How “proud” and “out” are we when dining out?
An interesting dinner recently at Ruby Tuesday in Charles Village with three gay friends got me thinking. A friendly waiter initially greeted us and left us thinking that that having him as our server would be a good thing. Fate intervened though and our table was assigned to a waitress. Tracy, our server, proved to be something else! (Consensus was that she was a 21 y/o “Goldie Hawn” type with some definite touches of early Marilyn Monroe naïveté and Carol Channing wide-eyed charm.). My buddy Marty wished aloud for some bread to munch on. While Ruby Tuesday doesn’t usually provide bread, Tracy disappeared for awhile and darn if she didn’t materialize a plate of some warm, toasty thick pieces of whole wheat bread from gawd-knows-where!) Later when clearing our dishes off the table, she related a story of how she had moved to Montana to live with a girl friend. She told us how things didn’t work out and the girl friend seemed angry with her and she had headed back east. The four of us looked at each other and wondered about the nature of relationship between the two women. Later, she casually added that perhaps her girl friend didn’t like that Tracy had arrived in Montana with a boy friend. Duh! Suddenly our interpretation of the story changed and we wondered if there wasn’t a young lesbian in Montana whose dreams of two women in love in the Montana wilderness were blown away when Tracy showed up unexpectedly with the boy. Regardless Tracy, who was a somewhat eccentric but a whizbang waitress, left us feeling like we were characters in a bizarre but quite engaging off-Broadway show.
After we paid our bill, Tracy disappeared but we stayed at our table chatting. The waiter who initially approached us was re-setting tables and we got into some conversation about Tracy and then moved into some banter. My friend JT asked his name – he responded that his name was. “Colin, like Colin Powell…”.. Something in the exchange had triggered all of our “gaydar” early warning systems – Colin seemed to realize that all four of us were gay and we sensed that he was gay but that seemed as far as it was going to go. We were not consciously being in the “closet” (but we weren’t exactly being “out” either). It seemed that this was not going to be talked about.
Colin casually asked us: “What brings you boys out tonight?” We might have easily answered with some variation of “just four friends getting together for dinner”. But without missing a beat, my friend Jerry quipped: “Honey, we’ve been OUT for a LONG time!” Colin smiled and responded that he had been “out” for 9 years! (It was boggling to think that he could have been 14 at the time!) We all laughed but then we started talking about real stuff. We learned that Colin had moved to Baltimore to live with his partner, that this was his full time job at the moment, and that both he and his partner were part of the “Baltimore Men’s Chorus”. Wow, both Marty and I had been at “Pride” season concert from the weekend before. “Ah, so that was YOU singing THAT??” Colin knew another friend of ours who was a member of the chorus too, “Yeh, the cute bear?” (Marty grimaced – he can’t comprehend some men’s appreciation and lust for bears…) All in all, “coming out” was a good thing and made a nice evening even nicer and bordering on being memorable!
Afterwards, I wondered what would have happened if Jerry hadn’t responded the way he did. How many times, do even “out” men retreat from being fully “out” at some level when dining out? I felt like Jerry had indirectly taught me another life lesson (in addition to the ones I’ve picked up from him over 30 years of being friends <Wink!>). His speaking up made a difference! I made a mental note to be ready the next time a choice-point situation like this happened. Geez! Even after all this time, being “out” and avoiding even indirectly acting like you’re ashamed of being gay is still an on-going challenge.
“Gay Pride” festivities are a good time to think (and act!) on why you’re really there!