I wrote the following post three years ago on a personal blog. However, I recently witnessed basically the same situation. Even though there have been many legislative victories on the subject of LGBTIQ equality, there is still much conversation to be had, and much change that still needs to occur.
The Wednesday before the Memorial Day weekend, the local restaurant business is slow, to say the least. People are getting ready to go out of town, and eating out at an upscale French establishment may not be what people want to do in middle of the week, particularly in this economy.
So while I'm not running around like I would do normally, I'm not bored. A slow night gives me the opportunity to watch people, observe the foodie happenings, and interact with guests. Last night I met a lawyer, a lobbyist, someone with the same name as one of my friends (that's interesting when making the reservation), a young couple planning a wedding, and a woman getting a bike rack installed on her car.
I also had the privilege to witness the interaction of two males choosing a place to sit.
When people come in the restaurant on a slow night, they have their pick of seats: The restaurant is their oyster. One can sit outside on the patio, in the main dining room, in the café area, at the bar, or in little window alcoves that are inside but open to the outdoors. On busy nights the private dining room becomes another option.
And because I am a hostess, a guest choosing a place to sit is something I see time and time again. People want booths, square tables, more comfortable chairs, close to other people, far away from people, to the left, "table 53" only, etc. I get to see groups of people agonize over this decision daily, which I let them do on a slow night.
Yesterday, however, was particularly interesting, not because two men couldn't decide on a spot to eat their dinner, but because the interaction illustrates a bigger problem.
These two men, both good-looking, nicely dressed, and in their late 20s, approached my stand and took a long glance around the dining room.
"Hi, how are you? Would you like a table?" I asked.
"Uh, um, no," one replied. "See, we're not together like that."
What? I just asked whether you want a table, not whether you are together, not whether you are just friends, not about your job, your political affiliation, your education level, how much your designer suits cost, or your sexuality. I just asked if you want a table. I asked if you want a place to sit. This is a restaurant, and people sit and order food together. It's just what you do.
But of course, being a polite hostess, I didn't rush into a rant about heterosexual privilege, hegemonic masculinity and social construction. I didn't quote theory or launch into a discussion about ENDA or DADT and how much it's related to homophobia; instead, I merely gave them their other seating options.
These men mumbled between themselves, then quickly and embarrassingly retreated to the café, where they proceeded to discuss whether they would sit at a bar table together or at the bar.
After a long time they approached the bar and sat down where they wouldn't have to face each other or be seen as "together." Then the two men ordered beers. How manly!
Their debate over seating did not stem from a desire for comfortable chairs or the weather outside but from whether or not people would think they were together "like that." Gay. Queer. Second-class.
What a problem we have when two straight-identified (or LGBTIQ-identified, for that matter) people are afraid to sit together in public because they might be treated differently because of their assumed -- not even known! -- sexuality. Were they scared that they might not get heterosexual privilege? Were they gay and just not out? Were they scared I might judge them? Scared of being seen out "together" by others they might know?
People who are presumed to be heterosexual receive heterosexual privilege, which includes legal things like marriage and being able to serve in the military with a partner, and social things like being treated equally in a restaurant and not being the subject of everyone's' dinner conversations.
I have a friend who knows two heterosexual guys who arrive at the movie theater early, just to make sure there is a seat between them, so that people don't think they're together. Really?
Discrimination not only hurts LGBTIQ-identified individuals but society as a whole. Why can't two men hug in public, be friends, have dinner, or talk together about their heterosexual partners in an open setting? It's so harmful to relationships.
Think about kids growing up in a society like this: Enforced gender roles and social construction make it so that two men can't have dinner. They can't show their emotions or get too close to another male.
Of course, all of this comes back to privilege. If people were treated equally, legally and otherwise, would this be so much of a problem?
DADT repeal is being discussed as I write this (it's on the radio), and it kills me that something like equal rights is not more obvious. Homophobia is literally plaguing society and our day-to-day interactions with one another. How much time and energy do we waste in our daily lives trying to prove our heterosexuality or hide our LGBTIQ sexuality?
Besides, the hostess could be serving you drinks, but instead, we're all too busy "defending" our heterosexuality. Really, America?
We could and should all be sitting down, ordering food, having intellectual conversations on why it's taboo to sit together. We could and should be getting on with our lives. Of what are we really scared?