Sunday, February 28, 2010

Genderbending McDonald's

This is a tale of righteous indignation gone horribly awry; perhaps my most repeated state of being. While barely audible, constant, muttered remarks pour out of me like the aftermath of filling the dog’s water bowl with mineral oil (and no doubt just as pleasant to witness,) I rarely throw down, yell or go off on people. When I do, though, it’s usually something to see. The trouble is, I invariably blow my big scene and wind up looking like a goddamned idiot. I’ll scream my final, devastating blast of angry reasoning then storm out of the room, slamming the door behind me only to find I’ve walked into the hall closet with nothing to do but ponder my options. Do I stay there, as though I meant to do exactly that, saving face but seeming peculiar as hell, or do I slink away leaving the target of my fury with the feeling they’ve just had their beads read by a mongoloid? Or I’ll gesture emphatically in mid-argument in such a way that a drinking glass flies out of my hand, sails across the room and strikes a baby square in the forehead, rendering my previous, brilliant line of logic utterly forgotten by the onlookers. (If no baby is in the room the glass will hit and dislodge a supporting bracket from a knick-knack shelf, filling the room with the sound of a padded woodblock arpeggio as an elderly visitor sitting beneath is smacked repeatedly in the head by a falling family of diminishingly-sized wax owls.)

Believe it or not, this is the preferred outcome for those moments when I decide, like a premature ejaculator, to get my panties in a wad. Because my most usual scenario is far more mortifying than accidental injury to the old or newborn: I go off in full-tilt, rant mode--delivering a blistering, gloves-off condemnation of everyone present like a tent show evangelist—only to find there’s been a misunderstanding and what set me off never happened in the first place. Everyone in the room knows what I really think of them and for motherfucking nothing. This is a world in which I cannot exist. I would rather live every day with the fact the shot glass baby will communicate with slurred speech for the rest of its life and that it is entirely my fault, than have my friends know just how shallow I consider them to be. Again, at least without a damn good reason.

Today may have been a turning point; a red-letter day. It came within a fraction of a percentage of a millisecond from turning seriously ugly, but in my world that tiny time slice shows a mature, heretofore unknown restraint. I actually held back in the face of ghastly effrontery and spared the general public from one of my beastly turns. It was such a close call. But, damn it, I did it. Instead of behaving like a turn-of-the-century meths drinker, I actually waited out the portion of a second and got the full facts before responding. I must be getting old.

I went to McDonald’s today for dinner and naturally some yahoo in a canvas shirt with an embroidered name tag was at the head of the line placing a to-go order for his entire work force. This meant that I would be there for some time, so I leaned against a post and wished myself somewhere else. I ignored the two girls in front of me until one of them spoke.

“I mean like, hel-lo? As if he can act his way out of a paper bag?”

It was not a woman or girl at all. It was a teenage gay boy, fourteen or fifteen at the most, who had every sarcastic, drama-infused mannerism and eye roll down perfect. Damn, I thought, this kid is a quick study. Granted, I find these affectations insufferable in anyone over the age of twenty. But it’s the same as it is with the feline population: if my cat sinks its claws into the back of my calf, drawing blood, I will pick her up and bounce her off the corner of the television. If a newborn kitten does the same thing I will cock my head and say Awww. So it was with this teenage gay boy who spoke like a bar-ravaged faggot. His transparently manufactured body language was charming, as opposed to making me want to dash a kiwitini across his face. He was rocking the androgyny look and he was beautiful. Painted-on pants, silky shirt, and carefully-coiffed hair like a trailer park bimbo. I wished I was in high school.

I am insanely jealous of today’s queer kids, who can fly their own freak flag and get by with a snicker instead of a serious beat down. Kids today understand that there are gay students—whether they like them or not—instead of when I was growing up and there was no such thing and anyone whose personality defied this reality got destroyed for their trouble. There were, of course, people in school incapable of hiding their overall gayness. Everyone was their enemy. Especially kids like me, who knew what they liked but could pass as straight by benefit of not lisping or flouncing about. We were the worst: we joined in on the harassment, lest anyone discover our secrets. Watching the young flamer in McDonald’s took me back and hurt me for being such a bastard. I wished, deeply, that I had the chance to be him instead of me.

