What I think of this

The waitress walked up and surveyed our table.

“What do you think of this?” she asked.

I had my head down trying to sort out what seemed like a byzantine list of options. To assemble my custom burger, I had to choose from five different categories of exotic ingredients. I was overwhelmed on page two of a four page menu.

 “It’s a lot to read,” I mumbled.

“Not the menu,” she barked, “This. What do you think of this?”

I looked up. She was nodding her head and waving her large hand with glittering fingernails toward my son and his boyfriend. She pointed directly at each of them in response to my blank expression. “This,” she repeated, “What do you think of this?”

The waitress was about my age and six feet tall. She was a powerful mix of broad shoulders, pink sequined sweater, bejeweled cropped jeans, an Adam’s apple and impossibly high heels. Her sassy tone barely masked an intense weariness of stupid people. She was staring at me, waiting.

We were at a diner that called itself the “Gayest Place to Eat” in our city. My sister found it on the internet and thought it would be fun for us to have lunch there. So here we were, my sister and I sitting on one side of the booth and my son and his boyfriend on the other. We had been laughing over the menu, teasing my son that he should order the “gayest” drink or the “gayest” appetizer. All four of us were trying to outdo one another in creating the perfect combination of entrée, side and cocktail from the endless flow charts. We had been oblivious to the waitress until now.

Although she had startled me, I knew by this point that she was not asking about the menu. But I didn’t have a ready answer to her question. No one had asked me this before. My son came out at the end of his freshman year of college. He is a very verbal person and we are close to him, so there was no long, drawn out secret and reveal. He talked to us a few months after he knew and we shared in many early and ongoing conversations; listening as he worked through his own understanding and self awareness.

I confess my initial reaction was not tidy. I was a liberal parent forced to apply her declared values in an actual and not theoretical situation. No one rehearses for this. He told me at 10:00 p.m. one night. I said a bunch of ridiculous things (“Will you still bring someone home for Christmas?”) and left on an airplane the next morning. I flew three hours in a daze and then sat in a parking lot for three more hours. I catalogued all the narratives that might be shifting, all past and future decisions, calculating exponential loss and fear and worry.

Then I thought of my son. Was he any different than he had been at 9:59 pm? Was his future any less dazzling? I could see him in my mind, the delightful boy he was and the amazing man he was becoming. His story, the one he would write on his own, was just getting interesting. My part in his story had evolved into a more supporting role, but the script to our relationship hadn’t changed. In fifteen hours I had moved through a million possible scenarios and ended up the same proud mom of the same great, gay kid.  

The waitress was still looking at me expectantly. I thought later of all the things I should have said: clever things, Eleanor Roosevelt things, enlightened-earth-mother things. But this whole reverie was happening in seconds and too soon after my menu confusion. So I blurted out: “I think it is wonderful.” She made a “humph” sound and glared sternly at the boys. “You are young, pretty and lucky. You have no idea what it was like” and walked away.

This was good because I really had no idea what I was going to order.   


12 responses to “What I think of this”

  1. Tim says:

    And this is wonderful, too. Thanks for sharing, Ramona, and welcome back!

  2. FPS says:

    In case nobody told you, you’re allotted well more than three hours to be fine with the whole thing! My parents are embarrassingly supportive and we still took some time to work out some little discomforts. (A thousand years later, my mother still refers to people’s same sex significant others as “friends” and I’ve been toying with telling her it makes me feel euphemized.)

    I had a “you have no idea what it was like” moment talking to a 25-year-old about marriage last night. I’m not even sure if he’s queer, but there he was lecturing me on the topic of “Is Gay Marriage Racist?” Look, I wasn’t throwing bar furniture at Stonewall or anything but I made it through Reagan and AIDS jokes and stuff* and…I empathize with your waitress! What must it have been like to come out with actual portrayals of happy if assimilated queers in the mainstream media and flingin’ flangin’ Gay-Straight Alliances in schools?!

    *yes, for a moment this felt like it was going to turn into a verse of “I’m Still Here.”

  3. AWB says:

    I have been the old grump a few times myself. I had a student who came out to me as a transman after identifying as a lesbian while in my class. We were hanging out and talking about what the experience was like for him, and he kept saying that he and his buddies would go to lesbian bars and make fun of lesbians. “I mean seriously right? How gross. Lezzzzzbeeeyans. Ugh.” I was all fuck you, dude, just because you have more privilege than God doesn’t mean that those lesbians didn’t eat shit to make the world livable for you. Show a little respect, eh?

