How Not to Treat the Service Workers in Your Life

Originally seen in The Collegian, published here for a few who wanted to read it who did not have access to the paper.

This past weekend while I was working off-campus, a middle-aged man gruffly asked me “Are you gay?” while I was serving him. It was clear by his attitude that he wasn’t expecting the answer he wanted, and with a large group of customers eagerly waiting in line behind him, I knew I had to measure my response.

My mind flashed back to my years in the closet, when my survival depended on steering people away from this topic. The critical intonation woven into “Mason, are you…?” could instantly freeze my spine and twist my stomach into a knot that wouldn’t unravel for days at a time. Perception precedes suspicion, and I knew that those who asked already saw me as gay. Affirmation left me exposed, denial made me a liar. What could I do?

A lot has changed in the last five years, but my internal reaction still echoed that experience. I paused, locked eyes with the customer, took a moment to let him think, and said “Yes.” My controlled persona was the antithesis of the panic I felt inside. Here I am, standing against a wall with a growing audience staring at me as we all contemplated my sexuality. Great, life as normal.

The incident has left me more confused than anything else, but I think it’s a strong example of a simple rule: who not to be. Respect and empathy will elevate any relationship, and in the service industry where interactions can be reduced to transactions, a double-dose of intentional appreciation is probably apropos. Here’s to you, baristas, waiters, The Express-ers, Caf workers, Oregon gas station attendants, barbers, and more, y’all rock my world.


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