Are we too submissive towards homophobic customers? Star Observer’s Samuel Leighton-Dore reflects on his experiences in dealing with homophobia in hospitality and customer service industries.
I’ve always had a day job.
My fledging career in customer service began at 14 with two after school shifts at the local McDonald’s. I was paid minimum wage (roughly $13.50 per hour) to clean the grease off tables and flurry McFlurries. I lasted three weeks — fired for leaving the soft serve machine running throughout my break. Shortly after came my stint at Subway (“why didn’t you offer that lady a cookie?”), followed by a cameo at Boost Juice (“you really don’t know how to use a can-opener?”) and — once I turned 18 — a three-month residency collecting glasses at Stonewall Hotel on Sydney’s Oxford St (“there’s shit on the bathroom walls again, grab a mop”).
The following six years passed in a twisted kaleidoscope of hit-and-miss creative endeavours and shift work in hospitality. Despite my numerous career-specific shortcomings, I recall thinking how strange it was that an industry named after basic human etiquette and entertainment could, in some ways, be so very unpleasant.
I’m referring to a particular brand of casual homophobia.
Just as a woman might have her intelligence or workplace authority undermined or trivialised by gendered labels such as “bitch”, a gay man’s attempt at being stern or asserting himself will often be misconstrued as laughable or sassy. It should come as no surprise, either. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the mainstream media’s representation of gay men, it’s that we’re all bursting at the seams with Will Truman sass and Jack McFarland LOLs.
For a community historically steeped in the social defensive, are we still being viewed as unnatural candidates for positions of leadership and/or authority? Are we not being seen as inherently firm enough to deliver unfavoured news? Simply put: is it possible for a gay man to “put his foot down” with a pointed toe?
Casual homophobia is rampant in customer service. I’m guessing it has something to do with status. Climbing the slippery rungs of any given corporate ladder demands a certain level of respect (or fear) from those beneath you, regardless of bigotry or narrow-mindedness, whereas those working in customer service remain shackled by the same “customer is always right” mantra.
Every insult is deserved and somehow brought upon ourselves.
I’ll never forget being made to apologise to the man who, only moments earlier, had called me a “faggot” for refusing him service (he was already white-girl-wasted). I was working in a crowded northern beaches bar in Sydney and my response (something along the lines of “leave before I get security”) was promptly dismissed by management as a display of hysterical faggotry.
The customer ended up stumbling away with more than just an apology — rewarded with a free schooey of Carlton for his troubles. The customer is always right.
Interestingly, my heterosexual male colleagues — when reacting similarly to similar instances of workplace disrespect — would often receive the unwavering support of managerial staff. Perhaps this is the irony of living in an inclusive environment: when homophobic behaviour does arise (however rarely) it’s often mislabeled as regular, everyday rudeness, with the victim branded “overly sensitive”. It’s my particular tone of voice, they might tell me, or my “I don’t want to be here” expression.
Neither my slight lisp (“gay accent”) nor facial configuration (“resting bitch face”) are an invitation to slander, intimidate or verbally abuse me. The customer isn’t always right. Sometimes the customer is drunk or tired or having a bad morning. Sometimes the customer falls back on outdated social stereotypes, prejudices or assumptions.
When that is the case, we shouldn’t be expected to compromise ourselves in the name of convenience.
HOMOS ON HIATUS are creative duo Samuel Leighton-Dore and Bradley Tennant. Their blog celebrates homo-heroes and inclusive ideas. You can find them at HomosOnHiatus.com or on Instagram: @HomosOnHiatus. You can also follow Samuel on Twitter:@SamLeightonDore
This article first appeared on starobserver.com.au