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Posted on Wed, Oct 26, 2011 : 5 a.m.

Sexual preference doesn't need to be discussed

By Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn:
Do you have any short, clever responses for nosy relatives inquiring as to the sexual orientation of an adult child? The holidays are fast approaching and I have no doubt the question will be asked at least once, particularly because the said child will not be in attendance.
-- Proud Mom

Why be witty when you can provide all the necessary information, and all necessary attitude, without deviating a millimeter from a straightforward response: "I'm sorry, you'll have to talk to Child about that."

If needed -- as in, when pressed, or gotcha'd, or harrumphed -- stick to your one and only point: "If it's not something you'll say to Child's face, then it's not appropriate for me to discuss it with you." And since the truly boundary-challenged will draw conclusions from this: "You can think what you'd like to about Child, because I can't stop you." It's about your inquisitor, not your child; don't lose sight of that, you can't lose.

Dear Carolyn:
Last March, I went up for tenure at my university. My candidacy came at the normal time, and while one faculty member has made his dislike for me clear, I thought I would be OK with some articles out and a book with a highly respected university press.

At the meeting, the one faculty member was joined unexpectedly by three others, all of whom engaged in a ritual blood bath: They told lies about me, made groundless charges against me and attacked my book, the press that published it, and the people who had written letters in support of my case. After that, four votes went against me. Voting is confidential, but it seems pretty clear who cast them.

Ultimately, I was awarded tenure. People asked if it would be hard to work with these people. I assured all that no, I could of course maintain collegial relations.

And now I am finding out that yes, it IS hard to work with them! They tried to steal away a career that means everything to me! No matter how much redemption I can draw from being given tenure, from having articles accepted, from working with eager students, when I see ANY of these four, I feel sick. I want so badly to scream at them my real opinion of them.

How can I get past this, and find a comfortable place to do my work, live my life, where they do not intrude?
-- Anonymous

Not to sound dense or delusional, but you don't know they cast all the "no" votes.

It's possible that you defended yourself persuasively to one or more of them, and that they discredited you persuasively to one or more of the spectators to the blood bath. Newsrooms are full of people who will argue a point they don't themselves embrace, just to see how well you argue against them. I have to think academia is as well.

Speculation, all of it, sure. But confidential voting allows for such reasonable doubt, and that leaves you room -- maybe just enough to settle in, and certainly enough to view these colleagues with a slightly more open mind.

Email Carolyn at tellme(at), follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

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