So I’ve been working at Freebirds this summer. It’s a regional fast food burrito chain started by a bunch of hippies and a lot of that energy is still in the place. That’s one of the reasons I decided to work there. They place rock music a little bit too loud, people can write on the tables and walls, I don’t have to wear a uniform, they sell “pot” brownies, a lot of the workers have visible body piercings and tattoos, etc. Plus they make the food fresh every day.
But what I never expected was how queer the place would be – especially smack in the middle of Texas. I grew up in a fairly conservative part of a fairly conservative state and in some ways Texas is the same and in some ways maybe even worse. Yet, in this restaurant, right across the street from a fairly notoriously homophobic college campus, the first week I was there the female manager who hired me was talking nonchalantly about her girlfriend. And in the weeks since I’ve come to find there are at least two other queer women aside from her and me and at least two gay men working there – and that’s just that I know of from casual conversation. And I can wear my “Gay? Fine by me” t-shirts to work and no one bats an eye – something I never took for granted for a second. And just this past week someone asked me if I had a significant other and the next question after I said no was whether I liked girls or guys.
And it’s awesome. But I admit it caught me by surprise.
And then it got me thinking about the other food service jobs I’ve had over summers in my life. Jobs when I was 19-20 years old and couldn’t go home to my parents’ for the summer and had to crash on someone’s couch because I’d come out and they couldn’t deal with it – or me. Food service jobs where middle-aged men made lewd comments to and about me with the manager standing within earshot and she said and did nothing. I got to thinking about how different it is to be in a food service job where not only do I feel free to be myself but I don’t constantly feel preyed upon by men.
And then I got to thinking about why it was I never said or did anything in the face of that sexual harassment. I think part of it has to do with the fact that by doing nothing the manager made what those men did okay. And the fact that they had been working there for years to my weeks or months and the fact that those comments weren’t only directed at me, but any young (and presumably attractive) woman on the staff. I’m sure it was also the fact that these were among my first “real” jobs and I needed the money – especially given my family situation at the time and I didn’t feel I could afford to rock the boat.
But that also has me wondering how many women have been or are in a similar position and also say or do nothing. And that’s not anything I like to be thinking about.
It’s only recently I’ve developed a significant number of straight male friends (for me anyway, even if the number is probably fairly low still for others). It’s true that I’ve always connected more strongly to women and gravitated towards both them and effeminate gay men as a result. It’s not often I naturally “click” with men, but it does and can happen. But I also wonder if something somewhere in my adolescent brain thought that the boys who made inappropriate comments to me in high school and the middle-aged men who made comments to me at work were representative of a greater percentage of straight males than might be the case. Or else like my father who lost his temper easily and belittled my mother and my sister and I in other and more emotional ways.
Either way, it’s nice to be able to go to work and spend time in mixed company of all sexual orientations while still feeling safe and like my boundaries and my personhood will be respected. And I think it’s sad that I see this as a relief and a benefit and a gift rather than as the norm.