Before I retired to write full time, I worked for an insurance company. It was big enough to care about diversity, so there was an LGBT alliance and people had flags and pins in their cubicles. It was probably a safe place to be out, but I didn’t know anyone who was out, at least not out to me.
For a while I worked with a guy named Rob who was pretty far up in the company—not my direct boss but in charge of this project I was working on. He was a busy guy and not a chatty one, so we never talked much about personal things, but one day he mentioned he was getting married and would be on vacation for two weeks for his honeymoon.
I said something innocuous—maybe about enjoying the honeymoon, I don’t remember. But I do remember that I used the words “your wife.” He said something innocuous back and we parted ways and it was only then that I realized I didn’t know the gender of the person he was marrying.
I never found out either. We weren’t close and it wasn’t my business. But it did make me realize how difficult it would be to be in that position—how a gay person has to constantly decide whether or not to correct inaccurate assumptions, to weigh the value of of owning who they are against the fear, or even just the inconvenience, of explaining who they are.
This is why we should make a habit of using gender neutral language whenever possible. It allows the other person to provide the correct gender or to use non-gendered words if that feels safer to them. And it tells them that it’s safe for them to do either. Rob could’ve corrected my unthinking use of the words “my wife,” but that wasn’t the message I sent him.
Merge Ahead is set in an insurance company on the verge of a merger (which is another subject I have plenty of experience with), and that encounter with Rob was my inspiration for Adam, a man confident enough in his masculinity (and young enough to have been raised with a more hopeful expectation of acceptance) that he’s out not just to those close to him but to the world. A man like that would be an amazing role model and, I think, really could be appointed CFO of the insurance company I worked for.
Personally, I identify more with Will—the grunt in the basement who wants to be a writer, who works in the insurance industry but doesn’t know anything about insurance—please stop asking him—who maybe has a thing for a younger (pre-#metoo era, because we used to overlook shitty behavior) Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s just too bad I didn’t fall in love with a super-dreamy rich dude so I could start my writing career in my twenties like Will does.