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To Call Out or Not to Call Out

To Call Out or Not to Call Out

Man with long brown hair in pink dress posing next to a red "Wrong Way" sign

Update:started using he/him pronouns in July 2019. This article keeps the original “she/her” self-references in order to maintain a sense of timeline.

Location: Homestead, Florida

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to address situations.

One that I’m still in the midst of figuring out is what to say when something makes you uncomfortable … if it’s a thing that doesn’t really matter in the long run. Getting misgendered when asking for bathrooms is a good example.  You’re probably never going to see the person again, and you only need the bathroom for a few minutes — is it worth saying something?

You could address the misgendering, but it would take a lot of time and emotional energy. You could ignore it, and feel shitty for a long time afterwards about not saying anything. Personally, I only call stuff out when it’s going to be recurring (for example, if a coworker was making insensitive jokes and I know I’m going to be working with them for a long time), or when it bothers me enough that I have to do so, reasonability be damned.

Earlier today, a series of uncomfortable incidents happened between myself, YoungKeun (the friend I’m hanging out with for the second part of this trip), and our Airbnb host. We didn’t say anything in the moment, but I’m not sure if that was the best strategy to use.

We were driving from Sarasota to Key West, and decided to rent an Airbnb in Homestead for the night so that we wouldn’t be driving seven straight hours. In the morning, I went to get fresh clothes from my car and came face-to-face with the host for the first time.

“Where are you from?” he asked me as I closed the front door behind me and started heading up the stairs. He was an older man who spoke with a heavy accent.

“Sarasota,” I replied. “Well, kind of. I went to college there, and I’m back visiting a friend. We’re driving down to Key West now.”

He looked slightly confused for a second. “But where … where are your parents from?”

Oh no, I thought as my stomach sank. I had assumed that, since I’d been staying the night in his place, he was being nice and asking where I had driven from. Unfortunately, that was not the case. He’d actually been asking the “What race are you?” question.

Inquiries about my ethnicity are annoying at best and jarring at worst — here’s a good explanation of why I think this way. Asking “where are your parents from” is even more irritating; not only is the other person blatantly asking about something kind of personal, but they’re beating around the bush to do so. [1]

“New York?” I replied, frowning. Do I bring up how this is uncomfortable or do I just leave it, since I’m about to go anyway? I thought.

“Malaysia, Thailand …”

“I’m Chinese American,” I said curtly, while admonishing myself for taking the easy way out.

Later, as YoungKeun and I were getting in the car, our host stood in front of the front door with his arms crossed, watching us.

“You drive?” he called to YoungKeun.

“She does,” my friend replied, gesturing to me.

I wondered whether that was a not-so-subtle reference to the idea that the assigned male at birth person is supposed to drive, but decided to not investigate further. It had already been a Morning, and the lack of confrontation was making me feel more and more disgusted with myself.

“I have to tell you something,” YoungKeun said as we pulled out of the neighborhood. He looked just as unnerved as I felt. “Earlier, when you weren’t there, that guy asked me if you were my wife.”

“Jesus,” I muttered.

“And then I said no, you were a friend, and he asked if you were my girlfriend, and I said ‘no, she’s a friend.’”

“Yikes. Why do people always assume that two friends of different assigned sexes at birth have to be dating? And even if he did think that, why did he have to ask you in such a weird way?”

We talked for a while about whether or not we should have told our host that he was making us uncomfortable. I’m not going to leave a “bad” review for this particular Airbnb per se, but I’m definitely writing a private note. It makes me wonder: In the moment, I gave no verbal or significant nonverbal indication that I was uncomfortable. I wasn’t in an unsafe situation; I was just uncomfortable, and did not show it as much as I would’ve liked to. Is that a good way to behave or not?

It’s now been a few hours and I’m still wondering. I’m no longer salty about this particular situation; I’m more curious as to how I should deal with things like this going forward.

To call out or not to call out a fleeting situation that makes you uncomfortable? That is the real question. ♚

Note: This article is part of my January 2019 One Month Project, where I will be traveling around coastal Florida and publishing an essay a day about my experiences there. I’m excited to bring you along on this adventure!


[1] I know this is a personal preference, but seriously, if you’re going to be insensitive, at least be direct and upfront about it.

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© 2019 by Marty Noel Chenyao. All rights reserved.

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