There is a new chef in the canteen at my high powered, executive company in the industrial wastelands of county Dublin. His cooking is reasonable. While I’d be miffed if I was served up his dishes in a restaurant, for a canteen it is perfectly acceptable, no frills stodge – both a meat and vegetarian option. While on lunch today, discussing the merits and weak points of the various chefs who have worked here, a strange incident occurred.
I will set the scene – present at the table was a middle manager approaching retirement named Angelina ; a young contractor named Natalya, and my shoulder-padded corporate self (working in the coalface of administration).
‘Do you remember Katarzyna?’ asked Natalya (all names in this story have been changed to hide identities).
‘I think so. Was she the one with the neck tattoos?’ replied Angelina. ‘She was a good cook’.
Katarzyna was a chef that worked sporadically as holiday cover for the usual chef. Even if she had not been very open about her lesbian orientation, you could argue that she fit the visual stereotype of a butch lesbian – shaved head, tattooed neck and arms; Doc Martin boots; dungarees when out of her chef’s scrubs. Now I know that outward appearance doesn’t mean anything, but it can give fairly obvious clues. I got on very well with her. Why wouldn’t I? Wasn’t she friendly? Didn’t she feed me? Wasn’t she one of my tribe?
‘Well’ said Natalya ‘I was talking to Anna one morning, and she told me that Katarzyna looked forward to my coming down for breakfast each day, as I was so beautiful.’ Anna is the gregarious checkout lady who shares the same nationality as Katarzyna and Natalya.
Natalya’s tone of voice had an incredulous and slightly sneering tone. She continued.
‘A few weeks later, didn’t I bump into her with her girlfriend in town? She acted all surprised to see me. She asked me if I lived in the neighbourhood. I told her I lived close by. Didn’t she then ask me where exactly I lived.’
The tone of horror was becoming more pronounced.
‘I told her again, that I lived close by, and that I had to dash as I was meeting my boyfriend’.
‘I’d have lied, and told her I was just visiting,’ said Irish Angelina.
My brain was working in overdrive and my heart was racing. Nothing overt was being said but the undertone was clear. Or was it?
How was I to address this? Or should I even bother?
Should I say ‘Hang on a minute. How do you know that Anna was not stirring the pot?’
Would I say ‘Maybe you could just take it as a compliment and there was no ulterior motives?’
Could I say ‘Am I sensing a tinge of homophobia there?’
But nothing blatantly discriminatory had been said. I could argue that the tone of voice told another story. But then I’d look hypersensitive and paranoid. These people know that I am gay. Surely there was no malice intended?
While my brain was in panic mode trying to decide what to do, the topic of conversation moved on to Irish Angelina’s granddaughter. The whole thing had happened in less than thirty seconds.
I had missed my chance. If I was a ‘woke’ person I could perhaps describe the entire incident as a ‘mico-aggression’. I would describe my attitude as more sleepy however.
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