Serena Freewomyn

Am I a Closet Case?

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | February 17, 2008 10:27 AM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: homophobic behavior, hostile work environment, sexual harassment

I started a new job this week at a hip new restaurant in Scottsdale. I like the people I work with, But like any other kitchen, there's a lot of sex talk that goes on. I mean A LOT. Normally, that wouldn't bother me. I'm as crewd as the next gal and will happily join in with saucy comments of my own. But when my crew members start in on the gay jokes, I tend to focus in on my work and shut the fuck up. Am I a closet case?

For those who have never worked in a professional kitchen, cooks play fast an loose with what you might call sexual harassment guidelines. This is a male-dominated industry and jock talk is just a part of the territory. I am pretty much a dude when it comes to telling raunchy jokes and appreciating fart humor, so I think I've finally found my calling in life. And typically, if a guy calls me "sweetheart," I'll kick him in the nuts as soon as look at him. But at my job, I'm in the closet about my feminism, too.

Sometimes there's a time to fight and sometimes you just need to shut the fuck up. I'm still the "new girl" at work and chicks in the kitchen already have to contend with the assumption that we don't belong there. To top it off, I work the pastry station, which is the lowest of the low as far as male cooks are concerned. People are always stealing my shit, and yet they're quick to volunteer to eat the orders I fuck up. If I started calling guys out for every sexist comment they make, my work life would be miserable because my crew members wouldn't want me to work with them. And honestly, hearing sex jokes really doesn't bother me.

The "Brokeback" jokes do, however. And since I'm pretty new at this job, I don't know when it's the right time to speak up. I would appreciate any suggestions from people who have had similar experiences. In the mean time, I guess I'll keep on being a closet case and focusing on my pastries when the "Brokeback" comments start.

Pastry anyone?


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I work at a pizza place, which is probably a much smaller kitchen than you are working in, but I can relate to what you are saying. My situation was strange because I transitioned on the job; my first couple months they knew me as a guy, now they know me as a girl. This doesn't allow me to be closeted about being queer (they also know my partner is female), but also doesn't stop the "that's gay"'s and all the other homophobic type banter that goes on. I let it be known that it bothers me and often give an evil glare or say something or make a sarcastic comment after something is said (how can said inanimate object have a sexual preference?), which will temporarily stop it, but it doesn't stop it for good, and it's frustrating. The sexist and misogynistic comments seem even harder to stop. If I challenge someone on saying something, they usually get defensive. My comment opens me up for an attack, which is by no means academic discourse. My point is rarely taken, which has pushed me more into a closet. I choose my battles wisely now, meaning I keep my mouth shut most of the time. It's frustrating, but I've found that most of these guys don't like to think they are doing anything wrong, and they especially don't want to be told by a woman, and they especially don't want to be told on a regular basis. So best of luck to you in your struggle, I feel your pain.

ah, I've worked in kitchens, too.

no one ever talked to me, only to my breasts. it was very annoying.

and I stayed completely in the closet. it was 20 years ago.

I swear like a sailor, and love to talk about sex, too, but I hear you when you say it's not really a safe place to be a lesbian avenger.

my only advice is to chime in when you feel comfortable, and make yourself known. get into the groove.

then call them on it. and do it in a way that puts it back on them- my sister was dating a red neck asshole once who couldn't stop talking about gay men and anal sex.

I said to him, so you really want a stiff one up your ass, don't you? c;mon, it's all you talk about..

he stopped talking about it.

don't get mad, get even. work on some great come back lines. I find even know, the best banter, with humor and sting, shuts people up.

or better, makes them laugh.

try to stay cool, don't play along for now. do great work and try to get to know the guys minus the dick talk.

personally? I couldn't take the kitchen anymore. I love food, I loved being in the restaurant business for the work, but the drugs and sexism drained me. too many people snorting too much cocaine, or drinking on the job, or both.

ot to mention the head chef loved to cop a grope from time to time- just playing, you know.

whatever.

good luck and know that pastry is a foot in the door. great wit in the flurry of service is always respected.

I don't know that there's anything you can or should be able to do about this. If your willing to tolerate and even join in on "raunchy" jokes that might make others feel uncomfortable, then what right do you have to be upset when the jokes turn and upset you.

don't get mad, get even. work on some great come back lines. I find even know, the best banter, with humor and sting, shuts people up.

or better, makes them laugh.

Best.Advice.Ever.

Sara P, sorry to hear about your work situation. At least I like the people I work with. I don't think they're intentionally trying to be assholes. They're just typical dudes.

Sara W, I love the dick in the ass comeback. I'm totally gonna swipe that one. I'll let you know how it goes. :^)

Maggie, while I agree somewhat about the double standard, it's all a part of the kitchen culture and fitting in. If I don't lift a 50 pound stockpot by myself or I ask for help opening the walk in when my arms are full, I'm seen as a worthless chick just as much as if I tell the guys to stop telling sex jokes. There are so few female chefs that I feel like my feminist accomplishment would be to shatter that glass ceiling by sticking it out. Even if it means telling raunchy jokes to fit in. And quite frankly, it's not that different from working at a gay & lesbian center and having gay guys make the same kind of dirty jokes. We played fast and loose with the sexual harassment guidelines there, too. If that makes me a sell out, I guess I can live with that.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | February 17, 2008 6:15 PM

Serena, I don't think it's necessarily a double-standard. There's a type of raunchy joke which doesn't victimize women, gays or trans people, and there's a type of joke that does. Just avoid humor that needs a victim, and go instead with jokes that make fun of humanity in general. After all, when you think about it, sex can be pretty funny.

I can understand the "let it go" mentality, but there may come a time when it's too much for your health and happiness. My suggestion, start documenting the specific instances that get most under your skin. Just write it down in a diary or journal after work. If there ever comes a time when the harrassment (and this is harrassment) becomes intolerable, having these sorts of details will come in handy with a lawyer.

In the meantime, try to keep your nose clean. If you do eventually get to the point where you have to file a lawsuit, opposition counsel is going to try and prove you were involved in creating the work environment. By modelling proper behavior now, you not only protect yourself from that claim, but when you do et put in charge of the kitchen, all those guys are going to be looking to your behavior as an example of where to draw the line.

i'm not sure, serena, but most people - even stupid dickhead macho guys - tend to respect you when you call them on shit. when anyone comes down on me, i go thug and mean it. i make sure they know it is going to cost them if they make a play. then i try to cool things down, letting them know they can be as big an asshole as they want to be as long as they don't do it in my face. so far, i still have all my teeth, and my self respect. jere's suggestions look like sound advice, too. there is more than one way to kick somebody's butt.