It got really great scores on Yelp and the photos of the Heidi’s Hula Luau looked amazing on the web.
We piled both families into the van on our last night of vacation and drove to the upscale part of town where the pizza place was.
A guy in a pizza apron welcomed the loud and crazy bunch of us from across the room and motioned us with a smile to a long table near the wall. I didn’t feel uncomfortable until we sat down.
This city is known to be very gay friendly and many businesses in this section of town are gay owned. Rainbow flags hang proudly in doorways or from awnings. I hadn’t noticed Bob’s Pizza’s rainbows hanging all around until we were safely at our table for eight. I also hadn’t noticed the groups of women feasting on salads and pizza or all of the male-only couples at most of the tables. In fact, it was only after we sat down when I noticed that we were the only mixed group in the entire place.
In my head I immediately chastised myself for feeling strange.
Stupid idiot, Sarah. I love gay people. What’s my problem? I’ve been to lots of gay-owned businesses. I know this about this town.
My own personal hang-ups could be about homosexuality leftover from my conservative Evangelical upbringing. Maybe. But maybe not. I’ve wrestled with the issue enough over the last few years that in my heart I believe that it wasn’t the rainbows that were making me uncomfortable.
It might be simply about feeling like a minority in the midst of a dominant culture that isn’t the same as me.
In Bob’s Pizza I was a minority as a heterosexual female. At my church, I am a minority because of my race and my culture. And as woman, I am often a minority because of my intellectual interests and concerns.
I’m realizing that I’ve lived my whole life trying to outrun any type of minority status. I ran to a primarily white Christian university to be with people like me. The few Korean girls in our dorm lived in their own rooms and often cooked their own strange smelling Korean meals on hot-plates in the hallway. The white girls, including me, kept our own company. It wasn’t weird. It just was.
And we all do this. Even if our groups of friends are eclectic in race, religion or sexual-preference we still gravitate to people who are like us. Maybe we’re all Democrats or Evangelical refugees. Or maybe we all worked at the same office once upon a time or went to the same school. Maybe we all agree on the best beer or the best city to live in.
I’ve spent my life running toward people who make me feel lost in the dominance of the group. But two years ago our family left the church we’d gone to for over a decade and joined a different church. Reasons aside, the church we began attending is primarily 2nd and 3rd generation Asian-American. We stand out in the crowd like you might think and even now sometimes there is a big culture gap. But very quickly we began to feel very much at home at our new church. It was the first time in my life that I intentionally ran toward a group in which I would be a glaring minority.
Would I have still dragged the whole family out in the heat of the desert evening to the gay pizza place if I had known it was a gay pizza place?
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t know.
Not because of the “gay-ness” of it but because of feelings of minority that are hard to ignore. Even with our experience at church, I still feel the most comfortable when I’m with people just like me. I don’t want to try to outrun minority any longer. I thought I’d “gotten past” a lot of that in my enlightened thirties (ha!) but as it turns out, I’m still quite simple.
It’s embarrassing. And I’m kind of tired of running. Sometimes I’d rather just be the only white, heterosexual girl in the midst of a whole lot of people different than me.
Only a few minutes into the meal did my heart settle down. I stopped chastising myself. I stopped feeling self-concious and I enjoyed my glass of wine. We ordered a Heidi’s Hula and a Bob’s Favorite and filled our stomachs more than perhaps we should have.
And it was perfect.
***I don’t think this post needs a disclaimer but I’ll add one anyway. As an American of German and Irish descent I’ve been a part of the “majority” of American culture for my whole life. Please don’t read this post to mean that I’m comparing my experiences as a sometime-minority to the experiences that the cultural and racial minorities have suffered as a result of marginalization and injustice in this country over our history. I hope you hear my heart in this.
Do you race toward groups where you will mix in well with the dominant culture? How has your view of “standing out in the crowd” changed over your lifetime?