Change a conversation that becomes too personal

Hi. I was wondering what’s the best way to change a conversation when it becomes too personal (with both strangers and people I just don’t want to have this talk with i.e. family). So, I’ll describe my situation:

I was in the barbers having my hair cut, and the conversation of girls came up. (Just to clarify, I am gay, I have accepted this, and have told my best friend and a couple of other friends. However, I’m not ready to tell my family as we’ve been through a lot in the past few years and I don’t fancy upsetting my parents while they’re still recovering from other problems). In one to one conversations I normally brush past these with a “funny” retort and the majority of times the topic changes. However, I find it difficult to deal with these situations when it comes to groups of men greater than 2. So back to the barbers, it was just me there with my barber and two other guys who drifted in out of the back room. This younger boy came in to get his hair cut so all of these guys came out and started talking. They were teasing one of the other barbers about a girl he fancied in a local shop who the younger boy knew (there’s quite a disturbing age difference between the barber and the girl but hey-ho we won’t go there), and they were showing pictures of this girl to each other. (I also wear glasses, so when I have my haircut I take them off so normally overcome these situations by saying “Oh haven’t got my glasses”) . So I just smiled and laughed when they queued me (i.e. by looking at me and laughing) because I didn’t want to be rude (probably because he’s standing behind me with electric clippers and I don’t fancy upsetting the guy who could give me a bowl cut with a flick of his wrist). So then my barber turned to me and asked “So mate do you have a girlfriend?”, to which I replied “Noo not at the moment”. He then asked “Do you want a girlfriend?”. So, this is the point I begin to seize up, but I can still deal with this bit, so I respond “Not at the moment, concentrating on school”. Actually I think thats a bit of a lie, I started saying that but they were grinning so I instead went bright red and mumbled the last bit. I’m quite a confident person, I have no qualms about talking to strangers and I’d describe myself as easy going. Anyway, back to the story, he continued laughing with the other guys and eventually he turned back to me (at which point about a million expletives flittered across my mind because I knew what he was about to ask) he asked “Are you sexually active?”(his exact phrasing of this question).. I don’t know why, but whenever sex comes up I die a little on the inside. Ok I lied there, I’m aware it probably has something about me not being openly gay blah blah Freud blah blah, I get that. Anyway to conclude my story, I mumbled and grinned at this point, I think even his friends knew he went a bit over the line with it because they were like “Bloody hell” or whatever. He then was like “That’s alright, you’re 18 aren’t you?” to which I replied “Uh yeah”, I’m actually 20 but I knew when to throw the shovel away.

Anyway, I was just hoping you could give me some advice on how to deal with these situations? How can I stop the conversations at a comfortable point where I don’t feel like “a loser”. Also I’m sorry for the massive narrative, should probably invest in a diary!

Cheers.

Hey asker,

Thanks so much for reaching out and inquiring about these kinds of situations, which can be troublesome for all sorts of people who are put in an awkward spot for a variety of reasons – one of them being sexual orientation/activity.

First of all, I just want to acknowledge that this sounds like an extremely uncomfortable conversation for your barber to initiate, and I can only imagine how embarrassing and nerve-wracking it would have been to experience. I commend you for getting through it so well and (hopefully) making it out with a full head of hair still intact!

When responding to questions or pries that make us uncomfortable, it’s important to remember that each person’s reaction is going to be different based on what they’re comfortable with. You may be willing to state that it’s none of his business, whereas someone else might be more inclined to say that they’re not really comfortable talking about that sort of thing. You mentioned how you use humour to diffuse similar situations, which is a great tactic. Comedic responses to questions of sexual activity may include that the only action you have time for is with your textbooks, or that it’s not an area they need to be worried about 😉

Another strategy for redirecting the conversation away from the deeply personal questions being asked is to reply with a question yourself, such as, “Why are you so interested?” or “Are you always this curious?” Doing this not only avoids answering but puts the pressure initially heaped on you back on the other person, so hopefully they’ll realise how uncomfortable it is and avoid prying further.

The great thing about these options is that they all leave sexual orientation out (or in, I suppose). Being gay is not something you should feel pressured to disclose, although it sounds like that’s exactly what you might have been feeling because of your barber’s questions. Rest assured that not disclosing is a completely valid and appropriate option; coming out should only happen when and how you want it.

It also sounds like you may have been feeling some homophobic undertones to the questions he was asking and the responses of the other men. This in itself is frustrating and troubling to deal with, especially on your own. In those sorts of situations, it’s always great when there’s someone else there who isn’t being ‘targeted’, so to speak, who is more able to speak up and address this problem. This could be something you want to discuss with your friends. Even though no one you’re out to was there, it could be helpful to tell them about this situation and let them know how, if they were there, they could have supported you—in case it happens again in the future (fingers crossed it doesn’t).

I hope this offers some options you’re comfortable with when redirecting uncomfortable conversations. If anyone else has any other ideas, please feel free to comment below! The more ideas the better.

Best of luck with future haircuts,
Amber

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One response to “Change a conversation that becomes too personal

  1. This guy was getting off on embarrassing you. I’d say, “Hey, dude, are you trying to hit on me?” When somebody gets too personal, just turn it around.

    It’s “defuse” a situation, btw.

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