Where Logic Meets Love

Is "Faking Gay" the Best Response to Bigots?

Monday, August 20, 2012

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Is 'Faking Gay' the Best Response to Bigots? | Faith Permeating Life

One of the websites I frequent is called Not Always Right: Funny & Stupid Customer Stories. I've linked to it on here once or twice. People who work in customer service submit stories of customers who make unreasonable demands or illogical requests, blatantly try to steal, make inappropriate comments, or are too busy being angry and yelling to understand they're being given a deal or discount.

I've noticed an interesting trend in some of the stories that have gone up on the site recently. The basic exchange is this: Customer realizes employee is gay and makes horribly insulting remarks. Straight coworker/manager pretends to also be gay and thus successfully scares bigoted customer away.

Here are a few examples:
I'm not sure how to feel about these stories.

On the one hand, I think it's evidence of progress that these straight folks are not only accepting of their gay coworkers, but are not afraid of being seen as gay themselves.

On the other hand, I'm not sure this is the best possible approach to dealing with someone who has a problem with gay people.

If this person has such a deep-seated fear of gay people that they would literally flee from a store upon learning that more than one gay person is working there, is this kind of approach dismantling or confirming that fear?

When the straight coworker puts their arm around or kisses the gay coworker, it seems to me to reinforce the misperception that gay people want to shove their relationships in your face. Rather than emphasizing that gay employees are just normal employees who want to do their job well and not be mistreated by customers, it makes it seem as if gay employees are all about showy public displays of affection.

Wouldn't it make you uncomfortable if any employee was serving you and their significant other came up and started touching them and calling them pet names?

Perhaps it's impossible that the customer in question could have their mind changed by this single encounter, but I can pretty much guarantee that scaring them off by making them think the store is overrun by gay employees is not the way to do it.

In several of the stories, the customer appeals to a manager or other employee with the apparent assumption that this (supposedly straight) person will agree that a gay individual should not be working there. By pretending to be gay, this person misses an opportunity to show the customer that there are actually straight individuals who have no problem working alongside a gay coworker. Instead, it "explains" to the customer why this other employee has no problem with it -- because he/she is gay, also.

This other story, by contrast, shows what it looks like when a manager actually speaks up calmly and lets a customer know their discriminatory remarks are wrong, rather than "camping it up" to scare the customer away.

Also, it's telling, I think, that those who submitted stories felt the need to clarify "I'm not actually gay" or "the other employee in this story is straight." If the point of the story is really "Isn't it funny how we scared away this prejudiced customer?" then it shouldn't matter that much whether both employees were actually gay or not. But the clarification smacks a bit of "Look at this great sacrifice I made for my coworker!" It also indicates that this person is willing to pretend to be gay to come to their coworker's "rescue," but they don't actually want to be mistaken for being gay.

And because it's not something that you, straight person, have to deal with on a regular basis, you can laugh about the incident and post it online. You don't have to worry about this or some other angry, deranged, gay-hating person getting you fired, or possibly even causing you physical harm, some time in the future.

The truth is, I think it takes a lot more guts to stand up to someone spewing insults at another person and say, "What you are saying is wrong and hurtful" than it does to say, "Oh, is my boyfriend helping you?"

It takes a lot more commitment to get in there and argue in defense of another person than to simply scare away the bothersome person. It takes more nerve to tell someone they've crossed the line and need to leave than it does to hope you can freak them out and get them to leave on their own.

That's what I think about these stories. What do you think?

6 comments:

  1. I'm inclined to agree with you. It's probably not the best way to go about things - instilling further fear in bigots is definitely not going to help the situation.

    But at the same time, if the gay employee is upset about the customer's reaction, the co-workers are probably focusing on "How can I make my friend/co-worker not upset in the quickest amount of time?" rather than "I should take the opportunity to teach a bigot about the error of their ways by using a logical argument."

    Because let's face it - bigots aren't usually likely to listen to rational explanations once they're on their high horse... *sigh*

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    1. That's a good point. To be clear, I'm not trying to condemn the straight coworkers' actions or say that they were wrong to do what they did. But do I think it's the best possible way to handle the situation? No.

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  2. I agree as well, pretending to be gay might not be the best way to go about this, it will only create more anger in the bigot. And you're right about the constant emphasis on the fact that the friend in need is not gay. It shouldn't matter. Mentioning the harassed employee is in fact not a bf-gf ok, but the whole 'btw I'm not gay', does give the message that the rescuer doesn't want the public to think that he/she is gay.

    I do agree with the commenter above, the co-worker didn't mean any harm and probably didn't feel like getting into a huge discussion with the customer, upsetting the gay employee even more. The customer isn't going to change his opinion like that and is probably going to get into a shouting match. The co-worker probably wanted to fix the problem for his friend in a silly way, to show him support and give him a laugh.

    The post where the boss just tells the customer to leave is indeed the best response though. It's a quick way to get rid of the person while emphasizing that such behaviour isn't tolerated in that store. More than likely the customer won't change his ways and will now think the store is a place of sin, but at least he/she got told off for acting like a bigot. But I imagine the boss is an older person and therefore goes about it in a more straightforward way, rather than making a joke out of it. He also has the authority to tell people off and make them leave.

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    1. But I imagine the boss is an older person and therefore goes about it in a more straightforward way, rather than making a joke out of it. He also has the authority to tell people off and make them leave.
      That's true. For that reason, I'd say it's important that managers make it clear that employees are empowered to take action if a customer is out of control or harassing others. Without that kind of explicit permission, employees may be too afraid of losing a customer to speak up, even if they're having obscenities screamed at them.

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  3. Seems like in these stories, the purpose of "faking gay" is to get back at the customer. To punish them for being so rude and hateful. But like you said, it takes a lot more guts to actually try to reason with them and explain that it's not okay to say that- because if you do, it's not likely to immediately change their mind, and they can go on their way without being properly "punished" for their behavior.

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    1. Yeah, and I want to make it clear that these customers are people, too. To go back to the post on attribution errors, I don't like the notion that "this person is intrinsically evil and so we can do whatever we want to them." It is possible for people's minds to be changed -- maybe not in the moment, but a seed can be planted if their assumptions are challenged.

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