Part 4: The Verbal Tip (or: “Let me Tell you a Story”):
About a year ago I was in the middle of the dinner rush during a never ending week of understaffed doubles. On this fateful evening I met a customer that for the sake of this article we’ll call Jen. Jen was like a lot of customers that come in to my work – a pleasant middle-aged woman on her way to the Symphony. She was one of twenty or so customers in my section so I found it a relief when she was courteous and pleasant to me when I took her drink order. But remember that thing I wrote earlier about Customers?
A few minutes later when I dropped off her drink (Fresh Brewed Iced Tea, Unsweetened, No Lemon) and began to walk away, Jen reached out to touch my wrist as if pleading with me to stay another moment for some kind of deep, philosophical conversation. Obliging her, I turned around and leaned in to hear what she had to say. Jen lowered her voice, looked me straight in the eyes and spoke in a hushed-yet-caring tone,
Jen: “Madison, I just want you to know… I admire you.”
Me: “Um… thanks?”
Jen: “No, thank You.”
Me: “Well, okay. Y’know, waiting tables is just another job I guess. But thanks. I’ll be back to take your order in another minute, okay?
My Inner Monologue: Okay what. Apparently this woman has a waitress fetish? Whatever. She’s totally gonna tip well.
The next time I come over to take her order, Jen gives me a look of probing interest that I have a very hard time deciphering. She looks at me as if I’m either a curious artifact in a museum or the dirtiest porn she’s ever seen. As I go to walk away again she makes the same gesture as before – with urgent eyes and the same hushed tone she stops me again.
Jen: So, do you get any trouble here for… you know..?
Me: …I’m sorry, what?
Jen: (in a quiet fervor) You Know. ..?
My Inner Monologue: What. The. Fuck. Is this lady on about.
Me: Well, I mean I’ve been going up and down these stairs all night so I’m a bit exhausted, and not everyone is a great tipper, but It’s enough to get by, I guess.
My Inner Monologue: Forget the tip. Run!
Jen: Well, just… (Oh my Guac is she getting teary eyed right now?) that’s great. Thank you Madison.
After I walk away, about ten paces it hit me: She’s reading that I’m trans. So alright, it’s not just some scary obsessive woman with a waitress fetish! She’s just proving to me how Super Okay she thinks it is that I’m a waitress who also happens to be a trans woman! This is so validating.
Or wait. Sorry. “Validating” isn’t quite the right word. I meant to say “Patronizing”.
I spent the rest of the dinner rush avoiding her table and pretty much not doing my job for a half hour (apologies to all of my other customers that night), but eventually I realized if I wanted her to leave I was going to have to give her a bill and cash her out. So I swallowed my pride, put on my best “special little snowflake trans lady” face and headed out to say goodbye to my number one fan.
As she hands me back her bill, Jen stood up and went in for a hug. When I pulled away instinctively, most likely with a look of terrified disgust on my face, she apologized and shook my hand. Filled with inspiration and good intentions, Jen’s eyes welled up again, only this time with an additional air of important, almost maternal pride.
“Thank you so much. You’re so… I mean… You are so brave.”
Jen left. Never to be seen again.
And then I found out that she only tipped ten percent.
Nevertheless the fact of the matter is: I AM so brave. So brave, in fact, that I have the audacity to be trans and in public. My day consists of such courageous endeavours as shopping for groceries, walking my dog, even laying in bed reading – all WHILE BEING TRANS. It’s just that kind of plucky fortitude that gets me through the day, but sometimes even that isn’t quite enough. Sometimes all I need to get that final boost of bravery is a patronizing cis person non-consensually outing me and telling me how totally cool they think it is that I exist.
I implore you, Jens of the world: next time you come across a trans person or anyone you think might possibly be gender variant in any way, take some time to remind them how difficult it is to be trans in the world and congratulate their bravery. It’s totally awesome and validating and it doesn’t feel at all like we’re treated as an adorable theoretical minority you can use to feel better about yourself. Not at all.
But when you do, my darlings, at the very least: tip twenty percent. It isn’t easy being this brave.
This essay is an excerpt of a larger work-in-progress called “Eighty Six Patience: Queering the Service Industry”