Last summer, a waitress at Buffalo Wild Wings destroyed my son’s heart and our day together. She denied him the opportunity to order wings. All we intended was to have dinner and see a movie as father and son. What we got was a taste of the worst of society, and it felt like a horror movie. Our wings were denied, and I had to teach him how to walk away from a situation with dignity.
It was late summer. He was about to go back to school. This was my weekend with him and we were going to make the most of it. We made a plan for Saturday:
- Go to thrift store for back to school stuff
- Take short hike on our favorite trail
- See “Ghostbusters”
- Have dinner
- See “Suicide Squad”
- Have ice cream
The plan was off to a great start. The thrift store we went to was a charity not for profit boutique in Lockport, Illinois that I helped start about five years ago. When my son was first coming out, it was a safe space for us to get men’s clothing for him. When you are first starting your journey, those spaces are precious. Most of us do not have to think about being discriminated against buying clothes. Transgender teens often do have to think about that. Anyway, my son saw some people on staff who knew him and they all enjoyed his selections for back to school.
The hike? We only did 2 miles on that day. But we had fun enjoying the trail, the nature, and a very curious butterfly.
“Ghostbusters” was excellent. On a personal note I did not know how I would feel about the reboot. My reservations were eroded away as we ended up laughing and enjoying the movie. As the movie came to an end, we faced the moment of truth. I looked at him and asked, “Where do you want to eat before we see the next movie?” With a smile he said, “Buffalo Wild Wings!”
We went to Buffalo Wild Wings and we were seated by a hostess. There were not very many people inside so it was quieter than normal. Within a few moments our young waitress came and asked if we wanted anything to drink. I asked for an iced tea and my son asked for a lemonade. As soon as he spoke the waitress looked at him. I could see the change in her. She recognized he was different. She did not like the difference. I had no idea how this was going to play out. I could never imagine how surreal it was about to get.
The waitress brought our drinks without looking at us and stormed away. My son had not picked up on it. He only asked me why she didn’t take our order when she brought the drinks. I told him I did not know. Fifteen minutes passed and there was no waitress to take our order in a Buffalo Wild Wings that had only four or five tables occupied in an otherwise empty restaurant. I was about to go have a quiet conversation with a manager when Dave and I overheard the waitress and the manager in a heated exchange. We could not hear all of it, but the waitress raised her voice enough that we heard her words:
“I’m not gonna serve that! I don’t even know what to call it! It ain’t a boy or a girl. It’s a thing and it ain’t of God.” The waitress was gesturing at our table when this happened and it was not only loud enough for us to hear, but other patrons. All eyes were on us. My son’s eyes welled up with tears. I felt a cold rage run through me. I also realized there were more people looking at my son in an uncomfortable manner than the waitress who called him it and a thing. My son’s lower lip started to tremble.
“Look at me,” I said in the best mix of gentle and firmness. He looked at me. “Nothing is going to happen to you. I’m here and you’re safe. It’s okay to be on the verge of tears. What she said hurts. Now, I need you to listen close. Here is what is about to happen. We are going to walk out of here like men. We are going to stand up with our heads held high and our backs straight. It will be a steady pace. We don’t look at anyone. We don’t talk to anyone. We just walk to the car and go. We leave like men. Got it?” He nodded.
We stood. I took the lead towards the door. I could see some of the looks from the other guests. Some looked at him with curiosity, some with disgust. I would lock eyes with them as we walked and they would look away from my angry gaze. As we were nearing the exit, the manager stepped in front of us to say something. I did not slow my pace. I held one finger in front of me and through grit teeth said,”No!” The manager looked away and cleared the path.
We walked to the car and got in. We drove off their property and I pulled into a different parking lot to talk to him. My first order of business was to ensure he was all right. He was hurt and shaken. Confused. I then explained to him why I chose the method I did to handle this situation.
“I don’t know where you are going to be in life when you meet a hater. We live in a violent and sick society. There are times where you can engage and stand your ground in the moment. There are other times that you have make a strategic retreat because of safety. I dunno what it is about the suburbs, but there were a few people that were on her side from their body language. Walking away is not cowardice and it can be done with pride, dignity, and class. We left like men because that is what you are. A man. My son.”
He got it, but he did not want to talk. He did not want to go out to dinner anymore and did not want to see a movie anymore. We went to my place and I ordered some delivery. He didn’t talk much the rest of the evening. A waitress that discriminates against you and a restaurant of others who are either on her side or too apathetic to make a stand can ruin anyone’s day.
It has had a lingering impact. He has never seen “Suicide Squad”. It serves as a trigger of that day. Obviously, Buffalo Wild Wings with me is not on the menu anymore either. For the horror that this day and that waitress triggered, it could have been much worse and it is all too often in this country.
Transgender people are assaulted and beaten just for being trans. They are murdered at an increasing rate. Businesses are refusing service like this waitress did and claiming they are the victim while they hurt people like my son. The day at the Buffalo Wild Wings, I wanted to make a stronger stand. I wanted to tell off that waitress and challenge every stare. I was in mad dad mode. By my nature I am a fighter. But the parent in me knew that he cannot yell and fight his way through every situation. In this circumstance we were not in any physical danger. But we were outnumbered. I chose to teach him the dignified strategic retreat. In a strategic retreat you live to fight another day and live your life fully. Sometimes you have to make that choice. It sucks.
A religious waitress at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Woodridge, Illinois hurt my child and ruined our night. And yet, I am grateful that it was not a situation that got violent or deadly. Most people get to be just be offended they had to endure rude or bad service. Some, like my son, have to be mindful of their safety.
We should not have to be grateful for a situation not turning violent. We should just get to be angry that we were treated rudely and inhumanely. That is, however, not the world we live in. We live in this world. A world where a room of people will do nothing when someone calls a minor “it,” a “thing,” and “not of God”.