My best gay male friends, the server at the restaurant who refills my glass before I even notice it’s empty, and quietly to myself, a woman I see walking down the street in just the wrong outfit.
The flavors for these bits of Honey are different, depending on the context, of course. My friends and the server get the sweetest kind, that woman in the too-short skirt gets the tangy version, tinged with pity and a shake of the head.
I come by my Honeys honestly. I spent my childhood summers in Alabama, where my favorite female relatives start particularly juicy gossip or stories with an elongated “Huuuuuney” that draws me in every time. In certain parts of the country, all women are Honey, we just are.
Even north of the Mason-Dixon, I generally don’t mind when other people call me honey, or really any other term of endearment. My best gay boy friend calls me Sugar (or a longer version I won’t print here). My dentist and my gynecologist, two women decades apart in age and of different ethnicities, sprinkle my visits with “sweeties” that I find comforting and that somehow solidify the intimacy of our limited relationship. They are poking around in my parts, after all.
To me, these pet names exude warmth, build a sense of closeness and are a way of expressing affection. Sometimes using someone’s name feels too formal and stuffy, and absent a good nickname, some well-placed honey will do. (Honey also really comes in handy if you can’t remember someone’s name.)
Really, the only people not allowed to call me Honey, Sweetie or Sugar? Straight men I don’t know.
Dude, don’t even think about it.
Nothing triggers my neck-twistin’, finger-jabbin’ angry black woman response like a straight man on the street/in the post office/in the club tryin’ to call me out my name. I am NOT your baby. Nor will I ever be. Your momma must not have raised you right if you think that’s OK. Somebody hold my purse…
So what is it that sets off my “oh, no you didn’t'”? When straight men utter these names, it feels disrespectful. That I’m another nameless female-shaped object they can project their notions onto. That it doesn’t matter who I am, where I came from, what I’ve done, I’ll always just be Baby. It isn’t a term of endearment, it’s a subtle way of putting me in my place.
For straight men I do know, the rules are relaxed. I have a former co-worker who calls every woman “darlin'” with a lazy twang it’s hard to take offense at. And I know he isn’t disrespecting me, he’s drawing me into his community of women friends.
Maybe pet names, in general, aren’t your cup of tea. But I hope you don’t mind if I partake and add a touch of Honey.
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Karen Hawkins is the Founder and Rebelle in Chief of Rebellious Magazine. She is a recovering mainstream media reporter and editor who wants to thank her former boss for naming the online magazine she's...
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