Would You Like Prejudice With That? / by Courtney Mehlhaff

Last weekend, I went out to Benihana to celebrate a friend’s birthday. I was having a great time watching Kenny, our samurai-esque chef for the evening, create a smoking volcano out of onion rings, when another friend leaned over and whispered, “I think the table over there has a problem with us.”

Sure enough, I glanced across the griddle to find five or six middle-aged people glaring not very subtly in our direction. This came as a surprise, since we were neither drunk nor loud nor shouting obscenities. We were eight women with chopsticks sharing some stories and laughs. Oh, and seven of the eight were gay.

I say that as an aside, because it wasn’t the most defining characteristic of the group. Nobody was French kissing, there was no heavily-tattooed, spikey-haired uber lesbian grabbing our waitress’ ass and tearing up an 8x10 of the American family. We were nicely-dressed women in all shapes and sizes. We didn’t even all have short hair. We were all wearing lip gloss for Christ’s sake!

But someone at the other table must have seen the couples sitting a little too close. A look here, a touch there, and suddenly it didn’t matter that we weren’t shouting obscenities. We were the obscenity. And I say “we” because, even though I was the only straight girl at the table, in their eyes I was just as offensive. So they stared, hating me for something I couldn’t control, something they misunderstood. They hated me, essentially, for daring to eat chicken and sing “Happy Birthday” in public.

I’ve often told people that until you have gay friends or family members, you don’t truly understand how crazy it seems that some people can look at them and say, “Because of who they love, they are not as good as you.” As if, in some inexplicable way, who they share their life with negates the fact that they are great people.

But homosexuality didn’t prevent the birthday girl from showing up on my doorstep with her partner three years ago, hours after I was violently mugged, with $150 in cash to tide me over and a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to get the blood out of my clothes. It didn’t stop another friend from vowing to keep a change of clothes next to his bed after he felt he responded too slowly to a 3 am assault outside his window. And it doesn’t stop another friend in his 20's from being the sole caretaker for his ailing grandmother and her sister.

Knowing that strangers were viewing me with disgust when I hadn’t done anything to them was a terrible feeling. I can’t even imagine what it must be like to know that, whenever you go out, there looms the distinct possibility that someone will give you the evil eye just for being yourself. I have to admire the quiet, everyday courage it takes to be different, to live your life without apologizing for your happiness regardless of what the "moral" majority says.

Despite the lack of love from our restaurant neighbors, I did have a great time. My food was great, Kenny made a beating heart out of the fried rice, and our waitress took an awesome Polaroid of our whole group. As I watched it slowly materialize, I thought about how lucky I've been to meet so many intelligent, interesting, resourceful, funny friends since I moved to the Twin Cities.

Afterward, the rest of the girls decided to go out dancing at a gay bar. I declined, mostly because that's not really my scene, but partly because it would have been an ego blow not to get hit on at least once. Being friends with lesbians is a double-edged sword, man. Or, in this case, a double-edged samurai sword.