    But as I learned, he was having a super-hard time. His family had kicked him out, and he was getting beat up walking around even during the afternoon. The dorms were refusing to let him live in gender-neutral housing, and had insisted to see proof of his genital-maleness, resulting in you don’t even want to know what kind of legal hell. These kids today, they don’t have it easy. They just have different struggles than older people did. I think also that while discrimination was more overt, there also used to be more of a sense of queer community. These kids today sure haven’t stopped committing suicide.

  4. LP says:

    My first reaction upon reading was, “That waitress is a beeyotch.” Seeing others’ comments makes me a little more sympathetic, and of course, having come out myself way back in the dark ages of 1985, I am also one of those who “went through it.” But seriously, to wag a manicured finger at two nice gay boys and their supportive mom, when they did nothing more than just be happy and be themselves? That just seems mean and bitter.

    Meanwhile, I’m so curious about this “gayest place to eat”… Is that meant to draw a gay clientele? Or is it a ’20s throwback, or just generally tongue-in-cheek? Are all the waitresses in drag?

  5. FPS says:

    LP: but you have to imagine finger-wagging is what people come in for, as the place has been described, or anyway that the staff might think so. Drag queens dress as Bette Davis, not Joan Fontaine, if you see what I mean.

  6. Dave says:

    Hooray for your untidy but open and loving response to your son’s coming out.

    Like LP, I’m not really crazy about what the waitress did. What gives her the right to interrogate parents and pass judgment on their attitudes about their kids’ sexuality? The waitress needs to work out some issues, and not by acting out with unsuspecting customers.

  7. Dave says:

    FPS, I agree that people go to drag-queen establishments for a bit of emotional S/M, but it should be light — make a joke about the customer’s hair or fashion sense or whatever. This story is some advanced emo-play, if that’s what it is, and not for the nonconsenting.

  8. FPS says:

    So, I read the phrase “emotional S/M”, wondered if I had misunderstood the story, re-read it, and yes, I misunderstood the story in a fairly significant way. I concede the point. It’s more than a bit much. I didn’t entirely know what the “this” was, thought it was something about her own drag.

  9. KS says:

    This reminds me of a time when, during a street festival of some sort near my hood in a midwestern city not known for its openness to queer anything, I was having lunch with friends at a sidewalk cafe. I got up to use the restroom and was rudely cut off in my mission by two trans women who were not patronizing the establishment, just coming in off the street to use the loo. I wasn’t irked they were using the one-seater “ladies’ room” but that they deliberately sped up and jumped ahead of me before I could get to the door in front of me, a paying customer. I mumbled something like “niiiiice” and glared a bit at the one still outside the bathroom, and then went back to my table to wait till they were both finished. As they were leaving they came by the table and wiggled their manicured-to-the-hilt fingers in my face and said, “Sorry honey, we’re everywhere. Deal with it.”

    I was horrified that they thought their gender performance was what pissed me off when it had just been their rudeness. I teach gender studies! I work as a faculty mentor and ally for the LGBTQIA org on campus! I’m not transphobic…am I? It still bothers me to think about whose issues were most problematic in our little exchange that left, I think probably, all three of us feeling shitty. I thought my reaction had nothing to do with who they were, and they thought it had everything to do with it.

  10. RW says:

    Thank you so much for your interesting and thoughtful comments. To clarify a bit about the waitress, she was a bit rough in her general demeanor and I am not sure how much was a “schtick” attitude that she gave to everyone and how much was just us. The diner uses the “gayest” as a theme, utilizing every possible stereotypical image, movie or icon as decorations and menu items. They bring you your check in a ruby slipper for example. She warmed up throughout the meal, but we definitely felt a strange vibe of curiosity and jealously. It made us feel a bit like specimens, although we sort of liked her as well. And the food was eventually delicious.

    Also to AWB #3, you are right about the fact that LGBTQ kids of today are still navigating a dangerous and difficult world. Although this story was just about a moment, it was presumptions for the waitress to assume some level of ease. Especially since my son’s boyfriend had a really hard time as a teenager and was almost one of the casualties you describe. She did made some unfair assumptions.

  11. Dave says:

    What I really wanted to say, Ramona, was that Smearcase is right and you are amazing. You get to fumble a bit when one of your kids comes out. The important thing is love and open lines of communication, which obviously you maintained wonderfully. Your son and his boyfriend have benefitted tremendously from your thoughtfulness and love and acceptance; you have already done things that will reverberate in your son’s life for the better, for the rest of his life.

    That’s why I’m kinda pissed about the waitress, because she reacted without knowing the background.

  12. swells says:

    Me too. Does that waitress think it’s easy for every parent? that a line got crossed and now everything is simple and smiley for everyone in that situation? She should have channeled her envy into gratitude that you aren’t making his life like hers was. We should ALL be grateful for parents like you who are giving our next generation a smoother ride–the whole world will benefit from this, not just your lucky kids.