Pfunk and I celebrated our two year anniversary early in October. In honor of the occasion, she booked us two reservations on the Minnesota Zephyr, a dinner train cabaret out of Stillwater. When she made the reservation over the phone, she informed them that we'd be celebrating our anniversary. When the tickets arrived, we realized that we'd been booked on the daytime lunch ride, not the evening dinner as planned. We decided to make the most of it and take the day off work and spend it together. I think regardless of whether we took the lunch or dinner ride, we were probably going to be among the youngest on the train. But I was especially certain that would be the case on a Tuesday afternoon.
I was right. Almost everyone else at the Depot was white haired and looked like they stepped off a tour bus from a local senior center. The only people remotely close to our age were traveling with older companions.
I was relieved when we got a table to ourselves. I didn't want our anniversary to be unnecessarily uncomfortable by having to explain that we are not sisters, or friends, but partners celebrating two years together. The ride progressed nicely. Despite the rain outside the train, we enjoyed taking photos and talking. The Zephyr cabaret performed Big Band era songs in period costume between each of the five courses of the meal. The food and entertainment were enjoyable. We quickly identified the gay male member of the cabaret. Because wherever there is cabaret, there's gonna be at least one gay!
After dessert, the waitstaff came around to each table. I could hear them asking the other tables, "Are you celebrating a birthday or anniversary today?". But when our waitress came to our table, she said, "Are you celebrating a birthday or an--birthday today?". Instead of correcting her and proclaiming our anniversary loud and proud, I must confess that we chickened out and responded in the negative to the birthday question.
Turns out that a couple across the aisle from us were celebrating a wedding anniversary. When the Zephyr cabaret came to their table to sing, "When I Fall in Love", I took Pfunk's hand and held it on top of the table. I whispered, "Let's just pretend they are singing to us too." Well, the gay man in the group saw us holding hands and winked at us as they were singing. When the song concluded, he turned to us and said, "Are you two celebrating something too?". I said yes and he wished us Congratulations before re-joining the cabaret in the next car.
Several minutes later, the gay guy came back to our table, sat next to Pfunk, and said, "So, how long have you lovebirds been together?". We told him two years. He replied, "My partner and I are going on 16 [years]. Too bad we don't live in California, but maybe someday!". It was nice to be recognized after feeling invisible earlier, especially after Pfunk made a point to tell them it was an anniversary dinner when she made the reservations. When we celebrated our anniversary at the Melting Pot last year we did the same thing and they had a special card for us at our table. It is too bad it took another gay person to realize that Pfunk and I are a couple.
Well, it gets worse. I don't know if the table across the aisle heard our exchange with the gay guy, but they started talking about politics. First is was just typical Republican B.S.
"That Sarah Palin is sharp."
"Poor Elizabeth Hasselback never gets a word in edgewise on 'The View'".
"With the liberal media, all we have left is Talk Radio."
We didn't bother responding; they are entitled to their opinions. I did tell Paige to put her bag, with its Obama button, on top of the table and angle it in their direction, which she did.
But then the oldest man at the table said, "If a Republican ever slips up, the media is all over it, but God forbid they say anything bad about the bastard n**ger."
I audibly gasped.
Paige, who had wisely stopped eavesdropping long before that, said, "What?!".
I said, "That guy just said the N Word."
Then I turned to the man who had committed the offense and said very quickly, "Could-you-please-not-say-that-thank-you!".
He never acknowledged me directly, but said say to his companions (I think in response to me), "Oh sure, you can say every four letter word in the book, but you can't say the N word."
To which, I thought: Exactly. You may find the word "fuck" offensive, but unlike the word you just used, fuck is not a word used to discriminate against a segment of the population that has been systematically oppressed. Fuck and the N word are nowhere near the same. Furthermore, he does Republicans a disservice. Until he "went there," I'd disagreed with their comments, but politely kept my mouth shut. But if you ever had any desire to get me to respect your ring-wing views, all of that went out the window when you said that.
I was literally shaking with anger. Luckily, all of this happened during the last few minutes of the trip and we pulled in the depot shortly thereafter.
When I was recounting the story to my therapist the next day, I think she summed up the experience best when she said that it was like the train (with its 40s/50s music and costumes) had actually gone back in time. To a time when gays were invisible and white people are profoundly racist.
Of course, this experience is evidence that you don't have to go back in time for these things to happen. I'm sure my white privilege is partially responsible for the shock I experienced when I heard that slur. That and living in my liberal urban bubble.
This whole experience got me thinking about minority rights and the differences between gay rights and racial minority rights. The fact that gay people can, to some degree, choose who they "come out"to as a minority can be handy. If I'm in a situation where I'm concerned there are anti-gay bigots, I can choose to be closeted about my sexual orientation. Racial minorities don't have the option of only showing their skin to those they deem safe. But, as our experience on the train demonstrates, the burden to have to make ourselves visible to people than don't see us can also be disheartening and exhausting.
I couldn't help but think that if same-sex marriage was legal in this country, Paige and I might not have been invisible to the waitress. If awareness of same-sex partnerships was legal recognized, people would be forced to see us.