“Hey Eric, you got a girl?” asks one of my bosses, a twenty-something Anglo Montrealer sporting his usual baggy jeans, plaid shirt, and Nikes. “No,” I reply, flat out. “You want one?” he continues. “No,” I say casually, my response sending him roaring into a fit of laughter.
It seems funny to him that a strapping, young university student like myself isn’t interested in a girlfriend. To him, saying I don’t want a girl meant I’m more interested in casual hookups and don’t want to be tied down.
Of course, he’s assuming that I’m into girls. And why wouldn’t he? The other kitchen workers at this high-end burger joint are all straight men (or at least seem to be). Although there was one cashier I strongly suspected might be gay, work in the kitchen often meant bros gawking at a wide range of women waiting in line to order their burgers.
I’ve never given my boss, or anyone in the kitchen, many hints that I’m gay. I do try to keep my nose out of situations like the one earlier described. One of them points out a girl to me and I don’t really say anything. They’ve asked me whether or not I frequent Montreal’s strip clubs, and on one occasion, I politely declined an invite to a post-work Friday night trip to one of Ste. Catherine’s fine establishments.
I don’t blame them for thinking I’m straight. In my uniform I look far from fabulous: black pants, a baggy black polo shirt, long white apron, and a silly burger cap. I keep to myself, don’t talk much, and when I do, it’s not about girls. As a dishwasher, I can pretty easily alienate myself from the guys working the grill.
It’s just a job. I’m working less now that the semester has started again, yet I can’t escape the feeling that for those 15 hours a week, I’m back in the closet. That dark, scary, confusing place. Am I okay with that? I’m completely comfortable with my sexuality. I’m comfortable with my gay identity and like to think I’m far past the part of my life when I struggled with that fact. But when I’m at work, I’m lying.
Nevertheless, the kitchen guys increasingly seem to understand I don’t really respond to their comments and questions about my preferences for women. I don’t know if I’ve given them enough hints to help them realize I might not be straight, or if I’ve just made it seem like I’d rather be left alone, but as long as I’m not constantly berated with stupid comments, I don’t care too much what they’re thinking or suspecting. At this point I’d rather continue lying to the guys in the kitchen than come out and risk further alienation.
In addition, I’m no longer lying to everyone at work. After two months of working there, I finally came out to some coworkers. They weren’t the kitchen staff, though, as I’ve always felt more comfortable relating to the cashiers and servers, the majority of whom are young women.
The first time I came out was immediately after attending Montreal’s Pride parade. After donning my tank top, short shorts, and basking in the gay glory of the parade, I hated being in my stupid burger hat and apron — the uniform that put me in the closet. As I walked out of work with one of the cashiers, she was wearing a colourful dress and told me that she had gone to the parade as well. Even telling one person brought huge relief.
A week later, a female server I’m friendly with texted me and asked to hang out. It’s one of those moments I fear, and it’s happened before: a girl will mistake my casual friendliness for something more. I responded saying I’d love to hang out, but by the way, I’m gay. She was cool with it, mentioned she was bisexual, and that her roommate, the aforementioned cashier at our restaurant, is also gay, confirming my suspicions.
Just when I was losing hope, I was reminded that us queer people do have secret strength in numbers. Soon after, I talked to the cashier about being gay at work. Since he’s in the front of the restaurant, it doesn’t seem too difficult for him. He knows how the guys in the kitchen can be, but doesn’t have to interact with them the way I do. I may still have to deal with the bros in the kitchen, but I can’t undervalue that companionship in terms of my comfort at work.
It’s too bad my French isn’t good enough to deal with customers, or else I’d hands down prefer to work up front. For now, I’ll probably deal with the kitchen’s unwelcoming, rigid straightness. But you never know when I’ll crack.
When a pretty girl about my age started working there a few weeks ago, the kitchen guys kept asking me if I liked her. No, I replied. Why not, they asked? Despite the urge to yell out “Because I like dick!” I resisted one of my temptations to come out in a shocking and grand way. Instead, I told them she wasn’t my type. Although for now I’ll have to settle with the companionship of a few queer coworkers, this silent battle isn’t over yet.
Eric White is a U3 History student. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.