem like a good and thoughtful friend. But in the future, try to dodge the drunken disclosure.

Dear Ms. Behavior:

I recently had the opportunity to recommend someone for a teaching position in my department, and we ended up hiring my qualified gay female friend, Sara. I was open with my colleagues about our friendship when I recommended her for the job.

But now that the semester is under way, I’ve heard through the grapevine that she talks down to students, and bores them to death, so no one really wants to take her classes.

I also have heard gossip that Sara only got hired because we’re both gay, and that there’s concern about a dyke takeover of the department. (We have a department of eight; the others are all straight white men.)

I’m stressed. I have to decide whether to talk to Sara directly about how she’s alienating people, and whether I should say something to my colleagues to preempt the negative talk.


Dear Stressed:

Consider your audience: If some of your colleagues are actually so unintelligent that they’d be influenced by the gossip, and actually would be threatened by a couple of vanilla lesbian academic types, your intervention would have little effect on them. If they’re smart enough to recognize such talk as homophobic nonsense, you have little to worry about anyway.

The issue of what to do about Sara’s teaching style is more difficult. You’re in an awkward position, because essentially you’ll be telling her that she’s not a good or engaging teacher, or at least that she has a negative reputation among students.

You probably do need to talk with Sara, not just because she’s your friend, and you want to help her to keep her job, but also because if she’s perceived as a crappy teacher, your having recommended her may reflect poorly on your judgment.

Tell Sara that you don’t give total credence to rumors, but that student perceptions are usually accurate indicators of a teacher’s performance. She doesn’t need to befriend her students, but she does need to capture their intellectual interest without talking down to them. If you let her know about the word on the street, let’s hope she can figure out how to improve.

Of course, even worse than being a bad teacher, Sara also risks creating the impression that dykes are boring.

© 2008 Meryl Cohn. Address questions and correspondence to [email protected] She is the author of Do What I Say: Ms. Behavior’s Guide to Gay and Lesbian Etiquette (Houghton Mifflin). Signed copies are available directly from the author.

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