I'm white. I'm male - and cisgendered. I'm in my mid-thirties. Though I could stand to lose ten (okay, fifteen) pounds and I will never be confused with a model, I'm not what society would deem ugly. From a glance, I'm able-bodied. I'm comfortable financially, employed full time, university educated, and a home-owner.
I'm privileged. The world - as it were, and I'm speaking locally here - will pretty much cater to me. My society is aces for a white middle-aged guy who isn't poor or in some way unattractive to the general population.
(That this is not something to celebrate is, I hope, clear in my tone. If it's not, let me say it bluntly: This is not something I celebrate.)
I'm also - invisibly - not privileged. Leaving aside some minor (and sometimes not-so-minor) health issues, I'm referring more to being a queer guy.
This week, I've had this reality shoved in my face a few times. First there was a guy who seemed to come to my workplace solely to share a homophobic joke. He literally walked right up to me, not even pausing to look at some merchandise, and dropped his "fag joke" out for my appreciation.
When I didn't laugh and instead scowled, he said, "Oh, too P.C. are you?"
"Too gay," I said. He took an actual step away from me - which would have been comedic if I wasn't so disgusted - and then left my workplace, another (pardon the pun) straight line right out the door.
This happens more than you'd think. Given the product I handle every day - books - there are what seem to be triggers for people to just run off at the mouth with what is hateful or bigoted speech. They see me - a white man (which they will assume also means a straight white man who agrees with their every opinion) - and let loose. Ellen's newest book was the latest wave of this, and there was a particularly frustrating Christmas when Lowell Green brought out his book MAYDAY MAYDAY, the premise of which is that non-European (ie: non-white) immigrants are ruining Canada.
The privilege of "passing" is something I have used, don't get me wrong. It's become my standard example, but it's no less true for multiple retellings that when my husband and I were traveling through nowhere Louisiana, a waitress took one look at us and said, "Y'all are twins, right?" In the middle of nowhere Louisiana, we were very pleased to agree and pretend to be twins. You betcha. It does not make me feel good, but I wasn't about to announce our gay status to a room full of people I did not know, in surroundings that didn't feel particularly safe.
It's that false safety, however, that works the other way with strangers. They see the outer me - nonthreatening, white, average me - and feel safe to say these things. It's also the cause of so much stereotyping - when the assumption is made that you're straight unless you're swishing more than windshield wipers or flaming enough to char-broil meat at a hundred paces, there's this "buddy-buddy" vibe in place. Men say the rudest things to me about how "we" should deal with/talk to/otherwise mistreat women. And when I disagree, it's like I broke some sort of code by not wearing my gay on my chest.
Shouldn't the problem be that you're a sexist idiot? Or a bigot? Not that I "tricked" you into revealing this facet of your oh-so-winning personality?
The same week as the "fag joke" fellow, I was in the food court, and I was being served by the young lady at Manchu Wok with whom I'm friendly in a "we both work at the mall and have done for years" way. She asked me how my Christmas was. We joked about how nice it was to have a whole entire day to ourselves in between the rush of Christmas and the crazy of Boxing Week, and then I answered seriously, "Christmas day was nice, though. My husband and I went to my mother-in-law's house for the day."
The woman ahead of me in line - she had been served, and was waiting for the person ahead of her to pay - twisted her lips like she'd tasted something foul and said, "Ugh."
Both myself and the girl behind the counter looked at her. She gave me a look reserved for finding something on the bottom of your shoe that smells horrible and is too viscous for its own good.
And I proceeded to lose my shit.
I don't know why that particular woman on that particular day set me off so much, but I do think it had just been a few too many like her a few too many days in a row for me to be as gracious as I'd been with the "fag joke" fellow.
I started with my "Welcome to Canada, where people are people..." speech and ended up somewhere around "and try not to choke on your bigotry while you eat!" as she grabbed her tray and basically ran away from me. If she'd had pearls, she would have clutched them. I was shaking by the time I got my debit card out to pay, and the people behind the counter at the Manchu Wok were staring at me in shock.
I'm usually very polite and chipper with them.
"Sorry," I said. I wanted to say something else, but I couldn't figure out what else to say to them. I was sorry I'd made a scene, more or less, but I wasn't sorry I'd blasted the woman. I was sorry I'd let her get me angry.
"S'okay," the girl I'm friendly with said. "We get stuff like that all the time." Her accent is fairly thick, but she's understandable. I've "translated" for her a few times when behind another customer who can't seem to fathom that the girl is asking whether they'd like something to go or not.
"I can imagine," I said. "Happy New Year."
"Happy New Year," she said, and I went to eat my lunch. By the time I sat down, my hands weren't shaking as much. Later on that week, after joking with someone about the brevity of the Kardashian marriage I had a tongue-in-cheek quip about how I was struggling hard to destroy the sanctity of marriages. Someone mentioned how their mother didn't have a problem with gay people having civil unions or whatever, but that it was "marriage" (as a religious institution, I assumed, even though marriage is not by default such a thing at all) their mother had a problem with. I just closed my eyes, and changed the conversation. It was her adult offspring - who I really like - telling me this, not the mother herself. She wasn't standing right there, after all, for me to talk to.
But I bet she knows some great fag jokes.