Cause, fuck, gay kids are taking one another to the prom and still invited to sit at the same table as the straights. They hang out together and no one cares. My friend Becky’s kid, at age thirteen, came out as Bi on MySpace. (It’s my suspicion this is stepping-stone Bi and not real-deal Bi, since the boy is so light in the loafers that he levitates. Time will tell.)

The McDonald’s kid and the girl, whom I’d decided was his sister and not a fag hag owing to their identical teeth, got their food and found a table. Before I was even addressed, the manager came out and spoke to the cashier:

“Was that a boy or a girl?”

A thousand red flags shot out of my pores.

“I dunno,” the cashier said. “I have no idea.”

I could not believe the two of them were discussing this, out loud, in front of me. Yes, absolutely, I could understand their confusion. The kid looked, at first glance, like a female until you noticed the Adam’s apple and newly-post-pubescent five o’ clock shadow. But the voice was clearly screechy, teenage queen with a penchant for convoluted theatrics. No high school girl could ever hope to come across that self-involved.

“I’ll find out,” said the cashier. “Maam? Maam?” the woman shouted across the room, “Was that a boy or a girl?”

Involuntarily, my breath drew itself in with a loud, sucking sound like when Madge the manicurist’s customer discovers her precious fingernails are soaking in Palmolive dish detergent. My brain sputtered and sparked like an electrical outlet being hosed down with cat pee. The intake of breath, I knew, was to insure my forthcoming volley of fury would be received at maximum volume. The problem was that there were simply too many possible responses to choose from:

“Any idiot with eyes could see that was a boy and he is beautiful for being who he is!” Nope, too much like a Catholic priest gone sideways.

“Just what is your motherfucking need to know? You can’t make a hamburger without a chromosome count?” Slightly condescending. Not that either seemed smart enough to pick up on it.

A stolen line that all gays know, somewhat paraphrased: “He’s more of a woman than you’ll ever be and more of a man than you’ll ever get!” This was immediately jettisoned as a possible response owing to its popularity among drag queens. But it did cross my mind.

Instead, I decided to blend all of these elements together, as well as playing the race card. You wouldn’t think, as a white male, I would be able to do this, but the plan sprang, fully formed, in my offended head:

“I would think, Hispanic manager lady and African-American cashier, that you would have some idea of what it’s like to be viewed as different. But no, by calling into question the gender of this beautiful, free-spirited person, you think you get to be one of Us instead of one of Them. Who do you think you are? Who do you think you are?” I know, I know: I might have well been wearing a sheet topped with a Nazi helmet. But from my perspective, so could they.

This is nearly what came blowing out of my mouth, today, in a McDonald’s, in full view of a wall poster featuring the Hamburgler and the Purple Grimace. And some kindergartners and their parents and an obviously gay kid.

Ten years ago it might have happened. I would have raved and ranted and not gone away and the police might have been called. Ten years my ass; how about last week? But somehow, today, there was a newfound delay that hadn’t been there before. Within the space of my outraged gasp I was able to take in what was really happening:

The cashier was calling to another woman entirely, not the gay boy’s sister.

“Was that a boy or a girl?” referred to which Happy Meal box and toy the to-go order should reflect: Hannah Montana or Harry Potter?

The teenage androgen had gone unnoticed and uncommented upon, like any other customer.

The world had changed.

I hadn’t.


  1. It never fails that when I finally speak up and take a stand, it's the time I've misread the situation and end up looling like an idiot.

    A couple of years ago a car pulled out, short, in front of me and then proceded to stop in the middle of the road a short way down the street. So, in a rare move, I got on my horn. And it was just after my horn started blaring that I noticed the cop with the flashlights in front of him ... the cop noitced me too, but let me pass.