I don’t typically take offense when people say dumb shit; usually I only think it’s dumb because that’s my opinion, not because it actually is. Today was an exception to that, in many ways. We’ll just discuss the incident with the unidentifiable culprit for now.
Here’s what happened: I’m walking into the store with my gay best friend. Another student kindly holds open the door for us. No foot-in-mouthness so far, but just wait for it. I say, “Thank you” with a smile. He says, “You’re welcome, ladies.” ERR??? *in my Scooby Doo voice* Enter foot-in-mouthness. Not being one to shy away from confrontation, I proceed to walk through the door, calmly telling the lovely gentleman how fucked up that was. In his defense, he totally didn’t mean it that way. He genuinely looked embarrassed when he asked my friend if he was gay. I genuinely believe he was telling the truth when he said he had never said that to anyone before. I genuinely believe he should’ve stopped there, because it shouldn’t have been said at all.
It doesn’t matter that this was the first time you vocalized that you thought another male looked feminine. It doesn’t matter that you thought so in the first place. Those are your thoughts; think what you want to. What does matter is that you thought it would be appropriate to share that thought. I can promise you that a gay man in the South–the rural South at that–has heard it all before and doesn’t care to hear it again. In fact, my friend was much more polite about the situation than I. What matters is that the guy with the foot in his mouth was embarrassed. And rightly so; you put yourself in an awkward situation. Relish in the embarrassment. As I said to him, “Lesson learned.” I’m willing to bet he’ll think before he makes another comment like that, even if it not intended to be malicious.
The bigger issue at hand here is more the fact that this guy thought he had a place to judge another. The bottom line is, what another person does is not anyone else’s concern. I’m not sure why that’s such a hard lesson for people in general to learn. Someone’s being gay is no more your business than someone else’s being black. If a black person had walked through that door, would he have said, “You’re welcome, Tyrone”? Probably not. Because that’s a stereotype, it’s inappropriate, it’s racist, and I’m not sure that the black person he was with would’ve been amused (but maybe he would’ve, I don’t know). So why was it okay to call my friend a woman when he clearly isn’t? (Not that it’s bad to be a woman. We’re a wonderful and usually peaceful people.)
And this too speaks to another problem. What is so wrong about a male not being overly masculine? Why do people find fault with men who are comfortable enough in who they are that they don’t feel compelled to flaunt their gender? Foot-in-Mouth was only embarrassed when my friend told him that he’s gay. That tells me that had my friend been a straight guy, Foot-in-Mouth would’ve thought his comment “funny.” I call bullshit on that. His remark wasn’t offensive because my friend is gay; it was offensive because it was offensive. Bottom line. End of story. Speaking against another person–a complete stranger–is just dumb and unnecessary, regardless if you mean it negatively or not. Simply because there’s always that bit of underlying truth, otherwise you wouldn’t have said it at all.
I can only fault the guy so much; he really was apologetic. I know he didn’t mean to offend. But this does serve as a lesson for all of us. It’s not always what we mean, it’s how it’s received.