While in my 30’s, I was a server at an upscale restaurant in Seattle, a steakhouse that catered, mostly, to Seattle’s theatergoers, business people, and lawyers. For a time, nearly all the other waiters there were gay men: a situation that really was not so unusual for me. After my shift one evening, I was having drinks with one of the hostesses. She asked if it was “weird” for me to be one of the few straight guys on the waitstaff. I said, “No. Not at all, actually.”
It was true. I’d spent most of my adult life working in restaurants and the arts, living in progressive cities, where–even in the ’80s and early ’90s–the gay men I knew seemed quite comfortable expressing their sexuality. Now, if you would have told me when I was eighteen (maybe nineteen) that I eventually would be working with mostly gay guys, I might have thought it to be weird, indeed. It would have been problematic for the very reason I would have thought anything new might be: I’d never encountered a situation like that before. Well, eventually, I experienced it. Quickly, I learned what I always do: the situation was new, but I was the same. So, all I had to do was to continue being myself and everything would be fine.
Not long after that night, a family of four was seated in my section. From the outset, they looked very uncomfortable. The family appeared to have traveled from somewhere east of Puget Sound, where Washington becomes, decidedly, more rural and conservative. The father wore a plaid shirt and sat with his arms tightly folded across his chest. His wife, son, and daughter didn’t speak a word or once look at me, even when I greeted them.
After I took their drink order, the father looked me up and down and said, “So…Seattle. You have a lot of gays here?”
I was stunned by the question but maintained my sense of professionalism. I’d learned over the years how to be polite to everyone: it is a good skill to have. “Probably more than Boise but fewer than San Francisco,” I responded.
He nodded and glanced, warily, around the restaurant. I told them that I’d be back with their drinks and headed towards the kitchen, where the other waiters were milling around, getting coffee, and gabbing. Once there, I told them my story. “He actually asked me that!”
Greg, a very funny waiter, said, “Oh, I should just go out there and ‘gay it up’ around him. We all should.”
“That’s right,” I said. “Give him his own little Gay Pride Parade right down the middle of the restaurant.”
We had a good laugh at his expense. Why should he care how many gays there were? What a rube. What a fool!
I returned to the floor with my professional demeanor in-tact. I brought them their drinks and took their dinner order. The subject of Seattle’s “gayness” never came up, again. The father even left me a pretty good tip.
Since then, I’ve thought about that father, off and on; I think more so, now, given that the division between conservative and liberal, rural and city seems so acute. It’s easy to turn someone you don’t know into a foreign creature. He did it with gay people. Heck! We did with him.
For what if, instead of having just led a provincial life, the father (unlike us) was incapable of learning from experience, the most equitable of all teachers. If no amount of exposure to the diversity of life would teach him that he could travel the dubiously “gay” streets of Seattle and be just fine, wasn’t he something slightly less than me? Something less human, even?
I’ve known people who have held onto their prejudices until the grave. I’m sure they did so because they truly believed their skewed ideas kept them safe, helped them easily distinguish between friend and foe. Ultimately, being a waiter taught me that politeness–at its best–is an act of trust. I have to trust that all people–young or old, black or white, gay or straight–respond to kindness. Everyone is just different enough that I learned this lesson, again and again (table to table, person to person), seeing in others what I am always looking for in myself.
What’s Next? Talk with others. Take action.
We are proud of our SOCIAL INTEREST GROUPS—WEEKLY PHONE CALLS to discuss, gain insights, build communities— and help solve some of the most difficult challenges the world has today. Calls are for Members Only (although you can join the first call for free). Not yet a member of The Good Men Project? Join below!
Join the Conscious Intersectionality FACEBOOK GROUP here. Includes our new call series on Human Rights.
Join The Good Men Project Community
All levels get to view The Good Men Project site AD-FREE. The $50 Platinum Level is an ALL-ACCESS PASS—join as many groups and classes as you want for the entire year. The $25 Gold Level gives you access to any ONE Social Interest Group and ONE Class–and other benefits listed below the form. Or…for $12, join as a Bronze Member and support our mission, and have a great ad-free viewing experience.
Register New Account
Please note: If you are already a writer/contributor at The Good Men Project, log in here before registering. (Request new password if needed).
ANNUAL PLATINUM membership ($50 per year) includes:
1. AN ALL ACCESS PASS — Join ANY and ALL of our weekly calls, Social Interest Groups, classes, workshops and private Facebook groups. We have at least one group phone call or online class every day of the week.
2. See the website with no ads when logged in!
3. MEMBER commenting badge.
ANNUAL GOLD membership ($25 per year) includes all the benefits above — but only ONE Weekly Social Interest Group and ONE class.
ANNUAL BRONZE membership ($12 per year) is great if you are not ready to join the full conversation but want to support our mission anyway. You’ll still get a BRONZE commenting badge, and you can pop into any of our weekly Friday Calls with the Publisher when you have time. This is for people who believe—like we do—that this conversation about men and changing roles and goodness in the 21st century is one of the most important conversations you can have today.
We have pioneered the largest worldwide conversation about what it means to be a good man in the 21st century. Your support of our work is inspiring and invaluable.
Photo credit: By Romrodphoto @ Shutterstock